Valladão’s all-promotion study

by Siegfried Hornecker
12/28/2019 – As readers who followed this column since its inception in 2017 will have noted, the December article always is a bit different. After 11 months worth of articles of varying difficulty, at the end of the year Study of the Month columnist SIEGFRIED HORNECKER aims for something special. Last year it was a column on Alain C. White, the botanist and philanthropist whose Christmas Series influenced chess composers all around the world. This year's protagonist has no connection to Christmas, but all the moves in his idea are special.

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Study of the Month: December 2019

As always, feel free to skip to the end and enjoy replaying the studies, if that's your preference.

The chess composer, now a man in his late 50s, was curious. He played chess, wrote books, edited chess columns. As a solver and composer of chess problems he knew that there were quite some classical themes. He knew about the special humor that some chess composers have and he knew the history of chess composition. Certainly, here in Brazil the game was thriving, even if there were few world-class players. His tourney was announced in “O Globo”, the first entries came in. Although one of the founders of the Union of Brazilian Problemists (UPB), he likely didn’t expect that his name would be as famous to chess composers as those of Leonid Stein or Isaac Rice to practical players — names that you should know if you learn about the many aspects of chess but that outsiders will not know at first.

Unfortunately, it seems that not much information is known about Joaquim Valladão Monteiro, and readers are welcome to offer more. The activities mentioned above were according to the “chesscomposers” blog of Eric Huber and Vlaicu Crişan. There’s also the birthdate of October 15, 1907, which however is doubtful according to Leo Mano (Chess Notes 5799, October 13, 2008), and the death year 1993 (my sources of that time mention nothing, so possibly the death became known only later). He created a theme for checkmates in two moves, but another idea, the “Valladão task” (which is meant when I talk about “theme” in the context of this article), became famous for combining castling, en passant, and pawn promotion in a single chess problem. This theme, of course, is much older, but Valladão’s thematic tourney in “O Globo” 1966 attached his name to it. The tourney was won by Brazilian master Felix Sonnenfeld (1910-1993) whose total output included over 2,500 compositions. More about Sonnenfeld’s life was detailed by Marcos Roland in 2010.


O Globo 1965

1.g4! hxg3 e.p. 2.h8/ mate, 1...a2/xd3 2.0-0-0 mate


“O Globo” 1966, Valladão thematic tourney, 1st prize

1.b4! cxb3 e.p. 2.a8/ mate, 1...e4 2.0-0 mate, 1...d5 2.exd6 e.p. mate

Valladao MonteiroA photograph of Joaquim Valladão Monteiro is found online in Edward Winter's Chess Notes 3884 (August, 10, 2005), reproduced at right. As Mr. Winter kindly gave permission, and as he expressed frustration that apparently many people use his Chess Notes material without permission, we want to fulfill his request to remind readers to contact him if they want to re-use it.

About the task itself, more needs to be said. While Valladão got his name attached to it, other renditions of the idea were shown earlier already. Definitions of a “perfect” rendition of the theme were made by Werner Keym (for all genres) and Harold van der Heijden (who has a focus on endgame studies). Keym dug through many sources for his curiosities book “Chess Problems — Out of the Box”, giving an 1867 composition as the probably oldest example of the task. The composer Jacob Elson (April 8, 1839 - January 28, 1909), according to John Hilbert’s Writings in Chess History, was a watchmaker from Philadelphia, but as we see in databases also a fairly strong practical player, participating at the 4th American Chess Congress in 1876.

The “O Globo” tourney brought what Keym defines as a perfect rendition, and possibly the first one such in a two-mover. I quote from his book: “1) there is no dual of the promotion, 2) there is only the double step of the pawn...and not the simple step of the pawn with a normal capture by the adversary pawn.”


“O Globo” 1966, Valladão thematic tourney, 1st honorable mention

1.0-0! f5 2.e:f6 e.p. mate, 1.-Nc4/Nd5/Nd7 2.c8N mate

We learn from the Huber/Crişan blog, where a photo is also reproduced, that José Miguel Dias Figueiredo (August 13, 1920 - July 11, 1978) was an International Judge for chess composition, composing usually directmates and helpmates.

The first correct study with the theme, as far as we were able to determine it, was by Nils Bakke, a castling expert himself, in a memorial tourney in 0-0, a magazine that has its title from the kingside castling notation (see also the end of this article). It was led by Hanspeter Suwe, who later made the “König und Turm” magazine with the same emphasis on castling. In 2007 I had my own study with the theme there, showing three promotions in three variations (queen, rook and knight), and while at that point I didn’t deem it completely impossible to show all four promotions, I knew that it would require a different idea than what I could come up with.

