A Christmassy Delight

by Frederic Friedel
12/28/2023 – Problemists love to construct problems in shapes that symbolize something auspicious. The great composer (and World Championship candidate) Pal Benkö sent us a problem shaped like a candle. Today we bring you two problems shaped like Christmas trees. They are not too hard, which we cannot say about the third problem, which taxes the brain.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


A decade ago, our dear friend Pal Benko, one of the most inventive problem composers in the world, had a special Christmas Day treat for our readers.

Pal Benkö, 2015

White to play and mate in five

Pal's problem symbolized a Christmas candle. It is now easy to solve, as we can testify. Get a chess board and pieces – they are there on the shelf somewhere – and try to work out the solution. If that fails you can use computer assistance.

This year our problem expert Anirudh Daga sent us two Christmas Tree problems for you to solve. They are not his own compositions, and the source will be given to you together with the solutions we provide in the first week of January. Let us start with a direct mate:

Big hint: the perfectly symmetrical tree is not in the center of the board. That makes the problem correct. Try to figure out why. And enjoy the mates that follow the key move.

And here's another, shaped even more like a Christmas tree:

How can Black (to play) and White cooperate to get the black king mated in three moves?

Were the above two problems too easy. Then here is a helpmate that is harder, especially the very deep question that is attached to it:

If you are good at these things, you may find a way to construct a position in which the black king is mated after two move (by each side). You can make them on the diagram above –remember, it is Black who makes the first move.

If you have a very agile mind, you can find a second solution that also leaves the black king mated. So apparently the problem has two solutions, which is perfectly normal in helpmates, as long as the solutions are strategically different. So we could leave it at that – we can say bravo, you have solved the problem. 

But if you are a true problem expert, then there is a further question for you: why is only one of these two solutions legal? This requires deep retroanalytical reasoning, and is quite difficult to work out.

The solutions to all three problems will be provided in the first week of January, with video explanations by our consummate problem expert, Anirudh Daga. Once again, please do not give away any solutions in the open discussion section below.

Previous Christmas 2023 puzzles

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register