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MatPlus.Net Forum General Why and how did you start composing?
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(1) Posted by Marjan Kovačević [Monday, Jun 1, 2020 16:17]

Why and how did you start composing?

There is a question solvers put so often: how to switch to composing?
I guess each composer had a different starting motivation, in different age and in very different circumstances. Could we share our experiences and try to help new generation?

For me, it started very early, being 10 years and enchanted by youth solving competitions in Belgrade (mostly #2 miniatures). Next, we had at least half a dozen newspapers and magazines, publishing #2, #3, #4 and endgames miniatures. Solving them, cutting, and gluing in a booklet, made them look even more important for me. The names over diagrams sounded as names of magicians, especially when coming from faraway countries.
After two years of idolizing composers, I started noticing originals with names from my own city, including women and kids ...
I guess these funny facts were the main triggers for the kid to say "If they could, why couldn't I?". It was an irrational question of vanity, far from any quality. My first published problems were largely improved by the endlessly kind editors of newspapers, and I had no idea why it was needed. Anyway, their kindness inflated the kid's ignorant ego to the point of no return.

My example couldn't serve as a model today, since it was based on a long chain of lucky circumstances of that time.
Would you describe your own triggers?
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(2) Posted by Kenan Velikhanov [Tuesday, Jun 2, 2020 02:03]

Solving chess problems got me interested in trying to compose by myself ,which I started doing when I was 16.
I would compose a lot and give my chess problems to neighbors to solve them ,with whom I played chess almost every day. I had no idea of themes and ideas of chess composition,or composing techniques.
All I tried to do was to find difficult keys.
I got my first composition lessons from R.Aliovsadzade who at the time was Chairman of the Azerbaijan CCC.
Soon, I am going to put out a book dealing with composing techniques . The book is written in two languages, Azerbaijani and English.
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(3) Posted by Vlaicu Crisan [Tuesday, Jun 2, 2020 08:57]

I started solving and composing at the same time, when being 14. In April 1987, the Cluj junior chess playing teams (6 boys and 4 girls) were participating in a regional event against the similar teams from other counties from Transylvannia (Brasov, Mures, Harghita, Salaj). The event was held in Brasov, who had a very strong team: Liviu Dieter Nisipeanu (aged 10 at the time) was playing at board 4 for the local team.

We travelled from Cluj to Brasov by train. It was quite a long trip - around 5 hours. So, to keep us busy our chess trainers asked us to solve some twomovers. It was for the first time I actually tried to solve chess problems. Soon after the otb competition was finished, I bought a one year subscription to Revista Romana de Sah and competed in the regular monthly solving tournament. There were more than 100 solvers sending their solutions. In 1987 I finished on 60, next year on 30 and in 1989 I was finally in top 10. Unfortunately, soon afterwards the magazine ceased to appear.

At the same time, I was fascinated about the following geometry problem: on a chess board place a rook and a bishop. Which is the maximum number of squares they can meet each other? Finding the right answer was not so trivial. After that, I created my own problem: how can you create a position where a knight plays on these intersection squares? I thought the Knight must be captured by either the Rook or the Bishop, after each of them played on one of their common intersection points. The basic scheme of the threemover was ready in just 3 hours, ensuring it was correct took several years. Although it was my first composed problem, I did not hurry up to publish it - I eventually submitted it 5 years later in a tournament. That first problem is still my favorite and its own special history can be read in detail in The Problemist Supplement.

That was only half of the story. When in the high school (1991), I made a bold decision: to specialize myself in fairies and retros. Nobody in my country was considered an expert in these fields and most of the sacred monsters would have preferred to see me working on their own fields of expertize: endgames and/or direct problems. However, I thought it will be impossible for me to reach to their high level, so I reluctantly wanted to specialize in an entirely different area.

So, I have written a message to Denis Blondel, Phenix editor in chief, asking him to send my regularly his magazine. I warned him it will be not possible to pay a full subscription, as it will cost more than the monthly wage of my mother's salary. In exchange, I promised I will do my best to solve the problems and also send my originals to the magazine. Much to my pleasant surprise, Denis accepted. It was quite a huge shock: I did not actually expect that solving fairies and retros could be so difficult and demanding! In many years I learnt what is fairy chess composition all about and started to enjoy solving the retros. For many years I considered myself a good solver and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Then Mircea Manolescu took me and Paul Raican in his car for participating in my first PCCC meeting in 2000. Well, I soon found out that solving against the clock was an entirely different story, as a smiling Michel Caillaud told me. But I kept going to congresses and slowly made some progresses.

Around 2007, when I was still in world's top 20 as a solver, Paul Raican told me I should give up solving and just focus on composing. He considered I was far more talented in chess composition than solving. Well, that was another shock: at that time I was really willing to get a solving grand master norm and most of my chess compositions were done just for fun! But I also knew Paul had a good intuition. So I had to give a try and see if he was right. From that moment I decided to take chess composition more seriously and leave solving on a secondary place.

