The Master of the Task: The Life and Work of Sir Jeremy Morse

Written by John Rice.

The chess problem is arguably the highest type of problem or puzzle. It is much older and more widespread than the draughts or bridge problem. It is not confined by language like the crossword puzzle. It is less abstruse than the mathematical problem. Furthermore, its artistic content is richer and more easily appreciated than in other types of problem. Formal and strategic patterns abound, exhibiting such ideas as thematic unity, economy, paradox, reciprocity, asymmetry, and so on. This explains why the chess problem has an exceptionally high ratio of composers to solvers. Sometimes indeed the artistic element overshadows the original puzzle element, although ideally both elements should be present and in good balance.

These words, a beautifully formulated summary of the nature of the chess problem, appear on page 8 of Chess Problems: Tasks and Records, by Jeremy Morse. The book is well known throughout the problem world, the author much less so. The aim of this article, to which Sir Jeremy himself has kindly contributed biographical details and the accompanying problems, is to enable people who have never met him to become better acquainted with this remarkable problemist, his compositions and his lifelong devotion to the specialised field of tasks and records.

Jeremy’s meticulous approach to this field is illustrated by his summary of the definitions offered by earlier experts, such as A. C. White, T. R. Dawson and N. Petrovic;. Of “tasks” he writes: “A ‘task’, following the ordinary meaning of the word, is a definable achievement, usually difficult and often new, which a composer sets himself or has set for him by others. ... It will normally but not always have a numerical expression to it, and it may be a new record ... but equally it may not be.” He goes on to point out that “record” is a narrower term, a numerical maximum. Thus, writes Jeremy, “all records are tasks, but not all tasks are records”. His own view of the place of such problems is “that artistry is the problemist’s primary aim, and that tasks and records serve to show how far the artistic medium and material can be stretched”. This is why in the book he uses a system of stars to highlight examples showing particular artistry: “good” problems get one star (*), and very good problems or masterpieces get two (**). A dagger (†) is given to exceptional records having a special merit, regardless of aesthetics defects. The reader may not always agree with the author’s assessment (and one correspondent was totally opposed to the award of stars at all), but they are not an impediment to an appreciation of the book as a whole, and of the enormous amount of work that has gone into the collection and ordering of its contents. Chess Problems: Tasks and Records (dubbed “das Morse-Buch” in Die Schwalbe!) has already appeared in two editions (1995 and 2001), and a third, fully updated and recast, is due for publication shortly.

It’s time for some of Jeremy’s problems.

1. C. J. Morse (after J. C. J. Wainwright)

London Evening News, 1960


Mate in 2

No. 1 is a dual-free setting of white Queen-cross, derived from two problems by Wainwright, all introduced by a thoroughly respectable key 1.Rd1 (-). In addition to the 12 Q-mates, there are R-mates on d4 and h4.

2. C. J. Morse

1st Place, England v Israel, 1960-61


Mate in 2

In no. 2 the wQ plays to g7 in the try and g1 in the key, giving the bK three flights to add to the flight on c5: 1.Qg7? (-) Kc5/Ke5/Ke3/Kc3 2.Qa7/Rh6/R6f3/R6f3, but 1...c3! 1.Qg1! (-) Kc5/Ke5/Ke3/Kc3/c3 2.R2f5/Re2/Rg2/Qa1/Re2. This one appealed to the FIDE Album judges for the period.

3. C. J. Morse

v The Observer, 1961


Mate in 2

Three flights are again given in no. 3, which shows a record 5-fold duel between wS and bK: 1.Qf5 (-) Ke1/Ke3/Kf3/Kg3/Kg1 2.Sd3/Sd5/Sxg2/Sxe2/Sh3.

Developed and maintained by Brian Stephenson.