Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A little chess experiment...

by Andrew

I have composed a couple of problems to help you test your decision making and creative thinking capacities in chess. To give myself the best chance of avoiding people hating me following this exercise, I will advise you to take a very close look at the initial position before you make your first move. Good luck!

                                  Position 1: White to play, mate in 20 moves or less

If you were able to solve this, well done. Your solution may resemble somewhat one of the following lines:

If you weren't able to solve it, was it too long? Too hard? Too boring?

Okay, I understand; try this one instead.

Position 2: White to play, mate in 1

Yes, I have given you the same position--only with a different stipulation. Well, I did say 20 moves or less.

Probably you have found the solution by now, but let us consider for the moment how this position could have arisen. What was Black's last move? For instance, the queen could not have moved last as it already would have been giving check; similarly for the light-squared bishop and d7, and for the e- and g- pawns if they had been on e6 and g6 respectively. The d6 pawn could not have moved on the last turn given the light-squared bishop has somehow made it out already. And no black piece could have moved from a square that with White to move is currently occupied by a white piece.

(By the way, this position is possible: We can assume that prior to this White had played either b6 or c6, and Black had been oscillating with knight or light-squared bishop.)

So, a close inspection reveals that, in fact Black's only possible move prior to this position was  0...g7-g5, upon which, in accordance with the en passant rule, we are allowed to play the move 1.hxg6 checkmate.

Of course it was a bit of a trick puzzle, and perhaps a few readers/solvers dislike me right now for feeling I have wasted their time, but I think it teaches an important principle: that it can be very hard to see what you are not looking for. Maybe you began by seeing the number 20 and expecting the problem to be a very long one, thereby neglecting to appraise the initial position with much scrutiny or lateral thinking. I reckon if I had presented the first problem as "mate in 1" it would have been a very different story. Our expectations and assumptions inform our judgments and the way we view the world all the time without us realising it.

To be creative and heighten your ability to see different possibilities in chess it is important to be willing to identify and question what you think you know, to be open to receiving new information, and not to cast judgment before judgment is due. This, I believe, is the sort of perspective one should try to adopt if one wants to develop and maintain a free-thinking and creative mind, for chess and for life.

I hope, dear reader, that I have not perturbed too severely your faith in my trustworthiness and that you will come back to read my future posts. Next time I will try not to be quite so mean. :)