So, I would say there have been many triggers in my case, but also many, many lucky circumstances! I guess just a little bit of resilience from my side also helped the cause.
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(4) Posted by Joost de Heer [Tuesday, Jun 2, 2020 09:32]

Tim Krabbé's books got me interested in retro-analysis. When Philippe Schnoebelen started the retros mailing list and website (1995 I think?) I joined it, and then I learned about proof games. I started trying to compose them, and my first proofgame was published in Phénix, also in 1995 ( When I started to send my compositions to Probleemblad (where my first proofgame was published in 1998,, I learned about fairy chess, and started composing fairies as well.

I've never been interested in orthodox direct-mates (both solving and composing), but occasionally I play through the solution of one with a theme that interests me (e.g. Zwickmühle).
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(5) Posted by Paz Einat [Wednesday, Jun 3, 2020 09:03]

I started playing copetitive chess around 1970, 13 years old, in a small and remote town (~2000 inhabitants at that time with the best player much below mater candidate level). I bumped into the magazine Shahmat that had studies & problems columns (edited by the late Aloni brothers), and in 1971 I tried to solve one of the original studies, rather successfully. From there I looked at the problems section but the unreadable signs of #2, H, S, etc. put me off. There was no one to help. Later on, looking at the solutions, I figured out what all these meant.
After solving a few problems I had an immediate urge to try and make them myself. Within a few months during 1972, and much more in 1973, I was immersed in (very immature as expected) composing. I stopped playing chess alltogether. Only when I learned more on "modern" twomovers, and managed to compose my first recprocal changes, in 1974, I really became a composer.
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(6) Posted by Hauke Reddmann [Wednesday, Jun 3, 2020 11:52]

Since the chairman of the club I played chess in was a
reknowned problemist of his time (Walter Szameitat,
to be precise), and since I am a total loon since birth :-),
it was obvious in retrospect I'll end up as a all-in
OTB/solver/problemist combination.
My 1st published problem dates to 1975 (I was 14)
but I dabbled in that surely a few years even before
that (since I loved math problems already in the cradle :-)

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(7) Posted by Rewan Demontay (Real Name: James Malcom) [Wednesday, Jun 3, 2020 16:16]; edited by Rewan Demontay (Real Name: James Malcom) [20-06-03]

I’ve been playing chess ever since I learned it in third grade. In 7th grade. for whatever reason, my interest in it spiked again and I began to explore it on the Internet. I found Chess Stack Exchange in 8th grade and that’s where I had first had contavt with Andrew Buchmann without knowing it at the time in 2018,:

It than seems that I went dormant for some time until around March of 2019, where I then starting posting. self-made puzzles on Puzzling Stack Exchange:

Then I bumped into Hauke Reddmann here on CSE, where recommened Matplus as a great place to ak my question (which I still haven’t done!) since problemists live here. I made my first post here:

And then I made my first shit(ty)post, and that’s when I truly started to learn the ropes of composing from Reddmann:

And ever since have been lounging around around Matplus, SuperProblem. and the Die Schwalbe website. I’ll get into publishing in magazines and such hete soon hopefully.

In fact, my first non-Matplus true chess problems can be seen here, diagrams 9 and 10:

(I don’t count the my PSE puzzles as “true.”)


At present I am a mere Internet presence, largely going my by psedpudonym “Rewan Demony” (Google that if you want to find more on what I do on the net) on all non-chess related ventures. I give only my real name in chess because if you are going to get credit for your work, you must use your real name.

I hope that I can become a real world force too someday, and open my own wesbite, because as of yet nobody technically kmows the looks of my face (but you could know if you can find the one place my real name is with photos of me!)
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(8) Posted by Marjan Kovačević [Wednesday, Jun 10, 2020 18:29]

Thank you for your stories! Interestingly, all of them began at young age.
Turning to key-triggers for player/solver to try to compose, it seems lack of knowledge might be an advantage for a bold start, in a “now or never” way. Especially when compared with experienced solvers who saw too many masterpieces to dare competing with them.
As Paz described: “After solving a few problems I had an immediate urge to try and make them myself”. Or as Vlaicu writes about switching from orthodox to fairies: “I thought it would be impossible for me to reach to their high level”.
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(9) Posted by Alain Villeneuve [Friday, Jun 12, 2020 00:50]

Yes Marjan. Like Picasso said : "A true artist must be an ignorant, because knowledge hinders perception and expression".

It is funny because I explain "why I never became a composer" !

In 1963 (I was 17 old) I composed a rather good h#3 (after working 3 months). Then I understood that... it was (it seemed) to late to compose, because I already had seen too much masterpieces and I did not see how I could match all them. I was no more "an ignorant". So I took the decision to be... simply a chess player.

