Nihal Sarin in Hamburg (2): fun with chess

by Frederic Friedel
4/19/2017 – Two weeks ago one of the youngest IMs in history, all of twelve years old, and now with one GM norm under his belt, came to visit us in Hamburg. We told you how impressed everyone it the ChessBase office was, by his tactical vision and his deep understanding of positional aspects of the game. But also by his obvious love and enjoyment of the game. Nihal entertained everyone humorous chess puzzles, of which we bring you a small selection. You can solve two and win a valuable prize.

ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2021 ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2021

Your key to fresh ideas, precise analyses and targeted training!
Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Nihal Sarin, born on 13 July 2004 Thrissur, Kerala (a southern state in India), learned chess at the age of five, advanced rapidly and earlier this year entered the record books by becoming an International Master at the tender age of 12 years and 08 months. His feat is reminiscent of the current world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who had also become an IM at the age of 12 years and 08 months in 2003. Nihal is the second youngest International Master ever in India, and third youngest in the world. Last week he completed his first GM norm in Norway, crushing a 2600+ GM in the process.

Just before the Norway tournament Nihal and his father Sarin visited Hamburg and spent some days at the ChessBase office, optimizing his computer and software, learning how to use the system more effectively. He also recorded a Playchess show with our endgame expert GM Dr Karsten Müller, which you can watch here in our video archives. It is an hour and a half of intense instructive analysis. I would not advocate missing it.

In the ChessBase office it was not all work and no play. Nihal is highly entertaining, blessed with a keen sense of humour, and always open to pranks. I want to describe some of his escapades in part two of this portrait.

What is the rule for pawn promotion, Nihal asked a number of chess players in the office. The usual answer was: When a pawn reaches the final rank of the board it can be promoted to any piece the player chooses. Then Nihal would give them a chess problem:

White to play and mate in three

This is 15-year-old German chess talent Luis Engel, rated 2362, who is doing an internship at ChessBase. At one stage Nihal asked him for the promotion rule and Luis gave it to him approximately the way we specified it above. Then he was confronted with the mate in three, which he (and everyone else in the office) could not solve. Can you, dear reader? Think about it for a while before you give up.

The solution – the only way for White to mate in three moves – is the devious move 1.d8K! White promotes the pawn to a second king and can now mate in two more moves: 1...Ke6 2.Rf1 Kd6 3.Rf6#. Ahh, so the rule was not correct: When a pawn reaches the final rank of the board it can be promoted to any piece except for a king! That is the correct way to put it.

Okay, if you have checked the above solution you are ready for the next problem:

White to play and mate in three

It looks fairly easy, and Luis immediately comes up with the solution: bishop to b2 (or c3, d4, etc., to relieve the stalemate), black pawn queens, king to g3 and 3.Qh2 mate. No, Nihal insists, the only correct solution is 1.Bf6! Why? Because after the other bishop moves Black plays the clever defence 1...a1P! i.e. the pawn is not promoted, and so 2.Kg3 doesn't work because it is still stalemate.

Incidentally, these problems were composed by Dr A. Krämer and published in the magazine Deutsche Schachblätter in 1949. Unfortunately we discovered a cook in the above position: the intended solution is 1.Bf6! a1P 2.Bh4 Kh2 3.Bxf2#, but White can also play 1.Kh3 on the first move and mate in three. Luis and the others did not see this line – the bishop move is so obvious.

So the trick and lesson worked, and the rule now says When a pawn reaches the final rank of the board it must be promoted to any piece, except for a king! Next problem:

Once again White to play and mate in three

This is Mathias Feist, ChessBase and chess engine programmer, chess trainer in his free time, a brilliant analytical mind. He went for 1.f8Q (followed by Kh7 and Qxh6 mate), but Nihal played 1...g2 and the line did not work. "Ahh, so 1.f8N!" said Mathias, "with Nh7 and Nf6 mate." No, because 1...Bf1 and 2...Rh2 allow the king to escape. So what to do? The Fritz programmer was at his wit's end.

