Mar 222011

Today I would like to offer something a little different for Hebden Bridge Chess Club members in the form of a lengthy post on the subject of check and checking!

“How dull!” I hear you cry. “What can there possibly be to say at any length on this most trivial of chess-related subjects?”
All I can say is, please bare with me folks because I really think this journey is worth going on! Let’s start with a question. Have you ever played a game where checks occur in a series of consecutive half moves? Probably you have even if you don’t remember. The position on the left is a simple and typical example.

White, to play, can play 1.Qh3+ to which Black will reply with 1…Qxh3+ and we have two consecutive checks. This isn’t uncommon and some forcing tactical sequences can generate even more than two consecutive checks. By way of an example take a look at the position below which I found on Tim Krabbé’s treasure trove of a website, “Chess Curiosities”.

Zarrouati vs. Brauckmann,
Toulouse 1990

The game continued with…

27…          Ng4+
28.Kxf3+  Nde5+
29.Rxe5+  Nxe5+
30.Qxe5+  …

… and Zarrouati won a few moves later.

Krabbé thinks that this game may share an “unofficial” record with another game (below left) for the longest series of mutual checks in tournament play.

This second game continued…

Cardona vs. Conejero
Mislata (Spain), 2003

22.Rg1+   Bxg1+
23.Rxg1+ Qg3+
24.Rxg3+ fxg3+

… and Black resigned 10 moves later.

Both these examples are very unusual indeed in normal play and all the more attractive for it.

Now take a few seconds to look at the next position below left. It’s White’s move.

Composition by C.van de Loo

The first thing you may notice is that White can play 1.Re5++ and it’s checkmate. Very pretty! But this isn’t a position from a game or even a problem. It is something even more unusual. Play through the moves in the viewer below and see what actually happens next.

Wow! 29 consecutive checks! This composition belongs to a category of chess problems called “Fairy Chess” in which the normal rules and conventions of orthodox chess problems are usually bent a little. The composition above was actually entered into a competition Tim Krabbé set for the Dutch chess magazine Schaakbulletin (which has since metamorphasised into “New In Chess”) back in 1978. At the time he kicked off the competition, Krabbé thought that the record for a series of mutual checks in a composed position was 28 half moves and held by one G.Leathem.

On his site, Krabbé goes on to say how delighted he was when 3 readers managed to beat Leathem’s mark. One of those was van de Loo and another (H.Gieske) matched his mark of 29. However, the winner of the Schaakbulletin prize was an endgame composer called Rol who stretched the record out as far as 31.

By now readers will have realised that we have entered into a magical realm where chess ceases to be a mere game and starts to become an art form. Some artists use music to convey their genius; others use words and rhyme; still others use oil and canvas or clay. It is only a select few who choose to use the 64 squares and 32 pieces of a chess set to express their imaginations.

So, the question now is; how far is it possible to take this theme of consecutive checks? 35, 40, 50? Well, the story doesn’t end in 1978 because during the course of his research Krabbé discovered (much to his disappointment!) that Rol’s ‘world record’ wasn’t a record at all. His mark of 31 had already been bettered. First Krabbé unearthed a series of 32 checks by an Englishman called A.J.Roycroft from as long ago as 1956. He then went on to find a more recent position (1974) by a German composer, Werner Frangen, who set the mark even higher at 35! As far as I know (Krabbé doesn’t say) this may very well still be the record for consecutive checks where having promoted pieces on the board in the start position is not allowed.

Even this is not the end though. The number of consecutive checks that are possible soon escalates once you allow the composer to use promoted pieces in the starting position of their solution. Indeed, Frangen himself produced an effort in 1974 that set the bench mark very high at 45. Then in 2007 a new gladiator entered the contest for the record and has continued to raise the bar by increments ever since. Sampsa Lahtonen of Finland has been conducting a personal duel with anyone who tries to take the record off him since he bettered Frangen’s 45 mark in 2007. By the end of 2007 (a very busy year for this record it seems!) he himself had increased the mark to 47 and then lost his record to his compatriot Unto Heinonen who reached 49 moves. In 2008 he snatched the record back by reaching the landmark of 50 consecutive checks only to lose the record once again, this time to the Russian, Alexei Kanyan, who posted 51 moves.

After the Russian threw down this gauntlet, Lahtonen went quiet for 2 years but then, finally, at the end of last year, Tim Krabbé published Lahtonen’s latest effort which currently stands as the world record position for consecutive checks in a legal position with promoted pieces allowed. The new record is 53 moves!

