Joke chess problem
|This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
Joke chess problems are puzzles in chess which use humor as a primary or secondary element. Although most chess problems, like other creative forms, are appreciated for serious artistic themes (Grimshaw, Novotny, and Lacny), joke chess problems are enjoyed for some twist. In some cases the composer plays a trick to prevent a solver from succeeding with typical analysis. In other cases, the humor derives from an unusual final position. Unlike in ordinary chess puzzles, joke problems can involve a solution which violates the inner logic or rules of the game.
Some chess puzzles are not really puzzles at all. In the diagram at right, White is asked to checkmate Black in six moves. The joke in this case is that, by the rules of chess, White has no choice but to checkmate Black in six 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=any 6. b7#. Tim Krabbé provides other examples on his chess website.
Offbeat interpretations of the rules of chess
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 one move." It appears to be impossible, but formerly the color of the promoted piece was not specified, and the 'solution' was for White to promote to a black knight on b8, thus depriving the black king of his only escape square.
A more sophisticated example was composed by Tim Krabbé and relies on a loophole that existed in the definition of castling. In the diagram on the right, White must mate in three moves. The main variations are 1. e7 Kd3 2. e8=Q gxf3 (other moves allow Qe2#) 3. 0-0-0#, 1. e7 Kxf3 2. e8=R! (an underpromotion) d4 3. 0-0#, and 1. e7 Kxf3 2. e8=R! Kg2 3. 0-0-0-0!#. In the last variation, 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
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 a letter or number, 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", as all eight white pieces retreat to their initial positions. 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". White must selfmate in eight 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#.
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 six moves. The solution is 1.Bb1 b2 2.Ra2 b3 3.Ra3 b4 4.Ra4 b5 5.Ra5 b6 6.Be4#. Krabbé wrote a whole article on the caterpillar theme, citing about ten examples.
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#". However, the problem is "cooked" (ruined, in the lingo of chess composition) because 1.Kd2 also forces mate in eight moves. However, this problem was not intended to be a sound mate in eight, and was instead intended to be a proof game in 34 moves with seven consecutive captures by Black.
Non-chess chess problems
In this kind of problem, the actual "solution" has nothing to do with chess. In this problem composed by British composer Thomas Rayner Dawson, Black had decided to resign. White advised his opponent not to give up so quickly. "But I am bound to lose, and there is nothing I—or you, for that matter—can do," said Black. But White insisted: "I'll bet you $100 that I can lose this game!" So the two made the bet and White actually lost. He did not resign, lose on time, or anything like that. How did he lose? The solution is in the words: White did not lose the game (which is impossible in the diagram position), but rather the bet.
Humour in more traditional chess problems
- Examples — see items 276, 267, and 265
- Open chess diary — see item 289
- The article is not available via direct link, but it can be downloaded on the archives at http://www.chesscafe.com/ (krabbe08.pdf).
- "The Kuwait Immortal". Xs4all.nl. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
- "ChessBase Chrismas Puzzles 2014 – solutions". Retrieved 2015-09-07.
- Open chess diary — see item 281
- Open chess diary — see item 276