Monday, 28 February 2011

'A' vs 'B' = 4-1 (again!)

Last week I published the result and an express report on the derby clash between Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams. They currently occupy opposite ends of the Division 1 table so it was no surprise to see the ‘A’ team win by such a convincing margin. For those lucky readers who may have been on annual leave last week, I set you some homework in the form of a position from each game with a question to answer. (Thanks to those who did submit comments against the article. All the answers were correct so well spotted.) You’ll find those answers in the full game commentaries below.

In the event the match could have been much closer because two ‘B’ team players succeeded in gaining significant advantages before letting their more illustrious opponents wriggle free. The ‘B’ team was slightly under strength due to the absence of board 3 regular Andy Leatherbarrow but the ‘A’ team fielded their strongest side.

The first test I posed in the express report was from John Kerrane’s game against Matthew Wedge Roberts on board 4. John e-mailed me the day after the game to say that, after analysing the game again, he thought he had accepted the draw in a position of some dominance. Indeed, he thought he was winning. The game viewer below is set to show the final position but you can play through the whole game as well if you like. I’ve added some further commentary.

I asked readers to assess the final position and the answer to the question appears to be that White is better, probably winning. But there would still have been much work to do even if John had been able to find the tricky line given above. Ultimately, I suspect that, as he was playing an opponent in good form and with a far superior grading, he was more than happy with a draw and therefore wasn’t really looking for a win. He wasn’t the only one I don’t think!

The second position from the post earlier this week was from the board 3 game between the two team Captains. As you’ll see from the game and commentary below, Martin Syrett acquitted himself very well indeed in the opening and obtained a very good advantage going into the middle game. The viewer below is set to start at the crucial position with Martin (White) to play. This one was a move order trick. Martin simply picked the wrong piece to capture with on c5 and allowed Alastair to sacrifice his rook for Martin’s rampant knight and powerful bishop. In this case the two pieces were definitely worth more than the rook.

Position three was from the top board encounter between Pete Olley and Dave Wedge. This game (like the last one) also saw Black employ Alekhine’s Defence, but this time Black got the better of the opening and Dave capitalised with a nice combination early in the middle game. This is given in the viewer below and the whole game is also available to play through. Unfortunately, Pete never really got a foot hold in the game and Dave played clinically to convert the single pawn advantage to the full point.

Our fourth featured game (for they really were all rather interesting encounters in their own ways) was played between Neil Bamford and Nick Sykes. Neil had played the role of “super sub” in the ‘B’ team’s last match away to Halifax where his win on board 5 was the foundation for a creditable drawn match. On this occasion Nick had too much for him although he fought gamely and with no little ingenuity. The full game is given below and again I’ve set the viewer to display the puzzle I set earlier this week. On this occasion I was asking you to find Nick’s move 1…Qe7 and also the improvement that he overlooked which was 1…Rc8!?.

So, finally, let’s look at the other drawn game in the match between Dave Shapland and Matthew Parsons. Matthew surprised Dave with his choice of opening which yielded a similar type of position to those encountered in closed Ruy Lopez. It’s fair to say that Matthew was more familiar with the strategic ideas than Dave was and, as a result, he developed some strong pressure as the middle game progressed. In the position I gave last week I wanted you to find 1…Bb5! which wins Black the exchange. There are a couple of variations depending on whether White responds with 2.Bd1 or 2.Ba4 so I hope you managed to find the right continuations in each line.

As the game progressed Dave just managed to hold off Matthew’s direct attack on his king and even obtained a mathematically favorable ending which is quite instructive to play through the sub variations of. The computer provides the best lines of course but some of the technique it indicates is interesting. Ultimately the ending seems to have been theoretically drawn although it is never quite as easy as it looks. Dave, like John before him, was certainly happy to take a draw off Matthew who is yet to lose a game in Calderdale this season. The notes in the game viewer below are Dave's.

All of this means that the ‘A’ team re-took the lead in the Division (Huddersfield were scheduled to play last Thursday but I haven't seen a result published) and the ‘B’ team stayed rooted in the relegation zone. It looks to me like they must now make wins against Todmorden ‘A’, Belgrave and Brighouse if they are to have any hope of surviving. Their other fixture is away to Huddersfield and whilst they could do their colleagues in the ‘A’ team a huge favour by getting a result there, I don’t think they’ll be holding their breath!

