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MatPlus.Net Forum Threemovers The Würzburg mystery
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(1) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Friday, Mar 5, 2010 08:31]

The Würzburg mystery

(= 3+5 )

Otto Würzburg
British Chess Magazine 1896
Mate in 3

In this world-famous problem, usually the Pg5 is omitted upon reprinting. Anyone knows why Würzburg has included it? After 1...e4 the same play would be as after 1...g4 so that can't have been the reason, except if he maybe thought it would be a different combination name then (like Novotny vs. Grimshaw). The solution is so famous it doesn't need reproducing.

For those who are new, it is 1.Bh3! a5! 2.Qa6+!
(However, mark the text to see it if you don't know the problem.)
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(2) Posted by Branislav Djurašević [Friday, Mar 5, 2010 11:45]; edited by Branislav Djurašević [10-03-05]

It is confusing really. Even all tries are the same (i.e work). Maybe 1.Qe5:? (2.Qe8/Qh8), without pawn on g5 seems pseudo try. Nowadays nobody put extra pawn. But in that time they did not care too much about spare pieces, let’s remember Schiffman pawns (not the same case, but..). Maybe aesthetic reason!? Otherwise, it is miniature!?
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(3) Posted by Jean-Marc Loustau [Friday, Mar 5, 2010 15:00]

There are some possible reasons… May be he thought the key (and may be also the 2nd move) is a little bit more beautiful or difficult (even only psychologically) with this Pawn (a solver could think the Pawn g5 is precisely there just to prevent 1 Bh3!); the criterion of the difficulty of the key was more important at Wurzburg time than today… Also without Pg5 there is a dual after 1… Kb8 (2 Qg4 or 2 Qxa6); I know that today this is without importance (does not prevent the threat), but a long time ago problemists wanted to minimize the number of black moves followed by several white moves, even if they don’t prevent the threat (and this is particularly justified here because it is a King move, and people look always at the King moves…)… May be is it for the sum of these 2 reasons, but I am sure other reasons can be found…
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(4) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Friday, Mar 5, 2010 15:47]

Ok, this is a good explanation. Thanks!
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(5) Posted by Steven Dowd [Friday, Mar 5, 2010 19:28]

Jean-Marc's explanation was great, perhaps Siegfried can channel Wuerzburg for us or even Edgar Holladay, whom I am sure would also have something interesting to say.

I know duals that are unresponsive to the threat, but are king moves, do offend me still somehow. I think that is because from play, one expects any attempt at the king to run to be considered as trying to avoid mate. But I realize like many things, it is something my brain just can't handle too well, which doesn't change the reality of things as they are.

(I suppose I cannot decide if I am in a metaphysical or philosophical mood today, from the above).
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(6) Posted by Michael McDowell [Friday, Mar 5, 2010 19:53]

As interesting as the question of the purpose of the pawn is the question of the correct source. I see it given as Bahn Frei 1895 as often as British Chess Magazine 1896. The BCM did not mention a previous publication, however neither did it specifically say that the problem was original! I’m inclined to favour the earlier source, as this is the one given by Edgar Holladay in “Wurzburg Artistry” (where the problem is given as ‘version’, with g5 omitted), and Edgar says in his introduction that he made his selection from Wurzburg’s own diagrams.
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(7) Posted by Ian Shanahan [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 00:04]

Thanks Michael; that all makes sense. Indeed, I'd only ever known the problem as "Bahn Frei, 1895", being completely unaware of the BCM (pseudo?)source.

Returning to the problem itself, I would argue that a King move *always* defeats the threat - because although the threatened line or mating move might be identical, the checkmate picture itself will automatically be different (i.e. the locus). Of course, it's neartly always desirable to have a response to a flight that is in all ways distinct from the threat...
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(8) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 00:32]


On Holladay I don't think I can do anything since I'd need a... well... personal connection. He's still alive so he can maybe tell us about him himself.

For Würzburg, probably also not. I tried this kind of things (although with someone else) and didn't get a reply. So it's unlikely. Still I'd be interested in good literature about it.

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(9) Posted by Vladimir Tyapkin [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 04:09]; edited by Vladimir Tyapkin [10-03-06]

Thanks to Google, BCM 1896 is available online; Wurzburg's problem is in October's issue (№1231, p.424) published with pg5(link to the exact page: It looks like original (included in the solving contest). Problem next to it (№1230), according to Meson was published in Bahn Frei as well (
Also, in Palkoska and White's "Dame und ein Laufer", source given as BCM 1896 (p122) but published without pg5(available at
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(10) Posted by Vladimir Tyapkin [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 04:16]; edited by Vladimir Tyapkin [10-03-06]

Siegfried, good joke. Personal connection with dead people would make Edgar happy, for sure, given his passion for UFO and other 'unusual' stuff (he died on September 8th, 2003. I have some chess books from his library and can lend one to you if it helps with the contact. :-) )
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(11) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 09:35]

First of all, it's no joke.

Second, I don't think having a book of him would help. Probably you'd need a deeper connection while one is still alive to do such things.

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(12) Posted by Steven Dowd [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 16:34]

If I read my Holladay Chess Problems correctly, Edgar believed that we reincarnated in "familiar" ways, that is, if you are a chess composer now, you probably were in an earlier life, and had contacts with the same people you do now. There was a young composer that he believed he could identify as a former composer in another life from some of his early sketches.

Not my cup of tea, but I have certainly heard crazier beliefs. In any case, Edgar Holladay seems to have been an interesting person on many levels.

I have played the game in my head a few times: who is/was the new Wurzburg? The new Bayer? The new Klinke?
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(13) Posted by Steven Dowd [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 16:37]

Some of Holladay's books must have been sold; I know I picked up a few on ebay and recognized them by the descriptions David Brown once gave of his grading system, pencilled in neatly next to certain problems were various grades of A+, B-, C+, and so on. There are also notes that certain problems need to be sent to "Russ" - I assume for the miniature book.
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(14) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 18:29]

Yes, I remember. I'll buy his biography around my birthday.

Take care!

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(15) Posted by [Sunday, Mar 7, 2010 09:40]; edited by [10-03-07]

Michael McDowell writes:

>As interesting as the question of the purpose of the pawn is the question of the correct source. I see it given as Bahn Frei 1895 as often as British Chess Magazine 1896.

The +Pg5 version was published as problem 8413 of Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1895 (July, p. 216 -- possibly as a reprint from Bahn Frei, but there's no obvious mention of it). It appeared in the final page of problems of that month, and that was quite often where reprints appeared, originals typically appearing first. That pushes original publication back to 1895 at least, whether it was in Bahn Frei or not -- unless I can find a later correction suggesting that the Pg5 was an mistake.

For some reason I can't see the page images from Google Books -- there isn't any later correction that removes Pg5, is there? If there was, it would probably be mentioned when the solution was printed (which I assume was some months later).
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(16) Posted by Jan Hein Verduin [Sunday, Mar 7, 2010 12:42]

Otherwise, it is miniature!?

I believe the term miniature (as in "7 pieces or less") was only introduced in 1902 or so with the publication of Blumenthal's books
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(17) Posted by Vladimir Tyapkin [Monday, Mar 8, 2010 19:39]

Anders, solution is on p.494; nothing interesting there:
If you cannot see the images(it's because of copyright laws in your country) get it from (43.5Mb file)
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(18) Posted by [Monday, Mar 8, 2010 20:22]

Thanks. Haven't found anything further relevant in DSz on this, so I suspect it's a question of locating a copy of Bahn Frei to settle the final question of what version it printed.
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MatPlus.Net Forum Threemovers The Würzburg mystery