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Huddled beneath one of the shabbiest raincoats I have ever encountered, the old man sat in a dark corner of the cafe. In front of him on the table was a pocket chess set which had seen even more wear than the coat.

As I approached, he quickly scattered a handful of white pieces on the board. Slowly, he added a black king, to leave the position in the diagram. He looked up impatiently and said: "White to play; mate in two."

I leaned over and played the first move, but the old man's hand came up with great speed and slapped the piece from my grasp. "Not that way!" he snapped. Replacing the piece, he gave the board a quarter turn. I now realised that the white squares had been so soiled I had thought them black. I reorientated my thoughts, with the white king now evidently on the back rank on g1. Again I began to make a move and again he slapped the piece from my hand and turned the board through another right angle.

The same thing happened once more. Finally, when I had solved the fourth problem, he nodded, snapped the set shut, and left the cafe. I never saw him again.


A) 1.g8=Q Kf6 2.Qg7 mate; B) 1.b8=R Kxe5 2.Re8 mate;

C) 1.d8=N Ke5 2.Nc6 mate;

D) 1.e8=B Ke4 2.Bc6 mate.