Chess

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The Independent Online
Most serious players have no more than a casual interest in composed chess problems. A century or two ago, many problems were game-like positions with solutions that looked like the sort of mating combination to make a player proud. Yet the skills of play and the art of the problem have steadily diverged until a good problem looks to a player little more than a jumble of pieces, the majority of them white, scattered on odd squares, with a stipulation demanding mate in a specified number of moves in a position that's totally won anyway.

Such a viewpoint would be missing the point. For a well-constructed problem can equal the beauty, and far exceed the purity, of anything one may find in a game. You just need to make the effort not only to solve it but to understand what the composer is trying to do.

Take the diagram position, for example. Composed by J Fulpius in 1974, it is White to play and mate in two.

In solving, it is often a good idea to start by looking at Black's possible moves and in this case it should suggest the composer's intention. Black's pieces are very much tied down to protecting each other or stopping mates.

Any move of the knight on g8 allows Nxf6. The rook on g7 is tied to preventing Bxg6. Similarly the Bc6 (Qd5), Bf6 (Qxe5) and pawns b7 (Qxc6), b6 (Nxc5), c3 (Nd2) and h4 (Nxg3) cannot budge.

That should suggest a theme of zugzwang with a key move having no threat, but forcing one black piece to desert its post. All we need is to provide mates for moves of the Nb2, Rg3 and pawns c5, g6 and g5.

The answer is 1.Qe6! with c4 and g4 met by Rd4 and Rf4 mate, gxh5 by Qf5 mate, Rh3 by Qg4 mate and Nxd3 by Qc4. Seen in this way, the original jumble acquires total harmony.

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