Nunn wins British problem solving championship

by John Nunn
3/2/2014 – It was a battle between GMs and pure problem specialists. The former scored heavily in the chess studies section, but the only three to solve a very difficult helpmate were all problem specialists. The overall winner was GM Dr John Nunn, a frequent contributor to our news page. John has selected some of the problems, which he explains, and describes the course of the event.

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British Chess Problem Solving Championship

In recent years, the British Problem Solving Championship has been dominated by over-the-board grandmasters, and you have to go back to 2004 to find a non-GM winner (David Friedgood). In 2012 and 2013 the event was won by GM Colin McNab and this year he was aiming for a possible hat-trick. Competing against him were 17-times winner Jonathan Mestel and myself, with a more modest six former titles to my credit. There was also a strong turn-out of foreign solvers in the shape of solving GMs Dolf Wissmann from the Netherlands and Eddy van Beers from Belgium, although they were not eligible for the British Championship title.

As in the two previous years, the event took place at Eton College, arguably the most famous school in the world. The School Hall of Eton provided a magnificent venue for the solving, although owing to recent flooding

Eton’s famous playing fields...

... looked more like a tributary of the Thames.

The School Hall at the famous Eton College

This picture gives a good impression of the solving hall (all photographs in this article are Copyright © 2014 John Upham Event Photography). In view of the venue, the resemblance to a school exam was especially apt.

The format of the British Solving Championship has remained the same for many years. There are six sessions on one day, with each session confronting solvers with problems of one specific type. The first round consists of three two-movers and all the top solvers negotiated them without mistakes. Here’s one which you might like to try to solve yourself. The solutions to the problems will be given in a few days.

White to play and mate in two

If you want to try the problem under tournament conditions allow yourself eight minutes to find the solution.

The next round involved two mates in three, and the leading solvers did not find them much of a challenge, although I carelessly dropped half a point (out of five) by giving an incorrect variation in one problem. The following round involved two endgame studies and this is often where the over-the-board players score over the problem specialists. This year’s selection proved quite a challenge and only Colin McNab and myself managed a full ten points from the round.

GM Colin McNab thinking hard

Here is one of the two studies, and to simulate the tournament conditions you should allow yourself half an hour to find the solution.

White to play and win

Myself hard at work on the above study (the position on the board might
provide a small clue to the solution)

At this stage Colin McNab was the only competitor with a full score and appeared to be well on his way to a third successive championship. However, the fourth round, consisting of two helpmates, proved exceptionally difficult and provided the problemists with their revenge on the over-the-board players. One helpmate was completely straightforward, but the other proved so difficult that only three competitors, Dolf Wissmann, Eddy van Beers and helpmate expert Michael McDowell, scored at all on it.

Here it is and you should allow yourself 25 minutes. Definitely try this one yourself as the solution is really remarkable!

Helpmate in five

In a helpmate, Black moves first and both sides cooperate to help White mate Black. Thus in this helpmate both players make five moves with Black starting and White delivering mate with his final move.

Helpmate specialist Michael McDowell

Now the leader board read Wissmann 40.5 (out of 45), McNab 40 and myself 39.5. The penultimate round consisted of two moremovers (mates in more than three moves) and once again many of the solvers ran into difficulties, with one problem proving so tough that none of the competitors scored full points on it. I was disappointed only to manage two points on this problem, but it turned out that Wissmann had failed to score at all on it, and so I now had a slender one-point lead going into the final round.

Dolf Wissmann, who finished in second place

The last round involved two selfmates to solve in 30 minutes. One was relatively straightforward, so everything depended on the longer selfmate. Here it is to try yourself; allow yourself 25 minutes for the solution.

Selfmate in four moves

In a selfmate, White is trying to commit suicide by forcing Black to mate him, while Black is doing everything in his power to avoid this. White moves first and his aim is to force Black to deliver mate on Black’s fourth move.

This final problem was another awkward one, and only three competitors scored full points on it. I was aware that in order to maintain my lead I would almost certainly have to solve it, but although I was convinced I had found the right idea there was one variation where I could not find the correct continuation. The countdown clock was ticking down to the final seconds allowed for solving when suddenly, with just ten seconds to go, I saw the solution. There was just time to write it down before the time ran out. It turned out that Wissmann had also solved the problem correctly and this secured him second place.

GM Jonathan Mestel, who scored full marks on the above selfmate

The leading scores were Nunn 56.5 (out of 65), Wissmann 55.5, Mestel 49.5 and McNab 49. The full cross-table of results may be found here.

Receiving the cup, presented by Christine representing Winton Capital

The event was generously sponsored by investment managers Winton Capital, and I would like to thank them, Eton College and the British Chess Problem Society for providing an entertaining day of solving.

Brian Stephenson, who ran the event and chose the problems

– Solutions to the problems given above will be published in a few days –

Dr John Nunn (born 1955) is an English grandmaster, author and problem-solver. He was among the world’s leading grandmasters for nearly twenty years, winning four gold medals in chess Olympiads, and is a much-acclaimed writer whose works have won ‘Book of the Year’ awards in several countries. In 2004, 2007 and 2010, Nunn was crowned World Chess Solving Champion. He continues to compete successfully in over-the-board and problem-solving events.


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