Chess Cooks

Edward D. Collins

What the heck is a chess cook? In simple terms it's a flaw in a chess problem. Perhaps the problem can be solved by more than one key or mating sequence, or alternatively a possible defense may have been overlooked by the composer. Alternatively, it can simply be an unwanted or unintended solution.

Although the term is often thought to be named after the nineteenth-century problemist E.B. Cook, it is probably derived from the word's English slang meaning. (To tamper with or foil.)

Below you will find chess cooks that either I or others have found. Hopefully you will still find enjoyment in these problems. I know I did

Note: The Forsythe notation for each position is included underneath each diagram to facilitate setting these positions up. (Many chess programs have the ability to load FEN directly or cut an paste FEN notation into a blank board.)



White to play and Mate in 4

7k/b1R5/p7/n1pB4/n7/p7/p6p/R6K w

Here is a four-mover by Latzel. The intended solution is that the White Rook on a1 will give mate in four moves moving up along the a-file, even though this file is currently blocked by six enemy pieces!! The solution runs as follows:

1.Rxb2 (threatening 2.Rxh2#) Nb2 2.Rxa3 Nb3 3.Rxa6 Bb6 4.Ra8#

Note that each time Black made a reply which stopped the immediate mate.

However, Black can play differently and avoid the whole "concept" of this problem, that being that the rook will not mate by moving up the a-file. After 2.Rxa3 how about simply 2...Nd3. After 3.Rxd3, Black is still powerless to prevent 4.Rh3#. So it is still a mate in four moves, just not the one that was intended.

Actually, as Kevin Begley recently pointed out to me, this is not quite a cook. The alternative solution given above is part of the desired solution, though certainly not the most interesting variation. It is still required to make the problem sound.  He believes this problem is not cooked, nor is it busted; it is sound.  The variation I give was intended, though not the most interesting.



White to play and Mate in 5


This isn't exactly a cook, but I thought it deserved a place on this page anyway. This problem was composed by the famous puzzle king Sam Loyd, who needs no introduction.

Someone once told Loyd that he could name the piece that delivers mate in any problem that Loyd composed, within a reasonable time, of course.

Upon hearing that, Loyd then composed this problem and showed it to that same individual. This problem involves a betting proposition. Loyd promises to deliver mate in five, and to do it with the least likely piece. Certainly it can't be that lowly pawn on b2, can it? And yet it is!


White now threatens mate in two via Rf5 and then Rf1. An immediate Rf5 will not do as then Black could play Rc5 and pin this Rook into White's King. As it turns out, that is Black's best reply. 1...Rc5. 2.bxc5 a2 (White was threatening an immediate mate with 3.Rb1 which a2 prevented. 3.c6 Renewing the threat of Rf5 and Rf1. 3...Bc7. Stopping the threat, if only for a move. 4.axb7 any 5.bxa8=B#

Delightful! However, after 3.c6, Black can simply play 3...bxc6. It's still a mate in five, via Rf5 and then Rf1 as described above, but no longer with the lowly b-pawn. If the individual had picked this Rook in the "betting proposition" then he would win!

It would been nice if the b-pawn could deliver a mate in five against any Black defense.



White to play and Mate in 15 ?


I do not know where I first saw this problem, which also means that I may not even have my facts straight. But as I recall, this was supposed to be a mate in 15. Each of White's moves is a check and each time, Black does his best to prevent it.

1.Qh1+ Ka7 2.Qg1+ Ka8 3.Qg2+ Ka7 4.Qf2+ Ka8
5.Qf3+ Ka7 6.Qe3+ Ka8 7.Qe4+ Ka7 8.Qd4+ Ka8
9.Qd5+ Ka7 10.Qc5+ Ka8 11.Qc6+ Ka7
12.Qb6+ Rxb6 13.axb6+ Ka8 14.b7+ Ka7 15.b8Q#

In fact, if one had this position in an actual game, this sequence is not all that hard to find and may even be what many people would initially play. In an over the board game once you find a winning line, few take the time to find a shorter one. And the line is quite entertaining to watch, as the Queen zigzags up the board the way that she does.

However, a mate in 9 exists! A few of them, in fact. Here are two, one beginning with 1.Qh1+ and another beginning with 1.g5.

1.Qh1+ Ka7 2.Qh2 Rb7+ 3.Kc8 Rb3
4.Qc7+ Ka8 5.Qc6+ Ka7 6.Qc5+ Ka8
7.Qd5+ Ka7 8.Qxb3 Ka8 9.Qb8#

1.g5 Rb7+ 2.Kc6 Rb5 3.g6 Rb8 4.g7 Rc8+
5.Kb6 Rb8+ 6.Kxa6 Rc8 7.Qe4+ Rc6+
8.Qxc6+ Kb8 9.Qb7#

In each of those two mate-in-nines, if Black does not put up the proper defense, he gets mated in 8!


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