Fifteen years of ChessBase Christmas Puzzles

by Frederic Friedel
12/27/2014 – For the fifteenth time we end the year with our traditional Christmas puzzles. To celebrate we bring you a retrospective of some of the best puzzles from the early years. Remember some of our readers were not born when we started, for others it may bring back nostalgic memories. Looking back at 2001 today we have added two "retro" problems by Raymond Smullyan.

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A Merry Christmas to all our readers

Or a Happy Christmas if you are British or Irish, or Season's Greetings if you are secular. Our tradition of presenting you with a week of chess puzzles during the Winter Solstice has been going on for fifteen years now and traditionally started with an ICQ Christmas greeting.

These are animated Flash greeting cards, and you can watch "Santa's time machine" above by clicking here. If you become addicted you can play through a few more we used in the past: like this international Merry Christmas, or the rooftop song.

Well, on to the puzzles. As many of you know until last year this well-loved section was published in static HTML, and disappeared into oblivion when we switched to a new content management system. We started to republish some of the older articles, which you can view here. For the fifteenth anniversary of the Christmas puzzles we have decided to go back in time and pick some of the best or most popular puzzles for you. Remember some our GM readers (and one of our regular authors) 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.


ChessBase Christmas Puzzle 1999

It would be appropriate to start our review of fifteen years of Christmas puzzles with the very first one, which has been entertaining people for a decade and a half. It is the infamous 1999 ChessBase Christmas Puzzle, given to us at the time by John Nunn:

A game begins with 1.e4 and ends in the fifth move with knight takes rook mate.

This is the starting position. All you have to do is enter some legal chess moves, so that the game ends on move five with the stipulated knight takes rook mate. We republished this problem and retold the epic story around it in August last year. You can find out how the strongest players in the world were able to cope with it.

December 25, 2014: ChessBase Christmas Puzzle 2000

A game ends with the move 
6.gxf8=N mate. How did it go?

That's it. An astonishingly simple task. You must find just six moves from the starting position in chess, that lead to a white pawn moving from the square g7 to f8, capturing a black piece that is located there,
promoting to a knight and delivering mate. Naturally it is not a forced sequence – both sides cooperate to achieve the goal. If the conditions are not completely clear, here is an expanded explanation.

The game starts from the initial position. White and Black execute five moves each. Then, on move six, White moves a pawn from the square g7 to f8, capturing a black piece that is located there, promoting to a knight and delivering mate in the process..

The moves must all be legal, no side may ignore a check. As mentioned above White does not force the move sequence – both sides cooperate to achieve the goal.

December 26, 2014: from ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2001

1. Identify this game

Here is a very famous game, or rather a small extract of it. The replay board only shows the moves of the black knight in the course of the game, as does the diagram on the right. This knight was absolutely decisive. It tore into the white position, creating mayhem and winning the encounter for Black. Your task is to identify the game and the players. It is one of the best-known games in chess history.



2. The deadly knight

Chess studies are often profound, subtle or instructive. But some are just plain fun. Here's an example in which you can do what you probably often dreamed of in your regular club games. Go for it, have a ball!

J. Mendheim, Berlin 1932

White to play and win

December 27, 2014: from ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2001

Genrikh Moiseyevich Kasparian

He was born in Tiflis in 1910 and died in 1996. Genrikh Kasparian learned chess from his older brother at the age of 13, became a strong master and then devoted his life to the game. But not to over-the-board play but the composition of some of the greatest chess studies ever to be seen.

Postage stamp "Birth Centenary
of Henrik Kasparyan", Armenia 2010

The depth of Kasparian's ideas and the artistry of execution has never been surpassed. Of the 400 studies that we have by this great composer around 300 received prizes and awards. He was a Grandmaster for Study Composition and six-time Champion for study composition in the USSR. Here is my all-time favourite Kasparian study:

Genrikh Kasparian, Shakhmaty v SSSR 1935

White to play and win

Feed the position into your chess program and it will give you the solution instantly. BUT: if you use electronic assistance you will miss the experience of a lifetime figuring out how White can bring about a clean win. Spend a half-hour working it out from the diagram, or better still: fetch a chessboard and pieces and figure it out on your Christmas table.

