Mario Matous's Mad Queen

by Frederic Friedel
4/3/2021 – Take a look at this position. Can White (to play) win? It is a truly remarkable study by a truly remarkable composer. Mario Matouš gives us a wonderful position to solve. The theme is a rampaging queen which wants to sacrifice itself to stalemate the black monarch. Can you solve it? The composer was born in Czechoslovakia in 1947, and died 2013. Here's a memorial by Emil Vlasák.

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Before we come to Emil Vlasák's memorial article, here's a challenge for our readers. 

 

Try winning the above position with the white pieces. You can enter moves, and the diagram will defend with Black. If you want to try a different defence you just go back and enter a black move yourself. The board will switch sides and the engine will continue with the white pieces.

You have solved the study if you can clearly win it against the engine. We will publish full analysis of the position with all plausible lines in the coming days.

Until then, the challenge is on: can you capture the queen without stalemating the black king?Please do not post solutions in the feedback section below – we do not want to spoil the fun for other readers. Just tell us if you solved the puzzle, how long it took, and your opinion of it. Did you enjoy the "mad queen" theme?

Mario Matouš (16.vi.1947-4.vii.2013)

by Emil Vlasák

Originally posted as a preview of the obituary which appeared in EG194, and retained, with the agreement of the editor of EG and of the author, because people have posted links to it. In EG, it is accompanied by some further studies.

Mario Matouš was born in Mladá Boleslav (55 km north-east of Prague) on June 16th 1947 into an intellectual family – both his parents were language teachers. The three-year-old boy’s first memories are connected with the arrest of his mother, who was imprisoned by the Communist regime for about two years for purely political reasons. As was the practice at that time, the whole family was persecuted. The father was obliged to take a third-rate manual job and the children spent some time in nurseries. 

Mario declined to participate in “Pioneer” (the mass communist youth organization) and instead worked actively in the Roman Catholic Church. The communists did not forgive such things, and a well-read boy with an excellent academic record obtained permission only to be trained as a fitter. However, Mario, like most chess players, was not manually skilled and thus had a lifetime problem in finding suitable employment.

Fortunately, Mario had learned chess at the age of nine, and this opened up better prospects. After national service in 1968 he gradually became a master class player. Thanks to his chess contacts he also got a good job. In 1971 Mario won the Central Bohemian championship and as a result played in the Czechoslovak semi-final. Despite the problems with the regime, these were the best years of Mario’s life. He liked chess friends around, jokes and a lot of beer. Several funny stories starring Mario are told from this era.

In the period 1980-90 Matouš played for TJ Spofa Prague. But chess composition slowly came to dominate, and he played in over-the-board events only for fun.

Matouš published his first endgame study in 1968, and quickly gained an international reputation. He always needed a lot of beer to get an inspiration. But after getting it, he suddenly changed into an austere and hard-working man. He didn’t sleep, drink or eat, and spent many days and nights feverishly working out the idea. Where a normal composer would test one or two versions, Matouš sifted dozens.

The second hard-working composer in the former Czechoslovakia was Michal Hlinka, and it is not surprising that there was a certain rivalry between them.  Mario said about it: “The difference between Hlinka and Matouš? Yes, Hlinka produced a hundred studies from one idea, while Matouš from a hundred ideas produced one study.” Somewhat exaggerated, but pretty accurate.

The results were excellent - precise constructions in a classical and economical style. Matouš’s knowledge of foreign work was limited, and from time to time he used less original themes. However, even in such a case the result usually outshone its predecessors and the study was a contribution to the art. Matouš published almost 300 studies and won more than 160 honours (20 commendations, 50 honorable mentions and 80 Prizes, 20 being First Prizes). He was many times Czechoslovak and Czech champion, and he was a Czech Master of Sport and a FIDE Master.  

While being a genius at chess composition, in other matters he was impractical, clueless and perhaps simply lazy. He did not receive the higher titles IM or GM because for some time he ignored the FIDE Albums. Perhaps this was the first indication of future psychiatric problems. 

