How to Solve Chess Problems Part 5: What is That Piece For?


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Part 5: What is That Piece For?
Written by Ian Watson   

One of the most useful things that help you solve problems is that all the pieces are relevant – they all have to have a role. If they don’t, then the composer doesn’t include them – there are no superfluous pieces in a composed problem. That isn’t always useful, but very often is: suppose there’s a pawn a long way from the action – ask yourself how it could possibly be needed. Take this example, composed by Cyril Kipping and first published in the Manchester City News in 1911:


White to play and mate in three moves

White can’t mate without bringing his king nearer, so the pawn on e2 must be there to prevent 1 Ka5 because then black queens with check. So the solution must be 1 Kb5? Obvious – trivial, even. (Unfortunately, you haven’t yet realised that the composer has set you a demonic trap! That idea of using the apparently irrelevant pieces as the guide to the solution does usually work well, but not here!) 1 Kb5 threatens both 2 Ne7 and 2 Kb6 and the defences 1... Rg5 and 1... Rg6 are both met by the second of those two threats. Quite easy, wasn’t it? You check your solution, because it seemed a little too simple, and suddenly you notice that 1... Rg8 2 Kb6 Rc8 defends cleverly. The white king blocks the b5 square that he would need for his knight in the line 1... Rg8 2 Nd4. Still, your logic was impeccable and you go through that several times before being convinced that it doesn’t work.

What now? You try all sorts of futile ideas, before looking in desperation at 1 Ka5! which you know allows black to queen with check. It works however! 1... e1Q 2 Kb6 and you slowly realise that every black check can be handled by the knight giving discovered check. Barely credible, and with no superfluous material on the board. There is a wonderful satisfaction from solving a problem of this quality.

(This and the other parts of this series were first published in The British Correspondence Chess Association magazine ‘Correspondence Chess’ in 2010. The BCCA site is

Last Updated on Friday, 06 September 2013 10:49
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