Outrageous Chess

by Frederic Friedel
9/14/2020 – Publishing chess problems on this news site has a long tradition: especially at Christmas time we publish a set of entertaining puzzles for our readers to solve. But over the years – two decades actually – it became progressively more difficult to find problems that chess engines could not solve in seconds. It became pointless to issue a challenge and provide prizes. So we have taken to giving you problems which cannot be solved by computers. Here are some samples from a collection by Burt Hochberg.

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I have always been interested in unusual chess problems, where composers can express new ideas and think out of the box. So I took to presenting problems where chess engines cannot assist the reader.  In this endeavour I was, in recent times, ably assisted by problemist Werner Keym. But I remained on the lookout for new problems.

Hochberg Outrageous Chess Problems

Last week I came across a problem that was imminently suited for my purpose. The source given was a book by Burt Hochberg called "Outrageous Chess Problems", published by Sterling in 2005 (© Hochberg as "Chess Braintwisters" 1999). This I had to have. Unfortunately it seemed to be out of print, and after searching for a while on the Internet I decided to try a different venue: my chess library. And there on the shelf was Hochberg's book, which I had bought many of years ago, as a special offer for just $1.99.

Opening the book I found that many problems were quite familiar to me. A large number were marked by a pencilled "X", meaning I had at the time been particularly impressed or enchanted by them. I also discovered that the book has a very useful chapter on non-standard rules and on chess variants. This takes on new meaning in light of the efforts by Vladimir Kramnik and DeepMind to define and research new variants of chess, as we recently reported.

A word about the author, whos company I enjoyed in the 1990s: Burt Hochberg, born in 1933, was a puzzle expert in chess and other games. He authored and edited many books. Here's a list of some of his publications.

Hochberg also served as editor of both Chess Life (from 1966 to 1979) and GAMES magazine. He died in 2006. You can find a very nice biography of him in the US Chess Hall of Fame.

In any case I am now well equipped to give you, dear readers, problems that require you to think – rather than simply press Alt-F2 in Fritz or ChessBase. Today I will give you a sample of what is in store.

A selection of outrageous problems

"Although this book is dedicated to the proposition that all forms of chess composition are created equal, but unorthodox compositions are more equal than others," writes Burt Hochberg, and starts with some classical examples.


This is the second position in his book. You may have seen it before, but if you haven't I urge you to spend some time thinking about how to add a pawn that allows a mate in two moves.


This is a "miniature" (seven pieces or fewer on the board) and a so-called "twin". The latter because a minor change – moving the white king from d4 to e3 – gives you a different, equally pleasing problem. Here, if you run into difficulties, your computer will give you instant solutions. But at least tell us why this problem is pretty unique in chess composing history. Pal, we miss your creativity.


In a normal helpmate Black starts and helps White to mate him in the required number of moves. Here that means in four half-moves: Black moves, White moves, Black moves, White moves and Black is mated. "Set play" is what a line of play is called if it starts with the other side. In that case a mating position can be achieved in three ply: white move, black move and white move mate. The mating manoeuvres are very different, with each having an artistic point. Try and figure out why they are each unique. Congratulations if you succeed.


The solution seems clear: 1.0-0 N anywhere 2.Qa1#. But hang on, isn't there an alternate solution (a cook): 1.Kf2 N~ 2.Qa1#? No, there is only one unique solution. Can you tell us which it is, and why?

Hope you enjoyed these unusual problems. Please do not post any solutions in our feedback section below – I will provide them next week. Please just tell us whether you were able to solve the problems (which ones?) and whether you enjoyed the challenge. I will continue in this vein if you did.



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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Frederic Frederic 9/16/2020 04:05
Thanks Frits Fritschy, as you say I am trying to get amateurs interested in this wonderful area of chess. I am not writing for problem experts, not trying to challenge their solving skills or confront them with something they have never seen before. How many readers spotted the piece configuration bKa2, wPb2, c2 and immediately thought: how could the bK get there? One percent?
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/16/2020 10:26
You may feel the irresistible urge of most kings to show their power, but please read the last (italicized) paragraph of the article. You can delete your comment by clicking on the black cross.
I don't think this article is meant for seasoned problem solvers like you. There are problems like this that would give John Nunn a headache. But using these, he would be the only one to read this article.
kingofall kingofall 9/16/2020 07:09
The first one is nice. Put your pawn on h2 and then play h4! forcing him to take gxh3 and then Bxg6#
brian8871 brian8871 9/16/2020 04:59
The problem with the black king on a2, we've seen the same basic idea repackaged in different problems on this site. It's gotten to the point where seeing that formation, I don't even have to think about it anymore. It's like hearing someone tell the same joke for the umpteenth time.
mz-riga mz-riga 9/15/2020 05:18
All solved, only 1st one was slightly difficult. Hint: solving last one involves a proof.
RogarThalion RogarThalion 9/15/2020 05:13
@FischerBischer Both would be mates but O-O is not a legal move here, because the king already moved. You can prove this by considering the positions of the black king (a2) and white pawns (b2, c2). Since both pawns are on their starting squares, black king could only go there via c1-b1-a2. This means the white king moved at some point to free squares d1 or d2 for the black king then came back to his starting square e1. :)
FischerBischer FischerBischer 9/15/2020 12:00
For the last problem, there are not 1 but 2 mate in 1s. Pls tell me how kf1 or castles isn’t mate in 1.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/15/2020 10:52
Frederic, I sent you a link for searching problems.
The special thing about this problem is not just its theme, but that it also is a miniature (less than seven pieces).
I did search myself, not to find the solution of course, but because I found it hard to believe that in over a hundred years of serious problem composition this would be the first miniature version. And it isn't. The first rendition even was already in the nineteenth century (although the theme there is partly in the threats, partly in the variations). There is also a rendition with seven pieces with all variations in one problem, instead of twins.
I'm not surprised. Problemists have always tried to push the limits.
Frederic Frederic 9/15/2020 09:13
@Frits: I didn't know that one. Amazing that there are two #3s that have AUWs (Allumwandlungen). Steudel is clearly an anticipation -- Benkö must have known it and found a variation without the final double variation: (1.g8=N Kd6 2.d8=Q+ Kc5 3.Qd4# or 2...Ke6 3.Qf6#) and sought to make it more "pure".

@Sotadas: wK=>e3 is correct, typo in text description corrected.
zodorcic zodorcic 9/15/2020 04:41
I believe I found all the solutions. For the second part of mate in 3 by Pal Benko, White King should be on e3.
Sotadas Sotadas 9/15/2020 04:03
Please correct the section about the second part of the mate in three, is it e3 or c3?
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/15/2020 01:46
I don't know whether Benkö's problem is unique for another reason, but check out this:
Friedrich Theodor Steudel, Aachener Nachrichten, 16 July 1965. Mate in 3.
W Ke4 Be8 pawns d7 g7, B Ke6. Twin: move pawn d7 to f7.
Earlier, less material. And isn't it a bit of an anticipation? The mate in one variation is about the same.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 9/15/2020 12:58
I think I've solved them all. I particularly like how the rules of chess conspire to make the solution to the first problem possible and (apparently) unique. Also, Benkö's problem is a particularly nice rendering of its main theme, though it's hard for me to say how "unique" it is as that idea has been shown in a number of interesting ways (e.g., the Babson task).
Michael Jones Michael Jones 9/15/2020 12:53
Definitely enjoying them, thank you. The proof that there is only one solution to the last problem is particularly neat. Besides that, the only other one I've solved so far is the set play part of the helpmate; still puzzling over the "Black moves first" part.