The ‘A’ team will play their match in hand at home to Halifax ‘A' tonight and the ‘C’ and ‘D’ teams will also be in action in Division 2. Stay tuned for more action next week then.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Derby double for the 'A's: Express Report

John Kerrane reports on the second Division 1 derby clash between our ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams.

"On Monday evening at the Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s B team faced their toughest challenge of the season when they played at home against their own A team, the current Calderdale League First Division leaders.

Realistically, if the B team could expect to beat the A team, there would be something wrong with the selection, but the result was closer than the scoreline, a 4-1 win to the A team, might suggest. All the games were close, and the two draws by Dave Shapland on board 2 against Matthew Parsons, and between John Kerrane and Matthew Wedge-Roberts on board 4, were well-deserved."

The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ – Hebden Bridge ‘A’
P. Olley 0 – 1 D. Wedge
D. Shapland ½ - ½ M. Parsons
M. Syrett 0 – 1 A. Wright
J. Kerrane ½ -½ M. Wedge-Roberts
N. Bamford 0 – 1 N. Sykes
1 – 4

I plan to post the games in full with some more detailed commentary on Friday but in the meantime (it being half term and some of you having nothing better to do!) here are some interesting positions from the match. In each case I've set a little problem for readers to assess the situations themselves.

First up, here is the final position from Kerrane vs. Wedge-Roberts. A draw was agreed here with White to move. How would you assess the situation below? Should White continue playing for a win, is a draw the best he can hope for, or is Black better?

White (John Kerrane) to play

The next position is from Syrett vs. Wright. It's White to play and he has managed to obtain a good positional advantage. What is the right continuation?

White (Martin Syrett) to play

Next, on board 1, Pete Olley and Dave Wedge reached the position below with Dave to play. How did he obtain a material advantage?

Black (Dave Wedge) to play

Here is an interesting position from the board 5 encounter between Neil Bamford and Nick Sykes. Black is winning but he must proceed with care owing to his pinned bishop. Nick considered both 1...Qb6 and also 1...Qe7. Which of these two moves is correct and why? Can you find anything better for Black?

Black (Nick Sykes) to play

Finally, from Shapland vs. Parsons. White has just played 20.Ne2 to which Matthew responded with 20...Qf6. He has a better move. What had both players overlooked?

Black (Matthew Parsons) to play
The answers and full moves for all these games will be revealed on Friday. Please feel free to add comments to this post if you think you know the answers. No prizes, just a bit of fun.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Opening theory aids digestion

Valeri Salov: "Not a
man who takes his
luncheon seriously."
 In today’s post we welcome back Colonel Walter Polhill (RTD) to our humble blog. The Colonel wrote a series of erudite articles for The Independent on Sunday back in the late 90’s and yours truly has excavated them, dusted them down and now presents once more for your enlightenment. In this article the Colonel tackles the knotty issue of opening theory and reveals the real reason why so many Grand Master games follow the opening books for so many moves.

“The true value of opening theory is not generally understood. Studying the opening to such a degree that one may reel off a dozen or 20 moves by rote is, above all, an aid to digestion. Some tournament organisers, for reasons best known to themselves, insist on starting play in the very early afternoon. This presents a stark choice: forgo lunch, risk indigestion by attempting to think too soon after a meal, or rely on opening theory until the meal is digested.”

Friday, 18 February 2011

Chess lovers mate on Valentine's night!

A bacchanalian orgy did not take place at the Trades Club
on Valentine's night! (Auguste Leveque ca. 1890-1910)
No, not some depraved bacchanalian orgy at the Trades Club, just round 4 of the Calderdale Individual Chess Championships! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the temptation to post a gross and unsuitably sordid headline and accompanying image as the lead for this most sombre of occasions.

Seriously though, someone must have a word with the League Fixtures Secretary who deemed it fit to locate this event on the 14th of February and thus place the chess players of the Calder Valley on collision courses with their other halves. Your editor (who is not playing in this year’s championship) therefore took the opportunity, along with several participants, to pursue his “romantic” interests. Yes, that’s right, I stayed at home to study the games of Labourdonnais, Staunton, Anderrsen and Morphy.

Enough of the light humour! Round 4 is traditionally the point at which the really critical encounters in the competition start to take place. This year was no exception. Event Organiser, John Kerrane, provides the story of the night’s events in his column for the Hebden Bridge Times.

