Retrospect: Twenty years of ChessBase Christmas Puzzles

by Frederic Friedel
12/25/2023 – For two decades we ended each year with traditional Christmas puzzles – here are some of the best from the early years. Many of our younger readers will not have seen them – remember, some of them were not born when we started. For others it will hopefully bring back nostalgic memories. And perhaps some additional joy on the big festive day. From today until January 1st 2024 we revive the tradition, with new contributors who will hopefully maintain it in the decades to come.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

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.


ChessBase Christmas Puzzle 1999

It would be appropriate to start our review of Christmas puzzles with the very first one. It has been entertaining people for over two decades, and comes in the form of the infamous 1999 ChessBase Christmas Puzzle, given to us at the time by John Nunn:

A game begins with 1.e4 and ends in the fifth move with knight takes rook mate.

This is the starting position. All you have to do is enter some legal chess moves, so that the game ends on move five with the stipulated knight takes rook mate. You can do this on the diagram above. We republished this problem and retold the epic story around it ten years ago. You can find out how the strongest players in the world were able to cope with it.

December 25, 2014: ChessBase Christmas Puzzle 2000

A game ends with the move 6.gxf8=N mate. How did it go?

That's it. An astonishingly simple task. You must find just six moves from the starting position in chess, that lead to a white pawn moving from the square g7 to f8, capturing a black piece that is located there, promoting to a knight and delivering mate. Naturally it is not a forced sequence – both sides cooperate to achieve the goal. 

Here's a live diagram where you can move the pieces to try and reach the goal:

The moves must all be legal, no side may ignore a check. Naturally, White does not force the move sequence – both sides cooperate to achieve the goal.

December 26, 2014: from Christmas Puzzles 2001

1. Identify this game

Here is a very famous game, or rather a small extract of it. 

The replay board above only shows the moves of the black knight in the course of the game, as does the diagram below. This knight was absolutely decisive. It tore into the white position, creating mayhem and winning the encounter for Black.

Your task is to identify the game and the names of the players. It is one of the best-known games in chess history.

2. The deadly knight

Chess studies are often profound, subtle or instructive. But some are just plain fun. Here's an example in which you can do what you probably often dreamed of in your regular club games. Go for it, have a ball!

Here you can move the white pieces on the diagram, which will defend for Black. If you find the correct strategy (spoiler: only using the knight) you should be able to mate Black in twelve moves. Clicking the notation button below the boar allows you to see the moves you have entered so far, and take them back if you were on the wrong track. 

December 27, 2014: from ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2001

Genrikh Moiseyevich Kasparian

He was born in Tiflis in 1910 and died in 1996. Genrikh Kasparian learned chess at the age of 13, became a strong master and then devoted his life to the game. But not to over-the-board play, but to the composition of some of the greatest chess studies ever seen.

In 2010 a postage stamp "Birth Centenary of Henrik Kasparyan", was issued in Armenia

The depth of Kasparian's ideas and the artistry of execution has never been surpassed. Of the 400 studies that we have by this great composer, around 300 received prizes and awards. He was a Grandmaster for Study Composition and six-time Champion for Study Composition in the USSR. Here is my all-time favourite Kasparian study:

Of course you can feed the position into your chess program, and it will give you the solution instantly. BUT: if you use electronic assistance you will miss the experience of a lifetime figuring out how White can bring about a clean win. Spend a half-hour working it out on the diagram. Your reward: one of the most pleasing final positions you can imagine.

Samuel Loyd (1841–1911) was not just the greatest American problem composer. He was probably the greatest problem composer the world has ever seen. Loyd published over 700 chess problems, the likes of which had never been seen before. Many had humorous or unexpected solutions.  William Anthony Shinkman (1847–1933) is America's second great chess problem composer, brilliantly original and incredibly prolific – he published over 3,500 problems of many different types.

Sam Loyd's biographer, A. C. White, calls this "one of the world's most famous problems". Loyd, who published the problem before he had turned 16, referred to it as "a neat little position". You will need a tiny bit of lateral thinking in order to solve it.

Here you can try to mate Black in eight moves – the diagram will defend for the black side.

The Shinkman problem is a beautiful, almost architectual position. Another great composer, Werner Speckmann, mused that "one might think the rules of the present-day game of chess had been especially invented to produce this problem". Unfortunately a second solution (or "cook") was later found. But for once this does not seem to have destroyed immortality of the problem. When you find the solution that the author originally intended, you will immediately recognise its beauty. The cook is ugly and convoluted.

