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MatPlus.Net Forum General The story behind a problem
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(1) Posted by Marcos Roland [Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020 19:27]

The story behind a problem

This text is a complement of “The problems of my life”, that comes four days later. I simply had no enough energy to finish my original project in the intended time. One day I’ll write a book on chess problems, and I intend not just to analyse some compositions, mine and others’, but also to tell stories about some of the problems I have composed. I think this can be useful, at least for making the text more colourful or less boring.

I have been composing mostly helpmates. I intend here to tell about some vicissitudes involved in the composition of a very successful problem:

StrateGems 2019
1st Prize
(= 3+16 )

3 solutions

1.Sxe6 dxc8=B 2.Sd4 Bxg4 3.Sc2 Ke6 4.Kc8 Kxe7#
1.Ba2 dxc8=S 2.Sd7+ exd7 3.Bf7 Sd6 4.Be8 dxe8=Q#
1.Sxd7+ exd7 2.e6 dxc8=R+ 3.Kd7 Kf6 4.Kd6 Rd8#

This problem was composed at the end of 2018, between 20 and 23 December. So, it was a Christmas Composition… For me, it’s not difficult to remember the key steps in the process of composing because about it I exchanged some emails with my friend Marjan Kovacevic all of them preserved in my email-box.

Before going into the subject, I would like to point out three basic ways in my experience in composing (sound) helpmates:
1st) I conceived a scheme feasible with two or more solutions, and I succeeded in making a sound composition from it, with the desired number of solutions;
2nd) I conceived a scheme for a moremover (4 or more moves) helpmate with just one solution, because I supposed it would be very hard to get more than one solution, and I was right not being more ambitious;
3rd) I conceived a scheme for a moremover helpmate with just one solution, meeting a certain thematic requirement, and afterward I “forgot” about that requirement, and I tried to add more solutions (“unthematic”), and I succeeded.

This problem was composed according to the third way above mentioned, and I think it is the only example I can consciously give of such a development in my compositions. I worked very hard in it, perhaps obsessively, and had some help of my readiness to pay attention to my “parallel thoughts”, and good luck too!

The original intention was to compose a problem meeting the requirements of the Thematic Tourney 219, 2019, of the Russian site SuperProblem, the Black and White Kniest theme. So, the first solution was intended to meet those requirements. We see that the black King is mated on the square c8, after the black piece standing there previously is captured by a white piece, which leaves that square without being captured. Similarly, the WK will play on the e6 square, initially occupied by a WP. But there is a crucial difference: the WK will not stand on e6, he’ll make another move, to finish on e7 in the mate position!

The theme was very hard to perform in two solutions, so I would be happy with just one solution. Incidentally, the best I could do for that tournament was a commended h#5, with just one solution, but also with a good try (problem 22 of the collection I have posted the other day).

My first version of the StrateGems winner problem was this:

(= 3+15 )

h#4 (the BP on g7 is not necessary, incidentally)

1.Sxc6 bxa8=B 2.Se5 Be4 3.Sf3 Kc6 4.Ka8 Kxc7#

This version I showed to Marjan, in an email dated December 21, asking for his opinion. “I liked it right away”, said Marjan. Good friend! Feeling myself stimulated, of course, I started to look for possible improvements or enrichments. Evidently, if I wanted more solutions, I should look for them in connection with other possible promotions. Since it was out of the question to get other solutions performing the very hard Black and Kniest theme, my search for “possible improvements or enrichments” would possibly imply to give up the idea of presenting the problem to the SuperProblem’s thematic tournament.

At first, I thought it would be practically impossible to get a sound solution involving a promotion to Queen. “Too many cooks or duals on the way”, I thought. But I estimated perfectly viable to get solutions with the two other underpromotions (knight and rook). So, I first considered a scheme like this, in order to get a solution with a promotion to knight:

(= 3+14 )


The intended solutions were:
1.Sxd6 cxb8=B 2.Sf5 Bf4 3.Sd4 Kd6 4.Kb8 Kxd7#
1.f5 cxb8=S 2.Bf6 Sc6 3.Bd8 Kd4 (tempo) 4.Rb8 Sxa7#

However, I soon realized that the scheme with a black rook on a8 is not viable, because of a “structural” cook: White can play 1…cxb8=S and 2…Sa6, while Black does some hideaway move with the Queen and another indifferent move, and then it follows 3.Sxc7+ dxc7 4.Rb8 cxb8=Q#.