“Attention was focused on the match on board 1, between Matthew Parsons and Dave Wedge, both of Hebden Bridge. The game was the last to finish, and the situation looked like a draw until, with both players short of time, Wedge made an error in the endgame, and Parsons emerged the winner with a score of 4/4 in the competition so far. In the fifth and last round on 14th March, he must face John Morgan (Courier) who beat Angel Gonzalez of Belgrave to bring his score to 3½. Only a win will do for Morgan, while a draw will secure the championship for Parsons, which should guarantee an exciting finish. On the lower boards, John Whitehead of Courier continued his strong showing with a draw against Mike Barnett of Belgrave, rated 60 points above him.”

No doubt about which game was the main event then! Here is the eagerly anticipated match up between Hebden Bridge’s top 2 players. I make no apologies for focusing my efforts on providing some sort of commentary on this game to the neglect of the others.

On board two, John Morgan made fairly light work of Angel Gonzalez who can be an obdurate opponent on his day (as I know from my own experience).

What this should mean is that John will have the White pieces in the last round against Matthew who essentially plays the game with draw odds for the title. It should be another tense affair and it will be interesting to see how the two combatants approach the contest.

Elsewhere, John Kerrane mentions in his commentary about John Whitehead’s good form in this competition. From what I’ve been able to observe he has consistently found ways of stirring up trouble in his matches and has reaped the rewards with a nice win against Adrian Dawson in round 3 and, below, a very creditable draw with Mike Barnett on Monday night.

Some of the other interesting games from the round included an almost inevitable draw between old adversaries Alastair Wright and Nick Sykes. These two must have played hundreds of times in friendly games at the club and although the result was therefore no surprise, this shouldn’t give the impression that they chopped wood and agreed an early peace. In fact Alastair chanced his arm by playing a sort of Pseudo-Orangutan (2.b4!?) and although Nick secured an excellent position out of the opening as a result he ultimately couldn’t make it pay.

Former Champion, Andy Leatherbarrow continued in his resurgent form since the season’s Christmas break by executing a smooth win over John Aldridge. He now joins a group of 5 players occupying 3rd-7th places behind Parsons and Morgan.

Robert Sutcliffe (Huddersfield) has had an excellent tournament this season. He also sits in the 3rd-7th placed group and, thus far, his only defeat has been to the tournament leader who he pushed to the very limit in round 3. On Monday he also won in a Sicilian Defence, although this time with the Black pieces, against Hebden Bridge’s Dave Sugden.

That game brings round 4 coverage to a close. Full results for the round are given on the Calderdale Individual Championship page of this site. Current standings after 4 rounds are therefore as follows:

4 points: M.Parsons
3½ points: J.Morgan
3 points: D.Wedge, A.Leatherbarrow, S.Gornall, R.Sutcliffe, M.Syrett
2½ points: C.Booth, A.Wright, M.Barnett, M.Wedge-Roberts, N.Sykes, P.Edwards, A.Gonzalez, J.Whitehead
2 points: D.Sugden, A.Dawson, S.Priest, J.Blinkhorn, M.Shah, J.Aldridge, B.Corner, N.Bamford, T.Webster
1½ points: P.Olley, C.Edwards, D.Milton
1 point: J.Nicholson, J.Todd, B.Wadsworth, J.Gilhooley, C.Greaves, P.Dearden
½ point: D.Crampton, D.Pugh
0 points: M.Levy, J.P.Ellis, T.Whelan
Withdrawn: T.Sullivan, D.Ursal, M.Webster, H.Webb, C.Velosa

Of course there will be coverage of the final and decisive round shortly after it takes place on the 14th of March. Next week we return to Division 1 action as the Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams meet for the second derby clash of the season.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Miracle of Alwoodley

H.G.Wells, a chess miserablist
"The true sweetness of chess, if it can ever be called sweet, is to see a victory snatched, by some happy impertinence out of the shadows of apparently irrevocable disaster." - H.G.Wells

Lucky Sweatshirt Chronicles - Chapter 2
Readers may well remember that last November I posted my theory about an old grey sweatshirt that I possess which I believe may have mysteriously acquired magical properties. On that occasion I published some statistical analysis that seemed to indicate that my thesis was more than a passing fancy. At the time I also suggested that, having made my madcap ideas public, I would surely go down in flames in my next match whilst wearing the sweatshirt. As it turned out it wasn't the next game but it did happen shortly afterwards and I consigned my superstitions to the waste paper basket of history.

