May 28, 2012

Finding order in chaos

I don't know about you but I've always been quite skeptical about the utility of solving mate in two problems. I am not talking about the simple ones but about these crazy positions, where a total mess is present on the board, with a lot of pieces. It looks as if you just opened your chess box and all the pieces fell randomly on the black&white squares - 'fire on board'!

What could possibly be the benefits of trying to make some sense from a completely senseless position? I would never encounter anyway, in real practice, such meaningless dispersion of the chess pieces. I would never gain anything, right? There are no patterns, no strategical ideas, no real plans, just some mating idea which could give you nightmares if you don't see it fast enough. At least this is what I thought for some time...and only because I was getting bored in buses or just to try something different, I looked upon such diagrams. After all, it is fun.
Studies are different, I thought. Yes, there is some logic over there, sometimes these ideas can be seen even in 'normal' games, so this I understand it might be useful. But mate in two, in three, in four, or even much worse: in five or six?? To get a headache for nothing? No thanks!
But I've changed my mind, of course. Otherwise I wouldn't be writing this post:)

Here is an example from John Nunn's book, 'Solving in Style':

White to move, mate in two
Giorgio Guidelli, 2nd Prize L'Eco degli Scacchi 1916-17

Many times I hear (which happens to me as well): "I simply 'forgot' about my pawn on the other wing"; "I missed that check on the fifth rank"...horizontal, backwards, intermediate moves, we all miss them sooner or later. It's not that easy to see all the 64 squares at once! Our attention is limited and it is often dragged by some 'interesting' area on the chess board, neglecting the others. And than we wonder: how could we miss this or that move?

This is the moment where mate in 'n' problems might help: to grasp the sometimes very surprising way that pieces can interact with each other. You are literally forced to consider all the corners of the board, to ask yourself questions: why is that pawn doing over there? is this really the best defence?
After the first shock, after the first sigh (which could be translated as: what the hell is going on?!), you realize that you start to understand something. That you start to grasp the hidden ideas and eventually get to the essence of the problem. And voila: you succeeded to coordinate your pieces, to see all the pins, intermediate moves, checks and tricky annoying traps.

I believe it is an excellent exercise for the brain, to make him used to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. And when you'll be on the board, playing the so called 'normal' game, you'll simply drop the pieces and they will fall on the right squares! That's because your gray matter will be fit and alert, in order to see the geometry behind all the squares and pieces.
Plus, if you give it a chance, you will discover another world of beauty, another way to approach chess. And, without any exaggeration, some of these problems could be considered an art form!
No wonder that Vladimir Nabokov wrote about the "originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity, and splendid insincerity" of creating chess problems and spent considerable time doing so.

I am not claiming that this way of training your brain is better than others or the best. It is just a way. Another way.


  1. Hi Alina,

    It took me almost half an hour but I did it! Accompanied by the right music :)

    Thanks for the mind challenge!

  2. Buna Vlad! Deci inca mai ai microbul in tine...:)

  3. :)) Da, Alina. Nu va disparea niciodata... E ca un loc frumos in care imi face placere sa ma intorc uneori.

  4. When reading this article I had to share a problem I've solved a while ago. Mate in 3. Sounds easy enough doesn't it?

    Here is the position:
    White: Kh5, Qf4, Rb8, Re5, Ba8, Bd8, Nb2, Nc2, pawns a3, b5, c5, d4, e3 and f5
    Black: Ka5, Ra6, Bb6, pawns a4, a7, c7, d7, e6, f3, g5 and h4

    White moves and mates in three.

    Background story:

    With a friend I spend a couple of hours in the afternoon blitzing and solving and creating chess-puzzles. We could not solve this one, skipped it went back to it later and still could not solve it. I was slightly upset that I was such an idiot that I could not solve a mate in 3 that I took the diagram with me. Whilst watching TV and doing chores around the house I kept half an eye on the diagram. Finally very late in the evening I found it.

    If you give it a try Alina, would you be so kind to tell how much time you spend on it. (I really hope you don't find it in 10 seconds)

  5. @Alina: Thank you for posting this famous composition on your website. Please also mention the author and the source: Giorgio Guidelli, 2nd Prize L'Eco degli Scacchi 1916-17.

    @Siebren: Do you know the author and the source of the interesting three move composition you have posted in your comment?

  6. @Siebren: Sorry to reply with a huge delay. I was playing in Bulgaria when you sent me the message and I forgot afterwards to check. But thanks to FairPlay above, I came across it again. And...can't find the mate in three! Are you sure the position is correct? Please let me know, otherwise I'll keep on thinking about it:)

    @FairPlay: Will do it right away!

  7. @Alina: Siebren three mover is correct, but very tricky to solve! Hint: Please find black last move.

  8. @FairPlay: Is it simply taking en passant? Can you prove that Black's last move was not exf3 or gxf3?

    1. Yes, this problem has a small retro contents.

      Please count the number of white pieces (14) and the number of captures made by black pawns in the initial diagram (1). A capture exf3 or gxf3 requires a 17th white piece, which is not available.

      After you have seen why the en passant key is possible, try to find the threat and the continuation after black defense. You will be amazed, I am sure!

  9. Ah, of course! took me more than 10 seconds to solve it:)
    Especially when your husband puts not two but only one knight on the board.

  10. esti sigura ca nu exista o greseala gramaticala in expresia asta ,ordinea din haos,?

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