Three problems that baffled the solver

by Nagesh Havanur
4/3/2019 – Two weeks ago our columnist offered a tribute to Spanish chess composer, Valentin Marin y Llovet (1872-1936) and followed it up with three problems for solving. At first sight each problem seemed to set an impossible task. However, if you listen to the pieces you can find the solution. Professor Nagesh Havanur helps you to do this.

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The telephone rang. Of course I knew who it was at the other end — a friend of mine has recently taken to chess problems and spends a good deal of time solving them. The latest set of problems that appeared on the ChessBase news page had him baffled.

“I can't solve even one of them. Are you sure that these positions are right? Maybe a pawn or two needs to be added?!”

“Easy, easy,” I replied. “The positions are right. But did you listen to the pieces?”

“Of course I did. They are complaining, they can’t find mate.”

“You should have asked the one who was silent!”

“Who is that?”

“Who else but Her Majesty?”

Here we go again. You can move the pieces on the board to analyse lines. The full solutions to all three problems are given in the game viewer at the bottom of this page.


As you can see both white rooks would be happy to deliver mate after a discovered check. At the moment they can’t, with their own lives threatened by the black queen and the rook. So what is the way? Block the lines of these adversaries. Once you do that, the lines for the white rooks are easily opened. There steps in Her Majesty.

1.c3! The composition bears a striking resemblance to the three-mover that fascinated Kramnik and Anand, as described in this ChessBase report by Sagar Shah.

Now let us try the second problem:


In this position the black monarch is surrounded by as many as three white pieces. Still there is no mate. The tempting 1.♗a5? allows 1…♚c5 and the king runs away. So it’s this escape route via diagonal a7-g1 that needs to be blocked. At first sight this appears impossible. None of the white pieces can venture into the field without being captured.

As in the first problem, here also Her Majesty storms her way in. She goes into a deep dive with 1.e2! If Black captures the venturesome queen, it will release either the d-pawn or the knight for mate. They also serve who stand and wait as Milton once wrote. The humble pawn on d2 did have the last word on this occasion.

Now we come to the last position.


At first sight mate in this problem does not appear to be a big issue at all. Surely, White has to advance the g-pawn and once it’s promoted to queen it should be all over for Black. The trouble is that it takes more than the stipulated mate in four moves. So the g-pawn here is only a red herring.

Why not mate the black king nearer home? If only White could play 1.♖c1 followed by ♖h1+, it would be all over. Sadly, the black bishop is just not allowing it, and our rook itself is under serious threat. So Her Majesty returns home to lift the siege with 1.a1! If 1…♝xa1 2.♖f1 and soon mate follows. That’s the easier part. However, Black can offer tougher resistance with 1…♜xd3. Then begins the duel in earnest.

We have come to the end of our journey. As is known, Valentin Marin composed more than 250 problems. Connoisseurs of his work might object to the choice of the problems here. They would maintain, there is too much striving for “effect”. Valentin Marin also composed deep and subtle problems with quiet moves. In their view such problems are more worthy of attention. Some day let us see them too.

Replay and analyse all solutions


As of now, only one reader who goes by the mysterious name, “angiewei” has successfully solved all the three problems. Much appreciated.


  1. It would not be out of place to point out here that it was José Paluzíe who had a decisive influence on Valentin Marin’s chess thought and creativity. He was impressed by the talent of the young man and encouraged him in every possible way. In 1913 his publishing house released a collection of Valentin Marin’s problems under an impressive title, Un artista en ajedrez (An artist in chess).

  2. As mentioned before, the Spanish chess blog, Ajedrez 365 offers the best possible introduction to Valentin Marin’s work.

  3. Pedro Cañizares Cuadra rendered a yeoman service to the chess world, collecting all available problems composed by Valentin Marin. They may be obtained here.

Topics: Problems

Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for more than two decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.
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cloudmann cloudmann 4/15/2019 08:57
Still working on that darn Mate-in-4 problem. Just can't get that 1st move !!
Mark Zand Mark Zand 4/4/2019 10:55
To my big surprise, I've solved all 3 problems in about 3 min. I think the ideas in all 3 are pretty simple, while the implementation is less so and very pretty.
Frederic Frederic 4/4/2019 09:19
@Grey Hiker: Thanks for drawing attention to the subtleties of the problem. It reminded me how one should not just look for and find the solution, but also explore further and find out why other moves do not work. And how alternate solutions are prevented. Prompted by your feedback I removed the g6-pawn -- very easy in ChessBase: s (= position setup), drag the pawn off the board, Enter, and you are ready to go. In such cases I press Alt-F2 to switch on an engine -- never when I am trying to find the solution myself, that spoils the fun and removes the possibility of experiencing a sense of achievement. In this case I spent an additional fifteen minutes working out the purpose of the other pieces that seemed quite randomly placed. Also looking at the lines given by angiewei. Thanks for both your comments.
angiewei angiewei 4/4/2019 06:42
In the third problem, Black could try 1... c6. Then if 2. Qb1:? Nc7ch 3. Kd7 Bc1 4. Qc1: is a mate in 5, not 4. The correct reply is 2. Qa7, then if 2... Nc7ch 3. Qc7: and 4. Qh7 mate. The 1... Rd3: defense, in my opinion, is the prettiest variation of all. Imagine: the entire crowded long diagonal completely cleared in just 3 moves. Viva Regina!
Grey Hiker Grey Hiker 4/4/2019 04:53
The third study is absolutely beautiful, especially if you ask yourself why all those pieces and pawns on the board are really necessary. Some are fairly obvious: e.g., the black pawn on b4 isn't there to threaten the rook, it's there to prevent Black from going Rb4 and then several checks. But why is the pawn on g6 necessary? It's there to prevent a dual solution: 1 Qa1, R:d3; and now 2Rc1 works, just as in the study, but 2 Q:b1 now also works 2 ...Bc1; 3 R:c1, Rd1 and now the absence of the g6 pawn allows 4 Qh7 mate.