How could I have been so rash? I have surely paid the price for my lack of faith. Since this poor result in the sweatshirt back in December I have had a pretty awful run of results which, I ashamed to say, has seen me score a miserable 4 out of 9. This sequence included a series of games where I scored a mere ½ point from 5 games. Such misery has befallen me and I have surely brought it upon myself!

Within this rather glum period though, there has been one bright spot. In January I played another round of the Leeds Rapidplay League and, feeling that a change in time limits might be just the thing to bring about a change of form as well, I donned the old grey sweatshirt (with no expectations whatsoever) and sallied forth to do battle against the league leaders, Hepworth Browne. With an International Master on board 1 and two very strong players on boards 2 and 3, our opponents were clear favorites for victory and indeed they did win comfortably in the event by a score of 4-2. But, guess what? I scored the two points and with a couple of nice efforts as well.

It's back and it smells of concentration!

In the first game I had the Black pieces and straightaway could sense that I might be about to have a good night when my opponent allowed me to play one of my pet openings, the Budapest Gambit. The game continued in a fairly thematic fashion but White allowed me to grab first his h and then his e-pawns as I got a decent advantage. This came at a cost however as I got behind on the clock with plenty of complexity still in the position. In the game viewer below we join the action in the critical position after White has played his 31st move but the whole game can be played through from the start if you wish to see how the story unfolded.

The second game began shortly afterwards and at this point I realised that our opponents had been particularly cunning because my adversary from the first game now deferred to another player who now conducted the Black pieces against me. There is nothing in the rules to prevent a team from doing this, the only question was, would this fresh player have an advantage of not having had to suffer the stress of game one, or would he come to the game a bit cold? As it turned out I got yet another opening line that I felt comfortable with (this time the White side of a Petroff's Defence) and when my opponent played a little inaccurately in the opening I was able to build up a decent advantage which I converted much more attractively than I could have expected to had I not been in the sweatshirt. Once again the critical position is shown in the game viewer below but the whole game is also available.

The power of the lucky sweatshirt had inspired me that evening at Hepworth Browne but this was a rapidplay game and I stubbornly passed off my success in the garment as being a fluke. In my next few standard time limit league matches my poor form continued. And then, last Wednesday night, the incident that will become known only as "The Miracle of Alwoodley" happened.

On this occasion I deliberately took the sweatshirt to work with me so that I could change into it before my Leeds League match against Alwoodley A who are top of the division and very strong. I had played my board 3 opponent in the corresponding home fixture earlier in the season and he had pasted me. The likelihood was that he would do so again and so I thought "I may as well put the sweatshirt on. I'll need all the luck I can get". Boy oh boy, did I get some luck!

The game viewer below shows the position at time control on move 35. I had strained every sinew to withstand my opponents nagging pressure and had got into severe timetrouble. I just made the time control but by that point I had lost control of the position on the board and all looked lost. What is more, the rest of my team, having mostly been soundly thrashed, were loitering in the bar and had left me to my agonies. They probably thought I'd be dead in another 5 minutes.

How to explain this extraordinary turn around? I was even winning at the end but we both had seconds on our clocks and I didn't want to risk losing the whole point again. Surely, the only explaination for my opponents uncharacteristic meltdown was the lucky sweatshirt. A happy impertinence indeed! Watch this space for further adventures with the dirty old sweatshirt.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Castling VERY long!

Last week I posted a problem that I suggested could be the hardest in the world. (I have re-published the post this week as several readers reported that a glitch in the previous version meant that the starting position was not shown!) Being as the solution broke the current laws of chess it isn’t surprising that even the strongest of chess engines would be unable to find it.

This week I would like to continue in a similar vein and also add some tasty nik-naks to the castling theme that I started to develop in two posts from last year "Castle because you have to, not because you can", and "When castling goes bad!". Take a look at the composition below by Tim Krabbé. It is White to play and mate in 3 moves and the solution involves several castling manouevres, some more conventional than others! I'll give the solution at the end of this post.

White to play and mate in 3 by Tim Krabbé

Before we go any further I should say a little bit more about the source of today's content. I recently discovered Tim Krabbé's website, Chess Curiosities. It is all about the beauty of chess and, even though he stopped posting frequently a while ago there is a veritable tresure trove of content to be found within its bowels. Krabbé is Dutch and is a modern day polymath in that he is a novelist, journalist, cyclist (he rode competatively I believe) and a very strong chess player (he was in the Dutch top 20 back in the 70's). He is probably most well known over here in the UK for his novel "Het Gouden Ei" ("The Golden Egg") which was re-made as a Hollywood film "The Vanishing" in 1993. For film officionados though, the original Dutch version of the film (called "Spoorloos" - "Traceless"), made in 1988 by the same Director, George Sluizer, is rather better than the remake.

