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(21) Posted by Boris Shorokhov [Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 08:39]

In my opinion, if the white figure doesn't supervise a field near the black king, it "superfluous".
Е67: There are many other ways to block a line (without use only for this purpose a white figure). In this case the album-standard is pin - inpin+line closing.
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(22) Posted by Nikola Predrag [Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 13:20]

Yes, that may be one definition of a superfluos piece. But every helpmate ends as a direct #1, so the mate alone is hardly a defining characteristic of a helpmate genre. The interactive help-PLAY is the main content and there we should look for the use of the pieces. Is there a superfluos piece in the first #3 showing Bristol theme? The beauty of logic is even enriched by the complete uselessness of wR. However, the evaluation of the thematic use of pieces may be very delicate and tricky. Simple and rigid rules make the evaluation very easy but sometimes simply wrong.
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(23) Posted by Vladislav Nefyodov [Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 18:16]

Example #1 Peter Heyl
Such construction of white figures in a helpmate genre breaks main principle of a chess composition - a principle of economy of means. Look demonstrative edition.

(= 5+7 )
C+ solutions without changes

Therefore themes from an orthodox composition (not in all positions) in h# can't always receive approval.
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(24) Posted by Uri Avner [Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 19:53]

I would like to support Nikola's position.
Our aesthetic criteria should not be influenced too much by frozen conventions.
Who can tell me that a piece which has "only" an ideological function is superfluous?
Perhaps for me this is more important than the guarding of a square?
Like everything else in life (and art especially) all is relative, and so a beautiful motif like the anti-Levman in a h# would be welcome by me (Fide album included), with or without so called "superfluous" force. To my taste, the helpmate genre would be much poorer without it.
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(25) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Sunday, May 1, 2011 10:36]

I would not be so eager to call economy a frozen convention. I gladly accept the use of ornaments in a problem, even at the cost of economy, provided that the result is not too artificial. Mr. Nefyodov's version demonstrates, in my opinion, that the white pieces in the original problem (Re1 and Bh1) do not justify their use. Instead of using two white pieces to control e4, a single piece (or even a pawn, if we insist more in economizing) can do the job. It is true that we lose the effect of closing a white line, as there is no longer a line to close, but the implementation of this effect doesn't seem essential to the basic matrix.

This is not as clear in some other examples, so we can give them the benefit of doubt. Let me add that the composers must be very careful on the way they (we) will present the proposed theme.
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(26) Posted by Hauke Reddmann [Sunday, May 1, 2011 14:24]

A superfluous hint of a 2# expert: A white queen can
control more than one line around the black king.
(The cook danger, alas, is YOUR problem. As it comes
to me, a rook can do either. :P )

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(27) Posted by Uri Avner [Sunday, May 1, 2011 15:51]; edited by Uri Avner [11-05-01]

Yes, what Nefyodov's version has managed to do is spoil my enjoyment of Heyl's problem.
For me it is another demonstration of how the principle of economy can take the life out of a chess problem.
Don't get me wrong - economy for me is an important aesthetic ingredient, but so is the idea.
When it comes to the question of which of the two holy cows should get the priority (NOT in the sense of being slaughtered), my reply is the idea of course. Without economy a problem can somehow survive, not so without its soul - the idea.
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(28) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Sunday, May 1, 2011 18:20]

A few years ago, in one of the lectures given during the Belgrade chess festival, Harry Fougiaxis showed some examples of "weasels" in helpmates. I don't remember if the term was his or by someone else, but a (probably inaccurate) definition for a weasel would be "a piece or a group of pieces which can be removed from the diagram and the same solutions would still work". Sometimes, nice effects would be lost and in other examples what was left was a simple idea without much appeal or interest. I remember that the audience (including the lecturer himself) did not always agree that it was a good thing to demonstrate a weasel, because a nice problem would be ruined. However, the question is always the same: Was there really much more than a simple or worthless idea to the problem, which was hidden with artificial means (the weasels)?

