Chess Problems: What They Are and Where to Find Them

chess problemsIf you love chess, you might be looking for the next big puzzle. Chess problems are puzzles designed using chess pieces and a chess board. These puzzles have a particular task that has to be done for the puzzle to be considered solved. Here’s a short summary on what chess problems are and where you can find them.

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What is a Chess Problem?

While not every chess problem will have these particular characteristics, many of them have most of the items listed below:

  • A composition: Most chess problems have been created or invented for the sole purpose of creating a problem that must be solved. Few chess problems are created from an actual game that had been played.
  • A goal to be achieved: The whole idea behind chess problems is to reach the goal, and that would declare the puzzle solved. The goal is determined by the composer.
  • Themes: Most chess problems have some kind of idea they are illustrating. Some chess problems also use a combination of themes to get their idea across.
  • Use of economy: There is nothing more used to guarantee that the solution to the problem is in fact a solution and that it is the only solution.
  • Aesthetic value: Because of the use of economy and themes, many chess problems are viewed as being more than just puzzles. They are often considered works of beauty.

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Different Types of Chess Problems

Chess problems are broken into different types. This is a short list of types of chess problems.

  • Directmates: These involve white checkmating black within a certain number of moves against any defense black might use. These can also be referred to as “mate in n” where n is the number of moves in which checkmate must occur. There are three different classes of directmates – two-movers, three-movers, and more-movers. They are named for the number of moves that white has to checkmate black. In the case of more-movers, this can involve any problem where white has to checkmate black in more moves than three.
  • Helpmates: These puzzles involve black moving first and helping white to checkmate black’s own king. There are usually a specified number of moves black has in order to accomplish this.
  • Selfmates: Chess problems of this type involve white moving first and forcing black to checkmate white. Again, these types of puzzles involve a certain number of moves. There is a form of selfmate called reflexmate that involves each side giving mate if they can.
  • Seriesmovers: This type of chess problem involves moves being played without response to achieve some kind of goal. Check is not permitted except on the last move. There are several different classes of seriesmovers – seriesmate, serieshelpmate, seriesselfmate, and seriesreflexmate. These seriesmovers classes are played using the above types but with the added type of seriesmovers added.
  • Studies: These particular chess problems don’t involve a win or draw having to occur within a certain number of moves. Rather, the idea is to play until there is a win or draw to see the endgame positions. They are still composed like other chess problems, but the open-ended stipulation separates them from the usual chess problems. These studies are usually used to increase the information already available on endgame theory.
  • Retrograde analysis problems: These particular chess problems involve a question being posed that can only be solved if the solver works backwards to find the previous moves that were played. A certain type of retrograde analysis problem played is a shortest proof game. The solver is shown a position, and using a separate chess board and pieces, he must construct the same position from the starting game array. White and black work together to solve the position, and there are occasionally a number of moves that must be done to reach the position the solver was shown. Usually, however, the goal is just to reach the position in the smallest amount of moves.
  • Construction tasks: The idea behind these chess problems is to build a game that certain features given as the puzzle. A good example of this is Sam Loyd’s puzzle – “Construct a game which ends with black delivering discovered checkmate on move four.” This particular puzzle was published in Le Sphinx in 1866.

Tournaments and Titles

Like the game itself, chess problems have their own tournaments and titles that can be earned. There are tournaments both for the composition of the puzzle and for solving the puzzle. The Word Chess Composing Tournament is a formal tournament for the composition of chess problems that is organized by the Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions. Entries into the tournaments are usually limited to the genre requested, and there are occasionally other restrictions involved as well. There are three different grades involved when awarding problems, but there is a three-month period in which an award can be rescinded if a nearly-identical problem had been published earlier or if the problem appears to have no solution. When that three-month period is over, the awards are considered final.

Solving tournaments involve the submission of solved chess problems. There are two main types of solving tournaments. One involves entries being sent in via mail or e-mail, and the other involves participants coming to a location to solve puzzles in person. Solving tournaments involving mailed entries are similar to informal composition tournaments. When entries are sent in, there is no way to know if the problem was solved by the person or by a computer. The World Chess Solving Championship, however, eliminates the use of solving aids other than chess sets.