Nihal's solution: 1.f8=?, i.e. you leave the pawn on f8. Mathias, who had been through the first two problems, said: "No, you have to promote the pawn, that was the rule we agreed on." Yes, but not necessarily on the same move! "Play your next move and then I'll decide which piece to take," said the lad. If Black plays 1...Bf1 White changes the pawn into a queen, if Black plays 1...g2 he takes a knight. Okay, Mathias said, you have to do it immediately.

So the correct rule is: when a pawn reaches the final rank you have to promote it, to any piece except for a king, on the same move, right? That leads to the final problem:

White to play and mate in two

This is André Schulz, who runs our German language news page, works for ChessBase Magazine and looks after our DVD authors, being duped by the 12-year-old. André had been taken through the three previous problems and had decided that the last definition was waterproof. But there is still a loophole, and he was stunned when Nihal showed him what we had missed.

The delight of the boy when he tells André the solution – which we do not show in the picture. I do not intend to give you at all, dear reader, and will be very upset if anyone posts it in the feedback section. Think about the problem for a while – the solution will suddenly occur to you, and make you smile. At the end of this article we are offering a special prize for readers who send in the correct solution.

Chess was not the only thing we fooled around with. One evening I gave Nihal my famous guillotine problem (which I published years ago, in our previous news page section). He was stumped and begged me to tell him the solution before he went to sleep. I did not, and the next day at breakfast I found that he had figured it out himself. Much more satisfying than getting it from Fred, isn't it? There were a number of other tricks and pranks while he stayed at my home, and also during an outing in the wild life park that is located just fifteen minutes away.

Mobbed by spotted deer in the wildlife park

That's enough, guys! Nihal confessed that he had never encountered animals at such close quarters before.

Feeding bats in the special dark house they have. Nihal thinks I am the bravest person on the planet for doing this. I think I have secured his lifelong admiration.

Oh, and the levitation we showed you in the previous article?

Of course it was all a trick, involving a trampoline and some judicial cropping

One more puzzle

During the wildlife park outing I had given Nihal my most infamous problem: "A game begins with 1.e4 and ends in the fifth move with knight takes rook mate". He had seen before but could not recall the solution. After finding "a hundred" NxR mates on move six he at last remembered (and could start looking at the animals again). As a revenge he gave me the following puzzle:

A game ends on move four with a b-pawn giving mate.

I must confess I did not have a clue, walking around without a chessboard or anything. In the evening I used a special engine – the human kind, since computer programs are of little use here. I gave the problem to Vladimir Kramnik, with whom I was chatting, and he found the solution in 33 minutes (yes, Vlady, Skype messages have time stamps!). He says he solved it while taking "a couple of calls in between". I believe him.


Anyway, this is a second problem for our readers to solve (and once again no moves in the feedback section, please!).

Send your solutions to both problems – the b-pawn mate and the last promotion puzzle – together with your comments on Nihal's chess pranks to our special puzzle feedback address (subject: Nihal problems).

From all messages we receive until April 30 we will draw a winner who gets an interesting prize: a Fritz 15 program, signed by three World Champions!

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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

Welsh IM Welsh IM 5/22/2017 12:25
FYI + @ tanu2 - For anyone who is struggling to solve the problem given by Zvi Mendlowitz earlier in the comments, "find a game that ends with the move 7...Kxb7#.", here is the solution:


1. d4 c5
2. dxc5 Na6
3. Qxd7+ Kxd7
4. Kd2 Kc7+
5. Kc3 Be6
6. c6 Rc8
7. cxb7 Kxb7#

I think this was the toughest proof game I've come across, and I think I've come across most of them. This one took me many hair tearing hours to finally solve it. Once I did, after spotting the key idea involved in White's 3rd move, I actually became somewhat annoyed with myself for not solving it sooner as the key is very similar to the one from the famous proof game given to Kasparov
tanu2 tanu2 5/19/2017 08:11
@Zvi Mendlowitz: The position you gave is very interesting. I was not able to find the solution. Please can you post the solution or inform me on
mathematics1 mathematics1 4/21/2017 04:44
Nice puzzles !!!
Can we get more compositions like this?
Waiting for the next artical
DeadDevil DeadDevil 4/21/2017 09:11
Please please moderate comments on this item. Far too many idiots leaving "solutions" in clear.
vinniethepooh vinniethepooh 4/21/2017 09:01
you cant post the solution, dawnrule! shame!
nchaar nchaar 4/20/2017 05:25
I guess its the same Kevin with 2 snarky comments on talented Indian and Chinese players!
KevinConnor commenting here on Nihal and KevinC commenting on Yifan "Hou was having quite the impressive tournament, but really came crashing back to Earth today. After 19.Be3, I really doubted she would survive the torture that was to come." at
mikalziane mikalziane 4/20/2017 12:07
Nice puzzles.
I may use them with new students (to computer science) to emphasize the difference between informal and formal rules.