Incidentally Shinkman originally intended the position as a retro-analytical exercise, not a classical mate problem. The question was how can one achieve the above position in a normal game of chess, only executing legal moves. It can be reached in 34 moves from the initial position. Naturally both sides must cooperate to achieve the goal. This task is only for experienced problem experts.

December 28, 2014: from ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2001

How did that happen?

"Retrograde analysis" sounds daunting, but is it a very enjoyable form of recreational chess, requiring humour and lateral thinking.

One of the great masters of the retrograde problem was T. R. Dawson, but the genre was brought to mainstream attention in a series of books by Raymond Smullyan, a well-known American mathematician, concert pianist, logician, Taoist philosopher, and magician. His book Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, appeared in Hutchinson around 1980.

Smullyan's chess puzzle books are written in the style of the Conan Dolye tales. The presents problems that require the same kind of logic the master detective employed to track down his criminal adversaries. Typically Holmes and Watson will find an interrupted game and discuss how the position on the board came about.

The introductory puzzle of Smullyan's book, shown on the cover, is given below. This is how it is described:

I had a memorable evening alone with Holmes, during which I learned more about retro-analysis than perhaps on any other occasion. "Here, let me set up a little exercise to illustrate the more normal type of situation," he said.

What was Black's last move?

“I call this an ‘exercise', Watson, since it is really too simple to dignify by the word ‘problem'. As you see neither side is mated – nor even in check. The question now is this: Given that Black moved last, what was his last move, and White’s last move?”

I thought for a while, then said, “Holmes, I’m sorry to be such a slow pupil, but the situation again seems impossible! Obviously Black just moved out of check from a7, but I don’t see how White could possibly have moved his bishop to administer the check!”

“Not bad, Watson; not bad at all! I see you are beginning to think. But why do you have this persistent habit of forgetting that a move may involve a capture?”

Then, of course, I saw it. “Right, Holmes, right. Black’s last move was with the king from a7 capturing a white piece on a8. This piece must have moved before that out of the diagonal from g1 to a7 to uncover check from the bishop. What piece could that be? Why obviously a knight, which had moved from b6 to a8. Thus Black’s last move was from a7 to a8, capturing a white knight.”

“Correct,” said Holmes.

A new thought suddenly occurred to me. “Holmes” I said, “is it really necessary in this problem to be given which side was White?”

“Of course,” replied Holmes. “If we hadn’t been given that information, then a second solution would have been possible: A white pawn could have just promoted to bishop.”

A retro problem for Christmas

Raymond Smullyan, Manchester Guardian 1957

In the above position White has just removed his king from the board.
From which square, and what were the last two moves?

We will provide all solutions to all seven parts of our ChessBase Christmas Puzzle Week in the first week of January. So you have more than a week to solve the problems on this page.


In the meantime the ChessBase staff would like to wish all the visitors to our site a very Happy Christmas, in any language you happen to speak – hope we don't miss any:

Merry Christmas!

