|(from TD 100)||by Toma Garai|
WHAT'S UP DOC?
by Toma Garai, Grandmaster in composition 1996
This is the perennial question of Bugs Bunny, the Warner Brothers cute cartoon character.
And could be the question of any solver facing a new chess problem.
What can be found in a given problem: a hard to crack solution, some rich strategic play, unexpected combinations, any carrots? Worth spending my time, Doc? Like when one intends to read a book, some guidelines may entice the reader to go ahead, or stop flat short. Bookstores and libraries group the books by categories and often, somewhere on the back-cover one may read a few lines about the content. Of course, not all love-stories are born equal, so to speak, but at least you will not open a cookbook when interested in sci-fi adventures, or yes, in cartoons. Is there any similar help available for problem "readers"? Certainly! - one may answer.
As the problems' popularity increased, from mid XIXth century, many startling combinations were unveiled, receiving the name of the authors, or geographical locations (none were named after their mother-in-laws, as it happened with hurricanes): Loyd, Bristol, Turton, Indian, Herlin, etc. "themes" and thereafter were quoted as such. They had linear solutions, focusing on the strategic relations between the moves (essential to the Logical school).
The XXth century began by focusing on a new strategic relationship, that between the variations (Strategic School). Many new ideas, impossible in linear solutions (i.e. Stocchi blocks, half-pins, etc.) started to flourish and by 1930s a virtual race to thematic name giving culminated in complex combinations and sometime more than one father's name for the same baby.
Why to rehash now these well known developments? In order to notice that such terms as "theme", "thematic", or "thematic requirement" were used basically to describe relations between strategic elements of the solution. Then, in 1950s came the famous Zagorujko "theme". Yet, this described only the need for a set-play, a try and not to be forgotten, a solution. The strategic content could be anything under the sun. This in essence is a presentation requirement. Think about it: did you ever hear about the "set-play theme" where the thematic requirement is to have also a set-play?
There can be many requirements regarding a problem. For instance it can be required that a problem be submitted in two copies, or on a given paper format. These are formal requirements. It can be required to have a given number of pieces (miniatures, Meredith), a given shape (symmetry, Letter), a specific twin (K in all four corners, Color change all pieces, Forsberg). These are presentation requirements (and so is the Zagorujko form).
In H# was quite a confusion between thematic and presentation requirements. As black and white cooperates in a H#, it was accepted that both sides can develop variations and that the branching can occur at different moves. As these cases were presented, they became known from Onitiu-theme to Hernitz theme, as some readers may remember (although sometimes they were called "system" not theme!). After Castellari proposed a simple numerical system (Onitiu = 126.96.36.199, Hernitz = 188.8.131.52, etc.) it became evident that these were just presentation (twinning) requirements and the real themes became easier to identify. One may argue that such concepts as ideal, or model mates are presentation forms or thematic content. Or that all the above considerations are too academic to worry about. However, as we enter the XXIst century the need for adequate thematic description increased in importance and has immediate practical consequences. With problems numbering in tens of thousand in every modality, anticipation-originality issues present serious challenges.
In the last FIDE Albums great efforts were undertaken for better thematic description and classification (indexing). And thematic cross-referencing in emerging databases is in great demand. Of course, groupings by none-thematic criteria can serve its purpose as well, that however is another issue. Bookstores for instance prepare soft cover/hard cover lists not as display criteria, but for selling purposes. But, there is a more subtle difficulty in reaching proper thematic description than the above formalities. One has to think over what is essential and what not in reaching a proper thematic description.
For instance, let's look in a FIDE Album H# index at pins and unpins. There are several groups and subgroups: by color (white, or black), by who did it (other side, or self) and when (immediate, or anticipated). And occasional subgroups are by thematic pieces. Now think about it. Would a problem be original if shows the same strategic relations, yet is diagonal, instead of orthogonal, or with Q instead of R orB? If is not, then why to segregate? On the other hand, compare a problem with a simple pin and unpin, to another where the black figure making the unpin is pinned at its turn. Isn't that a more complex, therefore a different rendering? Then compare both to yet another one where the black figure that unpinned is not only pinned by any white piece, but is pinned by that one which was unpinned. Isn't such a total reversal of "fortune" more paradoxical, more different? Indeed, added strategic interrelations can dramatically alter known thematic concepts.
Often I noticed that judges would discard entries for alleged anticipation just because at lower level the strategic ideas were known. Certainly, the lower the level at which the analysis is done, the less originality is available. A book, at word-by-word level must be a total anticipation (in the hope that the author will not misspell anything). At the phrase level is still very familiar, yet when all the important ideas are considered it can be a totally original masterpiece. Then, why don't we describe the thematic contents only at such a higher level? Mostly because is a more complex and difficult undertaking and to a lesser degree because is still a developing field.
Talking about the Albums, it was a groundbreaking effort even to list adequately in the Index the thematic contents at the conventional level. And a conscious effort was made to describe correctly the theme next to the diagrams. A small step to the right direction. Fact is that a correct description of a problem's thematic content is not a laundry list of thematic concepts present as individual building blocks (although some beginner's problem may be just that), but a description of the main interrelations of the strategic concepts, or groups of strategic concepts as a whole. One shall avoid even mentioning secondary, non-essential elements (Alas! The blockings) to focus on what is important. And recognize that sometimes more than one idea can share the spotlight on equal footings.
As we will master this art Bugs Bunny will get easier his answer. Something for Docs to think about.
The Problemist 1983
The theme is changed and reciprocally changed mates. The form of presentation is Zagorujko (= 3 phases), not the theme.
1 HO U.B.P.
Castellari Festival 1962-64
Once called the Kardos theme (or system), actually is a Grimshaw theme, just the presentation is in 4 solutions with 2 branches each (184.108.40.206).
1 PR Chess Life 1986
Although this brilliant task's theme includes also battery formations, as far as the unpinning are concerned, they get the same thematic description in standard approach (see FIDE Album Annex) as the next example would: white unpinning.
Thema Danicum 1999
The standard (lower level) thematic description: white unpins, misses the real theme (of higher level, or the interrelations), where the unpinned piece is pinning the unpinner, and the white reciprocal unpins.