Chess problem

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A chess problem, also called a chess composition, is a puzzle set by somebody using chess pieces on a chess board, that presents the solver with a particular task to be achieved. For instance, a position might be given with the instruction that white is to move first, and checkmate black in two moves against any possible defense. A person who creates such problems is known as a composer. There is a good deal of specialized jargon used in connection with chess problems; see chess problem terminology for a list.

The term "chess problem" is not sharply defined: there is no clear demarcation between chess compositions on the one hand and puzzles or tactical exercises on the other. In practice, however, the distinction is very clear. There are common characteristics shared by compositions in the problem section of chess magazines, in specialist chess problem magazines, and in collections of chess problems in book form. Not every chess problem has every one of these features, but most have many:

Problems can be contrasted with tactical puzzles often found in chess columns or magazines in which the task is to find the best move or sequence of moves (usually leading to mate or gain of material) from a given position. Such puzzles are often taken from actual games, or at least have positions which look as if they could have arisen during a game, and are used for instructional purposes. Most such puzzles fail to exhibit the above features.


Types of problem

Hampstead and Highgate Express, 1905-06 (1st Prize)

There are various different types of chess problems:

  • Directmates: white to move first and checkmate black within a specified number of moves against any defence. These are often referred to as "mate in n", where n is the number of moves within which mate must be delivered. In composing and solving competitions, directmates are further broken down into three classes:
    • Two-movers: white to move and checkmate black in two moves against any defence.
    • Three-movers: white to move and checkmate black in no more than three moves against any defence.
    • More-movers: white to move and checkmate black in n moves against any defence, where n is some particular number greater than three.
  • Helpmates: black to move first cooperates with white to get black's own king mated in a specified number of moves.
  • Selfmates: white moves first and forces black (in a specified number of moves) to checkmate white.
  • Reflexmates: a form of selfmate with the added stipulation that each side must give mate if it is able to do so. (When this stipulation applies only to black, it is a semi-reflexmate.)
  • Seriesmovers: one side makes a series of moves without reply to achieve a stipulated aim. Check may not be given except on the last move. A seriesmover may take various forms:
    • Seriesmate: a directmate with white playing a series of moves without reply to checkmate black.
    • Serieshelpmate: a helpmate in which black plays a series of moves without reply after which white plays one move to checkmate black.
    • Seriesselfmate: a selfmate in which white plays a series of moves leading to a position in which black is forced to give mate.
    • Seriesreflexmate: a reflexmate in which white plays a series of moves leading to a position in which black can, and therefore must, give mate.

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