ChessBase Puzzles: Loyd's Steinitz Gambit

11/11/2013 – Last month's "Excelsior problem" by immortal problem composer Samuel Loyd struck a chord with many readers, and we were asked by some to display another famous Loyd problem, one which is mainly an attempt to create the most preposterous solution imaginable. We are asked to find the worst possible move in the position – and this move is the solution!

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The following article is taken from our puzzle section, which started over a decade ago, but which was lost when we switch 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.

The Steinitz Gambit

Samuel Loyd, Checkmate (1st prize) 1903

Mate in three moves
Which is the absolutely worst move White can possibly make?

The solution to this famous problem is given at the bottom of the page. However we urge our readers to study the position for a few minutes and decide: which move cannot possibly be the solution? Well, that is the only move that leads to a mate in three!

Before you scroll down to check your ideas, maybe you are interested in story of how the problem was originally composed and why it came to be know as the "Steinitz Gambit".

Samuel Loyd was one of the greatest problem composers who ever lived. His famous "Steinitz Gambit" problem has an interesting background, which is described in Alain C. White's biography of the American puzzle genius ("Sam Loyd and his Chess Problems", Whitehead and Miller 1913):

Few events during the last ten years of Loyd’s life gave him as much pleasure as his winning the first prize in the Novelty Tourney of the little Canadian magazine Checkmate. It was the first problem tourney that I had promoted, and he responded to my request for an entry with the greatest alacrity. By return of post came the Steinitz Gambit, composed in the cars on the way down-town to his office. I was not surprised, seeing the startling originality of the theme, when the judge, Geo. E. Carpenter, awarded it the prize; and Loyd was delighted about it. “I am greatly tickled to think of it as the prize­winner! Just think of its being nearly fifty years since I began taking prizes and am still able to keep it up. I really think that I can compose or solve as quickly as ever, but unfortunately I have so little time to devote to it that there is not much probability of my adding much to my collection” (L., 11th November, 1903).

My account of the rapid composition of the Steinitz Gambit was generally questioned in Europe. It was decided that the problem could not be an impromptu, and that I must be very gullible to accept it as such. I mention this to show how little Loyd’s genius was understood by those whom he used to call the “careful critics.” The chief trait of his genius was its spontaneity, and this resulted, as I have explained before, in frequent inaccuracies and in occasional lack of finish. These faults we readily overlook in view of the unfailing freshness of treatment which they produced. I had to send the Steinitz Gambit back to Loyd twice for minor repairs, before it was completely sound. “I thought that Black Pawn Queening,” he wrote me, “was such a strong defence that no one in his common sense would look for any other! (L., 15th April, 1903).

Loyd's letterhead

The original draft
of the "Steinitz Gambit"

His own criticism of the Steinitz Gambit was as follows The originality of the problem is due to the White King being placed in absolute safety, and yet coming out on a reckless career, with no immediate threat and in the face of innumerable checks. The freedom of the Black King to move, or to capture the Knight, constitutes a pretty feature of what may be looked upon as a remarkably bold theme (MS.).

The motto of the problem would give the solution away immediately to any player familiar with the Bishop’s Gambit; but problemists in general would probably not remember that the distinctive move, constituting the Steinitz Gambit, is 5 K-K 2! Loyd knew it only too well from experience, as the first time he ever saw the opening played was by Delmar in the memorable third game of their match in 1879.

Solution to the Steinitz Gambit problem

[Event "Checkmate (1pr)"] [Site "?"] [Date "1903.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Loyd, Samuel"] [Black "Mate in three"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r1b1/1p4B1/pN2pR2/RB2k3/1P2N2p/2p3b1/n2P1p1r/5K1n w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "1903.??.??"] 1. Ke2 {The most implausible move imaginable: White moves his king away from its super-safe position and allows a queen promotion with double check! But it is the only way that White can mate in three moves. Really. The problem got its name from the fifth move of the Steinitz Gambit in the Vienna Opening: 1. e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2.} ({Peter Stevens of San Francisco pointed out that there is a worse move:} 1. Nxg3 Nxg3#) 1... f1=Q+ (1... f1=N+ 2. Rf2+ Kxe4 3. Bd3#) (1... Kxe4 2. Bd3+ Kd4 3. Rf4#) (1... Kd4 2. Rf4+ e5 3. Nxg3#) 2. Ke3 {Guarding the knight, which could be taken in most of the other tries. Now whatever Black plays - he has a choice of ten different checks - White can defend with a checkmating move. Study the diagram to convince yourself.} 1-0

Frederic Friedel

Topics Loyd, Puzzles
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