Babson task

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A Babson task is a directmate chess problem with the following properties:

  1. White has only one key that forces checkmate in the stipulated number of moves.
  2. Black's defences include the promotion of a certain pawn to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight. (Black may have other defences as well.)
  3. If Black promotes, then White must promote a pawn to the same piece to which Black promoted in order to complete the solution.

Joseph Ney Babson [it], the task's eponym, first conceived of the task in 1884.[1] To devise a satisfying Babson task is regarded as one of the greatest challenges in chess composing. For almost a century, it was unknown whether such a task could exist.

The Babson task is a special form of Allumwandlung, a chess problem in which the solution contains promotions to each of the four possible pieces. Such problems were already known when Babson formulated his task.

Forerunners of the Babson task[edit]

Wolfgang Pauly, 1912
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g8 white bishop
a7 white king
d7 black pawn
e7 white bishop
f7 white pawn
g7 white pawn
d6 white pawn
f5 white pawn
g4 white pawn
h4 white pawn
a3 black pawn
c3 black pawn
h3 black king
a2 black pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 black pawn
g2 white rook
b1 black bishop
c1 white rook
e1 white knight
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White to play and mate in four

This 1912 problem by Wolfgang Pauly is, as it were, a three-quarter Babson task: three of Black's promotions are matched by White.

The key is 1.b3, after which there are the following lines:

  • 1...a1=Q 2.f8=Q Qb2 3.Qa8 Qxc1 (Qxb3 4.Qf3#) 4.Qf3#
  • 1...a1=R 2.f8=R (2.f8=Q? a2 3.Qa8 stalemate (3.Qf6 stalemate)) a2 3.Rf6 Kxh4 4.Rh6#
  • 1...a1=N 2.f8=N (2.f8=Q? Nxb3 3.Qa8 Nd4 and no mate) a2 3.Ng6 Nxb3 4.Nf4#

This is not a full Babson, however, because 1...a1=B 2.f8=B does not work; White must instead play 2.f8=Q, with similar play to above.

Selfmate Babsons[edit]

The earliest Babson tasks are all in the form of a selfmate, in which White, moving first, must force Black to deliver checkmate against Black's will within a specified number of moves. In 1914, Babson himself published such a problem, in which three different white pawns shared the promotions. Henry Wald Bettmann composed the first problem in which one black pawn and one white pawn were involved in all promotions, winning 1st prize in the Babson Task Tourney 1925–26.[2]

Henry Wald Bettmann
1st Prize, 1925–26 Babson Task Tourney
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h8 white knight
a7 white pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
f7 white pawn
a6 white rook
b6 black rook
c6 black king
h6 white pawn
a5 white king
c5 white pawn
b4 white pawn
e4 white pawn
h4 white pawn
c3 white pawn
h3 white queen
f2 black pawn
h2 white rook
f1 white knight
g1 white bishop
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Selfmate in three

The key in Bettmann's problem is 1.a8=B, after which play is as follows:

  • 1...fxg1=Q 2.f8=Q (2.f8=R? Qxf1 3.b5+ Kxc5; both 2.f8=B? and 2.f8=N? fail to Qg8!) Qxf1 3.b5+ (3.Qfxf1? Rxa6 is not checkmate, as White can play 4.Qxa6) Qxb5#; or Qxc5 3.b5+ (3.bxc5? Rxa6 is not checkmate, as White can play 4.Kb4; 3.Qxc5 checkmates black, entirely wrong for a selfmate) or 2...Q-any 3.anyxQ Rxa6#
  • 1...fxg1=R 2.f8=R (2.f8=Q? Rxf1 3.Qfxf1 (3.b5 checkmates Black) Rxa6 is not checkmate, as White can play 4.Qxa6) R-any 3.anyxR Rxa6#
  • 1...fxg1=B 2.f8=B (2.f8=Q? Bxc5 3.bxc5 (3.b5 checkmates Black; 3.Qxc5 checkmates Black) Rxa6 is not checkmate, as White can play 4.Kb4) B-any 3.anyxB Rxa6#
  • 1...fxg1=N 2.f8=N (2.f8=Q? Nxh3! 3.Rxh3 Kd7) N-any 3.anyxN Rxa6#

Various other composers later matched Bettmann's achievement.

Directmate Babsons[edit]

Composing a Babson task in directmate form (where White moves first and must checkmate Black against any defence within a stipulated number of moves) was thought so difficult that very little effort was put into it until the 1960s, when Pierre Drumare began his work on the problem, which occupied him for the next twenty years or so. He managed to compose a Babson task in which knights are replaced with nightriders (a fairy chess piece which moves by making any number of knight moves in the same direction on vacant squares) but found it hard to devise one using normal pieces: because of the knight's limited range, it is difficult to justify a knight promotion by White in response to a knight promotion by Black on the other side of the board.