What makes this acheivement all the more staggering is that, in order to verify the legality of the position Lahtonen had to construct a ‘proof game’ setting out all the moves that could be played to reach the start position of his composition. Clearly the long, dark, cold nights of the Finnish winter hold nothing but the prospect of extra time to compose for Lahtonen!

I must confess that I didn’t really use to enjoy or understand chess problems and compositions. To me it wasn’t real chess. Having recently spent some time getting to grips with what was involved in setting this record however I think I’ve finally grasped the point. Problems, studies and compositions are really the only way to express the full depth, beauty and wonder of the game. A game of chess is all about combat. You play against your opponent and you try and win. But when problemists compose they aren’t fighting anyone or anything except the pieces and the squares themselves. They fight, and sometimes they win and they do things that you can’t even begin to imagine are possible when you sit down to play a game over the board or online. I think I’ve finally found an art form that I can really appreciate!

Feb 112011

Last week I posted a problem that I suggested could be the hardest in the world. (I have re-published the post this week as several readers reported that a glitch in the previous version meant that the starting position was not shown!) Being as the solution broke the current laws of chess it isn’t surprising that even the strongest of chess engines would be unable to find it.

This week I would like to continue in a similar vein and also add some tasty nik-naks to the castling theme that I started to develop in two posts from last year “Castle because you have to, not because you can”, and “When castling goes bad!”. Take a look at the composition below by Tim Krabbé. It is White to play and mate in 3 moves and the solution involves several castling manouevres, some more conventional than others! I’ll give the solution at the end of this post.

White to play and mate in 3 by Tim Krabbé

Before we go any further I should say a little bit more about the source of today’s content. I recently discovered Tim Krabbé’s website, Chess Curiosities. It is all about the beauty of chess and, even though he stopped posting frequently a while ago there is a veritable tresure trove of content to be found within its bowels. Krabbé is Dutch and is a modern day polymath in that he is a novelist, journalist, cyclist (he rode competatively I believe) and a very strong chess player (he was in the Dutch top 20 back in the 70’s). He is probably most well known over here in the UK for his novel “Het Gouden Ei” (“The Golden Egg”) which was re-made as a Hollywood film “The Vanishing” in 1993. For film officionados though, the original Dutch version of the film (called “Spoorloos” – “Traceless”), made in 1988 by the same Director, George Sluizer, is rather better than the remake.

One particluarly interesting aspect of Chess Curiosities is Krabbé’s unofficial collection of chess records which he has compiled with the help of his readers and contacts. Included in the list is the record for the latest castling which is actually shared by the two games below.

Somogyi vs. Black, New York 2002

Neshewat vs Garrison, Detroit 1994.

 Of course there are certainly games that will have involved later castlings than these two but these are the latest instances where the games can be qualified due to their being “serious and verifiable tournament games” as Krabbé defines them. Elsewhere in his “Open Chess Diary”  Krabbé provides another game that not only looks like a later instance of castling but also involves a nice little combination. The problem is that the game was a blitz game and therefore the exact move number and veracity of the position cannot be proven. The combination is unusual and witty so it is still worth re-publishing here.

Anon vs. Macieja, Blitz Game, Poland

In the position on the left White played.

1.Rxb7 …

and offered a draw. However, Black then gave his opponent a nasty surprise in the form of…

2…      Nc5+!!
3.dxc5 0-0-0+

and now White was forced to resign.

So, finally, let’s return to Krabbé’s mate in 3 problem which he composed in 1972 and utilises three (!) different castling manouevres to give mate in the three different lines.

White to play and mate in 3

 The lines go:

a.) 1.e7 Kd3 2.e8=Q gxf3 3.O-O-O mate
b.) 1.e7 Kxf3 2.e8=R! d4 3.O-O mate
c.) 1.e7 Kxf3 2.e8=R! Kg2 3.O-O-O-O-O-O! mate

In the last variation White utilises a loophole that then existed in the definition of castling. He castles withisnewly promoted rook, moving his king to e3 and the rook to e2. Under the rules of chess at the time this problem was created this move was legal because neither the king nor the rook had moved yet. Afterwards, FIDE amended their rules to require that the castling rook must occupy the same rank as the king. A very unusual and witty little problem!

Come back to this blog next week for coverage of what promises to be a very exciting 4th round of this year’s Calderdale Individual Championship. I am also promising readers an update on the “Lucky Sweatshirt” saga!