Samuel Loyd (1841–1911) was not just the greatest American problem composer. He was probably the greatest problem composer the world has ever seen. Loyd published over 700 chess problems, many with humorous or unexpected solutions, the likes of which had never been seen before. William Anthony Shinkman (1847–1933) is America's second great chess problem composer, brilliantly original and incredibly prolific – he published over 3,500 problems of many different types.

Samuel Loyd, New York Albion 1857

White to play and mate in three moves

W. A. Shinkman, St. Louis Globe Democrat 1887

White to play and mate in eight

Sam Loyd's biographer, A. C. White, calls this "one of the world's most famous problems". Loyd, who published the problem before he had turned 16, referred to it as "a neat little position". You will need a tiny bit of lateral thinking in order to solve it.

The Shinkman problem is a beautiful, almost architectual position. Another great composer, Werner Speckmann, mused that "one might think the the rules of the present-day game of chess had been especially invented to produce this problem". Unfortunately a second solution (or "cook") was later found. But for once this does not seem to have destroyed immortality of the problem. When you find the solution that the author originally intended you will immediately recognise its beauty. The cook is ugly and convoluted.

Incidentally Shinkman originally intended the position as a retro-analytical exercise, not a classical mate problem. The question was how can one achieve the above position in a normal game of chess, only executing legal moves. It can be reached in 34 moves from the initial position. Naturally both sides must cooperate to achieve the goal. This task is only for experienced problem experts.

December 28, 2014: from ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2001

How did that happen?

"Retrograde analysis" sounds daunting, but is it a very enjoyable form of recreational chess, requiring humour and lateral thinking.

One of the great masters of the retrograde problem was T. R. Dawson, but the genre was brought to mainstream attention in a series of books by Raymond Smullyan entitled "Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes". They appeared in Hutchinson around 1980.

Smullyan's chess puzzle books are written in the style of the Conan Dolye tales. The presents problems that require the same kind of logic the master detective employed to track down his criminal adversaries. Typically Holmes and Watson will find an interrupted game and discuss how the position on the board came about.

Raymond Smullyan is a well-known American mathematician, concert pianist, logician, Taoist philosopher, and magician. He is the author of many books on recreational mathematics and logic. And the one shown on the left. The introductory puzzle on the cover is given below. Here's how it is described in the book:

I had a memorable evening alone with Holmes, during which I learned more about retro-analysis than perhaps on any other occasion. "Here, let me set up a little exercise to illustrate the more normal type of situation," he said.

What was Black's last move?

“I call this an ‘exercise', Watson, since it is really too simple to dignify by the word ‘problem'. As you see neither side is mated – nor even in check. The question now is this: Given that Black moved last, what was his last move, and White’s last move?”

I thought for a while, then said, “Holmes, I’m sorry to be such a slow pupil, but the situation again seems impossible! Obviously Black just moved out of check from a7, but I don’t see how White could possibly have moved his bishop to administer the check!”

“Not bad, Watson; not bad at all! I see you are beginning to think. But why do you have this persistent habit of forgetting that a move may involve a capture?”

Then, of course, I saw it. “Right, Holmes, right. Black’s last move was with the king from a7 capturing a white piece on a8. This piece must have moved before that out of the diagonal from g1 to a7 to uncover check from the bishop. What piece could that be? Why obviously a knight, which had moved from b6 to a8. Thus Black’s last move was from a7 to a8, capturing a white knight.”

“Correct,” said Holmes.

A new thought suddenly occurred to me. “Holmes” I said, “is it really necessary in this problem to be given which side was White?”

“Of course,” replied Holmes. “If we hadn’t been given that information, then a second solution would have been possible: A white pawn could have just promoted to bishop.”

