This year it was the turn of GM John Nunn to carry off the trophy in the Final of the annual British Chess Solving Championship generously sponsored by Winton Capital Management and held as usual at Oakham School in February. Author of Solving in Style and a great many other books besides, John is recognised as one of the world’s foremost chess problem and study solvers. If he has not won the British title often, it’s only because he has not competed much. The championship has frequently been won by GM Jonathan Mestel, who came second on this occasion, despite losing a few points on a 3-mover, a selfmate in 4 and, amazingly, a helpmate in 2. IM David Friedgood, Paul Cumbers, IM Colin McNab and FM Michael McDowell all came in the top eight. Running alongside the championship was an Open event for all-comers, won by GM Piotr Murdzia from Poland, with a perfect score.
The WCBCSC has been directed for many years by Brian Stephenson, assisted by Paul Valois in the earlier rounds. Brian, who also directs the World Solving Championship from time to time (see below), spends a good deal of his year visiting libraries and searching through magazines and other sources to find problems and endgame studies suitable for use in these events. Those wishing to take part in future championships are recommended to visit these pages on this site and to look out for the annual starter problem, which appears in the press and in chess magazines during June and July.
“Can Britain make it 3 in a row?” was the question posed in the Yearbook report in 2007. “Yes, in emphatic style,” is the gratifying answer. GM John Nunn, GM Jonathan Mestel and IM David Friedgood were on top form. At the end of the first day, with 3 rounds out of 6 completed, the British team stood level on points with Israel, though slightly behind on time. The second day always presents a challenge, with 3 helpmates, 3 direct-mates in 4+ moves and 3 selfmates to solve in only 3 hours. Having dropped one point on the first day, John lost none at all on day 2 and, with an impressive score of 89 points out of 90, won the World Championship for the second time. Jonathan had 60 points out of 60 at the end of round 4, but something went wrong for him after that and he ended up with 68. The best two scores in each round count towards the eventual total. Fortunately for the British effort David had been solving steadily and now came good in rounds 5 and 6, so that Great Britain outscored all other competing teams and took the title, 4½ points ahead of Russia, with Germany 3rd, Israel 4th and Poland 5th. Now, of course, the question is, “Can Britain make it 4 in a row?” History says no: three-in-a-row has been achieved by several countries, but so far never four. Next year’s event will be held in Latvia in September; let’s hope the Baltic air is conducive!
Two European championships have been held since the last Yearbook appeared. The British team, again sponsored by Winton Capital Management and consisting of GM Jonathan Mestel, IM Colin McNab, FM Michael McDowell and Ian Watson, travelled to Warsaw in November 2006 and came 6th in a strongly contested event won by Serbia, with Russia 2nd and Poland 3rd. Jonathan came second overall, with 79½ points out of 90. A solving contest for juniors (which here means up to age 23) was held alongside the main championship. Ankush Khandelwal of Nottingham, only 15 at the time, scored 25¾ points and came 9th.
Serbia was again the winning country in the 2007 European championship, held in the Czech Republic in July. The British team, nearly the same as in Warsaw but with Paul Cumbers replacing Colin McNab, could manage only 8th place on this occasion, in spite of an impressive score (75¾) by the always reliable Jonathan Mestel. The junior event was contested this time by Ifan Johnston, who took 8th place.
You don’t have to leave the country in order to participate in the ISC. This event is held simultaneously on a Sunday in January in every country that can find at least one appropriate venue and competent director, and communication with the central controller is by email. Despite the early start (being an hour behind CET puts British solvers at a disadvantage!) GM John Nunn had another good day, scoring 52 out of 60 and coming 2nd overall. Ian Watson also solved well and was pleased with his score of 42, which put him in the top 20.
There are very few active composers of endgame studies in this country, now that the prolific Mike Bent has died. So the appearance of a composition by John Beasley in the pages of The Problemist is very welcome.
The Problemist, 2007
white to play and win
In the diagrammed position White at present has a material advantage, to be sure, but Black has powerful threats and there is only one way in which White can counter these and force a win. 1.Qf6+ is the correct first move, and then, after 1...Kb1, the Q prevents the a-pawn from promoting with 2.Qa1+! Kxa1 3.Kc1. Now the threat of 4-5.Nb3 mate forces Black to play 3...Na6 or 3...Nd7. If White were to continue with 4.Nd2? Black would play 4...Nc5 and himself give mate on b3 on move 5. So 4.c5! must be played, and after 4...Nxc5 5.Nd2 the black knight must move away. If instead 4...d2+ then 5.Nxd2 Nxc5 6.Kxc2 and again Black is mated. The composer wrote of this study: “I have been struggling with this reciprocal zugzwang off and on for over 30 years. A true thematic setting (no pawns on c4/c6, no superfluous material anywhere else at the end) seems impossible. On an 8x8 board the black knight’s ability to play to c6 and then d4 appeared insuperable. Then it occurred to me that a black pawn at c6 would block this without giving Black an extra move at the end.”
The General Editor of The Problemist was lucky enough to win the prestigious Brian Harley Award with the following problem, in which White, to play, must mate on his second move.
The Problemist, 2004
(Brian Harley Award, 2003-2004)
Mate in 2
White tries a move by his knight on c6, such as 1.Na7?, which threatens 2.Qxb7. If in reply Black were to play 1...b6 or 1...d3, White could mate by 2.Qc6 or 2.Qxd3 respectively. But 1...Bxc1! deprives White of the knight that guards d3 in the threatened mate, so White must try harder. Another move of the same knight, 1.Nxe5?, seems to threaten the same mate, but in fact the Q must now retain her guard of the square e5. There is, however, a new threat, 2.Bxf3. If Black defends with 1...fxe5, 2.Qxb7 is again mate. But 1...d3! is enough to parry the threat and again compel White to look elsewhere for his best move. The solution to the problem is 1.Nxd4!, which threatens yet another mate, 2.Rh4. If 1...Bxd4, the original threat 2.Qxb7 comes back into play, while 1...Bxc1 allows White to play 2.Bxf3, this too being a previous threat recurring. A third defence by Black, 1...Kxd4, brings back yet another mate seen before, 2.Qd3. This problem exemplifies a theme known as threat correction: two threats introduced by close tries recur after White’s key in answer to significant defences by Black.
Finally, a problem of a very different kind. This is what is known as a “reflex-mate”: White’s aim is to get himself mated, and both sides are under an obligation to give mate on the move if this becomes possible.
1st Prize, The Problemist, 2004
Reflexmate in 2
Both kings have some freedom here, and the thematic play is based on this fact. White’s key-move is 1.Qd7, which waits for Black to commit himself. If 1...Rxa2, 2.Kxd3 is played, and now Black must give a reflexmate with 2...Kc5. 1...Ra5 allows 2.Ke5, when 2...Kc4 is mate. 1...Ra4 leads to 2.Rxd3, and 2...Bc3 must give mate. 1...Rxb3 is answered by 2.e5 Bc5, 1...Ka4 by 2.Ne2 Nf3, and 1...Ka5 by 2.Rb2 Bc3. Two further variations round off a very rich problem: 1...e5+ 2.Kxd3 Ka4/Ka5, and 1...exd6 2.Rxd3 Bc5. Clearly the interaction of pieces in this problem is nothing like what you will encounter in over-the-board play. That is what gives chess problems much of their charm and their appeal: they reveal to the full the potential of the chess pieces, a potential that is seldom realised in the cut-and-thrust of actual play.