BUT in the process I found a very interesting possibility: instead of that mate with 4…Sa7, I could try to get a sound solution with a mate on d8, combining promotions to knight and Queen, without the rook on a8, that means, avoiding that “structural” cook! Please, take a look: 1.f5 cxb8=S 2.Bf6 Sc6 3.Sc7+ dxc7 4.Bd8 cxd8#. This was really exciting!

Good to note that, at some point, I had become a little disheartened with the difficulties I was facing, and asked Marjan what did he think about a more modest setting, with no promotion at all, and my good friend was peremptory: “Dear Marcos, there is an experience called ‘love at first sight’. Your promotion concept simply looks more original to me.” I confess that, at first, I didn’t like this “encouragement”: “'love at first sight', damn Marjan”, I thought… But he was right.

Another important moment was when I realized that I had misunderstood the thematic requirement of the SuperProblem’s tournament: also the White King should stand on the “Kniest square” in the mate position! So, my problem, even with just one solution, was not thematic in the sense of that tournament, given that the WK makes another move after Kc6.

At this point, I became really obsessive in the search for another solution. Since I didn’t need anymore the rook on a8, I came back to the original setting, translating the position one column to the left, and making some necessary changes, to get something like this:

(= 3+15 )


But, of course, my intended second solution implied, in principle, some duals, since Black can change the order of his moves in several ways, for instance: 1.Bh3 bxa8=S 2.e5 Sb6 3.Sb7+ cxb7 4.Bc8 bxc8=Q# or 1.e5 bxa8=S 2.Bh3 Sb6 3.Sb7+ cxb7 4.Bc8 bxc8=Q#, etc. I knew that previously, but what else could I do? I “had” to find a way to eliminate the duals in this scheme! Then came the decisive moment: all of a sudden, in that “forest” of duals presented by the computer, I saw a “special dual”, a “sound dual”, that means, “a dual without duals”! And it came in a pleasant form, featuring an ambush: 1.Bb5! bxa8=S 2.Sxb7+ cxb7 3.Bd7 Sb6 4.Bc8 bxc8=Q#!

Wow! All I had to do now was to “close the door” for preventing the black bishop to head for c8 using the h3-c8 diagonal, and my “special dual” would become a sound solution! Then, very quickly I found the right position:

(= 3+14 )


1.Sxc6 bxa8=B 2.Se5 Be4 3.Sf3 Kc6 4.Ka8 Kxc7#
1.Bb5 bxa8=S 2.Sb7+ cxb7 3.Bd7 Sb6 4.Bc8 bxc8=Q#

At this point, I was, at the same time, satisfied and tired. I didn’t get the solution with promotion to rook, but I had something I didn’t believe at first: a solution with promotions to Queen and knight, besides the first solution with promotion to bishop. And what a gorgeous pair of solutions I had!

And what about the possible promotion to rook? Well, “if” I could put a pawn on a5 and the BS on d8, yes, I could have my third solution:

(= 3+15 )


1.Sxc6 bxa8=B 2.Se5 Be4 3.Sf3 Kc6 4.Ka8 Kxc7#
1.Bb5 bxa8=S 2.Sb7+ cxb7 3.Bd7 Sb6 4.Bc8 bxc8=Q#
1.Sxb7+ cxb7 2.c6 bxa8=R+ 3.Kb7 Kd6 4.Kb6 Rb8#

But there is a “little” problem: this position is illegal!

So, as I said, satisfied and tired, I wrote to my good friend Marjan, telling him I would send my best setting, with two solutions, to a magazine. I sent him the diagram without the solutions. Then Marjan answered to me: “I will try to solve it at the end of my working day.”

However, after I had lunch and had some rest, the position came back to my mind and I thought: “Pity, that position with the black pawn on a5 is illegal. But couldn’t I change it somehow, to ‘legalize’ it”? Then I came back to the chessboard, then to the computer, and translated (again!) the position to the right, in order to possibly make legal the tripled black pawns originally on the “a” column. This time, I had to translate the position two columns to the right, in order to get some hope of success. So, making some necessary adaptations, I had a new scheme, something like this:

(= 3+13 )


Now, came the last scene of the drama, and the most painstaking: to find a legal and sound position accommodating the third solution. It took me around six hours of very concentrated work to find finally the right position. For the first time in my experience as a problemist, I used all the Black’s pieces in a problem:

(= 3+16 )


