ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2015 (6)

by GM Pál Benkö
12/30/2015 – This year was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Musing over the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, three years before, Pal Benko found a well-known chess problem that reflects the retreat of the French forces and the attacks by Cossack Hussards. It was composed by Alexander Petrov in 1824, but is somewhat flawed. Our problemist friend could not resist improving on it.

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December 30, 2015: Napoleon Running the Gauntlet

By Pál Benkö

A famous problem attracted my attention for examination and revision so as to enrich part of chess history that is connected to real history, specifically of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). All the more so since 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the remarkable Battle of Waterloo.

This well-known work of chess art was created by the best Russian player, theoretician and chess writer of that time, Alexander D. Petrov (1794-1867). The Petrov (Petroff) Defense was named after him, and he was also famous for constructing chess problems.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "1824.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Petrov, A.D."] [Black "Mate in 14"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3n4/2p3p1/4prB1/n1P5/p1pP1rp1/4b3/1pP1Np1K/1k3N1Q w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "27"] [EventDate "1824.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.12.21"] 1. Nd2+ Ka2 2. Nc3+ Ka3 3. Ndb1+ Kb4 4. Na2+ Kb5 5. Nbc3+ Ka6 6. Nb4+ ({Unfortunately the author overlooked}6. Qa8#) 6... Ka7 7. Nb5+ Kb8 8. Na6+ Kc8 9. Na7+ Kd7 10. Nb8+ Ke7 11. Nc8+ Kf8 12. Nd7+ Kg8 13. Ne7+ Kh8 14. Kg2# (14. Kg3#) *

Casting a first glance at the position we may find it rather chaotic, and it does not fit the historical story either. There are pieces that are not needed for the solution at all. Thus we can remove the bishop on e3, the rook on f4 and the pawn on g4, since they do not have any role in the battle. There are duals too, like either 5.Na3+ or 5.Nbc3+ being good, and at the end both 14.Kg2 and Kg3 deliver mate. All the above is forgivable, but unfortunately there is much shorter alternative solution (cook): 6.Qa8 mate, a deadly sin that ruins the value of the problem. The author obviously overlooked the problem of corners, but it does not touch the historical value of this work, and the role of Cossack Hussards in the process of chasing out Napoleon from Russia is witty and original.

Addendum: Garry Kasparov called to tell us that the move 6.Qa8 mate was not missed by Petrov, it reflected a general Russian theory at the time that the Russian army had failed capture Napoleon when it had been easily possible during the crossing of the river Berezina. The missed chance is symbolized by the 6.Qa8# "cook".

Napoleon's withdrawal from Russia: painting by Adolph Northen [source: Wiki]

There are more historical dates in my improvement below, so let me give a little historical reminder. The 18 pieces on the board symbolize that we are at the beginning of the 1800s. As tension with Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, grew, Napoleon expanded his Grande Armée to more than 450,000 men and, ignoring the advice against an invasion of the Russian heartland, launched an offensive campaign on 23 June 1812. The Russian Chief Commander Mikhail Kutuzov employed the tactic of putting off the final clash – he even gave up Moscow by evacuating it, but did not give up the battle. Faced with cold and hunger, and no hope for reinforcement, it was a difficult task to keep together such a huge French army. Therefore Napoleon had to order the retreat of his army, which turned into a disastrous escape. In the end just a fraction of the Grand Armée – 93,000 of the 690,000 men – returned alive. C. John Tarttelin writes:

The winter [of 1812] was the coldest in a 100 years. But what the retreating wraiths, shivering in their ragged uniforms, worried most about was the sudden appearance of the Cossacks. Only a few dark figures on horseback brandishing their fearsome lances was enough to spook a whole brigade – not that the shabby caricatures of soldiers struggling to survive in temperatures of minus 20 were now travelling in organized bands...

[Event "Version"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Benko, Pal"] [Black "Mate in 15"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3br3/2p3p1/1p3pP1/n7/p1nKB3/5R2/1pPNN3/k7 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "29"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.12.21"] 1. Rf1+ Ka2 (1... b1=Q 2. Rxb1+ Ka2 3. Nc1+ Ka3 4. Kc3 Nb3 5. Nxc4#) 2. Nc3+ Ka3 3. Ndb1+ Kb4 4. Na2+ Kb5 5. Nbc3+ Ka6 6. Nb4+ Ka7 7. Nb5+ Kb8 8. Na6+ Kc8 9. Na7+ Kd7 10. Nb8+ Ke7 (10... Ke6 11. Bd5+ Ke7 12. Nc8+ Kf8 13. Nd7#) 11. Nc8+ Kf8 12. Nd7+ Kg8 13. Bd5+ Re6 14. Bxe6+ Kh8 15. Rh1# *

The Cossack Hussars attacking the Napoleonic army

The solution of the third problem is principally the same as for the second but it has been enriched by the switch-back of 1.Kh2+ and 15.Kg1 mate. The army of the Tsar is ready for counter-attack while the army of Napoleon is scattered during its retreat.

Pal Benko (version) 2015

White to play and mate in 15

We leave you to work out the mate in this most recent version by yourself.
After the problems shown above this should not cause any difficulty.

Benko's twins

The previous mate-in-two problem published on the 28th was the following:

Pal Benko, 2015

Mate in two moves – Solution: 1.Nf5 Kf3 2.Qe2#

The new twn problem is generated by inserting a white pawn on g2:

Pal Benko, 2015

Mate in two moves

One more twin: you must change the position, moving, inserting or removing a single piece, to get a mate in two problem with a different solution. Hint: with these twins the author has been aiming to construct a seasonal symbol for the final problem – as in his initial puzzle on December 25.