A retro problem for Christmas

Raymond Smullyan, Manchester Guardian 1957

In the above position White has just removed his king from the board.
From which square, and what were the last two moves?

Once again we entreat you: do not post any solutions in the discussion section below and spoil the fun for everyone else. Nobody will admire you for it, and some will be extremely annoyed. Just keep it to yourself.

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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Pablo Pena Pablo Pena 1/23/2015 03:00
The Sam Lloyd one is very nice! The solution is.....! (jk). I do have a beef with the last puzzle "White has just removed his King from the board" What the ?? What are the parameters for such a "puzzle"? Is it white to move and discover where the king had been? Is it to put the king somewhere where it was delivering mate or being mated? I don't understand what the goal even is. Shouldn't the objective be clear?
tanu2 tanu2 1/7/2015 02:31
i am waiting for the answer frederic friedel
Bandesz Bandesz 1/6/2015 10:05
Enrom, check out my youtube channel, you can see the solutions there.
Malthrope Malthrope 1/5/2015 10:51
+Emrom ~ It's unknown. The best I can offer is to fathom an educated guess. ;) As we were given 3 weeks to summit our contest solutions from the "New Year 2015 Puzzle Contest" article (posted on January 1, 2015). So, I would suspect that a recap of solutions to the Chess problems covered in the 15 year review. To appear either shortly before the 3 weeks is up or when the winners are actually announced in 3 weeks. It's just a guess until it actually happens or they tell us. We simply don't know? Regards, - Mal
Emrom Emrom 1/5/2015 10:32
So the solutions will be posted on When?
Malthrope Malthrope 1/5/2015 09:33
+Emrom ~ Well, it can't be done here as it's against the ChessBase rules that Frederic Friedel (Editor-in-Chief) has setup. :) Of which most of us are trying our very best to be sure we do just that ("MuM" is always the word with us.). In the case of "Mates in 2 and 3" and the "curious" Chess problems the solutions should all be self-evident. The mate is always there as no defense is possible and white to play and "not mate" in one move. Once again the solved solution move can not be refuted as there is no possible mating move that can be made next on the chessboard. In other words, we alone supply our own proof(s) by being absolutely positive that our answer(s) cannot be defended against and no checkmate is possible. As for all the rest you're stuck (at least until the correct solutions are all posted). :P Unless you happen to know an experienced Chess player that also enjoys solving Chess problems. In my youth when I went to the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club I was surrounded by them. :P If indeed I had a specific question about a Chess problem they always had all the right answers! LoL ;) Best Regards, - Mal
Emrom Emrom 1/5/2015 04:35
Hi, I've solved some of the puzzles... How I can verify my solutions?
Malthrope Malthrope 1/2/2015 12:08
+Bill Alg ~ That's totally awesome. ;) I'm so glad that I could spur you on to give it another try. Armed only with a few super soft suggestions spoken in a purely enlightened way. LoL Well done! :XD A very "Happy New Year" 2015 to you. All the Best, - Mal
Bill Alg Bill Alg 1/2/2015 11:48
@Malthrope, thank you, I solved it now.
Bandesz Bandesz 1/2/2015 05:08
Bandesz Just now

I started uploading the solutions of these lovely puzzles on my youtube channel. If you are stuck on a problem (or want to see the channel), check it out:

PS: I may not be able to solve all of them but I will try my mighty best!:)
Malthrope Malthrope 1/2/2015 04:04
+rubix ~ Yes, exactly I just didn't want you to inadvertently cross it. ;) It's a fine line just like walking a tightrope. Quite easy to miss and fall from, etc. ;)
rubix rubix 1/2/2015 03:19
Well, I didn,t post any solutions. I may have certainly made it a lot easier for others to solve them though, so point taken.
Malthrope Malthrope 1/2/2015 02:38
+rubix ~ It pays to read as this was posted out at the bottom of this first phase of, "Fifteen years of ChessBase Christmas Puzzles."

