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Sam Loyd's Organ Pipes and Benko's 45th Anniversary Print E-mail
By Dr. Steven Dowd   
May 4, 2012
With all the celebrations going on in April (see my earlier CLO supplement here) and throughout the year for the 45th Anniversary of Pal Benko's column, "Benko's Bafflers," GM Benko himself asked that a column might be written about Sam Loyd, the subject of his very first column. Specifically, he asked that Loyd's famous "organ pipes" problem be shown, as well as its uses throughout over 150 years of composing.

Loyd's famous organ pipes builds on the concept of black self-interference - one black piece interfering with another. You may be familiar with the problem terms Novotny, Plachutta or Grimshaw, which all refer to various types of black self-interferences.  The organ pipes is the Grimshaw theme doubled.  In a Grimshaw, two black pieces (usually rook and bishop) arriving on a particular square in turn interfere with each other. Below we have an example of a Grimshaw:

Werner Speckman
Neue Zürcher Zeitung 1959
White To Play and Mate in Two

[FEN "5k1K/3R4/6B1/5r1n/8/5b2/5Q2/8 w - - 0 1"]

Show Solution

Alain C.White, in his book Sam Loyd and His Chess Problems, indicates it was a German critic (although he could not remember the name) who named the action of the interfering black pieces the organ pipes, whereas John Rice in his Chess Wizardry: The New ABC of Chess Problems indicates it was "F. Janet" who gave the formation its name.

But the only F. Janet in the problem world was Frank Janet ( a pseudonym for Elias Silberstein), who wasn't born until 1875.  I've seen one undocumented claim that the "German critic" was the German architect, chessplayer, and later organizer Georg Schnitzler. That's an interesting question for the historians, and one we will leave to them.

First Steps

Upon seeing various uses of black self-interference by authors such as Novotny, J.B. of Bridgport, and Grimshaw, the then sixteen year-old Loyd believed he could double the theme, making for an extremely rigorous and complex two-move theme. The arrangement of the rooks and bishops in an organ pipes problem is a sort of "sandwiching," but enough words, let's get to a diagram:

Sam Loyd
Boston Globe, 1859 (v.)
White to Play and Mate in Two


[FEN "2brrb2/p7/p7/7Q/1p1kpPp1/1P1pN1K1/3P4/8 w - - 0 1"]

Loyd's original problem went through many variations, the best of which I show here. Loyd himself first designed it as a three-mover with what he later himself called a "useless" rook sacrifice and revised it; this version is based mostly on the one produced many years later by the Dutch problemist Jan Hartong with the added black pawn on a7 to prevent a dual that most modern problemists would find disturbing.

Show Solution

Needless to say, problemists grabbed a hold of this idea and started to develop their own organ pipes problems. According to White, this piqued the great Loyd a bit, as he thought he had something of a patent on the idea - but if you've read anything on the great Loyd, you know, like many geniuses, he had a bit of what you could call a "crusty" personality.  But slowly, ways to utilize the idea along with other mates, and try-play, caught the imagination of problemists. One of the problems with Loyd's original conception is that no pieces have any moves except for the thematic pieces. In what was the first imitation of Loyd's theme, Callander provided a flight square for the black king:

Charles Callander
The Westminister Papers, 1875
White to Play and Mate in Two

[FEN "3RR3/1K6/p2N1p2/2k5/3np3/1Q2B3/n7/1brrb3 w - - 0 1"]

Show Solution

Callender's problem went largely unnoticed in its time, and the first well-known implementation of the idea by another composer was Taverner:

Thomas Taverner
Dubuque Chess Journal, 1889. First Prize.
White to Play and Mate in Two


[FEN "3brrb1/2N4B/8/2p4Q/2p2k2/5P2/4P1KR/2N2RB1 w - - 0 1"]

Now that you have had some experience with the organ pipes, try to solve this one on your own. This implementation has a particularly difficult and nice key very much in the spirit of a modern problem. If you can't wait, the solution is...

Show Solution

Even today, the organ pipes idea is not exhausted - in 1912, for example, Alain White noted that almost all organ pipes problems have the black king exactly four squares from the organ pipes, and suggested that various king placements (diagonally or on the file) might provide new problems. And the record for possible interferences has never been reached - some say it is possible, others impossible.

And it appears no one has ever composed a selfmate with the theme. Frank Mueller, the German selfmate expert who is a regular contributor of selfmates to the Chess Problem Database Server, has noted that he has not seen an example of the organ pipes using the mutual interference strategy in that genre. Even if there are a few that have escaped his watchful eye, this could be a 19th century idea that could make for fertile ground for an ambitious 21st century composer.

A Bit of Whimsy

Before we move on to the modern three "world-beater" problems (will you be surprised to find GM Benko there?), let's look at a fun and unusual problem that used the organ pipes.

Luigi Ceriani (after Dawson)
Fairy Chess Review 1953
White to Play and Mate in Two


[FEN "Bn2N3/6p1/1N1N2P1/B1k3KQ/R2npRp1/P3B3/3PP3/brrbbrrb w - - 0 1"]

Definitely a wild position with a total of five promoted pieces (which would not bother the famous Italian retro-specialist at all!), but here we have a double set of organ pipes. Again, once your eyes adjust to the clutter, having seen all the previous problems, you should be able to solve it. Give it a try  before looking at the solution

Show Solution

The World-Beaters

All three of the composers featured in this final section were or are amongst the best in the world, as are these three compositions, which set the standards for new directmate problems using the organ pipes. The first of them is Jan Hartong, a Dutch problemist and strong player as well, and you can read more about him at this blog celebrating the various birthdays of chess composers. In addition to revising Loyd's problem, he composed his own organ pipes problem. We noted early on that eight interferences were possible, and it would of course be ideal if eight differentiated mates were possible.

