Irving Chernev’s Only Chess Problem? (And a Little Aside on Kolty)
By Dr. Steven Dowd   
February 4, 2011
Problem specialist Dr. Steven Dowd, who previously wrote a problem column for CLO (see a full index here) shares his discovery of a Chernev problem, and muses on whether it is indeed by the famous Irving Chernev. He also shows off one of his favorite Koltanowski problems.

As a "mostly problemist," I spend a lot of time these days going through the various on-line databases, sometimes for historical research, but more often to see what others have done before to give me ideas for my own problems. This process is of course similar to what serious tournament players these days do with databases for opening preparation - look for what has been played before, see if you can find something new and improved.

A problem popped up recently at the Chess Problem Database Server (, with the name "Irving Chernev" attached to it.

If you want to see the problem there, enter A='Chernev' in the expression box, but it is also included here.

As a long-time Chernev fan (I cut my teeth on Logical Chess Move By Move some decades ago), I was surprised, as I knew of no other chess problems he had done. Studies?  Sure, he loved those and often used them in his books (Chessboard Magic is one of the best chess books ever, simply because it is such a fun book). He even has a few in the databases, mostly instructive positions from his books. If you don't own Chessboard Magic, and your holiday purchases have left you strapped, no fear, go to: . If you don't love the book, I promise you double the money back - on the free version, that is.

Another popular chess author and figure of the time, George Koltanowski, was well-known for composing chess problems. He included them in his long-running San Francisco Chronicle column, and his own problems there were very much oriented towards the player who was a casual solver rather than the problem specialist. I provide this aside mainly because any reader interested in seeing a collection of Kolty's problems can find them at:

And they are also included in the Meson database, including some problems with dual solutions I was able to fix:

will get you started, once you click on Meson, "Search by Composer."

Here is my favorite Koltanowski problem, taken from his book.

George Koltanowski

White to Play and Mate in 2 moves

Always the master showman (these were problems made for chessplayer readers who liked to solve the occasional problem, not the more serious problemist), Kolty's problems all have a sparkle to them, something to catch the eye. Black here of course threatens to queen with the b pawn, so White's key move, especially to mate in 2, will have to deal with that.

Show Solution

Now to return to the great Irving. If one goes to the available pdf of the original source:

The problem is given only in FEN notation (it is my understanding that a paper shortage after WWII necessitated a limitation on the number of diagrams in many chess magazines), and it is in the column "Smallwares." The magazine Fairy Chess Review was run by the famous British problemist T.R. Dawson. The author is given only as I. Chernev of Brooklyn, N.Y. so any historians with more information as to whether this would confirm or cast doubt on whether it is the I. Chernev - this would be most appreciated.

But surely as Arnold Denker noted in The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories, if Chernev indeed did say that he, "probably read more about chess, and played more games than any man in history," that he would have at least a passing interest in chess problems. But unlike the problems of Kolty, which were practical mates in 2 or 3, this problem was a helpmate - a relatively new problem type at the time, and thus categorized as a "fairy chess problem."  Did the chess polymath Chernev dash this one out to a group of problemists at the club one night? Did someone say, "Hey, you should send that to T.R. Dawson!" Or was Chernev, interested in all things chess, already perhaps subscribing to the magazine?  That is a question that hopefully will not remain unanswered.

Now, finally, here it is:

Irving Chernev
Fairy Chess Review 1948
 h#3 that is,  Black to play and help White mate him in three moves

Solution given below, but as a problemist, I wonder why Chernev didn't place the white knight on g6 and the black bishop on h1; it leads to the same solution, and as a small hint, the key (first move) also unpins the white knight and makes the bishop sweep longer- there is a big clue for you. But one shouldn't question the artist too much; it is after all, his conception!

Anyone knowing more about Irving Chernev composing chess problems is invited to contact me through the comments section below.

Show Solution

Fans of Chernev will no doubt chuckle at the smothered mate provided in the problem. It may look hackneyed to some experienced problemists, but who doesn't love a good smothered mate?

Look for another article by Dr.Dowd in March on Unusual chess problems. Dr. Dowd previously wrote a column for CLO-see a full index of contributions here.