"Once again we entreat you: do not post any solutions in the discussion section below and spoil the fun for everyone else. Nobody will admire you for it, and some will be extremely annoyed. Just keep it to yourself."

We simply do not discuss solutions or variations here in any detail. Always keep it to basic semantics and you'll be safe. ;) Especially now that the contest is ON. ;) We now have three weeks to summit our solutions. The key word being: "submit!" :XD Regards, - Mal
rubix rubix 1/2/2015 02:22
The shinkman mate in eight, is easy because once you've seen the inititial idea ,you just keep repeating it
rubix rubix 1/2/2015 02:11
It takes 4 moves for the black knight to capture the white r
ook....only one more move for the mate
rubix rubix 1/2/2015 02:08
Hmm! I am not proud, but I have no intention of trying to win a prize. And the problem was impossible to solve without miraculous assistance
Malthrope Malthrope 1/2/2015 01:13
+rubix ~ Re: Your comment on the first problem. Well, I warned everyone in my first post above. If you want to solve it: "Do not search for it on the Internet!" As the solution will simply pop-up right in front of you on the screen. Thus you will miss every possible chance of the pleasure of solving it. :( Finally, Re: Sam Loyd (1857) Chess problem ~ it's nice that you agree with me (Of course it's a Mate in 3!). LoL ;) Regards, - Mal
rubix rubix 1/1/2015 08:47
And yes, the Sam Lloyd problem is definitely a mate in 3. I did not cheat to see that. The statement that it was impossible spurred me on to find it
rubix rubix 1/1/2015 08:42
I 'solved' the first problem, but cheated by scouring the internet for a solution first
Malthrope Malthrope 1/1/2015 02:09
+Bill Alg ~ Oh yes, it's a mate in 3 (guaranteed!). :) Having solved it a very long time ago soon after I got bitten by the Chess bug (age 12-13) which was some 55 years ago. You just need to think outside the box. ;) Also, note that all modern day legal "Rules of Chess" are in full force (what's legal is legal). That's all I can tell you. :P So, give it another try now. As all the ChessBase Christmas Puzzle answers will be revealed shortly. :XD Best Regards, - Mal
Bill Alg Bill Alg 12/31/2014 11:04
Are you sure that Samuel Loyd's problem is a mate in three? Because I really think it is not. Mate in four, maybe.
prat10 prat10 12/30/2014 03:20

i have seen every puzzle except the 1st two and the deadly kn. puzzle.
after solving the 1991 christmas puzzle(sorry with help gt the 2nd black move from internet,even anyone can accuse me that i didn't solved any move) realised that actually i have seen the puzzle beforehand somewhere and even i know the answers which i were not aware of at the time of solving.
Malthrope Malthrope 12/28/2014 06:43
+river77 ~ Did you notice and read the posting at the very bottom of this article just below the final diagram posted (for Raymond Smullyan, Manchester Guardian 1957) Retrograde analysis problem? It states the following:

"Please do not post any solutions in the discussion section below and spoil the fun for everyone else. Nobody will admire you for it, and some will be extremely annoyed. Just keep it all to yourself."