Like Milan Vukčević said, "It became more interesting to go from one tournament to another than to sit alone and create what others may refuse to understand. It was so much simpler to just win a game and watch the public admire the result without any regard to the manner it was achieved".

"Vuk" speaks of a "bad" decision. Thank God, he took the good one later. But he was a genius. I am not !
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(10) Posted by Marjan Kovačević [Friday, Jun 12, 2020 01:32]

Thanks, Alain, this is what I had in mind.
Your comment reminds me the phenomenon of Vukota Nikoletić. He lived in the middle of the troubled Kosovo, had no serious literature, and being around 40 discovered self-mate in the magazines. Then, he slowly and stubbornly created his own theory of S#, ignoring all fashionable trends, and finally managed to change the views of all our community. It's impossible to imagine what he would still do if not stopped at the peak of his creativity. Yes, he was never a serious player or solver, he just needed to create.
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(11) Posted by Neal Turner [Saturday, Jun 13, 2020 12:15]

Notwithstanding my affection for Alain, I can't let his assertions go unchallenged.

In every field there are great masters and masterpieces, do we discourage those wanting to take up literature, music or art because they'll never reach the level of Shakespeare, Mozart or Rembrandt?
Of course not, so why discourage ourselves from making chess problems just because there's lots of great stuff already out there.
And there's been many more masterpieces produced since 1963 - if he'd have stuck with composing maybe he could have had his own name over some of them.

And what of our master composers? Is everything they produce a masterpiece?
Certainly not - apart from Marjan - not all their problems win 1st Prizes - sometimes they're slogging it out with the rest of us for 3rd Commend.
It seems to me that the most notable trait these guys have is that they've mastered the techniques (techniques? what techniques?) of construction which enables them to be very productive.
So even if only 10% of their output is at 'masterpiece' level, being so prolific, it can make for a very nice anthology.

But all this talk of masterpieces and prize-winners misses the point, which is that it's not the result that's important, but the process.
Just as chess players of all levels can enjoy playing the game, so the process of composing can be enjoyed by anyone.
If people are put off, we only have ourselves to blame with our insistence on the importance of 'originality'.
Nowhere else are beginners expected to produce original work, in fact often they're encouraged to copy the work of the old masters.
But we say No!
The value of a composition depends first and foremost on its originality!
Even if that was true, how are beginners expected to know what's gone before?
It's no wonder we have so much difficulty finding new recruits.
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(12) Posted by Marjan Kovačević [Tuesday, Jun 16, 2020 22:16]

Neal: "Nowhere else are beginners expected to produce original work, in fact often they're encouraged to copy the work of the old masters."

Wonderful point, Neal! So, how to avoid unintended plagiarism of our newcomers?
I could think of several directions to allow more originality at the start. Each of them contains inherent conflict with some of the classical criteria:

1. Constant changes of fashion
2. New forms of fairy chess
3. Unusual constructive tasks, as those presented in MPF
4. Out of single-box positions
5. Tasks heavily relying on modern computer programs ...
6. Any more?
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(13) Posted by Neal Turner [Wednesday, Jun 17, 2020 15:23]

So, how to avoid unintended plagiarism of our newcomers?

Marjan, this is my point - we shouldn't try to avoid it!
Let them do it - it doesn't matter as long as they take pleasure in the activity of composing.
Even now the chances of reproducing an existing position accidentally is very small.
But obviously the content of their problems will probably have been seen many times before, but so what?
It's always thrilling for a newcomer to see his diagram in print, it's exactly the boost a beginner needs to continue.
Most of them will understand that their effort is not groundbreaking, but even so the reception must be encouraging.
As in all endeavours, if they persist, develop their technique and gain more knowledge then there's no limit to the possibilities.
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(14) Posted by Hauke Reddmann [Wednesday, Jun 17, 2020 15:30]

Full ACK to Neal - look on my page where I collected my
chess compositions. 110% of the old stuff is either
bad or anticipated. (I listed all I found.) But this
neither hurt my development nor my reputation ;-)

Still, a n00b *should* look at masterpieces as soon as
possible. Only after buying the SCHWALBE my technical
abilities skyrocketed.
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(15) Posted by Marjan Kovačević [Thursday, Jun 18, 2020 00:13]

So, Neal, you are suggesting editors should forget anticipations in the case of beginners, and if there exist solvers' comments, the predecessors should be mentioned in a delicate way.
I don't know how many magazines follow such supportive strategy, but yes, they could be the main target for newcomers.
In the past we had many newspapers with originals and without tourneys, that served the same goal even better .
The most hostile media are formal tourneys, where even partly anticipated entries would be killed by judges.
Turning to attempts to organize youth competitions such as YCCC, what would you suggest?
What kind of:
1. genres,
2. themes (or no themes),
3. treatment of anticipated entries?
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(16) Posted by Andrew Buchanan [Thursday, Jun 18, 2020 05:50]; edited by Andrew Buchanan [20-06-22]

How I began to compose is maybe something for another time. What's more relevant given the turn of the thread is why I stayed. It's just my journey, but everyone is a newcomer at some point. What makes them stay?