One particluarly interesting aspect of Chess Curiosities is Krabbé's unofficial collection of chess records which he has compiled with the help of his readers and contacts. Included in the list is the record for the latest castling which is actually shared by the two games below.

Somogyi vs. Black, New York 2002

Neshewat vs Garrison, Detroit 1994.
 Of course there are certainly games that will have involved later castlings than these two but these are the latest instances where the games can be qualified due to their being "serious and verifiable tournament games" as Krabbé defines them. Elsewhere in his "Open Chess Diary"  Krabbé provides another game that not only looks like a later instance of castling but also involves a nice little combination. The problem is that the game was a blitz game and therefore the exact move number and veracity of the position cannot be proven. The combination is unusual and witty so it is still worth re-publishing here.

Anon vs. Macieja, Blitz Game, Poland
In the position on the left White played.

1.Rxb7 ...

and offered a draw. However, Black then gave his opponent a nasty surprise in the form of...

2...      Nc5+!!
3.dxc5 0-0-0+

and now White was forced to resign.

So, finally, let's return to Krabbé's mate in 3 problem which he composed in 1972 and utilises three (!) different castling manouevres to give mate in the three different lines.

White to play and mate in 3
 The lines go:
a.) 1.e7 Kd3 2.e8=Q gxf3 3.O-O-O mate
b.) 1.e7 Kxf3 2.e8=R! d4 3.O-O mate
c.) 1.e7 Kxf3 2.e8=R! Kg2 3.O-O-O-O-O-O! mate

In the last variation White utilises a loophole that then existed in the definition of castling. He castles withisnewly promoted rook, moving his king to e3 and the rook to e2. Under the rules of chess at the time this problem was created this move was legal because neither the king nor the rook had moved yet. Afterwards, FIDE amended their rules to require that the castling rook must occupy the same rank as the king. A very unusual and witty little problem!

Come back to this blog next week for coverage of what promises to be a very exciting 4th round of this year's Calderdale Individual Championship. I am also promising readers an update on the "Lucky Sweatshirt" saga!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

In a tight spot

Just like our furry friend here, Martin Syrett's 'B' team
are feeling the squeeze in the lower reaches of Division 1
First of all, apologies to all readers for the long delay between events and the posting of articles on this blog. My home broadband connection went down two weeks ago and getting the service resumed has been an interminable hell of calls to one of our prominent national broadband providers! I won't be recommending them to anyone in future. In the meantime I've been trying to write posts offline and then get to public Wi-Fi hotspots to actually publish. This is harder than you might think!

Anyway, Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams both returned to action last week with ties that took place on Monday night (the 31st).

Alastair Wright’s ‘A’ team began the evening only on point behind Huddersfield with a match in hand and they showed yet again why they are in contention for the title by crushing the league’s bottom team Todmorden ‘A’.

The night started well for Hebden Bridge as, first Nick Sykes on board 5, and then Matthew Parsons on board 2, took advantage of blunders by the Edwards brothers Paul and Chris to take a 2-0 lead. Matthew certainly didn’t feel like he had secured much out of the opening at all and even thought that Black had some chances to make life difficult for him. However, he cunningly found a way to induce a mistake from his opponent and took full advantage.

On board 1 Dave Wedge faced Todmorden’s new recruit, Andrew Clarkson, who had the temerity to play one of Dave’s own pet opening lines against him (in the form of the Pirc Defence) and held Dave to a fairly comfortable draw. Our thanks go to Andrew for taking the time to provide the notes to the game in the game viewer below.

Dave’s son Matthew continued his rich vain of form as he beat Mike Huett in the game below.

And finally, the Captain’s game on board 3 went on late into the evening with Alastair being given a good run for his money by Scott Gornall before the pair agreed peace terms.

The final match card for the fixture is given below.

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ – Todmorden ‘A’
D.Wedge ½ - ½ A.Clarkson
M.Parsons 1 – 0 C.Edwards
A.Wright ½ - ½ S.Gornall
M.Wedge-Roberts 1 – 0 M.Huett
N.Sykes 1 – 0 P.Edwards
4 - 1

Martin Syrett’s ‘B’ team are the ones in this post’s eponymous “tight spot”. They’ve been flirting with the relegation zone all season long and when other results conspired against them on Monday night (namely Brighouse continuing Belgrave’s woeful run of form with a 4-1 win at home) they slid back into it on board score.

