Sleep 11: Modern Chess Problems 1884

27 March, 2021


Addressing the worrying trends in fabricated Chess Problems and whether they are instructive or problematic for the game of chess as a whole. From Volume 4 of the 1884 released British Chess Magazine.

Transcript available
[Music] Helping you fall asleep. I'm John Chidjie. You can follow me on the Fediverse at [email protected], on Twitter at John Chidjie, or one word, or the network at engineered_net. Sleep is supported by you, our listeners. If you'd like to support the show you can do so via Patreon with a thank you to all of our patrons and a special Thank you to our patreon silver producers Mitch Bilger John Whitlow Kevin Koch Oliver Steele Leslie law Chan half Thor and Shane O'Neill and an extra special Thank you to both of our gold producers chip Salzenberg and our producer known as our visit Engineer dot network slash sleep to learn how you can help Thank you So now that that's out of the way, let me talk to you, just for a few minutes. British Chess Magazine, 1884, Volume 4, Modern Chess Problems. Any student of chess problems during the last thirty years cannot fail to notice a marked change between the earlier and later styles. The first are simpler in form and idea, and although the mate is often in several moves, is generally accomplished by a series of pretty obvious checks and sacrifices. Sometimes we have a "pion coiffure" – but even in this case, the difficulty is by no means extreme. The maneuvering in many of these positions is of great interest, and quite "sui generis" – it is almost certain that Bolton, who may be taken as the representative of this school of composition will always find students and admirers. But by degrees a change came over the treatment of problems. Healy, J.B. of Bridport, Grimshaw, and others were pioneers of the host that succeeded in this new region of strategy. The Germans were not slow to follow. The result has been the formation of a school in which the tests of purity and correctness are of the severest and most exacting kind. So profound are the highest class of problems now, that what was once a pastime has become an art and a science. We propose briefly to examine how this came about, whither "it is tending", and whether the practice of considering a problem of small account, unless it is difficult, does not need some modification. The main characteristic of the modern problem consists in developing more fully the latent resources of the pieces with regard to their interaction in certain positions. In these "subtle relations" which are brought out – we had almost said discovered – "sacrifice" – which in the earlier problems was the main feature – became here an accident. The problem was now, if we may so speak, one of position more than of pieces, and thus of a far higher kind. After a time, however, it was found – what might have been foreseen – that the new strategy involved was very limited, and that all that could be done by successors was to exhibit the same ideas under new forms. This was accordingly done, Perhaps some may think, "Ad nauseum?" So the world has been deluged with so many thousands of problems, of which it may be pretty safe to say that not one hundredth will live for fifty years. A reaction has now set in against this extraordinary activity in production. And hence the establishment of Tornies, which have done so much good in elevating the standard, though perhaps, as we shall try to show, a little harm. Our admirable patient and necessary friend, the Solver, has also stimulated composers and rendered severe attests a thing of necessity. A problem to be thought anything of nowadays ought to be a highly finished production, costing the composer probably months of labour to perfect in order to satisfy all the requirements as to beauty, difficulty, originality and so forth. Well, the question arises, is the game worth the candle? Have we not enough of this kind of thing already? Is not life too short for us to consume the midnight oil for years in doing again what has already been done so exquisitely by Klett, Lloyd and others, in turning the kaleidoscope round and round with its limited pieces to make them assume new and beautiful forms, after all rather like those we have seen so many times before. These questions will arise in some minds. For our own part, we feel inclined to say to the problem composer, as one would say to the poet, "Produce, if you cannot help it, and if the result justifies the effort." For aught one can tell something new may yet be struck out in problem work by its votaries. We think the fault to which critics and composers are now leaning is imposing the necessity that a high-class problem should be difficult in this way, not merely that the stratagem should be hard to discover – this, of course, is desirable, for every problem should have volume – but that the first move should be concealed on account of the multiplied resources on the part of the defence, and this without reference to the main theme, so that the composer has in putting this into shape to give black such ample scope that the most complicated variations ensue in the play, the result being sometimes fine strategy, but with no more vital relation to the theme itself than if a rose-spray were apparently grafted onto a lily. We maintain that this is not true art, that any test of the worth of a problem is not this kind of difficulty at all, that the principal variations ought to grow out of the subject itself, and be as it were echoes of it, that the variations would arise out of all this are of minor importance altogether. Some may say, give a case in point. This we confess, is difficult, but not impossible. And we conclude by quoting a good problem by Coates and Cochlecorn, which admirably illustrates our meaning, for here the two main ideas are each repeated twice. The repetition, for which we contend, need not resemble in form the leading play – indeed, the lesser does so, the better. But it ought to be of the same genus. We venture to think, if this notion is worked more fully than it has hitherto been, it will lead to the production of new, pleasing, and more valuable results than heretofore, in which the artist will feel that he is doing something higher than merely attempting to baffle or lead astray the astute solver on whom, after all, he depends for his living, and therefore might treat him more kindly. Such a test as this would be found more exacting, perhaps, but also more artistic than any such arbitrary ones, as the Germans have laid down to ensure purity, and all the rest of it. These rules are hard and tyrannical. But anyone can make them, and multiply them indefinitely. Instead of helping art, they hinder it. Like the French school of literature in the last century, they led to formalism, imitation Aeterem, Aeterem, usc ad aeteronem.
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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

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