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John Nunn wins World Problem Solving Championship

11/3/2010 – At fifteen he was Oxford's youngest undergraduate since the 15th Century. He did a PhD on finite H-spaces, lectured on mathematics, and became one of Britain's strongest chess grandmasters. At 55 John's brain is still in top shape, as he showed by winning the problem solving world championship ahead of 70 mostly younger solvers. Truly amazing.
 

World Problem Solving Championship

By John Nunn

I have written before about the growth in popularity of chess problem solving competitions, and there are now many events taking place throughout the year. However, the highlight of the solving calendar is the World Championship, which this year was held in Hersonissos, Crete on October 19th and 20th. The warm Cretan weather and comfortable surroundings at the Nana Beach Hotel attracted almost all the world’s top solvers, including Piotr Murdzia, the winner in 2008 and 2009, who was hoping to secure a hat-trick of victories.

The championship involves six rounds spread over two days, with each round focussing on one particular type of problem. Each country is represented by a team of three solvers, with the two highest scores from each round contributing towards the final total for that country. The individual scores are also added up and so the same event functions as an individual world championship. The favourites for the individual title were Murdzia and myself, together with the Russian Evseev, who before this event led the solving rating list on 2809. However, the situation was far less clear for the team event, since Russia, Germany, Poland and Great Britain all arrived with strong teams.

The first round involved solving three mates in 2 in 20 minutes, and it is unusual for any of the leading solvers to trip up with these. On this occasion the top 20 solvers all scored 100% and a large majority of the 71 participants ended the round on the maximum score of 15 points. The next round involved solving three mates in 3 in one hour, and now solvers started to drop points. To score a full 5 points for a problem, you have to not only give the first move (called the key), but also give all relevant variations. Murdzia and Evseev again scored full points, but I dropped 1.5 points by not giving two variations in one of the problems. However, the problem from this round which caused solvers the most difficulty was this one:

White to play and mate in 3

If you want to try this under the same conditions as in the World Championship, then give yourself 20 minutes to find the solution. Only 12 of the 71 solvers scored full marks on this problem, and over two-thirds scored no marks at all.

The third round was for endgame studies, and this caused carnage amongst the solvers. I was devastated when I could only solve one of the three studies, but after the results were published I discovered that my score of 5 points was actually the second highest! The exceptionally difficult set of studies caused real trouble for everybody, and while I wasn’t satisfied with my score, Murdzia and Evseev had even more cause for dismay as they made only two points.

Here’s one of the studies for you to test yourself. Allow yourself 35 minutes to solve it. If you succeed you are doing extermely well, as only 2 of the 71 solvers managed to score any points at all, and neither of these managed the full 5 points.

White to play and win

At the end of the first day the leading scores were: Piorun 36, Evseev 34, Nunn 33.5 and a number of solvers including Murdzia on 32. The young Polish solver Kacper Piorun was a surprise leader, and with a gap of two points he appeared well positioned for the second day.

The following morning started with a round of helpmates, and again the selection of problems was fairly tough. Helpmates are my strongest area and I normally get full points in this round, so I was a little disappointed to score only 12.5/15 through missing one of the solutions in the following problem.

Helpmate in 5.5 moves:
a) Diagram; b) Add a black rook on b5

In a helpmate both sides cooperate to help White mate Black. All the moves must be legal. The ‘5.5’ means that White starts and mates Black on White’s 6th move (thus there are six White moves and 5 Black moves). In the second part of the problem you have to add a black rook on b5 and again find a helpmate in 5.5 moves. Give yourself 25 minutes to solve this position. Only one solver managed to crack both parts of this problem.

Once again the level of difficulty proved enough to trouble even the top solvers. Murdzia equalled my score of 12.5, but Piorun dropped back by scoring 8 points, while Evseev fared even worse and only managed 6.5 points. After this round I had a lead of 1.5 points over the rest of the field, with Murdzia in second place.

The next round was for mates in four or more moves and this enabled me to extend my lead by a further point, since I managed 11 points from 15, while Murdzia made 10 points. Now I was 2.5 points ahead, but everything would depend on the final round of three selfmate problems. This is the round which solvers generally fear most. There is a selfmate in two, a selfmate in three and a longer selfmate. While the first two are usually not too hard, long selfmates can be extremely difficult to solve. Moreover, they tend to be all-or-nothing affairs. If you see the idea, then it’s usually possible to get the full five points, but if you don’t see it then a zero is a virtual certainty. I finished off the first two selfmates fairly comfortably, then found myself confronted by this problem:

Selfmate in 7 moves

In a selfmate, White is trying to commit suicide by forcing Black to deliver mate. Black, on the other hand, is trying to do his best to avoid mating White. Give yourself 25 minutes to solve this. Four solvers managed to find the complete solution.

