problem chess: aRt and magic on the chessboard
Author: Göran Forslund
111 pages. Gambit Publications, 2022
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I was sent a copy of this book by Gambit for my honest review.
The publisher tells us this book was originally published in Swedish, and then in electronic editions in 2014-15. Its author Göran Forslund passed away in 2015 and this is the first English print version of his book.
Problems vs. Studies
Simply put, a study is a composition whose position could arise in a real game. The pieces move and capture in exactly the same manner as in orthodox chess, even if the solution may be surprising or counter-intuitive.
A problem, however, is a composition that is unlikely to resemble a real game. Some problems stipulate rules that differ from orthodox chess, e.g. pieces that do not move according to the Laws of Chess.
A Useful Reference
Forslund provides helpful breakdown of problem categories and types for the inexperienced (of which I’m surely a part). There are orthodox, semi-orthodox, and fairy chess problems.
Orthodox problems contain those with standard piece movements, rules, and goals (both sides are aiming for their maximum result).
The semi-orthodox category includes things like helpmates (both sides cooperate to checkmate black), and selfmates (both sides conspire to checkmate white).
Fairy chess contains the weird stuff that exists in its own orbit!
A nice touch is Forslund’s evolution in his appreciation of what a “good” chess problem is, and a discussion of those created for the solver versus those created for the composer’s peers!
Also included are sample problems from as far back as Samuel Loyd in the 19th century, up to contemporary compositions. The author includes many of his own works, and those of other Swedes.
Who Should Buy It?
I must say I never would have taken a serious look at a book about problem chess had it not been sent to me for review — as I often say, I have enough trouble with “regular” chess!
I had a bit of an introduction to problems in the late 1990s as a member of the Bronx/Yonkers Chess Club (now the Bob Peretz Chess Club, after its late Treasurer whom I knew personally).
Longtime member Paul Birnbaum was a great resource for me as a developing chess player…and he was also a U.S. Solving Expert. Later, he would become a U.S. Solving Master.
Paul described some of his exploits in Chess Life’s Key Crackers column, and introduced me to the terms fairy chess and maximummer, for example.
I just found the problem chess genre too difficult and time-consuming… anyway, I had my sights set on becoming a grandmaster! Oh well…
Chess compositions contain a lot of beauty for players who don’t simply like moving pieces; they also enjoy the artistic side of the game. Players who outside of the 64 squares tend to be more creative in their life and work.
As a scholastic chess teacher it makes me think of the students I’ve had over the years who weren’t content to simply memorize “surefire recipes” to win games, and wanted to create something special.
Some players don’t mind trotting out the London System 100 times in a row if it brings good results; others enjoy entering a world of endless fantasy and imagination when they play The Royal Game.
Those in the latter category should give Problem Chess a look!
Problem Chess: Art and Magic on the Chessboard is definitely a niche title; the Publisher’s Note at the beginning of the volume basically cites this as the reason it took so long to issue an English print edition (they must have been asking: “will it sell?”).
Well, it’s not the first such chess book, and it won’t be the last. One of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read is Persona Non Grata — Viktor Kortschnoj‘s account of the 1978 World Championship Match.
I suspect Forslund’s brief treatise will be a go-to for problem enthusiasts for a long time to come. There’s certainly value in that.