Christmas Puzzles 2014 – Curious chess

by Frederic Friedel
12/31/2014 – New Year's Eve is a time for light-headed celebration, for Champagne and fireworks, for parties and laughter. In this spirit we bring you the seventh installment of our Christmas puzzle with a number of curious chess problems which are not hard to solve but require a keen sense of humour. They all come from an author who inspired our 2002 Christmas column. Enjoy.

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ChessBase 2014 Christmas Puzzles

For the fifteenth anniversary of our apparently well-loved Christmas puzzles we have decided to go back in time and pick some of the best or most popular puzzles for you. Remember there are GM readers (and one of our regular authors) out there who were not born when we started the series. For older readers the cherries we will pick out of the original section will hopefully bring on nostalgic memories; and the younger ones will learn for the first time what we have been up to over the years.

And of course we will start the new year with our traditional Christmas puzzle contest. On the first of January 2015 you will get some problems to solve, with the chance of winning interesting prizes. In the meantime here are the final three sections for 2014.

December 31, 2014: Curious chess

Today we are in for entertainment, pure and simple. If you look carefully at the picture we showed you on our December 29 puzzle page you will that 15-year-old Nigel Short and the Finnish problem chess expert Mika Korhonen are looking at a book. It is Dr Karl Fabel's Kurioses Schach, which translates to "curious chess".

I still own the book, which I bought second-hand at the chess tournament in which Nigel was playing. It bears a copyright from 1960 and has pencilled notes in it by a previous owner – in the old German "Suetterlin" handwriting. I actually learned to read this script and was able to decipher the letters I had inherited from my grandparent's generation.

This 64-page book, and a number of subsequent ones by the same author that I purchased, contain a wealth of odd, entertaining and often bizarre chess ideas. There are many orthodox problems with unusual twists, and there are any number of non-orthodox variants.

So today I will give you a few examples of curious chess problems – nothing too bizarre, however, since I do not want to scare anyone away. You will need to activate your sense of humour if you want to enjoy these examples, though. We start with an appetizer, a problem that should take you less than a minute to solve:

Dr. Karl Fabel, Rätselstunde, June 1952

White to play and not deliver mate

Got it? There is only one move that does not mate the black king. Dr Fabel's comment to the solution: "Der Menschenfreund", which transtlates to "The altruist". By the way in this case you are welcome to switch your chess engine on and seek its assistance.

In the same spirit of New Year's Eve light-headedness we present another one-move chess problem. Could anything be possibly easier? Bow your head in shame if it took you more than two minutes to find the mate.

T. P. Madeley, Chess, December 1950

Mate in one move

And yet another one-mover:

Pollmächer et.al. Illustrierte Zeitung, 1859

Mate in one move – how many solutions?

Normally chess problems should not have more than one solution. The above position makes a point of creating as many alternative solutions as possible. Try and count the exact number of mating moves that White can make. Hint: it is more than ten.

Dr Karl Fabel, Deutsche Schachblätter, 1950

Insert the black king so White can mate in one

Here the black king is missing. You must place it somewhere on the board so that White can immediately mate, in a single move. If you find two places then you will have to decide which one is correct. Think for a moment – only one is.

Author unknown

White to play and win

We would offer that this is the easiest chess study ever composed. If you cannot solve it, then chess is definitely not your game. The next problem is in similar New Year's Eve spirit of forced moves:

T. R. Dawson

White to play

In this position, composed by the great Britisch composer Thomas Rayner Dawson (1889-1951), the author tells us that the player with the black pieces had decided to resign. White, who is in check, advised his opponent not to give up so quickly. "But I am bound to lose, there is nothing I can do – or for that matter you either," said Black. But White insisted: "I'll bet you $100 that I can lose this game!" So the two made the bet and White actually lost. How did he do that? (No, it's nothing like resigning, losing on time, being disqualified, etc. White wagered he would lose, and he lost fair and square. It's pure semantics. Please use the feedback link at the bottom of this page to send your hate mail.)

In closing a serious problem by our Curious Chess hero, one which may even have some practical relevance:

Dr Karl Fabel, Deutsche Schachblätter, 1950

White to play and win – how many moves?

Take it from me, White can win this position – I simply want you to guess how many moves it will take. Yes, and can you think of a strategy for the white pieces? In case you are unable to solve the problem here's a hint: White must somehow force Black to self-destruct by pushing the c-pawn.

Incidentally Karl Fabel was born in 1905 in Hamburg, Germany (where ChessBase is located) and died in 1975. He received a doctorate in chemistry and worked as a mathematician and civil judge. Fabel is considered to be one of the most ingenious chess composers. We have never seen a picture of him.

Wait, one of our readers found one, a family photo of this great man,
below a diagram of the White does not mate problem.



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.