- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

They were champions in two very different realms of the game, so it was perhaps no great surprise that Wilhelm Steinitz and Sam Loyd enjoyed a not-so-friendly rivalry at times.

The Austrian-born Steinitz was the first undisputed world champion of the post-Morphy era, with a principled (some said mule-headed) approach to the game that helped revolutionize modern positional play. The Philadelphia-born Loyd, born five years after Steinitz in 1941, was perhaps the most famous American puzzlemaker of all time, a polymath who introduced Parcheesi, devised famous math and logic puzzles, and, seemingly in his spare time, composed some of the cleverest and most fiendishly complex chess problems of all time.

Steinitz, who had the self-regard that goes with being a world champion, was convinced he could solve any composed problem, setting up the amusing pair of challenges constructed by Loyd in 1885, shown in today’s two diagrams.

The first, where White moves first and mates against any defense in three moves, came with an unusual twist: Loyd wagered that he could compose a problem in less time than it would take Steinitz to solve it. Ten minutes later, Loyd presented his handiwork, recalling later that the mate-in-three challenge “was not a difficult affair, but with over a dozen variations to call off which might gain some delay, we felt pretty well satisfied with our position.” As is standard, White moves first and delivers mate in at most three moves against any Black defense.

Alas for Loyd, the champ needed just five minutes to find the key, which takes advantage of the coffin of h-pawns constraining the Black king: 1. fxe5! g6 (Kg5 2. Qf3 Kg6 3. Qf5 mate; or 1…g5 2. Kd5! Kf5 [or 2…h3] 3. Qe4 mate) 2. Qf1 h3 3. Qf4 mate.

As German author Christian Hesse tells it in his hugely enjoyable anthology “The Joys of Chess,” Loyd would get his revenge a month later with another chess problem that included a diabolical finesse, seen in today’s second diagram. A mate-in-four in which White again moves first and delivers mate in at most four moves, this time the two bet on whether Steinitz could solve the problem in a half-hour.

Loyd told the Mirror of American Sports that the champ went to work and confidently wrote down the key move and variations. Savoring the moment, Loyd continued, “I then told him to examine the solution carefully, as he would lose his bet if he made any mistake; so he took five minutes more and then said he would stand by his solution. He gave me the following, which I expect most of your solvers to send: 1. f4 (any Black move) 2. Bf8 (any Black move) 3. Bxg7 (any Black move) 4. Bxf6 mate.”

Simple — too simple. The composer had included a defense so unlikely that it undermines Steinitz‘ proposed solution, viz.: 1. f4 Bh1!! 2. Bf8?? g2! 3. Bxg7 stalemate!. The correct solution takes a different route to the same mating motif: 1. f4 Bh1!! 2. b3! (it was later found that 2. Bb8 Ba8 3. Bxa7 g2 4. Bxb6 mate also works, a slight blemish on Loyd’s wondrous conception) g6 3. Be7 (any Black move) 4. Bxf6 mate. If 1. f4 Bd5, then White mates by Steinitz’s original method with 2. Bf8 f5 3. Bxg7+ f6 4. Bxf6 mate.

Loyd would later publish the problem under the name “Stuck Steinitz.” Steinitz, Hesse writes, “was beside himself and never forgave Loyd for the publicity which he had given to their contest and his defeat by publishing it.”

Perhaps because they are too much in love with the beauty of the game, most of the game’s great problem composers were not great over-the-board players. U.S. GM Pal Benko is an exception, and players such as GM Jan Timman and former world champion Vassily Smyslov have published some excellent studies, but most great composers were only moderately strong players.

Loyd’s chess record was exceedingly modest, including two crushing losses to Steinitz at the tournament staged in conjunction with the Paris world expo of 1867. (Steinitz would finish third in the 13-player event, while Loyd would come in 10th with a 6-12 record.)

In their second game from the tournament, Loyd appears overmatched from the start, perhaps because problemists have little need to study up on their openings. Black never gets any real compensation for the gambited pawn in this Vienna Game sideline, and after 9. Ng3 Qc7 10. h4 (Black’s gambit attack is taking so long to develop that Steinitz decides to mount one himself) Qb6?!, Black has already squandered any development advantage he was hoping for.

Black resorts to tactical tricks, while White focuses remorselessly on his opponent’s king: 11. Qe2 Bb4 12. a3 Qa5? (only a little better was 12…Ba5, but White’s pawn roller kicks into gear anyway in lines like 13. g5 Bxc3+ 14. bxc3 Ne8 15. f6! gxf6 16. g6 Kg7 [Ng7 17. Bxh6 Be6 18. 0-0 Nd7 19. Be3 Qd8 20. Qh5, with a dominating game] 17. Bxh6+! Kxh6 18. Qh5+ Kg7 19. Qh7 mate) 13. axb4! Qxa1 14. 0-0 Qa6 15. g5, and Black is already lost.

A tactical trick (the kind Loyd would never miss in one of his problems) cleans things up for Steinitz on 15…hxg5 16. hxg5 Nfd7 (Nh7 17. Qxe5 Nd7 18. Qe6+ Kh8 19. Qe7 Qb6 20. Nh5 Rg8 21. Re1 is overwhelming) 17. Nxd5!, and Black resigned as 17…cxd5 (on 17…Qa2 18. b3 Rf7, 19. Nc7 is just one of several ways to win) 18. Bxd5+ Rf7 (Kh8 19. Qh5+) 19. Qh5 g6 20. fxg6 is crushing.

Steinitz-Loyd, Paris, 1867

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. exf5 Nf6 4. g4 h6 5. Bg2 d5 6. d3 Bc5 7. h3 O-O
8. Nge2 c6 9. Ng3 Qc7 10. h4 Qb6 11. Qe2 Bb4 12. a3 Qa5 13. axb4
Qxa1 14. O-O Qa6 15. g5 hxg5 16. hxg5 Nfd7 17. Nxd5 Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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