ChessBase Puzzles: Loyd's Excelsior!

10/26/2013 – Samuel Loyd (1841–1911) was one of the greatest problem composers who ever lived. In 1858, in a joking mood in the Morphy Chess Rooms, he composed a mate problem for his friend Denis Julien. Julien was a problemist who boasted that he could always immediately spot the chess piece that would deliver mate in the main line of a chess problem. Loyd decided to test this claim with a chess problem. It became the prototype for a whole species.

The following article is taken from our puzzle section, which started over a decade ago, but which was lost when we switch to a new content management system and news database. We have decided to republish some of the articles. For older readers the cherries we will pick out of the original section will hopefully bring on nostalgic memories; younger readers will learn for the first time what we have been up to over the years.

Sam Loyd's original Excelsior

Loyd gave Denis Julien the following position:

Samuel Loyd, London Era, 1861

Mate in five moves

Loyd's bet was that Julien couldn't pick a chessman which would not give mate in the main line. Later he wrote: "Old Denis Julien selected the most improbable piece, but the solution will show you which of us paid for dinner."

You, too, dear reader, are invited to study the position and decide: which white chess man is absolutely certain not to mate the black king on h1 in five moves. We have given the solution to this problem at the bottom of the page, but please, decide which piece does not mate before you look at it). We would be interested to receive other examples of Excelsior problems from our readers.

Samuel Loyd (January 30, 1841–April 10, 1911), the American chess player, chess composer, puzzle author, and recreational mathematician, was born in Philadelphia and raised in New York. As a chess composer, he authored a number of chess problems, often with interesting themes. At his peak, Loyd was one of the best chess players in the U.S., and was ranked 15th in the world.

The name Excelsior for the above problem comes from a poem written in 1841 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


[Event "4/85-42 London Era"] [Site "?"] [Date "1861.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Loyd, S."] [Black "Mate in five moves"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "n1rb4/1p3p1p/1p6/1R5K/8/p3p1PN/1PP1R3/N6k w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "9"] [EventDate "1861.??.??"] {[%csl Rb2] Would you believe it? The white pawn on b2 is going to mate the king on h1!} 1. b4 $1 ({White wanted to play} 1. Rf5 $2 {(or 1.Rd5) and then mate with 1.Rd1/Rf1. But} Rc5 {refutes this. After 1.b4 the threat is real.}) 1... Rc5+ 2. bxc5 $1 {Threatening 3.Rb1#} a2 3. c6 $1 {Now threatening 4.Rd5 or 4.Rf5 and 5.Rd1/f1 mate.} Bc7 4. cxb7 Bxg3 {Or any other move.} 5. bxa8=Q# ( {Or} 5. bxa8=B#) 1-0

Frederic Friedel

Topics Puzzles, Loyd
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