Pierre Drumare
Memorial Camil Seneca, 1980
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d8 white rook
g8 black queen
h8 white bishop
f7 white pawn
b6 white knight
h6 white bishop
b5 white king
f5 white pawn
a4 white rook
b4 white pawn
c4 white pawn
e4 black pawn
f4 white rook
b3 white bishop
d3 white pawn
e3 black knight
a2 white rook
b2 black pawn
c2 black pawn
d2 black king
e2 black knight
g2 black pawn
a1 black bishop
b1 white queen
c1 black bishop
d1 black rook
e1 black rook
f1 black bishop
g1 black rook
h1 black bishop
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White to play and mate in five

When Drumare eventually succeeded using conventional pieces in 1980, the result was regarded as highly unsatisfactory, even by Drumare himself. It is a mate in five (first published Memorial Seneca, 1980). The key is 1.Rf2, after which captures by Black on b1 are answered by captures by White on g8.

Efficiency in chess problems is considered a great boon, but Drumare's attempt is very inefficient: no fewer than 30 pieces are on the board. It also has six promoted pieces in the initial position (even a single promoted piece is considered something of a "cheat" in chess problems), which is in any case illegal: one of the white f-pawns must have made a capture, and the white and black b- and c-pawns must have made two captures between them, making three in total, yet only two units are missing from the board. Despite all these flaws, it is the first complete Babson task.

In 1982, two years after composing this problem, Drumare gave up, saying that the Babson task would never be satisfactorily solved.

Leonid Yarosh
Shakhmaty v SSSR, March 1983
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b8 black queen
h8 white rook
a7 white pawn
d7 white knight
f6 black pawn
c5 black pawn
f5 black pawn
c4 white pawn
d4 black king
f4 black bishop
h4 black knight
g3 white pawn
a2 white pawn
b2 white knight
c2 black pawn
d2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
h2 white king
a1 white bishop
b1 white queen
f1 white rook
h1 white bishop
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White to play and mate in four

The following year, Leonid Yarosh, a football coach from Kazan who was virtually unknown as a problem composer until that point, came up with a much better Babson task than Drumare's: the position is legal; it is much simpler than Drumare's problem, and there are no promoted pieces on board. First published in March 1983 in the famous Russian chess magazine Shakhmaty v SSSR, this is generally thought of as the first satisfactory solution of the Babson task. Drumare himself had high praise for the problem.

The key is 1.Rxh4, and the main lines are:

  • 1...cxb1=Q 2.axb8=Q Qxb2 (2...Qe4 3.Qxf4 Qxf4 4.Rxf4#) 3.Qb3 Qc3 4.Qxc3#
  • 1...cxb1=R 2.axb8=R (2.axb8=Q? Rxb2 3.Qb3 stalemate) Rxb2 3.Rb3 Kxc4 4.Rxf4#
  • 1...cxb1=B 2.axb8=B (2.axb8=Q? Be4 3.Qxf4 stalemate) Be4 3.Bxf4 Bxh1 4.Be3#
  • 1...cxb1=N 2.axb8=N (2.axb8=Q? Nxd2 and no mate) Nxd2 3.Nc6+ Kc3 4.Rc1#

However, Yarosh's problem has a small flaw: the key is a capture, something which is generally frowned upon in problems. Also, when first presented, the black piece at h4 was a pawn, but a computer discovered an additional solution by 1.axb8=N hxg3+ 2.Kh3 Bxb8 3.Qxc2 and mate next move. Yarosh then substituted a knight on that square; now 1.axb8=N fails to 1...Nf3+ 2.Bxf3 Bxb8 3.Qxc2 Bxg3+ and White is too late. Nevertheless, when Dutch author Tim Krabbé saw this version in the Soviet publication 64, he records that the realisation that somebody had at last solved the Babson task had the effect upon him as if he had "... opened a newspaper and seen the headline 'Purpose Of Life Discovered'."

Leonid Yarosh
Shakhmaty v SSSR, August 1983
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a8 white bishop
b8 black queen
d8 white bishop
f8 white king
d7 white pawn
e7 black pawn
f7 white knight
a6 white pawn
e6 white pawn
f6 black pawn
a5 white pawn
c5 black pawn
f5 white pawn
c4 white pawn
d4 black king
f4 black bishop
h4 white rook
b3 black pawn
a2 black pawn
b2 white knight
d2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
a1 white queen
b1 white rook
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White to play and mate in four

Yarosh continued to work on the problem, and in August 1983, his improved version with a non-capturing key appeared in Shakhmaty v SSSR. Tim Krabbé[3] and many other chess problemists[citation needed] consider the problem one of the greatest ever composed. Again, mate in four:

The key here is non-capturing and also thematic (that is, it is logically related to the rest of the solution): 1.a7. The variations are largely the same as in the original:

  • 1...axb1=Q 2.axb8=Q Qxb2 (2...Qe4 3.Qxf4 Qxf4 4.Rxf4#) 3.Qxb3 Qc3 4.Qbxc3#
  • 1...axb1=R 2.axb8=R (2.axb8=Q? Rxb2 3.Qxb3 stalemate) Rxb2 3.Rxb3 Kxc4 4.Qa4#
  • 1...axb1=B 2.axb8=B (2.axb8=Q? Be4 3.Qxf4 stalemate) Be4 3.Bxf4 Bxa8 4.Be3#
  • 1...axb1=N 2.axb8=N (2.axb8=Q? Nxd2 and no mate) Nxd2 3.Qc1 Ne4 4.Nc6#

Yarosh composed a completely different Babson task problem later in 1983 and another in 1986. Several other Babsons have since been composed by other authors.