Matouš spent most of his life in Prague with his girlfriend Hana. He hated the communist regime, but ironically he started to get worse after its fall. He again had problems in finding a job and after several attempts found a haven as a night security guard. Even his tournament results in endgame studies dropped off a little. Matouš became a little hackneyed, and he received more honourable mentions than Prizes. However his highest compositional level was maintained until about 2009. Then he became completely overwhelmed by creative depression and Mario stopped publishing altogether.

The calendar said February 2008, and I had just travelled over 100 km from Usti nad Labem to the Prague pub "Na Třemošné" to talk with Mario about our forthcoming book. Although I entered the pub before eleven in the morning, it was already too late to catch the Master sober, and again we did not make progress.

As usual, the talk turned to Mario's monologue about his inward problems. His idol Bobby Fischer had died a month before. “To die at the age of 64 is an ideal chess player’s end,” said Mario. “But Fischer got there first, and if I did so as well it would not be original.”

Such a pessimistic mood had unfortunately materialized in Matouš’s lifestyle; he still had an incredible beer consumption accompanied by chain smoking. The final blow was Hana’s death. Mario died on July 4th 2013 at the age of 66 years in a medical institution, almost alone and destitute.

About the author: Emil Vlasák

Life
Born on February 20th 1956 in Ústí nad Labem, Czechoslovakia. Married to Jana, a math professor; 2 children Tom and Susan, both graduated physicists. Emil graduated on ČVUT, the leading Czech technical university in Prague; department of electronics and cybernetics, degree Ing. After the university he deals continuously with computers as engineer, programmer and “all sort trouble solver”. In addition to chess, he is an exited geocacher and mystery caches creator.

Chess player
Over 20 years in the Czech League, Czechoslovakian Team Correspondence Champion (1991). Trainer, leader of youth chess camps since 1978.

Endgame studies
Since 1971 he published over 130 studies, 70 awards, 15 prizes, 7.50 points in Albums FIDE. International judge FIDE for Chess Composition. He judged international tournaments: ÚV ČSTV 1987; Studies from games 1990; Československý šach 1989-90,1997-98, 2005-6, 2013-14, 2020; Umenie-64 2002-3; Polášek &Vlasák 50JT, 60JT; Slovakian Album 1 and 2; Modern chess 2009; Šachová skladba 2011-12, 2017-18; Pat a Mat 2018-19; 9th UAPA 2019.

Publications
The weekly chess problem column Průboj (founded by L. Kopáč): 1983-1996, about 700 columns. The study columns in Československý šach and Šachová skladba: About 40 articles. Leader of the computer column in Československý šach: Since 1989 about 75 articles. Leader of the computer column in EG Magazine: Regular articles since 2007.

Books
Studie pod lupou (1995), Matouš under the Microscope (1998), Jindřich Šulc – studie a úlohy (1999), Moravec under the Microscope (2001). E-books Mistrovství ChessBase 11-15 (2012-19) – complete manuals in the Czech language.

Vlasak is the author of Chess-related software: CBTree, CBStar, Diagra, VisualCQL, VisualSEE. He runs the special web www.vlasak.biz about computer chess and studies since 1999.

Study friends and experts: Prague master Josef Maršálek, Emil Vlasák (standing), the late GM Lubomir Kavalek, and study specialist Yochanan Afek


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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Poiuy Trewq Poiuy Trewq 4/9/2021 02:30
@rayates55: I will first say this is not the type of puzzle that the average chess player can solve without committing a significant amount of time, and so giving it its due in time and effort would be a sign of respect to the composer. That said, if you cannot wait for the solution to be posted I would suggest doing a search for the composers name, the year composed, and this article's author's name, which will lead you to the solution. Still, it is worth the effort to challenge yourself in figuring out the devilishly clever logic of this puzzle, so please, commit to solving it (it is truly solvable by humans :-) You will be glad you did!
rayates55 rayates55 4/9/2021 12:55
So, it's been five days and no sign of the answer online. I spent an hour on it and seem to have "proved" to myself that nothing works! When and where will the answer be posted? Can someone email me the solution?