I might as well have believed it was more than any then current composer could come up with, as in the 2010s new talented composers arrived, and one of them, the Norwegian Geir Sune Tallaksen Østmoe, an International Master in practical play and multiple times competitor there in national championships, had the fresh mind necessary to crack the difficult task. He made his debut in the German “Problem-Forum” in 2011, receiving a commendation. His first won tourney was in 2014, and that study, showing the all promotions Valladão, is replayable below as well as a later version. Indeed a fresh challenger with a fresh mind managed the improbable by combining earlier multi-promotion ideas that seemed completely unrelated with a masterful introduction, and just like that, the Mount Valladão’s all-promotion study peak was conquered. I see many people quoting the end of Thomas S. Eliot’s anti-war poem “The Hollow Men” recently, so you can apply the words also here: The great achievement came “not with a bang but a whimper.”

Of course, Thor Heyerdahl, Reinhold Messner, and many others risk their life on their great adventures while a chess composer has no such danger. The most risk he takes is to waste many hours or even years of their time. Tim Krabbé’s account on Pierre Drumare, as an example, makes it sound very dramatic when Drumare tried to conquer another task that required all promotions by both sides — the Babson task. All of his effort was not entirely fruitful, but after decades the Russian Leonid Yarosh built the incredible problem. So I understood that after my discovery, I did what was possible for me, and avoided Drumare’s error. When shortly after Christmas 2014 the ARVES 25 AT award arrived with Geir Sune’s study, I was overjoyed to see once more a difficult task conquered, and opened a thread on the Serbian board MatPlus, where Geir Sune replied and showed his other version that he didn’t send in. I will leave it to the readers to decide which version they like better.

It is debatable how a “perfect” study with the Valladão task looks like if we don’t need all promotions. Harold van der Heijden once laid out strict criteria, believing in logical tries necessary for such a composition. He wrote the following definition (per e-mail, May 16, 2014, the criteria were also published in EG many years back); I only removed a reference to a study:

“A perfect Valladão has these moves accompanied with a thematic try:

  • a genuine underpromotion by White (i.e. bishop or rook, or sometimes knight when the knight is chosen not because of its extra properties in comparison with a queen, but its lesser properties[...]) and the other promotions as the thematic try.
  • castling by White, with either Rd1 (in case of Q-side castling) or Rf1 (in case of K-side castling) as the thematic try.
  • en-passant capture by Black, for which there is a white thematic try with the single step pawn move instead of the double step pawn move.”

Werner Keym suggests to call this an ideal Valladão.

Gady Costeff took this to heart to create a study that is not only regarded a modern classic, but also looks very classical. Werner Keym in his book preferred a study by Jarl Henning Ulrichsen as “Letztform”, the final form, as it retains a high material economy, i.e. uses very few pieces, applying his definition of a perfect but not ideal rendition.

It would go far beyond the scope of this article to list every rendition of the theme in endgame studies, so I will only give a short overview of the beginnings. In preparing a presentation in Wageningen 2002, reproduced in EBUR no.1 2002, Harold van der Heijden found only 12 studies with the theme, of which only two were found to be correct and thus printed. Both were by Nils Adrian Bakke from Norway. The first was supposedly published in “0-0” in 1979, but in Harold’s most recent database (October 2015) the source is given as “0-0” from April 1989. Another study of the same author, published in the Joachim Reiners MT award in 1982, is what Werner Keym considers the first “perfect” study with the theme. From what we know today, it also is the first correct one overall.

Hanspeter Suwe also held a tourney in six sections for endgame studies and directmates, i.e. checkmate problems, in 2, 3, 4 and n (any number of) moves, showing different variations of the Valladão task, which was announced in “Die Schwalbe”, April 1973 (154th Schwalbe thematic tourney). The tourney with a modest money prize offered and a “deadline” of 31 December 1973 for entries was a success with exactly 100 entries by 52 composers from many countries, but also often from the Soviet Union. Only four endgame studies were sent in, all of them were incorrect. The provisional award appeared in October 1974, finalized in the June 1975 issue. As a comparison, the “O Globo” theme tourney for mate in two moves had 20 entries from 10 Brazilian composers.

Most of the studies mentioned above are replayable below.

I believe that I am allowed to repeat Harold van der Heijden’s closing words from his EBUR article to relay them also to my readers.

I hope that this presentation will inspire you to compose some nice Valladão studies. I certainly look forward to seeing them!

(Many thanks to Werner Keym for help with the article!)


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World Federation for Chess Composition

World Federation for Chess Composition (


Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.


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