Andorra Bon Nadal
United Arab Emirates I'd miilad said oua sana saida
Afghanistan De Christmas akhtar de bakhtawar au newai kal de mubarak sha
Antigua and Barbuda Merry Christmas
Anguilla Merry Christmas
Albania Gézuar Krishlindjet
Armenia Shnorhavor Sourp Dzunount
Netherlands Antilles Bon Pasco, Bon Anja
Angola Boas Festas
Antarctica Merry Christmas, Felices Pasquas, Hristos Razdajetsja
Argentina ¡Feliz Navidad!
American Samoa La Maunia Le Kilisimasi
Austria Frohe Weihnachten
Australia Happy Christmas
Aruba Bon Pasco, Bon Anja
Azerbaijan Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun
Bosnia Herzegowina Sretam Bozic, Hristos se rodi
Barbados Merry Christmas
Bangladesh Shuvo Baro Din
Belgium Zalig Kerstfeest
Burkina Faso Joyeux Noel
Bulgaria Vessela Koleda
Bahrain Mboni Chrismen
Burundi Noeli Nziza, Joyeux Noel,
Benin Joyeux Noel
Bermuda Merry Christmas
Brunei Darussalam Selamat Hari Natal
Bolivia Feliz Navidad
Brazil Feliz Natal
Bahamas Happy Christmas
Bhutan krist Yesu Ko Shuva Janma Utsav Ko Upalaxhma Hardik Shuva
Botswana Merry Christmas
Belarus Winshuyu sa Svyatkami
Belize Merry Christmas
Canada Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel
Cocos Islands Merry Christmas, Selamat Hari Natal
Congo Joyeux Noel
Central African Republic Joyeux Noel
Congo Joyeux Noel
Switzerland Fröhlichi Wiehnacht, Joyeux Noel
Cote D'ivoire Joyeux Noel
Cook Islands Merry Christmas, Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritime
Chile Feliz Navidad
Cameroon Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel
China Sheng Tan Kuai Loh
Colombia Feliz Navidad para todos
Costa Rica Feliz Navidad
Cuba Feliz Navidad
Cape Verde Boas Festas
Christmas Island Merry Christmas
Cyprus Eftihismena Christougenna, Noeliniz kutlu olsun ve yeni yili
Czech Republic Vesele Vanoce
Germany Frohliche Weihnachten
Djibouti Joyeux Noel, Mboni Chrismen
Denmark Glaedelig Jul
Dominica Merry Christmas
Dominican Republic Feliz Navidad
Algeria Mboni Chrismen
Ecuador Feliz Navidad
Estonia Haid Joule, Rôômsaid Jôule
Egypt Mboni Chrismen
Western Sahara (Muslim nation)
Eritrea Melkam Yelidet Beaal, Poket Kristmet
Spain Feliz Navidad
Ethiopia Melkam Yelidet Beaal, Poket Kristmet, Merry Christmas
Finland Hauskaa Joulua
Fiji Merry Christmas
Falkland Islands Merry Christmas
Mirconesia Merry Christmas
Faroe Islands Gledhilig jol
France Joyeux Noel
Gabon Joyeux Noel
United Kingdom Happy Christmas, Nadolig Llawen (Wales)
Grenada Merry Christmas
Georgia Gilotsavt Krist'es Shobas
French Guiana Joyeux Noel
Ghana Afishapa
Gibraltar Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad
Greenland Glædelig Jul, Juullimi Ukiortaassamilu Pilluarit
Gambia Merry Christmas
Guinea Joyeux Noel
Guadeloupe Joyeux Noel
Equatorial Guinea Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad
Greece Eftihismena Christougenna
Sandwich Islands Happy Christmas
Guatemala Feliz Navidad
Guam Merry Christmas, Felis Pasgua
Guinea-Bissau Boas Festas
Guyana Merry Christmas
Hong Kong Sing dan fiy loc, Merry Christmas
Honduras Feliz Navidad
Croatia Sretan Bozic
Haiti Jwaye Nwel
Hungary Boldog Karácsonyt
Indonesia Salamet Hari Natal
Indonesia Selamat Tahun Baru
Ireland Nollaig Shona dhuit
Israel Mo'adim Lesimkha
India Shub Christu Jayanti
British Indian Ocean Territory Happy Christmas
Iraq Idah Saidan Wasanah Jadidah
Islamic Republic of Iran Christmas Mobarrak
Iceland Gleðileg Jól
Italy Buon Natale
Jamaica Merry Christmas
Jordan Mboni Chrismen, Merry Christmas
Japan Merii Kurisumasu
Kenya Merry Christmas
Kyrgyzstan Hristos Razdajetsja
Kiribati Merry Christmas
Comoros Joyeux Noel, Mboni Chrismen
Saint Kitts and Nevis Happy Christmas
Korea Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Republic of Korea Sungtan Chukha
Kuwait Mboni Chrismen, Merry Christmas
Cayman Islands Merry Christmas
Kazakhstan Hristos Razdajetsja, Rozdjestvom Hristovim
Lebanon Milad Majeed
Saint Lucia Happy Christmas
Liechtenstein Frohliche Weihnachten