Heyl's problem has a core idea which is nice enough, but maybe not very original or impressive. With the addition of two white pieces, the problem was improved aesthetically, but with serious compromises. So, Uri, I wonder whether it was not Nefyodov's version that took the life out of the problem, but the original problem itself. This will always be a difficult matter to decide on, and it makes the judges' task in this tourney, much more difficult than usual. One thing is certain. I am really intrigued to compose something for this section and see if I can do any better...
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(29) Posted by Dan Meinking [Sunday, May 1, 2011 20:11]

The term 'weasel' was popularized by CJF, although he borrowed it from a poem as I recall. "A weasel, sits on a teasel, something something...". If anyone has his book handy (I do not, unfortunately), you'll find the full quote there.
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(30) Posted by Michal Dragoun [Monday, May 2, 2011 01:11]

A weasel / Sits at an easel / Painting with a teasel. / Do you know why / This sly / Beast thus wastes his time? / He does it so / (if you must know) / My lines may have a rhyme. (Original in German by Christian Morgenstern). But term "weasel" was for the first time used by A. Gschwend in article in Schach-Echo 1974 (quoted by Chris. Feather in Black to play).
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(31) Posted by Nikola Predrag [Monday, May 2, 2011 01:13]

The economy is certainly basical universal principle. But what do we mean by 'economy'? We usually measure it 'materialistically'. What about the economy of the idea itself? Even the simpliest material objects just represent some abstract logical, esthetical or emotional idea or content that we really may enjoy.

The very existance of things without perceptible idea or content is not economical. The poor idea in the first place is 'superfluous'. If the whole problem is composed with the particular intention to get a piece which has no function in the end, then this piece simply IS NOT superfluous, it is the MAIN THEMATIC piece. But the IDEA of such problem may be more or less economical. The individual perception of the complexity and beauty of the IDEA tells us how worthy is the very existance of it.

Heyl's problem has no superfluous pieces if the author declares them thematic. Do these thematic pieces become 'thematically useless' in an interesting way, after interesting play? Both flights e3/f3 are initially guarded and both will be finally guarded by wRb3, but the choice of the 'finally useless piece' is determined only by guard/unguard of the mating square. Still, the thematic effects are the result of the play which thus becomes thematic (indirectly?!) in relation to the finally 'useless piece'. Does such help-play makes the whole idea of 'thematic useless piece' economical - or, is this theme economically presented by the PLAY? - that is the question, but the 'thematically useless pieces' are NOT superfluous, according to a definition of the theme.
There is also a question of a genre - wR/wB become definitely useless (cut off) after a mating move - after the second black move there is a direct #1. That suggests that such presentation of 'thematic uselessness' is not essentially a helpmate theme and thus not highly economical as the idea for h#. Additionally, the 'thematic pieces' are static in both solutions, that increases the feeling of doubtable economy.
Perhaps in longer helpmates the manoeuvres which would make some piece 'thematically useless' may be more complex, making the play highly thematic and the idea itself more economical. A convincing thematic play is much harder in h#2. Short manoeuvres make this theme look accidental and rather artificial. It seems that two features are required to achieve a convincing economy of this idea in short helpmates.

1. To disable the thematic piece DURING the help-play, so the finish with #1 would be determined by the choice of an already 'useless piece' - that would formally justify the genre. Of course, the good, convincing motifs and play that would make some piece 'useless' may be difficult to imagine.
The illustration is banal but formally it shows a kind of helpmate paradox - despite the 'intention to help', Black must close the white line.
(= 4+6 )
h#1; 2.1.

2. The most important may be the ARTISTIC form and content. If it convincingly surpasses the impression of accidental and artificial, the idea may be highly economical, despite, or better to say - EXACTLY BECAUSE OF the 'useless' pieces.

Both two mentioned features are achieved in E73 by Petkov. The equilibrium of 3 objects is by far more delicate than the balance of only 2. The supreme artistic form and content uses the inherent characteristics of chessboard. If there is something accidental or artificial, then there hardly exists a good problem at all.

"...I wonder whether it was not Nefyodov's version that took the life out of the problem, but the original problem itself. This will always be a difficult matter to decide on..."
Yes, it may be difficult, but the easy judgement may be wrong judgement, or in fact no judgement at all.