richard@yatesguitar.com
Wikkie Wikkie 4/7/2021 05:24
It took me about eight hours over four days. I missed an important point at first, so I disregarded that line at first. It's a very nice study.
Gonnawin Gonnawin 4/5/2021 08:26
Its a wonderful study which demand a lot of finesse for keeping the mad queen under control. Have been drinking a couple of beers while solving it. Thinking about Matouš, how he enjoyed beer in the beautiful city of Prague. One of the best memorial articles ever written, its brutally honest and very interesting to read about the great composer. Wish that life is back to normal soon, and that people everywhere could meet for a beer and amazing studies. Cheers.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 4/5/2021 02:47
"You have solved the study if you can clearly win it against the engine." That doesn't seem right: it seems that the diagram engine in the article sometimes doesn't give the best defence. On my tablet, my first solution was accepted (also after trying again), but it was not on my desktop.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 4/5/2021 11:11
It sure helps to know that there should always be only one move that wins, otherwise that would be a flaw in the composition that the author wouldn't have allowed.
Poiuy Trewq Poiuy Trewq 4/5/2021 04:44
To me, this was the most frustrating chess puzzle I have ever seen. It took me six hours of thought over three days to finally put all the pieces together (so to speak) and win as White. I have never seen a problem with a "mad Queen" before, so that is probably why it took me so long -- there were so many ways Black could "blow up" the position! In the end it was satisfying to solve, but at times I doubted my sanity as every "key" move I came up with had issues until at last the steps became clear.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 4/4/2021 10:53
@EmilV, also, "original" here just means that this was the problem's first publication. There's nothing wrong with it being inspired by another a problem (though the composers should reveal that if true), nor would it be the composers' fault if it was merely anticipated (i.e., they weren't aware of this study). Regardless, the existence of this study should be taken into account when this problem is judged for the informal tourney.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 4/4/2021 10:31
@EmilV, the comment in the magazine on the Krug & Garcia problem is:

"A technical effort by Peter and Mario shows clever refutations of the black Queen's repeated threats."

I don't know if Matouš's endgame study here inspired that problem (or if it was even known to the composers), nor do I know what the composers revealed to the section editor. I certainly have no qualms with pointing this study out to the editor, but it's premature to assume that Krug & Garcia held anything back.
EmilV EmilV 4/4/2021 07:50
This is not an original, is was published in the year 1982, 2nd Prize of Duras Memory tournament.
Matous composed principally without a computer and therefore his studies are solvable without a computer, too.
Grug and Garcia should give the source of their inspiration.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 4/4/2021 02:49
@Frederic, that problem is an original, first published in that issue of "StrateGems."
Railbird890 Railbird890 4/3/2021 11:43
Solved in about an hour. One of the most difficult puzzles I have ever seen. Thanks.
Frederic Frederic 4/3/2021 10:47
@JoshuaVGreen: Lovely study/problem. I didn't know it. And thanks for reminding us that pasting a FEN description in our feedback produces a nice diagram on which you can move the pieces.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 4/3/2021 08:03
Coincidentally, the following problem just appeared in the April-June 2021 issue of "StrateGems":

Peter Krug & Mario Garcia

White to play and checkmate Black in 9 moves

I suspect the strategy is similar, though I haven't solved either position yet.
Martin Minski Martin Minski 4/3/2021 04:02
How can you compose this in 1982, when there were no (good) computers? Matous is a master indeed!

Thanks for the great article!
HolaAmigo HolaAmigo 4/3/2021 11:30
Got it. Nice one! Amazing the amount of defensive ressources! You just have to change your frame of mind. It is great that the diagram gives the replies!
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