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Unusual Chess Problems: Part II Print E-mail
By Dr. Steven B. Dowd   
June 23, 2011
Dr. Steven B. Dowd continues his thrilling two part series on Unusual Chess Problems. Check out the first installment if you missed it and enjoy the problems for solving or just for pleasure.

The "many fathers" position

The Germans call this position the Vielväter (many fathers) position for the many authors who have constructed the literally thousands of problems from this one position. For those who think chess is played out, or that there are no new problems to composer, the development of thousands of possibilities in stipulation from such a simple position should show them to be very wrong. I'll give two classic examples so you can see how it all started:

The Many Fathers Position

RJ Darvall in the Fairy Chess Review of 1949 posed the simple question here: Who wins? Whose move is it? That is for you to find out and the most important part of the problem!

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Bror Larsson's addition here in feenschach 1981 was to state: Retract one white move and mate in one. There is only one answer! This one I definitely think you should try to solve. There is only one move by White that could work and then allow a mate in one.

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Promoting a piece to one that existed in the start position is unique to chess. One can promote a checker piece to a king, but that is a new piece that didn't exist before on the board. Chess is said to have three such unique possibilities that other games lack - promotion, en passant, and castling. Since each of those moves contains paradox, we will explore them here, and begin with promotion.


We'll start with a warm-up that should be fairly easy to solve. But it was not easy to compose! As my young friend and promising study composer Siegfried Hornecker noted on this one, "This was a day when the heavens shone on a talented composer." White, despite his threatening pawns, is also being threatened with mate. Only one way for White not to end up losing this one. Enjoy!

Andrzei Jasik
Suomen Shakki 2010

White to move and draw


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One of those dense German compound words, "Allumwandlung" means "promotion to everything," thus a problem in which one side (or both, in the case of a "gemischte" or "mixed set of promotions) promotes to every possible piece during the course of the problem. It is usually abbreviated "AUW" in all languages for ease of use.

Here is a neat and easy start.

Hilmar Staudte
Deutsche Schachzeitung 1964
Mate in two moves
4(!) Solutions


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Another warm-up is this problem by Hanneman, this time with conditions.

Knud Hannemann
Dagen Nyheder 1933
Mate in exactly one, two, three, or four moves.


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Now follows the classic AUW problem. Now 105 plus years old, the author indicated that it took him 12 years, in those pre-computer days, to find a matrix that worked. In this case, I would consider that a dozen years well-spent!

Niels Hoeg
Nordiske Schackbund 1905
Mate in three moves

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Matjaz Zigman was a talented problemist who died too young. Here he showed a mixed AUW, a simple looking affair.

Matjaz Zigman
Delo-Tovaris 1970
Mate in three moves

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This is my favorite AUW as it is so unusual. Pay close attention to the stipulation, and note that this is a black only AUW - Black does all the promoting.

Niels Hoeg
Skakbladet 1907
White ends the game in two moves

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En Passant

In a chess problem, en passant is used only when it can be proved that the last move was the necessary "pawn fling" of two spaces. Here is a nice simple example.

Werner Speckmann
Deutsche Schachzeitung
Mate in one move


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But the clever author didn't leave it as just that, he added a "b" position to the mix, which is "move white bishop e5 to h8."

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Again, Sam Loyd is the granddaddy of such problems, with the following example.

Sam Loyd
New York Albion 1857
Mate in three

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It takes at least 3 moves to "take back" castling. Here we are shown how.

Gerald F. Anderson
Westminister Gazette 1917
Mate in four

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All the white pieces are back where they started! The key, even though it takes a flight from the Black king (g2) would be acceptable even in a "normal" chess problem as it not only takes a flight, but gives one on h4, a so-called "give and take" key.

Castling as a defensive strategy often involves partial retro-analysis in order to determine if Black can castle. Often the trick is that either the last move had to have been by the black king or rook. Can Black castle in the following problem?

W. Speckmann
Schach 1965
Mate in eight

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How about the next problem? Can Black castle to defend himself?

WN Pilipenko
Deutsche Schachzeitung 1969
Mate in two

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That concludes our brief introduction to some of the unusual chess problems out there; this just scratches the surface. If you want more, consider either of these two books:

Addison, Stephen.  Extraordinary Chess Problems. Crowood Press, 1990.

Hochberg, Burt.  Chess Braintwisters. Sterling Publishing, 1999. One of the many good books from the former editor of Chess Life.

The best book on unusual chess problems is actually Tim Krabbé's Chess Curiosities, but is an incredibly hard book to find. Like original copies of My 60 Memorable Games, used copies often sell for several times the original price . There is also the Chess Problem Database Server (PDB), at http://www.softdecc.com/pdb/index.pdb. If you want to find problems by various stipulations such as Last Move? or castling, go to http://www.softdecc.com/pdb/keywords.pdb?s=stip to see the various possibilities.

Hope you had fun with these problems and the first part. Happy solving!

June - Chess Life Online 2011

The US Chess Scoop on the Philadelphia International 2011 North American Youth Champs in Full SwingElection News: Ballots Due by July 20Chess Kids, Two Decades Later Young Winner at U.S. Junior ChampionshipPhiladelphia International Underway Young in Control at U.S. Junior ChampionshipThe Scoop on the New York International Young Falters, Naroditsky Wins to Pull Even at U.S. JuniorsUnusual Chess Problems: Part II 2011 North American Youth Chess Championship, June 25-29Museum of the Moving Image to Host Bobby Fischer Against the World Event Hungaski Clear First at New York International Carlsen & Karjakin on Top at Medias Kings Gregory Young Still Perfect at US Junior Hungaski in Clear Lead at New York International Slugfest Continues at U.S. Junior ChampionshipNew US Grandmaster Shankland Annotates Wins from State Champs New York International Kicks Off Secrets of Brooklyn Bughouse Champs, Part II: Attacking Fighting Chess in Round One of Junior ChampionshipNakamura Sleeps Soundly at Last in TransylvaniaDenker and Barber Fields Nearly Set Greg on Chess: the Trouble with Round-Robins Akobian and Van Wely Share First in National Open Hikaru Strikes Back in Bazna Five Tied for Lead at National OpenA Speedy Start to the Las Vegas Chess Festival Banawa & Wang Earn Norms at 6th Metropolitan Invitational Bazna Kings Begins in Romania The Chess Party Begins in Vegas Junior Closed Championship Set for Saint LouisThe Secrets of Brooklyn’s Bughouse Champs, Part I: Openings Nakamura, Off to Bazna, Featured in Saint Louis Post US Titles Approved by FIDE Include Shankland, Holt & Yang Seven US Players Qualify for World Cup Kraai & Sevillano Share 1st in Calgary; Bonus Prize Discourages Draws Hikaru Nakamura Wins 1st ICC Open The June Check is in the Mail Diary of a Chess Uncle…Or Trophy FishingJames Black in the New York Spotlight [VIDEO] Marmont and Hu Top US Amateur West Chipkin and Ding are U.S. Amateur East Champs