Like the World Chess Composing Tournament, this particular competition is hosted by the Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions. With formal solving tournaments, the participants have a limited amount of time to solve the puzzles available. Both solving tournaments use a points system. Each problem is worth a certain number of points, and there are usually bonus points when a problem with no solution is found. Solutions that were not completed in time are given the appropriate number of points depending on how far along the solver is. Whoever gained the most points is considered the winner.

The titles available for composition and solving tournaments are exactly like the usual chess tournament. They are International Grandmaster, International Master, and FIDE Master. These are awarded by the FIDE following the guidelines and tournaments hosted by the Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions. These titles are awarded for exceptional compositions or solvers. Regular chess tournaments have women-only titles equivalent to those listed earlier, but composition and solving tournaments do not have such titles. Judges for composition tournaments are given the title of International Judge of Chess Compositions, and judges for both competitions are chosen by the FIDE.

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Each title is earned in a different way. For composition titles, the points toward a title are awarded depending on the number of chess problems or studies about chess problems that a person has published in FIDE albums. These albums are a collection of problems and studies published during a three-year period selected by FIDE judges from the entries submitted. Each problem published is worth one point, and each study is worth one and two-thirds. When composers work together to compose a problem, the problem is still worth only one point, but it is divided among however many composers there may be. FIDE Master title is awarded to composers with twelve points, International Master title is awarded to composers with twenty-five points, and the International Grandmaster title is awarded to composers with seventy points.

Titles for solving puzzles are only awarded during the World Chess Solving Championship, and gaining the title is more complicated than simply being published in an FIDE album. Becoming an International Grandmaster involves having a score of at least 90% or more, and they need to finish in at least tenth place three times in ten World Chess Solving Championships. International Master involves scoring at least 80% or more and finishing in at least fifteenth place twice in five World Chess Solving Championships. An International Master title can also be awarded if the solver wins the World Chess Solving Championship or scores as many points as the winner. The FIDE Master title is the easiest to earn with a required score of only 75% or more and finishing within the top 40% of participants in any two Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions approved solving competitions.

Where to Find Chess Problems to Solve

If you are interested in solving chess problems yourself, you probably want some sites to visit where you can solve them. There are a number of sites available you can visit to try the problems offered. Here’s a short list of sites with chess problems:

  • ChessProblems has a number of puzzles to solve in different difficulty modes from novice to fiendish. The “About” page gives some good information regarding how to use the puzzles and solve them using the program on the website. This site uses Java so be sure your Java is up to date before you begin.
  • GameKnot has a daily puzzle for both easy difficulty and hard. There is also a very long list of other puzzles to try. This website also allows the solver to submit another solution to the puzzle if they find one that has fewer moves.
  • Shredder Computer Chess offers weekly chess problems and daily problems, but they also have other products available to help improve your chess game like Chess Tutor. You can also play against Shredder.

Software Available for Chess Problems

Along with creating chess problems, there are people out there that have created software to help solve or create chess problems. Alybadix was a chess problem software created in 1980 by Ikka Blom. It was designed to solve chess problems for DOS and Commodore 64 platforms. The program included a large collection of puzzles to solve and had the ability to print the puzzles. It was considered faster than most other playing machines in 1993. Diagram, on the other hand, is a style file designed for LaTeX to help typeset chess problems. Die Schwalbe, a German chess problem magazine, uses Diagram to produce their puzzles.

Popeye is another problem-solving software run from a command-line interface. The program was initially designed with Pascal in MS-DOS, and others converted the program to the C programming language. Chloe, a DOS, and Winchloe, a proprietary software, are other chess problem-solving softwares. Winchloe boasts of a collection involving more than 300,000 puzzles, and these can be updated using the internet.

Natch and iNatch are solving softwares that were designed for DOS and Linux. Natch uses a command-line interface like Popeye, but there is also a Java-based graphical interface available. Problemist is a solving software that is available for Windows and Windows mobile devices. It not only can solve puzzles, but it can also print them. There is also a webpage where more puzzles can be downloaded.

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