The economy of words or descriptions in a good story is not to be measured by their number. If all parts of a story are well interdependent, then no particular part is 'superfluous'. It must be exactly as big as the relation to the other parts requires to achieve a good drama. If you see one chapter as a 'weasel', then some other chapter may authomatically become a 'weasel' too ... and another ... and yet another. Finally, hundreds of pages of a story would be reduced to: "A man met a woman and they lived happily ever after" with a comment: "We already heard that story".
Chess composition has certainly some special features, but generally, like anything else in human creativity, it may be castrated by narrow mind. So please, use the scissors gently and carefully.
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(32) Posted by Kevin Begley [Tuesday, May 3, 2011 12:42]; edited by Kevin Begley [11-05-03]

Economy is a heavily loaded term in problem chess.
But, when it comes to overall material economy (total # of units), I see the two schools of thought narrowing into one:

1) The Formal (pseudo-Bohemian) School: Economy (of mating units & overall material) is paramount.

The p-B School has some adherents, but their very narrow (in fact primitive!) concept of "economy" feasts upon its own tail.
The larger concept of Economy (economy of moves, economy of aim/stipulation, economy of fairy pieces/conditions/boards, economy of twinning, etc) is often completely ignored; and thus, ironically, this school produces many uneconomical & unaesthetic problems.

A strict Bohemian School (which fully embraces all forms of Economy) may be a noble philosophy (if one has the good sense to admire its beautiful simplicity -- e.g., Forsberg's h#2), but it has very few adherents, today.

2) The Functional (Thematic) School: Thematic expression is paramount, economy is of secondary importance (but still, important).

The vast majority of problems today -- of virtually every composer! -- lay their foundation in this school's philosophy.
In fact, it is reasonable to argue that the pseudo-Bohemian School has been completely usurped by this school (e.g., Merediths, Miniatures, Tanagras, model-mates, ideal-mates, echo-mates, etc -- all these Bohemian ideals have simply been reclassified as forms of thematic content).
[Aside: it is self-evident that the resulting quantum-categorizations of these ideals -- e.g., 12 men, 7 men, 5 men, 4 men -- are both arbitrary and absurd; yet, they continue to motivate inferior realizations.]

This grand-unification seems to have reduced us to all to this one school -- and thus, I can not understand how there can be any debate about the MatPlus.Net JT.
If a "weasel" removed does not maintain the thematic expression (as it is clearly defined), there can be no debate that this would result in a paramount failure (even if the solution remains equivalent, thematic function is of primary importance).

That said, the thrust of Kostas' comments are well taken...
How far can a composer bend economy (and aesthetics), before the achievement of a particular theme becomes self-absurd?
Should not the theme justify (in some obvious way) the extremes required in its own realization?
And, if Economy and Aesthetics have truly been usurped (and reduced to forms of thematic content), how can these elements continue to be judged secondarily to all other forms of thematic content (or be ignored completely, as is often the case with Cyclone problems)?

These would seem complex questions, for any judge.
But, if you're willing to admit that judging a thematic chess problem is an entirely subjective endeavor -- same as judging a poem, or a painting, or a song, or any work of art (read: not a science to measure a sporting feat) -- then the answers are very obvious: Form and Function must justify one another, plainly, to the human audience.
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(33) Posted by Uri Avner [Friday, May 6, 2011 22:07]

Can any question mark be put regarding the beautiful achievement below which I was happy as judge (award published these days) to give a high distinction:

Anatoly Stepochkin
2nd Prize, The Problemist 2008
(= 7+10 )
1.Sxf5 Re5(Be5?) 2.Sd4 Sc4(Sf1?)#
1.Bxf5 Be5(Re5?) 2.Bxe4 Sf1(Sc4?)#

Judge's comments: "A chain reaction is put in motion once a 5th rank black battery is created. This stimulates the neutralisation of the battery by a fifth rank interference which provokes the d4/e4 self-block compensation. The Grimshaw dual avoidance on W1 plays a dominant role in all this. Courageous and well executed."
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(34) Posted by Dan Meinking [Friday, May 6, 2011 22:21]

No question here! Except, pray tell, what won 1st Prize??
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(35) Posted by Uri Avner [Friday, May 6, 2011 23:48]

To satisfy your curiosity, here's the 1st prizewinner (it was a close call between the two, I can tell you):

David Shire
1st Prize, The Problemist 2008
(= 6+6 )
1.Kxe5 Sg3(Sxd6?) 2.Rd5(Bd5?) Bf4#
1.Kxe4 Sg4(Sxc4?) 2.Bd5(Rd5?) Rf4#

