Joke chess problem

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The chess problem, like other creative forms, is best appreciated for serious artistic themes, such as those named for Grimshaw, Novotny, and Lacny. However, many chess compositions use humor as a primary or secondary element, especially in a joke chess problem.

Usually, a joke chess problem should be easy to solve, but there are exceptions. In some cases the composer plays a trick to prevent a solver from succeeding with typical analysis. In other cases the humor derives from the unusual final position. In many ordinary chess puzzles, humor plays a secondary role because the gameplay within the solution appears to violate the inner logic of chess.

Self-solving problems

V. Ropke, Skakbladet 1942
abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 white king
c8 black king
a7 white pawn
c7 white pawn
d7 black pawn
b6 black pawn
d6 white pawn
a4 black pawn
a3 white pawn
d3 white pawn
8
77
66
55
44
33
22
11
abcdefgh
Mate in 6

Some chess puzzles are not really puzzles at all. In the diagram at right, White is asked to checkmate Black in 6 moves. The joke in this case is that, by the rules of chess, White has no choice but to checkmate Black in 6 moves: the only legal moves available lead directly to the "solution". The solution is 1. d4 b5 2. d5 b4 3. axb4 a3 4. b5 a2 5. b6 a1=Q 6. b7 mate. Tim Krabbé provides other examples on his chess website[1].


Offbeat interpretations of the rules of chess

abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black rook
a7 black king
b7 white pawn
c7 white rook
a5 white king
8
77
66
55
44
33
22
11
abcdefgh
Mate in 1
Tim Krabbé, 1972
abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
e6 white pawn
d5 black pawn
c4 black pawn
g4 black pawn
b3 black pawn
c3 white pawn
e3 black king
f3 white pawn
g3 white pawn
h3 black pawn
b2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
e1 white king
h1 white rook
8
77
66
55
44
33
22
11
abcdefgh
Mate in 3

The rules of chess are fairly simple and clearly defined. Nevertheless, some composers have relied on ambiguities in the rules to create humorous puzzles. A typical example would be the position shown in the diagram on the left. According to chess legend, a composer stipulated "White mates in 1 move." It appears to be impossible, but the solution is for White to promote to a black knight on b8, thus depriving the black king of his only escape square. The current FIDE rules require that a pawn on the eighth rank must promote to a piece of the same color.

A more sophisticated example was composed by Krabbé and relies on a loophole in the definition of castling. In the diagram on the right, White must mate in 3. The main variation is 1 e7 Kxf3 2 e8=R! (an underpromotion) Kg2 3 O-O-O-O! mate. White castles with his newly promoted rook, moving his king to e3 and the rook to e2. Under the rules of chess at the time, this move was legal because the rook had not moved yet. Afterward, FIDE amended the rules to require that the castling rook must occupy the same rank as the king.


Unusual piece placement or movement

M. Kirtley, 1st Prize, The Problemist 1986
abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
d8 white queen
a7 black pawn
a6 white pawn
b6 white pawn
f6 black pawn
a5 white rook
f5 white pawn
b4 black pawn
c4 white pawn
f4 black pawn
h4 white pawn
a3 white knight
e3 white bishop
f3 white knight
a2 black king
b2 black rook
e2 white bishop
f2 white king
h2 white pawn
e1 white rook
8
77
66
55
44
33
22
11
abcdefgh
Selfmate in 8

Some problems are notable for extremely unusual patterns of piece placement. For example, direct mates and especially helpmates have been composed with the pieces in the shape of an O, L, 2, or even a tree.

The "back home task"

A more interesting example occurs in the problem at the right, where the final position echoes a familiar pattern. Krabbé calls this problem the "back home task." He writes that "Strategy and deep themes are absent, Black only has forced moves, but it's one of the funniest chess problems I ever saw."[2] White must selfmate in 8 moves; i.e., he must force Black to checkmate White against Black's will. The solution is 1.Nb1+ Kb3 2.Qd1+ Rc2 3.Bc1 axb6 4.Ra1 b5 5.Rh1 bxc4 6.Ke1 c3 7.Ng1 f3 8.Bf1 f2 mate.


G. Bridgewater, Chess 1936
abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black king
a7 white pawn
b7 black pawn
b6 black pawn
b5 black pawn
f5 white bishop
b4 black pawn
f4 white king
b3 black pawn
a1 white rook
8
77
66
55
44
33
22
11
abcdefgh
Mate in 6
W. A. Shinkman, 1887
abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black king
a7 white pawn
a6 white pawn
a5 white pawn
a4 white pawn
a3 white pawn
a2 white pawn
a1 white rook
e1 white king
8
77
66
55
44
33
22
11
abcdefgh
Mate in 8

The "caterpillar theme"

Krabbé named the "caterpillar theme" for problems and studies where doubled or tripled pawns move one after the other. The diagram at the left shows a particularly silly example, with White forcing mate in 6 moves. The solution is 1.Bb1 b2 2.Ra2 b3 3.Ra3 b4 4.Ra4 b5 5.Ra5 b6 6.Be4 mate. Krabbé wrote a whole article on the caterpillar theme, citing about ten examples.[3]

The American composer William A. Shinkman (1847-1933) is famous for composing the problem in the diagram at the right, with sextupled pawns on the a-file. As Krabbé writes on his website, "The solution, as it should be in a joke, is not difficult: 1.0-0-0 Kxa7 2.Rd8 Kxa6 3.Rd7 Kxa5 4.Rd6 Kxa4 5.Rd5 Kxa3 6.Rd4 Kxa2 7.Rd3 Ka1 8.Ra3 mate."[4] However, the problem is "cooked" (ruined, in the lingo of chess composition) because 1.Kd2 also forces mate in 8 moves.


Humor in more traditional chess problems

Humor is a component of some traditional themes, such as grotesque and Excelsior.

In 2004, Hans Bohm sponsored a chess composing tournament for humorous endgame studies. The top two entries appear with solutions on Krabbe's website.[5][6]

See also

References

  1. ^ Examples — see item 267
  2. ^ Open chess diary — see item 289
  3. ^ The article is not available via direct link, but it can be downloaded on the archives at www.chesscafe.com (krabbe08.pdf).
  4. ^ The Kuwait Immortal
  5. ^ Open chess diary — see item 281
  6. ^ Open chess diary — see item 276