The answer was a secret we were all keeping from one another and that's why no has posted any information on any of the possible solutions to any of these Chess problems and tasks being presented here. So far we have duly managed to limit it to basic semantics. I'll assume ChessBase will consider it a First Offense and that should be a freebie! LoL :) Of course it's Bobby's game with the late International Master Donald Byrne (Game of the Century). Bobby was just 13 years old when he played that game before he exploded onto the worldwide Chess Scene in the following year (as a pure genius 14 year old wonderkind!). :XD
river77 river77 12/28/2014 05:04
The fantastic knight travel belongs to Fischer from "game of the century" Donald Byrne-Robert James Fischer,New York 17th of october 1956.
Malthrope Malthrope 12/27/2014 07:39
Right you are caliche2014. :) These devilish Chess problems are difficult enough but to word the task in such a way that it's confusing (or to say at the very least: unclear) is simply too much to ask of the solver. A problem task needs to be made perfectly clear unless for some odd reason it's also part of the problem?! LoL :P It's now beginning to look like old home week here on "Fifteen years of ChessBase Christmas Puzzles." Featuring the new Dec 27th additions by Genrikh Kasparian (Shakhmaty v SSSR 1935), Sam Loyd and Walter. A. Shinkman. Funny thing is I still remember solving all those problems long ago. Loved Chess problems as a teenager and simply couldn't get enough of them. ;) Still remember how proud I was solving the Kasparian study. Interesting too is all one has to see is the position once again. The wheels immediately start turning and all the basic ideas and solving concepts still seem to be stored upstairs. It only takes but a brief moment to remember how it's done. LoL Thank our lucky stars for long term memories! :XD
caliche2014 caliche2014 12/27/2014 06:57
I respectfully and totally disagree with you: a good chess puzzle can have a few hidden tricks but in the position itself, not the wording for example, when White or Black can still castle and it is quite easy to overlook such a move, even the idea of undepromotion is in a way some sort of chess related trick. The wording should not be part of a chess puzzle. In regards to "taken the fun out of it" I see it the other way around, now many players will have the pleasure of solving this brilliant puzzle instead of wasting their time looking for something that does not exist. As Malthrope put it: "In all the previous encounters I've had with this clever 'Constructional Task' the info given was simply thus: "White plays on the first move 1. P-K4 now your task is to demonstrate how black can play 5... NxR mate." That is the correct way to state the puzzle.
deadlyrooms deadlyrooms 12/27/2014 05:59
I disagree completely with caliche. The puzzle, as stated, is clear and unambiguous. If you fall into the error of assuming White must be the one to give the mate, that is your own fault and not the fault of the puzzle setter. It is an elegant feature of the puzzle that it has different lines of attack depending on whether you are trying for White or Black to give the mate, though in the end only one solution works. Now that you've told us which of these is correct, that has taken a lot of the fun out of it.
satman satman 12/27/2014 05:28
There's no doubt that Sam Loyd was a very great composer, but to claim he is "greatest problem composer the world has ever seen" is a bit over the top!
When Loyd was active the modern problem art was in its infancy and lots new things were waiting to be discovered.
It was Loyd's genius that he did discover many of them, for which he could very well be described as the greatest of the pioneers, but things have moved on quite a bit since then.
The cream of current composers are producing masterpieces of the kind that Mr Loyd and Mr Shinkman could never have dreamt of.
While it's gratifying that a site aimed at players occasionally gives a nod to Problem Chess, it's unfortunate that so many examples are from the 19th century at the expense of modern day practice.
It's like we only got to see the games of Morphy, Staunton and Steinitz and not those of Carlsen, Kramnik and Caruana.
caliche2014 caliche2014 12/27/2014 06:58
Just in case someone is interested, there is a variation of the first puzzle. After 1.e4 White can give checkmate in 6 moves ending with Knight takes Rook mate. This finding was the result of several hours trying in vain to find a checkmate in 5 for White in the first Christmas Puzzle! Unfortunately there are two solutions and at some points, Black and White can choose between several cooperative moves. The number of solutions can be reduced if you state which Knight should give mate, the b1 or the g1 Knight.
Malthrope Malthrope 12/27/2014 02:20
Hey Geeker! (aka: Chump). ;) All true and just like Superman I grew tired of 4+ years in solitude. LoL To cut to the chase you can find me on Google+ and on YouTube (as AB you know the name) and on Livestream and (as Malthrope). I believe all of them display various ways to contact me. Didn't want to go overboard and say anything more here. Except to say ChessBase is the absolute BEST! :XD I've been following this superb Chess website since September, 2001. Best Regards, - Malthrope (Berkeley, CA // USA)
Chump Chump 12/27/2014 01:39
Egads! Malthrope is back talking chess! Welcome back and happy holidays, Mal. (You might know me as "geeker"...)
KWRegan KWRegan 12/26/2014 05:38
In computer science we have the concept of "Zero-Knowledge Proofs" whereby you can demonstrate your knowledge of something like the "Identify This Game" puzzle without giving any information about the answer. Technically this needs rolling dice like in Yahtzee, but in practical cases some artistic license works almost as well.
Malthrope Malthrope 12/26/2014 05:18
Good catch there caliche2014. ;) In all the previous encounters I've had with this clever 'Constructional Task' the info given was simply thus: "White plays on the first move 1. P-K4 now your task is to demonstrate how black can play 5... NxR mate." Thus using only descriptive notation as algebraic notation would give away too much information where black's knight on the 5th move was actually capturing the rook. Thereby freely giving away the square on which the white rook is captured! LoL ;) It's a great constructional task and well worth the solving time taken looking for the solution. :D PS: I was so excited about the other constructional task #2: "A game ends with the move 6.gxf8=N mate. How did it go?" That I let the wording slip by for problem number #1. :P

