The British Chess Problem Society
The Early Work of T. R. Dawson — by G. P. Jelliss
Back to — BCPS homepage.
Quick links to the problems on this page:
(1) Enumeration (2) Non-intersection (4) Every man moves once (20) Mate in one
(25) Last three moves (43) Reflex stalemate (45) Stalemate in 3 (53) Empress (R+S)
(55) Mate by PxP ep (58) Model mate (62) Multirex monomate (74) Semi-reflex mate
(76) Reflex mate (79) Mate in 3 twin (95) Backward pawns (106) Non-moving knight
(176) Promote to any colour (224) Dragon (S+P) (227) Terror (Q+S) (233) X-ray men
(339) Neutrals (351) Ship (R+P) (377) Multirex selfmate (867) Sidestep pawns


Sam Loyd died on 10th April 1911 and his mantle as Master of the Chess Unorthodoxies fell upon, or was taken up by, T. R. Dawson almost immediately. December 1911 saw a sudden flood of compositions from him. In 1909 he published three or four, in 1910 some twenty but in 1911 over eighty, and he continued for the next forty years unabated.

From 1907, when he was 18, to his death in 1951, T. R. Dawson composed some 6000 odd (and, as Dawson himself said in Caissa's Wild Roses, often very odd) problems. This is an average of just over two and a half per week. He kept a record of almost his entire output in the form of manuscript folders which are now in the Archives of the British Chess Problem Society. (See the Library List for full details.)

During the early 1980s I made a study of these folders with the aim of determining the earliest examples of each particular stipulation that Dawson composed. Often these are the prototype compositions of their kind. It is surprising how many of the basic elements of variant chess were introduced by Dawson. Sometimes they are the only compositions of their kind, either because the idea did not catch on, or more often because they show something that can only be shown in one unique way.

The procedure I have followed in producing this study is simply to start at the beginning of Dawson's MS books with problem 1 and to work through them, selecting one example of each stipulation that occurs. Usually one finds that he composed several with the same stipulation at one sitting, or over successive days. He often gives the date of composition as well as details of publication. The numbers given to the problems here are Dawson's own (this scheme will permit others to be interpolated later if desired). In some cases a problem has been published twice or more; in these cases I quote only the earliest source.

Collections of Dawson's work that have been published are the Five Classics of Fairy Chess which is a compendium of Dawson's five books edited by A. S. M. Dickins (Dover Publications, New York, 1973) and Schach ohne Grenzen / Chess Unlimited by K. Fabel and C. E. Kemp in parallel German and English (Walter Rau Verlag, Düsseldorf, 1969). Where possible I have tried to avoid duplication by choosing an example that does not appear in one of these publications, but a slight overlap is inevitable.

Most of this study was first published in Chessics 1981-2 (Vol.1 #12 pp.10-12, #13 pp.6-7, #14 pp.14-15).

Problems Solutions and Commentary
Lonsdale Republican
20 December 1911
White and Black playing alternately occupy the 32 white squares in fewest moves. How many final positions are there?

Solution: If the position looks rather familiar at first sight, look closer at the bishops; they are all on light squares. The number of final positions is 17 and they are reached on Black's 12th move. The main point to watch in the enumeration is that an 18th position with BQc4, BSd7, BSg6, WBb5, WKf1, WSe2, WSf3 cannot be reached since Pe2-e4 cannot be delayed long enough to allow Qh4-c4.

Comments: This was published as part of an article on “The Professor's Christmas Party”. It will be noticed from the dates on other problems that most fairy compositions of around this time were published during the festive season, when orthodox conventions were expected to be broken a little. Problems 10, 184, 270, 275-288, 497-499 are also in this ‘synthetic games’ class.

Strand Magazine
October 1911
Each White piece captures an unmoved identical adversary, with no route intersecting any other.

