ChessBase Puzzles: Different Opinions

by Frederic Friedel
7/13/2014 – It's a position taken from a genuine historic game – one played exactly a hundred years ago. Four different opinions are quoted, each contradicting the previous one about who is actually winning. We ask our readers: study the position, without a board and pieces and form your own opinion. If you get it right you can give yourself a contortionist's pat on the back. Now with solution.

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The following article is taken from Frederic Friedel's puzzle section, which started over a decade ago, but which was lost when we switched 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.

Different opinions

In a chess tournament played exactly a hundred years ago the following position occurred:

White to move

  1. An amateur, who had strolled by the board, whispered to a friend: "The black pawn on a2 is going to queen, and White can do absolutely nothing to stop it. So Black is winning!"

  2. His friend, a stronger player, didn't agree: "Come on, wake up! White plays 1.Rh7! a1Q 2.Rxb7+ Ka3 3.Ra7+ Kb2 4.Rxa1 Kxa1. It's a clear win for White!"

  3. At the board White, an expert player, studied the position for a while and then resigned! He stretched out his hand and said to his opponent: "It's quite hopeless, really. After 1.Rh7 you play 1...Ka5 2.Rxb7 Ka6 3.Rb8 Ka7 and I can't stop you from getting the queen. So Black obviously wins."

  4. His opponent, who was an even stronger player, accepted his resignation and then, to the horror of the white player, said: "Actually I was just about to resign myself. I saw that after 1.Rh7! Ka5 you simply play 2.Rh8! The a-pawn is lost and the game is over. So actually White was winning."

So who was right – or were all four wrong? We urge you to study the above position and draw your own independent conclusion. If you can solve the puzzle in your head you should give yourself a contortionist's pat on the back.

[Event "Mannheim"] [Site "?"] [Date "1914.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Mieses, J."] [Black "Post, E."] [Result "0-1"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p6/8/2p4R/1kP5/3K4/p7/3B4 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "7"] [EventDate "1914.??.??"] {Solution: the result is actually a draw!} 1. Rh7 $1 a1=Q $1 (1... Ka5 $2 2. Rxb7 (2. Rh8 $1 $18) 2... Ka6 3. Rb8 Ka7 $19) 2. Rxb7+ Ka3 3. Ra7+ Kb4 $1 {The key move overlooked by all.} (3... Kb2 $2 4. Rxa1 Kxa1 $18) 4. Rxa1 {stalemate! } (4. Ra4+ Qxa4 5. Bxa4 Kxa4 6. Ke4 Kb3 (6... Ka5 7. Kd3 Kb4 8. Kd2 Kxc4 9. Kc2 $11) 7. Kd3 Kb4 8. Kd2 Kxc4 9. Kc2 $11 {Carlos Mas.}) 0-1

Carlos Mas of Monterrey, Mexico
I tried to solve the position before viewing the four opinions. My first impression was like the No. 1, then I analyzed a little bit, and I found the continuation suggested by No. 2. But then analyzing a little further I found other continuations and just didn't see in my head No. 3 and No. 4. My conclusion was that the game should be drawn after 1.Rh7 a1=Q 2.Rxb7+ Ka3 3.Ra7+ Kb4! 4.Ra4+ (4.Rxa1 stalemate) Qxa4 5.Bxa4 Kxa4 6.Ke4 Ka5 7.Kd5 Kb6 8.Kd6 Kb7 9.Kxc5 Kc7=. Finally I read the four opinions and No. 3 and No. 4 came as a surprise for me. But then I went back to my analysis and determined that it was the right solution. By the way I don't think players 3 and 4 are so strong, I think I found the right solution, and I play at around 2000 Elo. Very interesting position!

Jorge Shinozaki, Tokyo, Japan
Amazing! All four were wrong because with the best play, it is draw by stalemate. This puzzle teaches us to think twice before resigning in seemingly lost positions."

Christian Furrer, Copenhagen, Denmark
My first thought was that white at least has a draw with Rh6 followed by Rb6, and Rb5 – making some kind of fortress!? This idea wasn't mentioned in your article, but should be of interest: It is a different opinion, at least.

Wolff Morrow, Denton, TX USA
I decided to give it a go on the puzzle you posted completely unaided (not even using a board to move pieces on). At first, I thought White was winning, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized Black could use the queen as bait to set up a draw by either stalemate or forcing white to give perpetual checks. So to me, take the line in #2 of 1. Rh7 a1=Q 2. Rxb7+ Ka3 3. Ra7+ only instead of 3...Kb2, play 3...Kb4! since taking the queen instantly stalemates black. If 4.Rb7+, then just shuffle the king to a3 and b4 over and over for perpetual. This could be completely wrong and I'm overlooking something obvious, but this is the best I could come up with just by visualization from the diagram.

Luis Cruz, Santander, Spain
I think I'd get a "patt" rather than a simple pat on the back.
[Patt is the German expression for stalemate.]

Matthew S. Wilson, Eugene, Oregon USA
The position is a draw. 1.Rh7 a1=Q 2.Rxb7+ Ka3 3.Ra7+ Kb4! and now 4.Rxa1 is stalemate. Note that 1...Ka5 2.Rh8 a1=Q 3.Ra8+ Kb4 4.Rxa1 is very similar, but because Black still has his b7-pawn, there is no stalemate and he is lost. After 1.Rh7 a1=Q 2.Rxb7+ Ka3 3.Ra7+ Kb4! White can instead try 4.Ra4+!? Qxa4 5.Bxa4 Kxa4 6.Ke4. Now Black should play 6...Kb3! (6...Kb4?? 7.Kd5 is zugzwang) 7.Kd3 (7.Kd5?? Kb4 and now White is in zugzwang) 7...Kb4 8.Kd2! Kxc4 9.Kc2 with a draw since White has the opposition.

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.


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