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The solution to the mate in three problem given by Kramnik to Anand

by Sagar Shah - 27/02/2019

A few days ago we posed you with a mate in three problem which was given by Kramnik to Anand and by Anand to the players present in Pune. It was quite a tough problem and a group of three GMs and seven IMs standing there couldn't solve the problem for nearly seven minutes! We subsequently realized that this problem had been composed by Marin y Llovet Valentin in 1904. In this article we reveal the solution to you - not the answer directly but we first tell you why the normal tries fail and then why the beautiful solution works. You will also get to see the video of Anand giving the position to the players and the entire atmosphere of the place. Thumbnail image: Lennart Ootes.

A few days ago we posted a position on our newspage which was given by Vladimir Kramnik to Vishy Anand. It was a mate in three problem and it was given by Anand to players who had gathered in Pune for the opening of the PYC Hindu Gymkhana training centre. Let's just rewind a few minutes and see what happened before Anand gave the position.

A press conference was held for the ChampCoach with Vishy Anand workshop where Anand spoke on various subjects like Kramnik's retirement or school versus chess, what is more important.

After the press conference Vishy went on to play a bit of table tennis and then posed for pictures with the table tennis players. It was a proud moment for the paddlers.

Next Anand, inaugurated the playing centre in PYC Gymkhana. You can see how nicely the centre is made from this video.

What do you do after inaugurating a chess centre? Of course, play chess! The kids rushed to a table where a chess set was placed and Anand watched them play a few moves.

Vishy then powered on his phone and found a very interesting mate in three position that was sent to him by Kramnik and set it up on board for the kids and the entire audience to solve.

This is the position:

White to play and mate in three

The most important thing to note in the problem is that the bishop on h8 is hanging. The rook on a8 attacks it and we have to find a way to ensure that it is not captured. At the same time it seems as if the rook, bishops on b1 and h8 and the knight on b5 are enough to weave a mating net. Why is there a queen on h1? Well, if you haven't solved this problem yet, we recommend that you take some time and do it. It will help you to appreciate the solution given below.


When we published the problem on 20th of February, we were not aware of the composer of this problem. Subsequently we got to know that the position was composed by Marin y Llovet, Valentin in 1904. (Thank you Prof. Nagesh Havannur, for sending us more information about the composer!)

Important tries:

Once the mate in three was given, the kids pounced on it. Three GMs - Vidit Gujrathi, Abhimanyu Puranik and Abhijit Kunte, who were present there, were more careful and were trying to see the refutation of the natural ideas.

1.Bd4!? was an important try. The bishop is brought to a safe haven and White threatens Rb3#. But there is a very shrewd defence.

1...Ra2! This move smartly breaks White's mating configuration. 2.Rb3+ is met with 2...Rb2! and no matter with which piece you take, you cannot mate in three moves!

So after working with 1.Bd4 for sometime you may find another tempting idea....

...1.Qd5!? The Queen comes into a central square and prevents the rook on a8 from moving because of Qa2#. But here Black has the very cheeky defence up his sleeve - 1...e1=Q 2.Rxb4+ This looks all over! But Black now has the surprising...

2...Qe5! And the mate in three is once again disrupted!

This next try is what Anand himself thought was winning when he first saw the position.

1. Na3!? The knight blocks the rook and also defends the bishop b1 and so ideas like Ra2# are now possible. Now after bxa3 2.Qxb7, mate in three looks inevitable, but... 

2...Bb3! throws a spanner in the works!

There are some other interesting tries like 1.Rxe2! Rxh8 2.Bxd3 and we reach this position:

A lot of the solvers felt that this is a forced mate as 3.Qxd1# cannot be averted.

But Black plays the last card under his sleeve 2...Rc8! and 3.Qxd1 is met with Rc1! and you can only mate in four!

The correct solution:

The reason why you would have to go through many of the above variations to stumble upon the right move is twofold:

1. The natural variations above and their refutations will help you to look for a move which sidesteps the defences mentioned above.

2. The solution is quite anti-intuitive and cannot really be found at first sight (However, experienced solvers will disagree with this. They are in fact always looking for anti-intuitive moves from the beginning!)

1. Qc6!! is the correct solution. Why so, you may ask! Well after 1...bxc6

White now goes 2.Na3! This threatens Ra2# and so the knight must be taken with the pawn.

And now 3.Rb8!# You can now understand why 1.Qc6!! was such a clever move. What you really wanted to do was open up the rook's path to the 8th rank so that the bishop on h8 is safe!

If you watch the below video carefully from 9 minutes and 20 seconds onwards, you can find a faint voice who begins with the words "I have an idea" and then goes on to say the entire solution beginning with 1.Qc6!! 

That's IM Prathamesh Mokal who found the right answer. Prathamesh is a full-time trainer in Pune. After he solved this, some of the people asked him, "Why aren't you playing chess anymore!" Well, if Prathamesh does decide to come back to competitive chess, some of the credit will surely go to Anand, Kramnik and Marin y Llovet, Valentin!
The full video of the atmosphere when Anand gave the position and how the solution was found

Replay the solution with notes:

How solving this is good for practical chess players?

I see many tournament players saying that what is the point of solving such studies. Such positions are never going to come in my games. Well, I beg to differ here. Solving such problems helps you to develop your calculating skills, but more than that you are always trying to be aware of opponent's resources. This is extremely important because if you take things for granted, there is always a shrewd defence waiting for you. It also opens up your mind to different possibilities in the position and hence, I think solving studies and problems of mate in two and three are quite essential for a practical chess player.


Perhaps a good point to begin your journey would be the Practical Chess Beauty by Yochanan Afek. Well, right now we don't have this book in our online shop, but it will be available soon within couple of months!

Practical Chess Beauty by Yochanan Afek is recently published by Quality Chess and shows you the beautiful world of studies, problems and compositions! You can read an excerpt of the book here.

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