Grasshopper Chess Problems

Collected by G. P. Jelliss

The Gracehoper was always jigging ajog, happy on akkant of his joyicity.
[James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake, 1939, pt.3, p.414.]

Sections on this page: — Index of StipulationsGeneral IntroductionHistorical IntroductionTechnical Introduction

Index of Stipulations

Mates in 2
Mates in 3
Mates in 4
Mates in 5
Mates in 6 or more
Helpmates in 2, without Pawns
— HM 2, with Pawns
Helpmates in 3, without Pawns
— HM3, with Pawns, up to 6 men
— HM3, with Pawns, 7 men or more
Helpmates in 4
Helpmates in 5 or more
Maximummer Mates and Stalemates
Maximummer Selfmates
Gs in Grid Chess
Gs in Circe Chess

General Introduction

During the 1970s I made a collection of some 3000 grasshopper problems, confined to those using Gs on the 8×8 board in legal positions with no other unorthodox pieces, although I gave up maintaining it because it got out of control. About one third of these were helpmates, one third directmates, and the other third assorted stipulations such as selfmates, seriesplay, maximummers and retractors. In 2002 a few problems from this collection, selected for their clarity, were shown on this page just to illustrate the sorts of tricks the G can get up to. These are now included in the extended collection. The pages were revised in April 2010 so that the solutions and comments are concealed. This is for those readers who would like to try solving the problems without looking at the solutions. To read the solutions and comments hold down the left mouse key and run the cursor across the blank area. In August 2012 I started to put the wider collection here, and reached as far as problems with 6 men. Now in April 2020 (being housebound by the virus) I have started to put up some more of the problems with 7 men, and others showing a wider range of stipulations.


Historical Introduction

1913 — The grasshopper of the chessboard was revealed to the world on Thursday the 3rd of July 1913 in the chess column of the Cheltenham Examiner newspaper. It was the subject of Part XI of a series by T. R. Dawson on “Caissa's Playthings” (the other pieces dealt with in the series were leapers, knighted men and neutrals). Dawson began; “This is another piece I have worked on quite a considerable time, though for the first time publishing any material on it. It is somewhat similar to the Chinese cannon, which only attacks an adverse man if some other man intervene. The grasshopper moves queenwise, but only to a square immediately beyond one man in the line.” Two mates in two were given (to see these go to: Caissa's Playthings). The first of these was diagrammed using inverted queens to denote grasshoppers; a convention that has been established ever since. In fact many editors now take it for granted that upside-down queens will immediately be recognised as denoting grasshoppers and do not bother to point out their existence, let alone give a definition. (The same goes for Dawson's other major piece invention the nightrider, which is shown as an inverted knight.) At the end of the article the column's editor, W. S. Branch, commented; “We suppose the above are the first printed problems in Grasshopper Chess! Mr Dawson is like the sentry in Glbert's opera, who thinks of things that would astonish you!”

1925 — The first composing tourney for chess problems using grasshoppers was held in the Chess Amateur in 1925. The first prize was won by G. C. Alvey (BCPS Honours 1926-7, No.69). In 1926, also in Chess Amateur, W. E. Lester made a study of Grasshopper “mutates” (i.e. direct-play changed-mate problems).

1930 — In the introduction to the first issue of the Problemist Fairy Chess Supplement (1st of August 1930), a programme of issue topics was announced, each issue to be judged as an informal tourney, with honorary prize positions being awarded. The first of these topics, for the October issue, was for grasshopper problems (the other topics were, in order, retros, twins and nightriders). No definition of the grasshopper was given, yet by October the editor (Dawson) could announce: “My request for grasshopper problems has resulted in a deluge of 67 contributions! Alas, compress as I may I must leave out many delightful compositions” — 23 were given in that issue. A definition of the grasshopper was given here, presumably for the benefit of newcomers. A short history of the piece was then given (from which some of the above information comes), concluding with the remarks: “The grasshopper is easily the most popular new piece yet studied, the world's output being now well into the second thousand. It has been a standing jest among my more intimate chess friends that in spite of this swarm, I had never seen a real living grasshopper — until this summer I found one in my own garden!” In the same year the Essen Anzeiger fourth tourney was for direct mates or selfmates in which white has only one king and one grasshopper.

1951 — T. R. Dawson died on the 16th of December 1951, having just guided the Fairy Chess Review (including PFCS) into its 21st year of publication. The cover problem of volume 8 (August 1951) was a C. M. Fox grasshopper helpstalemate, and the first article is an "Echo of the Past" by T. R. D. who wrote: “The arrival of our birthday number has cast my mind back to our youthful days. It fell on our lost friend W. E. Lester and his famous plague of grasshopper mutates in the Chess Amateur in June 1926 before the FCR began.” There follow seven lightweight mutates by Dawson. The next issue of FCR, delayed to February 1952, reported Dawson's death, and the obituary terminated with this salutation: “Envoi. We came upon a small set of drawer files. In one of them were T.R.D.'s unpublished problems, and tucked away in another a small cardboard box bearing on the lid the name of a Swedish business house. Inside, on a bed of wadding, lay a fine specimen of a real grasshopper a full two inches in length, still resplendent and instinct with life.”


Technical Introduction

On a vacant board the grasshopper cannot move; it is a gregarious piece. In this it differs from its precursors, such as draughtsmen or cannon, which are capable of non-hopping movement. The grasshopper's move is over one piece of any colour to the next cell beyond. It captures in the usual chessic way by occupying the cell of its victim. It was pointed out in the first issue of PFCS that although a G, acting over the opposing K, guards the cell beyond, this does not prevent the K from moving there, since the cell is no longer guarded once the move is completed.

Why is the grasshopper still the most popular unorthodox piece? I think the answer lies in the complementary nature of hoppers to the orthodox chessmen which are all leapers and riders. It therefore provides an added element of chessic principle that is missing from the orthodox realm. When compared with other hoppers: unlike the equihopper it has access to the whole board, and unlike the lion, leo and their kin its move in any direction is necessarily unique — a great attraction in the composition of problems, where the forcing of an exact sequence of moves is of the essence. The G is also of intermediate power between these other two types of hopper. It so happens that the average maximum mobility of the G is the same as that of the knight (5.25).

If we accept the now customary conventions among problemists (a) that problem positions must be legal in the sense of being reachable by correct play from the usual opening position and (b) that any unorthodox pieces in the position must have appeared by promotion of pawns, then the first grasshopper composition, having 5 black grasshoppers and 5 black pawns, was illegal. These conventions however are still ignored by composers when seeking to achieve some maximum task. Legality can be maintained by allowing that any extra grasshoppers were already present on the board at the start of play.

Games players who wish to experience play with grasshoppers and do not wish to fight their way through to a pawn promotion before seeing their first grasshopper on the board will prefer to start the game by moving their pawns forward one rank and filling in the gap with a row of eight grassshoppers. This Grasshopper Chess variant appeared in Joseph Boyer's 1951 book Les Jeux D'Echecs non Orthodoxes and has been played regularly by members of the US club called the Knights of the Square Table.