Regards, - Malthrope (Berkeley, CA // USA)
caliche2014 caliche2014 12/26/2014 03:32
Thanks for the puzzles, the solutions are extremely creative! However, in puzzle number 1 you should have told readers that the game begins with 1.e4 and ends in the fifth move with a Black knight taking a rook and giving mate. As stated it is deceiving as in most puzzles White gives checkmate. The main point of a chess puzzle should never be testing the player's reading skills simply because that is not chess related at all.

Queenslander Queenslander 12/26/2014 12:58
Rootes 42 Rootes 42 12/25/2014 11:40
Thanks again Chessbase for keeping us busy over the last 15 Christmases! As to the puzzles, I completely failed to solve the first one myself, but happened to stumble across the solution in a book some years later. I think I'm on the right lines with the second one - I can get to 7. gxf8N#, and I'm convinced that what I have is the correct final position... I just need to figure out how to get there in one move fewer!
jocaps jocaps 12/25/2014 09:15
Spoiler hint: at least for my solution more or less you use the same idea.. but a little different... as the 1999 puzzle. Maybe in fact there are more than one solution. That would be fun if there was. I hope that the chessbase solution is different so I can also show the unique solution I found :) I like these puzzles because you still can't use the engines to solve these constructional puzzle (unlike the mate in n puzzles). Probably though if developers try to they can create a program that can actually solve constructional puzzle. Other type of puzzle you can't solve by engine is the reverse position search. Given position A reach position B type of puzzle (though they are bit easier than this puzzle which gives almost no hint position B). In the 1999 puzzle there was in fact NO hint on position B, whilst this one there is .. therefore this is in fact easier.
jocaps jocaps 12/25/2014 09:11
Just solved it.. couldnt I post it.. dang. No price to win for solving? Its in fact much easier than the 1999 puzzle
Wem420 Wem420 12/25/2014 05:46
My favorite was the one with the little robot eating dirt and finding jams and such
Malthrope Malthrope 12/25/2014 11:59
Once again mucho kudos to Frederic Friedel (Editor-in-Chief) and the entire staff at ChessBase for once again giving us wonderful Chess problems to solve over the Christmas and New Years holidays. :) I remember the first one well (A game begins with 1. e4...). It was first shown to me by my old Chess friend GM Nick deFirmian. Be forwarned though if you inadvertently search for it on the Internet the answers will quickly pop into view. If you love solving difficult Chess problems - like I do - then try to solve it! LoL ;) BTW: Nick told me that this Constructional task (that's what the Chess problem world calls them) was one of the entries in a former World Championship Chess Problem Solving Contest (circa 1980's). In which GM Jonathan Spielman solved it in 45 minutes flat. Can you do better than that? LoL Good Luck! ;)

The second one (A game ends with the move 6.gxf8=N mate. How did it go?) is new to me and I look forward to solving it! :)

A very "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays" to the entire Chessbase staff! :XD

Best Regards, - Malthrope (Berkeley, CA // USA)