I suggest you move up the sentence that gives the puzzle feedback address, next to the first question about the mate in two promotion puzzle so that it is clearer how to send the answer(s).
KevinConnor KevinConnor 4/20/2017 10:06
Another story on Nihal? Are we getting a story about him every other day? We get it he is really talented and maybe someday he will achieve something but come on give the kid time and see what it amounts to. Especially with young indian players the overreaction is always there. What happened to Parimarjan Negi? Another on Chessbase overhyped young Indian player.
Zvi Mendlowitz Zvi Mendlowitz 4/20/2017 10:05
Nice problems. You may ask people what are the rules for castling and then give them the following problem (Tim Krabbé, 1972): 8/8/4P3/3p4/2p3p1/1pP1kPPp/1P5P/R3K2R, mate in 3. Also, since you seem to be interested in problems where you have to reconstruct the game given the last move (like the "most infamous problem" or Nihal's problem, also Christmas 2000 problem, Christmas 2015 puzzles part 7, and Christmas 2006 puzzles part 7), here is another one (Alex Fishbein, 2016): find a game that ends with the move 7...Kxb7#.
joscho joscho 4/20/2017 10:03
(a) Which part of "I [...] will be very upset if anyone posts it in the feedback section." did you fail to understand?
(b) What prevents Black from playing 2. .. Kb8:?
kingfisher99 kingfisher99 4/20/2017 09:40
The answer is 1.Qb8+ Rxb8 2.axb8King mate.
vgn2 vgn2 4/20/2017 08:10
Interestingly Nihal comes from the same town where my grandparents used to stay and I had heard a lot about him as a 8 year old supertalent from the players in the city!Good to see him fulfilling his potential.
The b pawn and guillotine are very interesting and I took 20 minutes for the first and a few minutes for the other. I will wait for your solution so as not to spoil the fun for other readers.
benedictralph benedictralph 4/20/2017 02:35
12 years and 8 months, but in terms of days, who became IM sooner? Magnus or Nihal?
Karbuncle Karbuncle 4/19/2017 10:49
The first picture he's reading a chess book I designed the cover for! Neat!
HighVoltage HighVoltage 4/19/2017 04:57
Good article. Goodluck Nihal and team
SoDesuKa SoDesuKa 4/15/2017 08:13
And the solution is . . . another problem (or two):

Chess is beautiful. Like mathematics, there is frequently only one solution to a given problem.
Life is awesome. Like chess, there is often only one solution . . . but much more often there are infinite solutions to the same problem. We just have to be nudged by someone enough to change our perspective, however briefly. But once nudged, it is "touch-move", and we can never come back to our starting square. Thanks for the nudge, Nihal Sarin. Thanks for the nudge, Frederic Friedel. A treasure stash of problems and solutions, all mixed together with great chessplaying, joy, exuberance, great writing and images, and much to smile about! Bravo!

On the night I read Part 1 of this article, for no reason whatsoever, I took the English/Gia-Fu Feng translation of Tao Te Ching off the shelf for the first time in about 20 years. (I am not Chinese or Japanese--just an aficionado, as with chess). I opened the book at random to "Twenty-Seven":

A good walker leaves no tracks;
A good speaker makes no slips;
A good reckoner needs no tally.
A good door needs no lock,
Yet no one can open it.
Good binding requires no knots,
Yet no one can loosen it . . .

. . . If the teacher is not respected,
And the student not cared for,
Confusion will arise, however clever one is.
This is the crux of mystery."