ONE PAWN VERSUS THE BLACK ARMY
...and the Case of The Dualing Knights
A long time ago, I was discovering the world of chess problems. A friend of mine, Lior, presented an intriguing idea. White, armed with a mere pawn, forces a win against a complete Black army. Naturally, this Black army would be tripping over itself a bit, while the pawn raced away to promote.
I had read enough about problems to hear of the stricture,
Duals are considered a flaw in a problem's solution, and should be avoided if possible.A 'dual' is simply an alternative line that reaches the same goal, as in the following crude example.
If there were two white FIRST moves that worked, a sterner term would be applied: COOK. A cooked problem is deemed unfit for public consumption / publication. Cooks must be corrected before the problem is shown to an audience. This is not mere ass-hattery; imagine how frustrating it would be for the composer if the solvers weren't finding the neat idea because they were distracted thinking a banal cook was the intended answer.
So, to help my friend, I refined his problem into something more palatable for the problem world. I eliminated the duals, as well as the 16th Black piece, which was unceremoniously captured on White's first move, violating another Problemist stricture,
Keys involving captures should be avoided, as they are more obvious moves for a solver to consider. The only thing worse is a key that gives check, for that is usually even more obvious. The ideal key is a move that looks like nonsense at first, but brilliant strategy proves it to be best.
Our collaboration produced the following problem:
Rolf Uppstrom, 1999
version of OT Blathy, 1922
White to move and mate in 13
White to move and mate in 13
Alert readers may notice that someone travelled back in time and claimed credit for OUR idea [😉] - this is yet another pitfall in problem composing:
If you think of a clever idea, the odds are fairly high that someone has already done it. We call this ANTICIPATION.
My friend and I were not aware of this predecessor at the time, and I sent it to StrateGems - a Chess Problem magazine based in California. The forced-mates section was run by the legendary composer, Milan Vukcevich, an emigre from Yugoslavia, and GM of composing. We waited with bated breath for his reply - which never came.
Turns out MV was a bit too busy/lazy to even respond, so I presented the problem to the chief editor, and he forced MV to make the excuse that 'I thought they were testing my memory for good old problems', although, at that time, 1999 was not quite 'old'. To be fair to MV, he was no doubt thinking of this:
OT Blathy, 1922
White to move and mate in 16
("But wait...!" the astute reader is saying, "you said earlier..." ) ---- Yes, I did; bite your tongue for a bit, because there are still 2 more viewers to this problem.
Meanwhile, back in the main line...
( BUT YOU SAID THERE SHOULDN'T BE DUALS!!!!! )
Feels good to get that off your chest, doesn't it? Yes, I did. That's now, in 2015. In 1922, problem conventions were not so well defined, and people didn't care so much about such things. Interestingly, chess players (as opposed to Problemists) tend to prefer Blathy's original, because there are actually chances for White to screw up. He's got to be more strategically sound, even though the actual move order has some play in it.
This one is way back in the memory banks. The problem that dredged it up (based on a similar comparison of varied strategy vs. duals) is this:
White to mate in 18
This landed like a lead balloon on the problemists in the audience, who just couldn't stomach the duals. I knew why they weren't impressed with this, although I didn't quite share their lack of enthusiasm. Myself, I appreciated the strategic variety in White's careful K step, and selection of sacrifice on move 2. Everyone else was no doubt thinking of this problem:
DH Hersom, 1936
Mate in 10
Smooth as clockwork, dual-free, but no nifty pawn file selection, or precise King step to avoid a check. Sometimes I wonder the price we pay for our strictures....
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