The cyclic Babson[edit]

Peter Hoffmann, Die Schwalbe, 2003
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a8 white rook
e8 white bishop
g8 black rook
h7 white pawn
a6 white bishop
e6 black bishop
f6 black king
g6 white knight
h6 black pawn
a5 black pawn
g5 black pawn
h5 white rook
a4 white king
d4 white knight
f4 black pawn
g4 white pawn
c3 white pawn
f3 white pawn
a2 white pawn
b2 white bishop
c2 black pawn
d2 black pawn
e2 black pawn
h2 white queen
c1 white bishop
e1 white knight
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White to play and mate in four

In a cyclic Babson, rather than Black’s promotions being matched by White, they are related in cyclic form: for example, Black promoting to a queen means White must promote to a bishop, Black promoting to a bishop means White must promote to a rook, Black promoting to a rook means White must promote to a knight, and Black promoting to a knight means White must promote to a queen.

The August 2003 issue of the German problem magazine Die Schwalbe contained the problem to the right, a mate in four by Peter Hoffmann. Hoffmann had previously published a number of conventional directmate Babsons, but this one is significant because it is the first cyclic Babson. However, as with Drumare's original Babson task, the problem uses promoted pieces and has a capturing key.

The key is 1.Nxe6, threatening 2.hxg8=Q and 3.Qf7#. The thematic defences are:

  • 1...d1=Q 2.hxg8=B (2.hxg8=Q? Qd7+ 3.Bxd7 stalemate; 2.hxg8=N+? Kxe6 and no mate), threatening 3.c4+ Q-moves 4.BxQ#
    • 2...Qd7+ 3.Bxd7 Kxg6 4.Rxh6#
    • 2...Qxc1 3.Rxg5 (threat: 4.Rf5#) hxg5 4.Qh8#
  • 1...d1=B 2.hxg8=R (2.hxg8=Q? stalemate; 2.hxg8=N+? Kxe6 and no mate) Kxe6 3.Rd8 3.Kf6 Rd6#
  • 1...d1=R 2.hxg8=N (2.hxg8=Q? Rd4+ 3.c4 stalemate) Kxe6 3.Qxe2+ K-moves 4.Qe5#
  • 1...d1=N 2.hxg8=Q (2.hxg8=N+? Kxe6 3.Qxe2+ Ne3! and no mate) Nxb2+ 3.Kb5(Bxb2) and 4.Qf7#

There are also a number of sidelines.

Peter Hoffmann, Schach, 2005
abcdefgh
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f8 black rook
h8 white knight
b7 white pawn
c7 white pawn
e7 white pawn
b6 black pawn
c6 white pawn
e6 black king
f6 white pawn
a5 black pawn
d5 white knight
f5 black pawn
h5 white pawn
a4 white king
f4 white pawn
c3 white bishop
e3 white pawn
b2 white rook
c2 black pawn
d2 black pawn
e2 black pawn
c1 white queen
e1 white rook
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White to play and mate in four

In the September 2005 issue of Schach [de], the first cyclic Babson without promoted pieces in the initial position was published. Again, the composer was Peter Hoffmann.

The key is 1.Nxb6. The thematic defences are:

  • 1...d1=Q 2.exf8=B (2.exf8=Q? Qd4+ 3.Bxd4 stalemate; 2.exf8=N+? Kd6 3.Be5+ Kc5 and no mate)
    • 2...Qd4+ 3.exd4 Kxf6 4.d5#
  • 1...d1=B 2.exf8=R (2.exf8=Q? stalemate; 2.exf8=N+? Kd6 3.Be5+ Kc5 and no mate)
    • 2...Kd6 3.Qd2+ with mate after any move by black
  • 1...d1=R 2.exf8=N+ (2.exf8=Q? Rd4+ 3.Bxd4 stalemate; 2.exf8=B? Rd7 3.c8=Q(B) stalemate)
    • 2...Kd6 3.Be5+ Kc5 4.Qxc2#
  • 1...d1=N 2.exf8=Q (2.exf8=N+? Kd6 3.Be5+ Kc5 and no mate)
    • 2...Nxc3+ 3.Kxa5 Ne4 4.c8=Q#

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tim Krabbé. "De man die de Babson task maakte" (in Dutch).
  2. ^ Howard, Kenneth S., The Enjoyment of Chess Problems, Dover Publications, 1961, p. 213.
  3. ^ Krabbé, Tim. "The Babson Task". De website van Tim Krabbé. Retrieved 10 April 2022.

Bibliography

Further reading[edit]

  • Jeremy Morse, Chess Problems Tasks and Records (Faber and Faber, 1995, revised edition 2001) – contains a chapter on the Babson task

External links[edit]