White to Play and Win


I came across this problem a few minutes ago and I immediately wanted to share it! I think this composition will probably rank right up there with my all-time favorites.

Note: The Forsythe notation for the position is included underneath the diagram to facilitate setting the position up in your own PGN viewer. (Most chess programs have the ability to load FEN directly or cut & paste FEN notation into a blank board.)


White to play and win

1b6/4P3/1P2PN2/8/8/P1k5/P1p2P2/K5B1 w

White has an overwhelming material majority but must be careful since Black is threatening checkmate with c1=Q mate.

1.Ne4+ (1.Nd5+ won't do since Black simply replies 1...Kd2 and the c pawn Queens. One possible continuation is 1... Kd2 2.Kb2 c1=Q+ 3.Kb3 Qc2+ 4.Kb4 Qc6 and Black wins rather easily. And, of course, any other move by White other than 2.Kb2 after 1.Nd5+ loses instantly to 2... c1=Q++.)

1...Kd3 2.Nc5+ Kc3 3.Nb3

This knight now covers the Queening square.
So far, so good, however...



Black now threatens mate in two, i.e. 4...Kd3+ 5.Nd4 and Bxd4++. White only has one reply.

4.f4. Attacking the Bishop. (Note that Bh2 won't do as Black then mates in 7 beginning with Bf6.) 4...Bg7 (Black keeps the Bishop on the diagonal since if 4... Bxf4 then 5.Bd4+ and White is out of trouble.)

5.e8=N! The only move! White under-promotes to a Knight, attacking the Bishop!

5...Bh8 6.f5 Again, the only move! Black was still threatening to mate beginning with 6...Kd3+. Now White can block the diagonal with 7.f6.



White's reply is again forced.

7.Bh2 Bxh2 8.b7 Be5 (Renewing the threat.) 9. b8=B! A second under-promotion, this time to a Bishop! It's the only move since if White promotes to a Queen Black can draw with 9.b8=Q Kc4+ 10.Qxe5 c1=Q+ 11.Nxc1 stalemate!



10.Nc7! Bxc7 11.e7 Be5 (Again, renewing the mate threat.)

12.e8=R! A third under-promotion, this time to a Rook!! Again it is the only move, since a stalemate would again occur after 12.e8=Q Kc4+ 13.Qxe5 c1=Q+ Nxc1.

12...Bf6 13.Re6 Bg7 14.f6 and White wins! The Bishop's diagonal is finally blocked for good!



Three under-promotions, each time to a different piece, each time forced, all in the same composition!  Whoa!

(And people wonder why we enjoy the game of chess so much.)


The author is Mark Libiurkin and it is not surprising to discover this composition won first prize in a composing tourney in 1933.


MAY 2015 Update!

This page has been a part of my website since... well, a long, long time.  15 or 16 years, at least.  In all this time I've never had a reason to update this page.  No one has debated any of Mark Libiurkin's analysis or otherwise found a cook to his problem... until now!

Bob Rodes points out that Black can improve with 8...Kd3, instead of 8...Be5.  And with the improvement it's no longer a triple underpromtion with a different piece at all.  Furthermore, it appears White no longer wins!!

Stockfish seems to agree.

The line is 8...Kd3! 9.b8=Q (or 9.b8=B) Bxb8 10.Nc7 Bxc7 11.Nc1+ Ke4!

Black is again threatening mate so White has no time for e7, which would promote.


Black now has a choice of

12...Be5+ (13.Kxb2 Bf6) or 12...Bd8 or 12...Bd6, all three of which stop White's e and f pawns from advancing.

1. 43 [+0.91] 12.... Bd8 13.Ne2 c1=B+ 14.Nxc1 Kxf5 15.e7 Bxe7 16.a4 Ke5 17.Kb3 Bd8 18.Kb4 Kd5 19.Nd3 Kd6 20.a5 Kc7 21.Ka4 Kb7 22.Kb5 Bf6 23.Nc5+ Ka7 24.a4 Bc3 25.Nd3 Kb7 26.Nf4 Be5 27.Nd5 Bb2 28.a6+ Kb8 29.Ne7 Bf6 30.Nc6+ Kc7 31.a5 Bb2 32.Nd8 Kb8 33.Nf7 Bd4 34.Nd6 Be5 35.Ne4 Bd4

2. 43 [+0.91] 12.... Bd6 13.f6 Be5+ 14.Kxc2 Bxf6 15.Kb3 Ke5 16.a4 Kxe6 17.a5 Kd5 18.Ne2 Kc6 19.Kb4 Kb7 20.Kb5 Kb8 21.Nf4 Bg5 22.Ne6 Bf6 23.a6 Ka7 24.a4 Bc3 25.Nc5 Bf6 26.Nd3 Bc3 27.a5 Kb8 28.Nc5 Bd4 29.Ne4 Ka7 30.Nd6 Be5 31.Nc8+ Kb8 32.Ne7 Bf6 33.Nc6+ Kc7 34.a7 Kb7 35.a6+ Ka8

3. 42 [+0.91] 12.... Be5+ 13.Kxc2 Bf6 14.a4 Kxf5 15.e7 Bxe7 16.a5 Ke6 17.Nd3 Kd5 18.Kc3 Bg5 19.a3 Bf6+ 20.Kb4 Kc6 21.Ka4 Kb7 22.Kb5 Kc7 23.Nc5 Bh4 24.Ka4 Be7 25.Nd3 Kb7 26.Nb4 Bd6 27.Kb5 Be5 28.Nd5 Bd4 29.a4 Bb2 30.a6+ Kb8 31.Ne7 Bf6 32.Nc6+ Kc7 33.a5 Bb2 34.Nd8 Kb8 35.Nf7 Bd4 36.Nd6 Be5

As you can see, Stockfish gives a small edge for White with each line, but I'm not yet convinced it's enough to win.  As I step through each line, trying different variations, eventually Stockfish always reports a score of +0.00, indicating a draw.

Can anyone else want to confirm? 
Did Bob Rodes indeed find a cook to this 82-year-old problem? 
Can White now win at all, in any line beginning with the improvement of 8...Kd3?


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