Then, before Marjan answered my previous message, I wrote to him again, saying the following words: “Dear Marjan, habemus allumwandlung! With my best votes of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and all my friends of the dearest Belgrade Chess Club!”
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(2) Posted by Alain Villeneuve [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 00:07]

This is really fascinating : all these complexities in the composing process, that solvers (like me) suspect but do not really know. They say that, in war, a victory narrated in detail looks like a defeat, but it seems no true in chess composition !
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(3) Posted by Marcos Roland [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 11:20]

Thanks once more, Alain! I always knew that, if I one day would write something about chess problems, some stories should be told, even if somehow risky... I am glad you liked this "battle report", this encourages me. Speaking about the composition a little more, I thought that the version with two solutions could be much enjoyable, but I was aware that the overall content was rather chaotic (although this in itself could be appealing...). So, the obsessive search for the third solution, and the Allumwandlung, was also a search for more unity. Cheers!
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(4) Posted by Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 12:24]

This is another good argument for co-productions. Documentation of the process.
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(5) Posted by Joost de Heer [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 14:15]

You can save one pawn by shifting the position one column to the right. Or am I missing something?
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(6) Posted by Marcos Roland [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 14:45]

Unfortunately, you're right Joost!
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(7) Posted by Marcos Roland [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 14:48]

But not! Unfortunately, this position is illegal:
(= 3+15 )

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(8) Posted by Marcos Roland [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 14:50]

Illegality was my nightmare in the search for the third solution...
(Read Only)pid=19724
(9) Posted by Joost de Heer [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 18:46]

Why would this be illegal? The pawn structure is legal (b7xc6xd5, c7xd6, gxh5/6, exfxg).
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(10) Posted by Olaf Jenkner [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 19:07]

I played 20 moves back, everything is OK.
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(11) Posted by Marcos Roland [Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020 19:27]

Sorry, Joost, you're right. I thought the pawn's structure was illegal.
(Read Only)pid=19728
(12) Posted by Marcos Roland [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 00:19]

I read Steffen's comment ("This is another good argument for co-productions. Documentation of the process.") four days ago, and I didn't understand at the time what did he mean. I've just reread it, and I still don't understand.
(Read Only)pid=19745
(13) Posted by seetharaman kalyan [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 04:42]

He meant of course that you have email records of the various steps and versions because you correspond with co-producer. When you compose and complete it yourself you might not keep track of the intermediate positions!!
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(14) Posted by Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 07:12]

That was indeed what I meant. I don't keep good track of my own versions, but looking back at all my co-productions with Martin Minski I can see exactly how the studies evolved. And who was to blame :-)
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(15) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 07:56]

In my case, Martin is always to blame for anything good in the study, and I am to blame for the basic idea. :-)
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(16) Posted by Hauke Reddmann [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 09:59]

Unless you have a third author ;-))
(Read Only)pid=19749
(17) Posted by Marcos Roland [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 11:07]

Well, when I decided to post this story, I thought I was just testing people's reaction to this type of narrative, which is unusual in publications about chess problems. I did not imagine that I would also be testing the education, the character and the civilizational behavior of certain people. So, it took me a long time to understand Steffen's comment. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I am perplexed by the naturalness, ease, almost impudence with which he, seconded by other colleagues, made such an offensive comment to the morality and dignity of a person that he does not even know closely, and that he should respect, even if only because of the universal postulate, civilizational principle, of the "presumption of innocence". Now, "gentlemen", the problem that I posted here is not a "co-production". If it was a joint production, it would have been published with the names of the authors, one by one. Not here: it's a problem, good or bad, from a single author. It was published like that.
If you think there is a co-producer, please say his name, and who knows, if he is reading, he may or may not confirm your "suspicion".
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(18) Posted by Marcos Roland [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 18:29]

Fellows, it seems I over-reacted. It was a sad misunderstanding caused perhaps by stress. I apologize to everyone for the bitter words, especially Steffen, whom I sincerely admire. Have a nice day.
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(19) Posted by seetharaman kalyan [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 18:50]

Funny... No one presumed your problem is co production. Only assumed that similar correspondence happens many times in joint compositions also and hence becomes easy to keep track of early versions.

By the way your problem is excellent and I enjoyed looking at it. It is obvious why Marian appreciated it.
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(20) Posted by Marcos Roland [Monday, Oct 5, 2020 20:07]

Thank you, Seetharaman.
(Read Only)pid=19758

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MatPlus.Net Forum General The story behind a problem