John Saunders in CHESS Magazine

by John Saunders
7/12/2017 – "Do you find yourself spending too much time on social media?" asks the columnist in the July issue of CHESS Magazine. "Me too." John describes how he keeps compulsively checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts. It uses up a lot of time, but there are plus points: you find a lot of chess puzzles, many of them quite irresistible. He shows us two examples which you can try to solve on our interactive javascript chess board. Have fun.

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Saunders on Chess

Do you find yourself spending too much time on social media? Me too. I like to think I don’t have an addictive personality, so no problems with tobacco, alcohol, gambling or any of that sort of thing, but I’m forever clicking on Facebook to see if there is a red number in the notifications icon, or having a quick look to see if I’ve acquired any more Twitter followers.

Hmm, maybe I have a problem. But, don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with it as it is not the subject of this month’s homily. In fact, I want to talk about one of plus points of social media, namely the availability of good quality chess content. These days there are literally thousands of chess websites, often run by titled players who are trying to make a living by giving lessons or writing books, and many of them use social media to advertise their wares. Even if you don’t subscribe to their pages, the chances are that you’re going to see a lot of the output from these websites via other chess people amongst your social media contacts ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ them.

This sort of advertising I’m usually happy to see as it often consists of chess puzzles. And you can never have enough chess puzzles. Well, at least that’s true if you’ve plenty of time to look at them, but even the busiest people can usually find a moment in the day when they can enjoy tickling their chess taste buds with a study or a tactical puzzle.

I find the chess puzzles that pop up on Facebook irresistible. Even the absurdly simple ones, which you can solve in a heartbeat. It may seem paradoxical that some of the simplest puzzles are posted by legends of the game, such as the Polgar sisters, but competition players should try not to be too snooty about this since many chess pros are engaged on the vital business of opening up the game to a wider audience, drawing in people who are not already competition players.

Many of the puzzles set online don’t fall into any of the categories which traditionally appear in printed specialist magazines, namely mate in x problems, endgame studies and Find the Winning Moves, but they still have their uses in popularising the game. Take this one for an example:

An experienced competition player, used to conventional problems being progressively harder depending on how many moves there are to mate, might be put off when seeing the word ‘six’, but a glance at the board should provide a few circumstantial clues that it’s much easier. I’m guessing that a lot of readers will find the solution very quickly using a very ‘unchessy’ technique. (If you want to solve without any clues, don’t read on yet – move the pieces around on the above board.) The circumstantial clues, in no particular order, are:

  1. the sine qua non of nearly all puzzles – the first move has to be flashy;
  2. since Black will have a number of checking moves available on the first turn, White had better get a check in first or risk overrunning the six-move stipulation;
  3. there is only one viable line of play to think about;
  4. it conforms to a fairly well-known pattern; and perhaps
  5. though the position has been dressed up to look like it came from a real game, there is still an element of artificiality about it.

Such a puzzle might be unsatisfying for high-level players, who will only be too aware that real-life chess is rarely that simple, and that they will have used a slightly sneaky non-standard technique to solve it. But, despite its lack of aesthetic appeal, this sort of puzzle can provide welcome encouragement to less experienced players and help give them the confidence to analyse long lines.

Not everything you see on social media is a piece of cake. By way of contrast, I offer another position I recently saw on social media.

This one is much harder – or is it? My experience with it probably says more about me and my advancing senility than its objective difficulty. My first attempt at it, late one evening when I was tired (and also foolishly trying to watch TV at the same time) was fruitless. I looked at it again fresh the following morning and saw the idea almost immediately. I’ll give a clue in the next paragraph, so don’t read on if you want to figure it out without help.

OK, this one is quite hard, and all the more so because the solution is not anywhere near as clear-cut as we usually see in conventional puzzles in books and magazines. Having found the right continuation, Black would still have to follow up with a lot of very precise moves to win the game. That is the clue, by the way. It was a bit cheeky of the setter to describe this as “Black to play and win”. The stipulation should have read something along the lines of ‘Black to find the only move giving him winning chances’. However, in real life there are no stipulations or clues so don’t complain too loudly if you feel you’ve been misled. Chess, like life, is rarely fair!


As mentioned above you can move the pieces on the diagrams to find the solutions by yourself. If you did not succeed, or if you want to check your move, then...

First puzzle: 1.Qxd8+! Rxd8 2.Be6+ Kh8 3.Ng6+ hxg6 4.hxg6+ Nh6 5.Rxh6+ gxh6 6.Bf6 mate.

The second puzzle:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.07.07"] [Round "?"] [White "Black to play and win"] [Black "?"] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "John Saunders"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "7k/p1p4p/1p1p4/3P4/2n2P2/2Pp4/P4Pr1/2K2Q2 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "5"] 1... Rg3 $1 {and the main point is that} 2. fxg3 ({Otherwise White really only has a 'pass move' such as} 2. Qh1 {when} d2+ 3. Kc2 {would lose to} Rd3 $1 4. Qd1 (4. Kxd3 d1=Q+ 5. Qxd1 Nb2+ 6. Ke2 Nxd1 7. Kxd1 Kg7 {and Black's outside passed pawn will win the game}) 4... b5 {and White is reduced to total passivity. Black's h-pawn will eventually advance and win the game.}) 2... d2+ 3. Kb1 Ne3 {and Black emerges a piece up with an easily winning endgame.} 0-1

The above article was reproduced from Chess Magazine July/2017, with kind permission.

CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read. The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organises the London Chess Classic.

CHESS is mailed to subscribers in over 50 countries. You can subscribe from Europe and Asia at a specially discounted rate for first timers here, or from North America here.

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In 1999 John Saunders gave up his job as an IT professional to become full-time editor/webmaster of 'British Chess Magazine'. During the 2000s he was also webmaster and magazine editor for the English Chess Federation, and regular webmaster and photo-reporter at Isle of Man and Gibraltar tournaments. In 2010 he became editor of the leading UK monthly 'CHESS' Magazine, retiring in 2012 but remaining its associate editor and regular contributor.


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