Despite the bigger picture however, this was a reasonably creditable result although I suspect that Martin will feel his side may have missed an opportunity.

The result of the night was on the first board to finish as Pete Olley obtained a comfortable draw against Darwin Ursal on board 1. In an opening that looked a bit like a Tarrasch Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Pete won a pawn in the opening at the expense of suffering from impeded development. The extra pawn didn’t mean that much in the end as Black’s pawn structure was damaged, but it did keep Pete’s illustrious opponent occupied as he tried to build up some sort of compensation. It will be interesting to see what Darwin’s first grade is at the end of this season, his current provisional grade on the Yorkshire Chess Association list is 159.

Next to finish was Andy Leatherbarrow on board 3 as he also held a comfortable draw against Pete Moss that continues a welcome return to form for him since the Christmas break.

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ missed the services of a flu-ridden John Kerrane on board 5, but his replacement Neil Bamford did his job exceptionally by beating Ray Cully on board 5. I’m not sure if Ray ran out of time in the final position of the game below because it seems as if White still has plenty to play for even if he is certainly worse. Whether it be on time or not, congratulations go to Neil for winning this crucial game.

Team Captain, Martin Syrett, suffered another evening of pain and anguish as he once again fell victim to a nasty tactic that lost him a piece for nothing. This left the score level at 2 all with just the board 2 encounter left to play and the tension at the Lee Mount Club was high. Both teams really needed to win the match in order to pull away from the relegation zone.

This last game was probably the most interesting and complicated game of the night. If you had scored the match on paper before hand you would have expected Hebden Bridge’s Dave Shapland to be too strong for Howard Wood, but in the event Howard played nicely in a Fianchetto Variation of the Sicilian Defence. Dave’s queen’s side counter play never got going and Howard’s rickety looking king’s side attack proved to be more dangerous than it first appeared.

In the game above the players had only reached White’s 22nd move by the time the rest of the games had been concluded and both players were beginning to look like they would get embroiled in a time scramble. Howard had offered Dave a draw after playing 21.Qe2 and Dave, waiting to see the outcome of the board 4 game, declined and then had a long think about his own move 21. The computer suggests that the best continuation would have been 21…Rf8. The game move is not disastrous but it took Dave a long time to play it. Howard quickly played 22.f4 (which seems to have been a missed opportunity as 22.Nd6!? looks very promising) and offered Dave the draw again. Now with only about 10 minutes each to play another 14 moves Dave had to do some speedy risk assessment. He said afterwards,

“The position seemed to me to be just about equal but I could see a lot of danger for Black. I thought I had it covered and was planning to play 22… a6 if I had decided to play on. However, I considered the complications ahead would not be played accurately by either side due to the time trouble we were both in. At a congress, or in the event that the outcome of this game did not effect the match result, I would certainly have played on but, in the end, I considered Pete’s excellent result on board 1 and thought, ‘it would be a shame for that result not to mean anything and if I lose then that will be what happens’. This made up my mind and I accepted Howard’s offer.”

As a final note it is worth mentioning that Dave was right, 22…a6 does appear to secure Black a small advantage but the position remains very sharp and complicated. Let us hope that, at the end of the season, this single decision does not decide the fate of the ‘B’ team’s status. The final match card is given below.

Halifax ‘A’ – Hebden Bridge ‘B’
D.Ursal ½ - ½ P. Olley
H.Wood ½ - ½ D. Shapland
P.Moss ½ - ½ A.Leatherbarrow
C.Velosa 1 – 0 M. Syrett
R.Cully 0 – 1 N.Bamford
2½ – 2½

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Hardest chess problem in the world?

Hebden Bridge Chess Club members will be well acquainted with my passion for digging up chess curiosities from across the ‘interweb’. Recently I came across the perplexing puzzle below. It’s White to play and mate in 1.

White to play and mate in 1

Yes, in 1! Try putting that one through your computer and it will fry it’s chips before it finds the answer. If I told you that the solution is a VERY unusual move that is no longer strictly within the bounds of the rules of the game then that might help you a little bit. The solution will be revealed at the bottom of this post.

Anyway, the legend around this particular problem is shrouded in mystery. No-one knows who composed it, nor do they know when, but it is evident that this puzzle pre-dates the publication of FIDE’s official rules of the game (another little clue there).