World class chess grandmaster, author, and composer of endgame studies and problems. Benko qualified for the Candidates Tournament for the World Championship in 1959 and 1962, and for the 1970 Interzonal tournament, when he gave up his spot to Bobby Fischer, who went on to win the World Championship in 1972. Pal was born in 1928 and lives in Budapest, Hungary.
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bro bro 12/31/2015 10:47
In Benko's second version the defensive variant 1...b1Q reminds the most crucial battle of that war - near village Borodino. While that most deadly battle nobody wins in tactics, but the Russian army wins a grate victory in strategical gains. The move 1...b1Q could be led Napoleon to soon defeat on the fields near Borodino.
bro bro 12/30/2015 11:04
MHBChessFan: Knights start moving under command of Generalfeldmarschall Kutuzov (Rh1+) who received the "go-ahead" order from Emperor Alexander I (1.Kh2+). It seems everything is reasonable by Benko.
MHBChessFan MHBChessFan 12/30/2015 09:12
Bro: in fact, imperator or czar are both correct, "imperator" was official since Peter the Great, but "czar" was also in use.
So, Elisabeth Alexeievna is both empress and tsaritsa.

And I agree both for the Rook h1 in Benko's version and the correction in adding a pawn in g3 in Petrov's original.

The only thing that I regret is a knight key move. Both Rf1+ and (it seems) the key move for Benko's second problem are somewhat unsatisfactory. But these are rather minor blemishes, isn't it?
Rejean Tremblay Rejean Tremblay 12/30/2015 08:50
Petrov's problem: add a white pawn on g2 and no more mate with 6. Qa8 and no dual-finishing move since only 14. Kg3 mate is possible.

If the historical value of the missing mate 6. Qa8 is important and the king must stay in touch with is queen, instead add a white pawn in g3 and only 14. Kg2 mate is possible.
bro bro 12/30/2015 08:37
Alexander I was not a Czar. He was the Emperor. Alexander not taken a part in battles. He was staying in Saint-Petersburg - the capital approx. 800 km from Moscow.
Mikhail Kutuzov was the Generalfeldmarschall (general of infantry) and taken key part in all battles beginning from Borodino. The Rook on h1 good symbolize him. The White King good symbolize Emperor Alexander I because Generalfeldmarschall Kutuzov was in close contact with his Emperor while that war company.
Michael Ciamarra Michael Ciamarra 12/30/2015 07:11
Thank you ChessBase! Always a joy to solve Pal Benko's remarkable problems and highly instructive studies! His mate in 15 was a great pleasure to work out! There exists another Petrov 'Retreat from Moscow' problem that Leonard Barden has published over the years and can be found in Barden's Batsford Chess Puzzles #267.
MHBChessFan MHBChessFan 12/30/2015 06:34
Pal Benko misses the symbolism of the problem entirely, as underlined by two other contributors here.

Gary Kevin Ware in his summarises the symbolism of this problem: some pieces and squares represent historical figures.

The Black king represents Napoleon
The White king is Czar Alexander I
The h1-a8 diagonal is the Berezina River
b1 (where the Black king currently is) represents Moscow
h8 represents Paris
The White queen is the Russian marshall, Kutuzov. (MHBChessFan: other sources stipulates that the White queen is the russian queen)
The White knights represent the Russian cavalry

Furthermore, this might be a conditional problem, as the following statement found in hints: "In this puzzle, Marshall Kutuzov MUST remain near the Czar!"
Or, in another second-hand source (The Chess player's Chronicles, vol 8, 1857, p. 98) "At the sixth move the Russian Queen might have check-mated, by opposing the passage of the Beresina —the impetuosity of the Russian Cavalry, however, frustrates this movement."

To condense all the above text, we have two unsolved points here:
-What was the original stipulation of this problem (Was it even a problem or just a position with a succession of moves.)?
-Was queen h1 the Empress of Russia or Marshall Kutuzov?

All in all, Benko's reconstruction of this position, already presented two weeks ago in the US Chess Federation website, has two major flaws:

- In the original position, all the moves were played by the knights except the last one. In the two Benko's reconstructions, this is not the case.
- In the original position, there is a queen symbolizing either Kutuzov or the Empress. In the two following reconstructions, the queen is not here and this symbolism is lost.

Petrov's position is perfectible, but not quite in the way Benko attempted to correct this. More reconstructions are still waiting!
sicilian_D sicilian_D 12/30/2015 04:13
Very nice to revisit this one!
It was first shown to me by my friend's dad in Mumbai India, in 1998. It was as good as a 'pre-internet' era, and the strength of the student Chess player typically depended on his uncle/dad's strength as well as the reference books.
Happy I was to have solved the puzzle at first go, and yes, the book (and the friend's dad) did mention the re-crossing of the Beresina part.

Thank you
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 12/30/2015 02:29
I was just about to comment on this. I know the story from the 1960's Dutch Bouwmeester pocket books, and he (re)wrote the same.
fwagener fwagener 12/30/2015 02:12
That Qa8 delivers mate is not an oversight, but part of the idea of the problem: the re-crossing of the Beresina, where the Russians failed to finish off Napoleon's army. See Assiac's book.
ledgar ledgar 12/30/2015 12:51
Vive Napoléon ! A bas hollande !