Sri Lanka Subha nath thalak Vewa, Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal
Liberia Happy Christmas
Lesotho Happy Christmas
Lithuania Laimingu Kaledu
Lithuania Laimingu Nauju Metu
Luxembourg Schéi Krëschtdeeg
Latvia Priecigus ziemassvetkus!
Latvia Laimigu Jauno gadu!
Libya Mboni Chrismen, Buon Natale, Happy Christmas
Morocco Mboni Chrismen
Monaco Festusu Natale
Moldova Craciun fericit si un An Nou fericit!
Madagascar Joyeux Noel, Arahaba tratry ny Krismasy
Marshall islands Monono ilo raaneoan Nejin
Macedonia Streken Bozhik
Mali Joyeux Noel
Mongolia (Tibetan Buddhist and Muslim)
Macau Boas Festas, Sing dan fiy loc
Mariana Islands Filis Pasgua, Merry Christmas
Martinique Joyeux Noel, --
Mauritania (Muslim 100%)
Montserrat Merry Christmas
Malta Il-Milied it-Tajjeb
Malta Is-Sena t-Tajba
Malta Il-Festi t-Tajba
Mauritius Merry Christmas
Malawi Merry Christmas, Moni Wa Chikondwelero Cha X'mas
Mexico Feliz Navidad
Malaysia Selamat Hari Krimas
Mozambique Boas Festas
Namibia Geseende Kersfees
New Caledonia Joyeux Noel
Niger Joyeux Noel
Norfolk Island Merry Christmas
Nigeria Merry Christmas
Nicaragua Feliz Navidad
Netherlands Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
Netherlands Prettige Kerstdagen
Norway Gledelig Jul
Nepal krist Yesu Ko Shuva Janma Utsav Ko Upalaxhma Hardik Shuva
New zealand Happy Christmas
Oman Mboni Chrismen
Panama Feliz Navidad
Peru Feliz Navidad
French Polynesia Joyeux Noel, La ora i te Noera
Papua New Guinea Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas
Philippines Maligayang Pasko
Pakistan Bara Din Mubarrak Ho
Poland Boze Narodzenie
St. Pierre and Miquelon Joyeux Noel
Pitcairn Merry Christmas
Puerto Rico Feliz Navidad, Felices Pascuas, Felicidades
Portugal Boas Festas
Palau Merry Christmas
Paraguay Feliz Navidad
Qatar Mboni Chrismen
Reunion Joyeux Noel
Romania Sarbatori vesele
Russia Hristos Razdajetsja, Rozdjestvom Hristovim
Rwanda Noheli Nziza
Saudi Arabia Mboni Chrismen
Seychelles Happy Christmas, Joyeux Noel
Sudan Wilujeng Natal
Sweden God Jul
Singapore Sheng Tan Kuai Loh, Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal, Happy Ch
St. Helena Happy Christmas
Slovenia Srecen Bozic
Svalbard Islands Hristos Razdajetsja, Gledelig Jul
Slovakia Vesele Vianoce
Sierra Leone Happy Christmas
San Marino Buon Natale
Senegal Joyeux Noel
Suriname Zalig Kersfeest, Wang swietie Kresnetie
Sao Tome and Principe Boas Festas
El Salvador Feliz Navidad
Syrian Arab Republic Mboni Chrismen
Swaziland Happy Christmas
Turks and Caicos Islands Happy Christmas
Chad Joyeux Noel, Mboni Chrismen
French Southern Territories Joyeux Noel
Togo Joyeux Noel
Thailand Ewadee Pe-e Mai
Tokelau Merry Christmas
Tunisia Mboni Chrismen
Tonga Kilisimasi Fiefia
Turkey Yeni yiliniz kutlu olsun
Turkey Mutlu Noeller
Trinidad and Tobago Happy Christmas
Taiwan Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
United Republic of Tanzania Krismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpya, Happy Christmas
Ukraine Veseloho Vam Rizdva
Uganda Webale Krismasi
United States Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, Merry Christmas
Uruguay Feliz Navidad
Holy See (Vatican) Buon Natale
Saint Vincent Happy Christmas
Venezuela Feliz Navidad
Virgin islands (British) Merry Christmas
Virgin islands (US) Merry Christmas
Viet Nam Chuc mung Giang Sinh
Vanuatu Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel
Wallis and Futuna Islands Joyeux Noel
Samoa Manuia Le Kirisimasi
Samoa Le Tausaga Fou
Yemen Mboni Chrismen
Mayotte Krismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpya, Joyeux Noel
Cestitamo Bozic
South Africa Geseënde Kersfees, Happy Christmas
Zambia Happy Christmas
Zimbabwe Happy Christmas

I am switching on reader feedback below. Of course, you must not post any solutions there. That would spoil the fun for everyone else. Nobody will admire you for it, and some will be extremely annoyed. General comments are welcome.

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