Judge's comments: "Readers need not be deceived by the simple-looking position, as the modest means conceal an ingenious idea. The noncaptured wS in each line must provide a guard anticipating the wB/wR interference at W2. Two arrival squares are available for that. At W1, however, a half clearance of a dangerous black line occurs, whose full clearance must be avoided. Therefore White must take care not to eliminate the harmless selfblocker (of d5) which would leave Black with no good choice. A neat work of art which should become a classic."
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(36) Posted by Dan Meinking [Saturday, May 7, 2011 04:21]

Thank you, Uri! I agree with your ranking, but they are both 'classic' in my mind. :-)
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(37) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Saturday, May 7, 2011 08:52]

Thanks for sharing these fine problems. I enjoyed both of them. However, for consistency with my previous comments, or just being the devil's advocate, I can't help making one comment for each problem:
In the first prizewinner, remove either white knight from the diagram. Then, instead of two solutions, it will be a twin: e.g. -wSe5, a) diagram, b) Se5->e4. Both solutions would still work, but without the capture of the white piece on black's first move.
In the second prize, removing one of the two white pieces (Re6, or Bh8), leaves only one solution each time. After a quick look, I was unable to "destroy" the problem, by replacing these two pieces by a third one, which would play the same move Xe5 (maybe a wQ, with extra cook-stoppers). Besides the nice effect the rook and the bishop produce, having no alternative is adequate compensation (even) for me, for the idle white piece in each solution.
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(38) Posted by Dan Meinking [Saturday, May 7, 2011 16:05]

So, Kostas, you're claiming there's a weasel in Shire's, but not one in Stephochkin's? How ironic. :-)
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(39) Posted by Kevin Begley [Sunday, May 8, 2011 00:58]; edited by Kevin Begley [11-05-08]


Would anyone really prefer this 1st Prize be published in twin form (especially considering that the multiple solution form shows the "extraneous" white units, from the diagram, being paradoxically consumed by analogous play)?

If each of the white Knights delivered the mate here, rather than merely moving to hold flights, there would be no debate: inclusion of a "weasel" would be completely justified (one need only point to "Zilahi" in any theme catalog).

But, what if there were no formal recognition of the Zilahi theme?
Without formal recognition of the Fleck Theme, would Yarosh's "Babson King" be considered sound?

Better yet, suppose we define a new theme (a Zilahi derivative):
Flightahi- In each of two phases, a unit captured in one phase moves to prevent arbitrary flight(s), in the other phase.
I concede this theme is far-fetched, but many accepted themes are (at least) equally ridiculous.

If we create a TT which insists upon problems of this new theme, does the "weasel" in the 1st Prize become justified?
Supposing this derived theme grows ever more popular, does not the "extraneous unit" begin to morph into an action hero?
One man's weasel is another's Vin Diesel (depending upon your subjective thematic reference).

I don't see how there can be a standard, objective measure (according to formally recognized themes) of a chessman's value.
Each unit (along with every element of the form) must be redeemed by their irreducible contribution to the collective, comprehensive function; yet, the compound form (including every unit) may, itself, be an important aspect of its own function.
Thus, other than with their common prejudice, how are judges to measure the underlying value of a comprehensive, new idea (including all the complex tradeoffs in both form and function)?

In my subjective view (though far from an expert in the orthodox h#2 genre), the alternative presentation of this 1st Prize problem would considerably diminish this problem's functional value (abandoning a perfect, paradoxical analogy -- however non-standard it may be), merely to enable a tradeoff in the value of its form (avoiding the "weasel," but requiring twinning).
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(40) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Sunday, May 8, 2011 10:42]; edited by Kostas Prentos [11-05-08]

Kevin, I am not suggesting that the first prize should be in twin form. I am only trying to point out that even in this fine problem there is a shadow. I think it is useful to analyze the problem in its elements and see the necessity of each white piece, as this has become the subject of this discussion.
I am afraid that after the exchange of many interesting views, I don't feel wiser. Maybe because art is hard to measure by standard means. I know what the ideal is, but when that is not possible, it becomes a very subjective matter, different for each individual.
Sometimes, I even wonder whether perfection is desirable. I still remember the words a Greek Grandmaster said to me about one of my games, when I was still playing chess: "All your pieces are already on optimal squares, and any plan you select will only deteriorate your position". So, maybe, small imperfections make a problem better. The real concern is to know where to draw the line! This is also a very subjective matter, but my level of tolerance is certainly higher now, than a few days ago.
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