British Chess Problem Solving Championship

2/25/2009 – It is hard to assess whether chess is becoming more popular, but one chess activity is rapidly expanding: problem solving. Most European countries now have a national solving championship, and every year there is a world championship for individuals and countries. The 2009 British Championship was held at Oakham School and won by guess who. Report by John Nunn (with problems).

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The 2009 British Chess Problem Solving Championship

Report from Oakham by Dr John Nunn

One of the longest-running solving championships is the British Championship, which has been held annually since 1980. The inaugural event was won by Graham Lee with David Friedgood second. From 1981 to 2008, the championship was won 16 times by Jonathan Mestel, five times by David Friedgood, four times by myself and three times by Michael McDowell.

The 2009 British Championship was held, as it has been for several years, at Oakham School, an independent (that is, private) school in the centre of England. Sponsorship was provided by hedge fund manager Winton Capital.

The basic format of solving events is rather like that of a school examination in several parts. Each participant sits at his own desk with a chess set (or more than one, if you prefer) and at the beginning of each round the papers are handed out, face down. When the start is announced, you have to turn the paper over and solve the problems within the allotted time. To get full marks you must give full solutions, including all the main variations. When the time is up, you must stop writing and the papers are collected and marked.

Here’s a view of the solving hall between rounds. The hall is actually Oakham School’s main dining room, although it is also used for events such as concerts and discos.

And here are the markers hard at work going through a batch of papers. On the left is Chris Jones, the President of the British Chess Problem Society and a famous helpmate composer, and on the right is Steve Giddins, a frequent contributor to the ChessBase website.

At the British championship there are six rounds, for mates in two, mates in three, endgames studies, helpmates, moremovers (mates in more than three moves) and selfmates. There were some guest foreign participants since, rather as in over-the-board play, titles norms (yes, there are IM and GM titles for solving!) can only be obtained in international events. These foreign participants were not eligible for the British title.

This year the foreign guests included the current world champion, Piotr Murdzia from Poland, who in the above photo is ready to do battle with a set of problems, aided by no less than three pocket chess sets.

Another familiar face at solving events is Dolf Wissmann from the Netherlands.

The British contingent was also strong, admittedly missing many-times winner Jonathan Mestel (who was off trying to get his third grandmaster title – for playing bridge!), but including almost all the other leading British solvers. Two of these, myself and Colin McNab, are over-the-board GMs.

The competition was expected to be a race between the two highest-rated solvers, Piotr Murdzia, the current world solving champion, and myself. The first two rounds, involving mates in two and mates in three, reinforced this notion since we both scored full points in these rounds.

The first cracks appeared in the study round. I and Piotr both had trouble with a rather difficult study by Perkonoja, but the Pole unexpectedly went wrong in a relatively simple study. Can you solve it and do better than a world champion (if you want to do this under ‘tournament conditions’ you should give yourself 30 minutes to find and write down the solution)?

Vladislav Tarasiuk, Ukraine Album 2005

White to play and win

The gap widened in the helpmate round, when Murdzia failed to solve a tricky helpmate in six. I succeeded with this problem and had opened a significant lead. Here’s the helpmate:

Marko Klasinc, Original for WCBCSC 2009

Helpmate in six
(a) Diagram (b) Move the black queen to e8

In a helpmate, Black moves first and both sides cooperate to help White mate Black. In a helpmate in six, this mate takes place on White’s sixth move (thus both sides play six moves). In the second part of the problem, you have to move the black queen from a3 to e8 and again find a helpmate in six. Give yourself 15 minutes to write the two solutions down. The solvers found this problem one of the hardest in the competition and only the two over-the-board GMs managed to solve it completely.

Murdzia was back on his usual form for the last two rounds and scored 100% on the moremovers and selfmates, but I scored 9/10 on these rounds and he was unable to close the gap significantly.

The most attractive problem used in the event was probably this mate in four.

Mikhail Marandiuk, 1st Prize Shavirin-50 Jubilee

White to play and mate in 4 moves

If you want to try this yourself, to get full marks you must give the key, the threat, and all variations in which Black can delay mate until White’s fourth move (in other words, you don’t have to give stupid defences by Black which allow to White to mate more quickly). All lines should be given up to White’s third move, and you have 27½ minutes to find and write down the solution.

The final scores (out of a possible 65 maximum) were:

John Nunn 61
Piotr Murdzia 53
David Friedgood 47
Colin McNab 45 (in 221 minutes)
Michael McDowell     45 (in 228 minutes)
Ian Watson 43

Here’s the winner receiving his prize from Gemma Cochrane, Winton Capital’s Head of Charity, Sponsorship and Policy Development.

David Friedgood (who has an over-the-board draw against Ljubojevic to his credit) looks pleased to have repeated his result from the inaugural event in 1980 by finishing second amongst the British competitors:

It wasn’t all chess at Oakham. Here’s Les Blackstock playing over a game of Shogi from his Japanese newspaper.

The happy winner, back home and testing his portrait lens


Finally, here’s the now traditional bonus astronomy picture, this time of the Great Nebula in Orion, a huge cloud of dust and gas about 1,300 light years from Earth. I took this picture from the front drive of my house using my ten-inch Meade LX 200 GPS telescope.

Solutions to the problems given above will be published here this weekend

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