I stared at the problem for some time, then with less than five minutes to go I suddenly saw the idea. Writing down the solution and checking the details took a few minutes, and I finished with less than two minutes to spare. It turned out that I had made a slip in one of the other selfmates, and had scored 14/15 on this round, so that although Murdzia made a fantastic maximum score of 15 points, he wasn’t able to catch me.

I would like to thank Winton Capital for sponsoring the British solving team and making it posible to field the strongest possible side.

Solutions to all problems will be given next week.

Leading scores

Rank

Name

Nat.

Title

Rating

Pts.

360

1

Nunn, John

GBR

GM

2747

71.0

357

2

Murdzia, Piotr

POL

GM

2796

69.5

354

3

Pfannkuche, Michael

GER

GM

2616

64.0

356

4

Evseev, Georgy

RUS

GM

2809

63.5

359

5

Van Beers, Eddy

BEL

GM

2671

61.5

349

6

Selivanov, Andrey

RUS

GM

2544

61.5

353

7

Vuckovic, Bojan

SRB

GM

2617

61.5

354

8

Kopyl, Valery

UKR

IM

2503

61.0

360

9

Piorun, Kacper

POL

FM

2575

60.0

359

10

Viktorov, Evgeny

RUS

2432

59.5

352

11

Zude, Arno

GER

GM

2692

58.0

359

12

Fomichev, Evgeny

RUS

2349

56.5

341

13

Comay, Ofer

ISR

GM

2621

56.5

352

14

Tummes, Boris

GER

GM

2685

56.5

357

15

Paavilainen, Jorma

FIN

GM

2548

55.5

360

16

Kovačević, Marjan

SRB

GM

2564

54.5

358

17

Limontas, Martynas

LTU

2353

54.5

360

17

Mestel, Jonathan

GBR

GM

2581

54.5

360

19

Prentos, Kostas

GRE

IM

2500

52.5

357

20

Kolčák, Marek

SVK

FM

2376

52.5

360

21

Javadov, Ramil

AZE

2353

51.0

360

In the team event, Poland emerged victorious with 130 points, with Russia second on 129.5 and Germany third on 128.5. In an extremely close event, the British team ended up in a slightly disappointing fourth place with 126.5. The young Polish team, led by Murdzia, deserved their success as they have put a lot of effort into developing young solving talent in recent years.

Here are a few pictures from the event.


The Polish team, Kacper Piorun, Piotr Murdzia, Piotr Gorski, enjoy a well-deserved
glass of wine after their victory


The 2010 World Chess Problem Solving Champion


Professor Jonathan Mestel, the 1997 World Solving Champion

GM Mestel is the most highly qualified academic in the British team (the other two, myself and McNab, are mere Doctors).


The Nana Beach Hotel and accompanying holiday complex

Now a few pictures having nothing whatsoever to do with chess problem solving. These were all taken using the remotely-controlled telescopes operated by Global Rent-a-Scope. You can click on the images to see larger versions.

This is the Trifid Nebula, an unusual combination of an open cluster of stars, an emission nebula (the upper, red portion), a reflection nebula (the lower portion) and a dark nebula (the apparent dark arms within the red part of the nebula). It’s about 7,600 light-years from Earth.

The famous Orion Nebula, one of the few nebulae visible to the naked eye. It’s about 1,350 light-years from Earth and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth.

The Milky Way has two sizeable companion dwarf galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are only visible from the Southern Hemisphere. This picture is of the Small Magellanic Cloud, which is about 200,000 light-years from Earth. It has a diameter of about 7,000 light-years and contains several hundred million stars. Astronomers are still arguing about whether the Magellanic Clouds are in orbit around the Milky Way or simply flying past.

This is the Large Magellanic Cloud. It’s a bit closer than the SMC, at a distance of about 160,000 light-years. The LMC is about 14,000 light-years across and with a mass of 10 billion times the mass of our Sun, it has about one-tenth the mass of the Milky Way. To the right of the image, slightly below the centre, you can see the Tarantula Nebula, which is the largest star-forming region within several million light-years of Earth.

The Tarantula Nebula is such an interesting object that I decided to take a closer look with a different telescope.

Returning closer to home, at a distance of 1,500 light-years, is the chess-player’s favourite astronomical object, the Horsehead Nebula. It’s a dark cloud of dust and gas which can be clearly seen against the background glow of the emission nebula IC 434. This wide-field view also includes the Flame Nebula, which is the pinkish nebula to the left of the Horsehead. The bright star just above the Flame Nebula is Alnitak, the leftmost star in Orion’s belt.

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