So far Hartong holds the record for most differentiated mates. He had to use a bit more aggressive key that he probably would have liked, but it places Black in zugzwang. Through clever use of several problem ideas - pins, line closings, and dual avoidance strategy - he set the record:
Jan Hartong
Problem, 1951. First Prize.


[FEN "1BbrrbQ1/KN5p/5p1p/4P2R/1p1pk1B1/1P1N2R1/8/3n4 w - - 0 1"]

Show Solution

You can see that only the movements of the bishop remain undifferentiated in their mates. Compare the  two movements of the rooks to d7 and e6, which would have been undifferentiated in other problems; Here 1. .. Rd7 cuts the line of defense of the Bc8 but holds the h7-square, and 1. .. Re6 prevents the mate with 2. Bf5 by giving the black king a flight square on d5. It all looks so simple when you break it down move-by-move but such a problem is very hard to compose.

Our next world-beater was composed by the British GM Comins Mansfield, one of the most famous chess composers and responsible for the development of the modern two-mover. Several books have been written on him and his problems, and a quick Internet search will provide you with much information on him. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two GMs (Benko and Mansfield) were in correspondence over their various attempts at the organ pipes; more on that later.

As a champion of the modern two-mover, Mansfield was very interested in what is called try-play, where there are near misses ("tries") defeated by only one move. His idea was to combine an organ pipes problem that had Novotny tries, as well as a Novotny key. In a Novotny, we have white pieces coming to the arrival square to interfere with the rook and bishop - the way I kept the difference straight between Grimshaw and Novotny when I first learned composition is that a Novotny differs from a Grimshaw with a white sacrifice on the arrival square.

This one, according to John Rice again, had a "sensational" effect on the problem world both inside of and outside of Britain. It was no accident that Mansfield chose the highly regarded German magazine Die Schwalbe as his publication of choice for this one.

Comins Mansfield
Die Schwalbe 1956. First Prize.

[FEN "8/3Rp3/2K1P3/3B2Bb/4p2r/nppk3r/5PPb/NN2Q2n w - - 0 1]

Let's consider the Novotny tries first. The try 1. g4? threatens 2. Qd1# or 2. Qe4# (Novotnys typically carry a double threat), but is refuted by 1. .. Nxf2! 1. 1. g3, the other possible Novotny intersection of the g-pawn, which threatens 2. Qe3# or 2. Bxb3# is met by 1. .. Nc2! The last Novotny try is 1. f4, threatening 2. Qxe4# or 2. Bxb3#, but 1. .. e3! refutes that.

Show Solution

Another wonderfully complex problem that is easy to follow once you have been shown the various points. If you download the pdf file of problems I supply at the end, you will note that Mansfield not only composed a number of organ pipes problems, he had many imitators of his Novotny/organ pipes combination.

Our third world-beater and the one I consider the best of all? It's by our celebrant, of course, and the problem I consider to be the best of the three, although as an unabashed Benko fan, you might expect that! But look for yourself:

Pal Benko
Magyar Sakkėlet 1974. First Prize.

[FEN "2brrb2/p7/N6N/Q3pp2/1pPk1p2/3P4/1P3K2/2BRRB2 w - - 0 1"]

If you will look closely, you will see that we have not only black organ pipes, but white organ pipes as well.  One reason this is a world-beater is that previously, it had been noted by various problem pundits that "frontal organ pipes" for both sides in a two-mover would be impossible. But I suspect "impossible" to Benko has always meant simply, "a challenge."  Nils van Dijk had accomplished the task of "edge organ pipes" in 1963, which you can find in the pdf collection of problems.

It has also been noted that there are a number of moves that appear logical here, making this one a hard problem for solvers. The problem contains "only" our usual four mates, but what makes this one unique is that the tries are all based on organ pipe moves that lead to a white self-interference. There are three: 1. Bd2? is defeated only by 1. .. e4!, 1. Rd2? only by 1. .. f3, and 1. Re2? also by 1. ..e4! The only thing that would make this problem "perfect" would be a fourth try with 1. Be2 as well.

The solution?

Show Solution

In their correspondence, evidently Mansfield revealed he had also tried the idea of combining a frontal white organ pipes with a black set, and was unsatisfied with his results. From his correspondence with me, I think the praise Mansfield bestowed on this problem was at least as important to GM Benko, if not more important, than the first prize he richly deserved. Those who have met Benko (at simuls, lectures, etc.) note that he often brings this one out to dazzle audiences - one correspondent of mine felt Benko was prouder of this one than any OTB victory he had ever achieved.


Pal Benko was and still is a master of interference themes in chess problems, including the famous organ pipes set forth by Loyd over 150 years ago. This theme, like many, is not composed to its logical end, and someone may find a way to combine the ideas in our three world-beaters - black and white organ pipes, thematic tries, and eight differentiated mates. And don't count Benko out of the running, like Korchnoi, age doesn't seem to phase him and he is still composing and revising some of his  excellent problems with these themes today - see, for example, this excellent problem article. Thank you GM Benko, for all your work as analyst, player, problem composer, and editor for these 45 years - we look forward for more to come!

Find Dr. Dowd's piece celebrating Benko's Bafflers in the April issue of Chess Life Magazine and also read the CLO supplement.

May - Chess Life Online 2012

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