As usual, I was not satisfied with this lack of provenance and so, having tried to cultivate a lead from the internet and failed, I turned to this blog’s old friend and oracle on chess history, the Duchess of Blunderboro, to see if she might be able to provide me with a clue. So, last week I sent her an instant message with the problem attached. Here is how our chat developed:

Intermezzo: Hi Duchess. Any idea who composed this problem?

Duchess: Oh yes! That one is one of Grand Fathers. It’s a funny story actually.

Intermezzo: Wow! Care to elaborate for me? How about a blog post?

Duchess: Certainly!

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to the Duchess, who will explain all.

The Duchess of Blunderboro
“I first encountered this position in June 1937 and I was 15 years old. It was a warm summer’s day. I had taken my chess set out to the conservatory and was thumbing through one of my Grandfathers old score books in a bid to convince my Father that I was taking my chess education seriously. I had idly played through several games without taking too much time to consider the ideas behind the moves when I reached the final stages of the game in which the position in question appeared. Noticing that the game lasted only a few moves more I paused for a moment to visualise them as I couldn’t be bothered to play them out over the board. As I did this a voice from just behind me said “There’s an amusing story behind that position”.

Jumping with the shock of the sudden interruption, I turned to see that Daddy had sneaked up behind me and was smiling at the recollection of some long distant memory. “It looks like a perfectly straightforward position to me. Black should really have resigned long ago” I observed a little put out that I was being spied upon.

“I’d have to agree with you,” said my Father as he moved round the table to sit down opposite me. “But how about if I told you that Granddad had missed a very unusual and extremely witty mate in one in this very position?”

A cursory glance at the board told me that there was no such mate in one. “Impossible!” I announced. There is no way for White to mate in one move, even by some such sneaky means as an under promotion.”

“Again, I agree with you,” my Father beamed back, “and so did Granddad. But when you’ve been told that there is a mate in one by non-other than the great Adolf Anderrsen, you have to take it seriously.”

“What? “ I spluttered. “Anderssen saw this game and found mate in one?”

The Cafe de la Regence

“Indeed he did,” confirmed my Father. “Your Granddad played this game in Paris at the Café de la Regence in 1878. It was a casual game against a fellow of no particular consequence but, as was his habit in those days, he recorded the score so that he could study the game at a later date. It just so happened that there was a big international tournament taking place in Paris at that time and consequently several of the world’s best were taking their leisure in the café which was renowned as a venue for chess playing. Anderssen, who was nearly 60 years old at that point and competing in what turned out to be his last tournament, happened to be one of small group kibitzing Granddad’s game right at it’s very end and had had a joke with him at it’s conclusion saying

Adolf Anderssen in later life
“Did you know that you missed a very amusing check mate in one a couple of moves before the end?”

Your Granddad had been dumbstruck as he well knew who Anderssen was but was totally convinced that no such mate existed so he didn’t know how to respond. Anderssen had quickly set up the crucial position on the board again and then said.

“The solution really is most unusual. In fact I’d say it would make a striking problem. Check mate in one move. Can you find it?”

Your Granddad told me that he, his opponent and the growing group of kibitzers stared in stunned silence for a couple of minutes trying to find the answer. After a while it became evident that they couldn’t do it so, quietly, Anderssen reached across the board and pushed the White pawn to b8. He then picked it up and replaced with… a black knight!”

As he said these words my Father replicated the great man’s actions, under promoting the pawn to a black knight. He chuckled merrily as he did so. I starred open mouthed in amazement for it was, undeniably, checkmate.

1. b8=N (black) and check mate!
“But, surely that’s illegal,” I stammered.

“Yet again, I must agree with you,” laughed my Father. “But in fact, at the time this game was played there was no specific rule stating that a pawn had to be promoted to a piece of the same colour!”

So, this then is the story behind the position which has since become known a chess problem of unknown origin. For myself I like to think that the origin was Anderssen himself for he was a renowned composer to chess problems and had said himself that the position would have made a striking puzzle. Being as he died not long after the Paris tournament I often imagine that this position might have been found amongst his documents after he died unpublished and uncredited. This is fanciful of me perhaps, but it's plausible.”

Thanks, as ever, go to the Duchess for bringing us this 'exclusive' story. As a final note on this, the hardest of chess problems, I should add that FIDE’s official rules require that a pawn on the eighth rank must promote to a piece of the same colour