Very early I stumbled across the composer community in These folks were just so *welcoming* - they even put up with my numerous grammar/spelling/accent errors in French! A bunch of us were able to share and develop ideas, partial problems, jokes etc, all in a non-critical way. There was a whole gamut of experience from newbies like me and Nicolas Dupont to modest world champions like Michel Caillaud. There was no judgement, no trolling and yet I pushed myself to improve: I couldn't get away with my own second best, but it didn't matter if others were better than me. In this cradle was formed Nicolas Dupont, who someone has described as perhaps the best proof game composer in the world today. It was both humbling and inspiring, and although that community is not so active these days, I still love all these guys.

A similar spirit I felt in the wonderful video: It's about music not chess, but I think everyone who loves composing will enjoy it. There was a tear in my eye at some points in this.

The Retro Mailing List also offered at the time a similar kind of support. A mailing list is a different kind of medium, people can get to know one another, and then follow up in 1-1 emails. But there were some simple composing task challenges at the time which operated through RML. So many people I met through that, although I still feel guilty that some of my early posts were jejune. But I made so many contacts through this, who are in my heart.

A third community I love is PDB: it's not ideal for discussion because there is no forum, just commenting on problems. But in a way that's ideal because it means that every discussion is very concrete. Another bunch of people I've come to know and love.

These days there's a lot of other channels for chess, and problems can have a space there. and are two I've frequented, and although they are limited in scope, I've made some really great collaborators there for composition.

For a long time, Facebook was relatively inactive in chess problems, but there is now an excellent group "Chess Studies and Compositions", which is very well moderated by an OTB GM & IM, together with veteran composer Steven Dowd and the young "Martin Gardner of chess problems", Satanick Mukhuty. This has attracted thousands of members, including some famous OTB super-GMs, and the standard of discussion is high but very friendly. Although some composition activity emerges, it's primarily about solving, and I hope I've learned a lot there, mainly about how little I know.

Ultimately this Loyd number business I've been writing about is not entirely silly: it's about showing that we are all connected to one another in history as well. If you read American Chess Bulletin from 1922, you see how close we are, in terms of the art and the concerns. The 05-06/1922 issue that I read talked about this great new concept of pin-model-mate which had just been developed in Norwich, UK. ACB had "originals", "problem chat". In some ways nothing has changed. There are differences in problem fashion but partly those are driven by the need for fresh design space which drives us all to be conceptual nomads, seeking new pastures.

"Gens Una Sumus" is the point.
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(17) Posted by Olaf Jenkner [Thursday, Jun 18, 2020 11:42]

Is Steven Dowd recently active? There are no comments in the PDB anymore. All connections to him were broken.
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(18) Posted by seetharaman kalyan [Thursday, Jun 18, 2020 13:09]

You should try Mike Precic. I think he is in touch with most US composers being team leader for wcct-11
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(19) Posted by Andrew Buchanan [Thursday, Jun 18, 2020 13:35]

Hi Olaf - I’ve messaged Steven in Facebook and given him the link here.
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(20) Posted by Kevin Begley [Thursday, Jun 25, 2020 20:58]; edited by Kevin Begley [20-06-25]

If rookies are not striving to creatively express their own ideas, why ever did they start composing?
No title could soothe the dreary languishing down a path where composers endeavor only to apprentice in service of a false hero's bias.

Experienced composers have no corner on the creativity market -- if anything, the opposite is true: the more experience you build, the harder you must work to overcome/escape your own biases.

Ignore the bloody awards! If you're counting album points, you're missing the whole point of composing!!

Experienced composers sit in judgement of themselves!
They determine the themes of thematic tourneys (it's always a mundane technical construction task, always in their wheelhouse -- creativity is shunned).

Rookies start composing because they don't care what anybody but the solvers think (that was our original audience).
They stop composing when they realize nobody solves (if your target audience is experienced composers, chess composition is a dead language).

I can show you prize after prize after prize from the gods of chess composition, and I can assure you, no human being ever devoted a single minute striving to solve their grotesque interpretation of a chess problem -- they aren't composed chess problems, they are merely composed chess patterns, which cater ONLY to the experienced crowd (which caters to itself).

Why should a rookie want to indulge in that? Ego?
Rookies start out wanting to make their solvers think. And if you never progress beyond that desire, you're a true master of the art.
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MatPlus.Net Forum General Why and how did you start composing?