In this article we’ll look at a famous problem that inspired me. The problem is connected to the history of Bonaparte Napoleon (1769-1821). I thought it was a perfect time to revise and expand the theme, since 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the remarkable Waterloo battle.
This well- known piece was created by Alexander D. Petrov (1794-1867), the best Russian player, theoretician (Petrov Defense), chess writer and composer of his time.
The position is rather chaotic and doesn’t immediately seem to fit the historical story either. The French army (black) should surround the Russian leadership at St.Petersburg. There are also extraneous pieces. For instance, the e3B the f4R and the g4 pawn do not have any role. There are also multiple mates, for instance either 5.Na3+ or 5.Nbc3+ are good. Or at the end 14.Kg2 or Kg3 both mate. And yet, these are all forgivable mistakes.
But there is a shorter solution (cook) 6.Qa8 mate, a deadly sin that ruins the value of the problem. Even so, this work has historical value. The role of Cossach Hussards chasing out Napoleon from Russia is witty and original.
I was inspired by the compelling theme to create my own version. There are more historical references in my improvement, so let me give a refresher. There are 18 pieces on the board to symbolize that we are at the beginning of the 1800s. Napoleon deployed a huge number of troops, only half French.
The Russian Chief Commander Kutuzov avoided the final clash and even evacuated Moscow but his army did not resign. Faced with cold and hunger, it was a difficult task to keep such a big army together. There was no hope for supplies and they had to retreat. It turned to be a desperate escape and just a fraction of the “Grand Armada” got home. It all happened in 1812, a date I refer to on move 12, when the black knights can no longer jump.
Pal Benko, 2015
Mate in 15
This strange defeat encouraged France’s enemies. The decisive battle took place near Leipzig against the 6th Alliance (Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Swedish army). The overwhelming majority of the Alliance finally succeed and they marched into Paris. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. The “Battle of Nations” at Leipzig (more than one million soldiers took part in it) in 1813 is shown in the problem by the side-track of 10…Ke6 with the mate coming in move 13 (13.Nd7 mate).
While the winners were negotiating future power arrangements in Europe, Napoleon returned secretly and took back ruling France without resistance. The 7th Alliance had to be created against him and the final battle took place in Belgium at Waterloo. Napoleon made hasty efforts to in preventing the allied enemy forces to be united.
This time the English helped the 7th Allies not only financially but with troops led by Duke of Wellington. They put up a strong resistance until the relief troops of the Prussian army arrived led by G. L. von Blücher. So shortly in 1815 Napoleon had to put arms down. This is represented by the mate in move 15. Napoleon was this time exiled to as far St. Helena Islands.
Pal Benko, 2015
Mate in 15
The solution of the third problem is principally the same as for the second one, but it has been enriched by a switch-back of 1.Kh2+ and 15.Kg1 mate. The army of the Tsar is ready for counter-attack while the army of Napoleon is scattered on the way of retreat. The historical numbers of 12 and 15 appear here too. At the end there are 21 pieces left on the board referring the death of Napoleon in 1821.
Napoleon, in his exile passed most of his time dictating his memoirs and playing chess. His early death raised suspicions since a great deal of arsenic was found in his organism. The cause of his death was given as cancer of stomach. In such an illness patients usually lose weight but he put on weight. There are a lot of mysteries in history because there are as many contradictions as there are sources.
Look for more from GM Pal Benko over the holiday season, and see his latest for US Chess, a birthday tribute to STL Chess Club founder Rex Sinquefield here.