Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sam Loyd

The composer Samuel Loyd (Sam Loyd) was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA (January 31, 1841) and died in New York (possibly April 10, 1911). He was the greatest American composer of puzzles (entertaining mathematical, logical, chess, lectical, optical), because he created over 10.000 puzzles.

Loyd took (October 11, 1856) First Prize in a composing contest of 'New York Clipper', when he was fifteen. As composer of chess problems he continued until he was twenty years of age, creating 710 problems with many ingenious themes.

As chess game player Loyd was, during his peak, between the best players of USA. He took part at the international tourney of Paris in 1867 and his best results happened at New York in 1886. According with the Chessmetrics calculations he held the 15th place in the world.

Loyd was occupied with puzzle creation. He wrote and published the montly “Sam Loyd's Puzzle Magazine” full of brainteasers. For some of the puzzles announced prize of 1000 dollars to first solver. He invented the puzzle ‘Parcheesi’. He became widely known in 1878, when he invented the puzzle ‘Fifteen’. The puzzle is a square frame holding inside 15 equal square plates in a 4x4 ordering, leaving one place empty. The plates can slide and the goal is to form a picture or to put the plates in order. Loyd was fond of the ‘Tangram’ puzzles, so he created a book with 700 unique Tangrams and an imaginary creation of the world using Tangrams. In Europe and in USA was at that time a craze about Tangrams, so the popular book of Loyd insured for him a substantial income.

Towards the end of his life Loyd regained interest for chess and he started, in 1910, to write the book ‘Chess strategy’ but he died without finishing it.

His book “Cyclopedia of Puzzles”, with 5000 puzzles, was published after his death, in 1914, by his son Sam Loyd Jr., also a problemist. You may find part of this book at the Internet as a series of puzzles.

The Excelsior problem, by Loyd

The Excelsior is one of the most famous chess problems of Sam Loyd. It was published at ‘London Era’ in 1861. (The problem was named after the poem ‘Excelsior’ written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

Loyd had a friend, Denis Julien, who was ready to bet that he could always find in a chess problem the piece that delivered the basic mate. Loyd composed this problem as a joke and proposed a bet, to pay the dinner of his friend if he could point at the piece that does not deliver the basic mate. Julien pointed at the Pawn on square b2 saying that it was the least possible piece to give mate.

(Problem 114)
Sam Loyd,
London Era, 1861
White plays and mates in 5 moves.
#5 (8+10)

When the problem was published, the stipulation was “white mates with the least possible piece or pawn”. The same problem was submitted in a contest at Paris in 1867 and it was awarded Second Prize. The solution follows :

Tries: {1.Rf5? / Rd5? Rc5!, (white cannot start with 1.Rf5 because black answers 1...Rc5 pinning the Rf5)}, {1.Rh2+? Kxh2!}, {1.bxa3? Rc5+!}.

Key : 1.b4! [2.Rf5 [3.Rf1#]] Rc5+
2.bxc5 [threatening 3.Rb1#] a2
3.c6 (with the same threat, as in the first move) Bc7
4.cxb7 (and in any answer of black ...) ~
5.bxa8=Q# / bxa8=B#. (The mate is delivered by the Pawn, which started at b2).

Theme Excelsior : A Pawn moves from its initial square to its promotion square.

The theme Excelsior appears often in contemporary helpmates and series problems.

In this blog several problems by Loyd are presented. I would like to show to you the first problem I ever tried to solve in my life. It was the following Problem-161 (by someone named Loyd) published in the Greek magazine “Proto” around 1966. It resembled an end-of-game with the black King hopelessly surrounded in the white military camp, so I thought that I would solve it easily, despite I was an amateur chess player. It took me three days to find the key. I can say that my admiration for the construction of the problem and the satisfaction I felt solving this problem have motivate me to deal a little more with the chess problems.

(Problem 161)
Sam Loyd,
N.Y. Sunday Herald, 1889
White plays and mates in 2 moves
#2 (12+12)

Tries: {1.Qd1+? Kxd1!}, {1.Qc2+? Sxc2!}, {1.Qf4+? Qxf4!}, {1.Qc4+? Bc3!}, {1.Sf2? Rxd3!}, {1.Sxe1? Qc6!}, {1.Rb1+? Kd2!}, {1.Ra2+? Bb2!}, {1.Rd2+? Kxd2!}, {1.Rc2+? Kb1!}, {1.Bb4? / Bc5? / Bd6? / Be7? Bxb2!}.

Key: 1.Bf8! [2.Qa1#]
1...Kxb2 2.Qa3#
1...Sc2 2.Qxc2#
1...Bxb2 2.Bxh6# (This variation explains the key)

A humoristic Excelsior study

The problem-115, composed by Otto - Titus Blathy, has a grotesque appearance and humoristic mood. It wants to show that a small Pawn can defeat the whole force of Black. (Surely, to form this skeleton of black Pawns thirteen white pieces had to be captured, and this means that the other white pieces have also helped for the desired result!).

(Problem 115)
Otto - Titus Blathy,
“Chess Amateur”, 1922
White plays and wins
+ (2+16)

In order for the white to win, the Pawn must march from h2 to its promotion-square h8 (theme Excelsior) and the promoted piece must deliver mate. The idea seems simple, but this study has hidden traps.

Key: 1.Kxe1!
(Not very elegant key, but now only the black Queen can move, Qa2 – a1 – a2).
1...Qa1 2.h3!!
(White has “counted” very carefully. See the comment on move 15).
2...Qa2 3.h4 Qa1 4.h5 Qa2 5.h6 Qa1 6.h7 Qa2 7.h8=S Qa1
(The path of the Knight coming closer to capture c5, (g6 – f4 – e6, or f7 – g5 – e4), is a minor dual. The main point here is that the Knight cannot win a tempo).
8.Sf7 Qa2 9.Sd8 Qa1 10.Sb7 Qa2 11.Sxc5 Qa1 12.Se4 Qa2 13.Sd6 Qa1 14.Sxc4 Qa2 15.Sa5 Qa1
(And now it is clear that if White had played 2.h4? the black Queen would be located on a2 protecting Rb3 and the white Knight would be unable to find the one needed tempo).

One more observation : If White had hastily played ...
8.Sg6 Qa2 9.Se5 Qa1 10.Sxc4? Qa2 11.Sa5 c4! 12.Sxc4 Qa1 13.Sa5 Qa2
...it would be a draw.

(This post in Greek language).


Anonymous said...


I read your post from last year about Sam Loyd, and how his problem #161 was your first solve.

I need to know, please, why my alternative solution would not work:

1. N x e1

1... R x d3 2. N x d3

1... Q - d2 2. R - b1

1... B x b2 (or any other move)
2. Q - c2

What am I missing? Can you help me please?

alkinoos said...

1...Qc6 is the answer to the threat 2 Qc2#
Thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...


Thank you! I see it now.

Very nice work on this blog, sir.

I will become a regular reader.

-Adam, Canada