Solution: The Bh1 goes to g2, f1, d3, c2, b3, c4, b5, c6, d5, e6, f5, h7, g8, f7, e8, d7, c8, b7, a8 and the other paths fit in easily. As shown here:

Comments: Problem 3 in the MS books is similar. Other compositions that can be classed as ‘Puzzle Problems’ are numbers 93, 156, 356-359, 379-380. The puzzle column in the Strand Magazine was one of the principal places that H. E. Dudeney, author of The Canterbury Puzzles (1907) and Amusements in Mathematics (1917) published his brainteasers. I believe Dudeney was a major influence on Dawson at this time. Both were founding members of the British Chess Problem Society in 1918; in fact Dudeney chaired the inaugural meeting. One wonders if the BCPS was the real-life incarnation of the Puzzle Club, of whose ‘Adventures’ Dudeney wrote. The BCPS Archive also has a manuscript collection of Original Problems by Dawson in the style of Dudeney and Loyd.

London Weekly Times
December 1911
White and Black moving alternately, every man moves once only, with no checks or captures, other than pawn-captures.
Every man moves once

Solution: This is a strange type of stipulation, producing a follow-my-leader type effect. 1.Bg8 Pd5 2.Sh7 Rd6 3.Pxd6 Pc5 4.Kf8 Bc6 5.Pxc6 Pb5 6.Pf6 Qb6 7.Sc7 Kb8 8.Pxb6 Pa5.

Comments: Problem 5 also uses move restrictions. Problems 6, 7, 9 use small boards. Problems 8, 11-17, 154-155, 161, 164-173, 193-196, 206-215, 266-268, 273-274, 336-337, 364, 500 are ZigZags of various types.

Deutsche Schachblatter
17 December 1911
White mates in 1
Mate in one

Solution: White mates by Pa5xb5 e.p. The last move must have been 1.Pb7-b5 preceded by Rb6-a6, Sa6-b8, R(b4 or b5)-b6 and so on. The analysis is quite straightforward.

The stipulation that it is White to move is necessary since there is no proof from the position alone that Black moved last. Without this condition the last moves might be Rb6-a6, Sa6-b8, Rb8-b6, Sb4-a6, Rb6-b8, S(a2 or d3)-b4, Ra6-b6, b7-b5, Rb6-a6, etc.

Comments: This is Dawson's earliest example of an enormous output of compositions employing retroanalysis to justify an e.p. key. The culmination of this intensive study of retros was the publication in 1915 of the book Retrograde Analysis in the A. C. White Christmas Series, written in cooperation with W. Hundsdorfer.

The possibility of proving the legality of an e.p. key by means other than simply placing the WK next to the BP where it would have been checked by a single move of the pawn had been shown by Sam Loyd in 1894.

Pittsburgh Gazette Times
24 December 1911
Last 3 moves?
Last three moves

Solution: The last three moves must have been 1.Kc8xBc7 Bb8-c7+ 2.g4-g5 Se6-f8 3.Bc7-d8 Sd8-e6+. The WRs cannot be released, in the backward play, until the WSe1 is. This requires the WdP to retract to d2, but this cannot occur until the WBd8 is back at c1. When it gets back to c1 it blocks the return of the WQR to a1 via c1 and for this reason the WPa4 cannot be retracted to a3 or a2 until all these other manoeuvres have been carried out. Black cannot have moved last: e.g. Pb6-b5 shuts out Ra5 from return to the back row.

Comments: This is a quite different style of retro from problem 20. The statement below the diagram in the MS is “Black has checked twice in the last three moves”. I have replaced this by simply asking for the last three moves, since otherwise it could be misread as a condition on the play.

December 1911
Reflex Stalemate in 2
Reflex stalemate

Solution: 1. Rb7 creating half-pinned WRs. After each Black move one of the WRs moves to where it can be captured, and Black is obliged by the reflex rule to capture, giving stalemate.

Comments: Reflex Chess (in which the aim is self-mate, and a player who can give mate must do so) was invented by B. G. Laws (1861 - 1931) in 1885. Laws was another of the founder members of the British Chess Problem Society and was for some time editor of the problem pages of the British Chess Magazine, which began in 1880.

In this composition the aim is stalemate, and the reflex rule means that a player who can stalemate must do so. Problems (42) and (44) show the same theme with half-pinned Knights and Bishops.

Pittsburgh Gazette Times
24 December 1911
Stalemate in 3
Stalemate in 3

Solution: 1.Qg8 then:
1...Kc7 2.Qd5
    2...Kc8 3.Be5=
    2...Kb8 3.Qc6=
1...Ke7 2.Qd5
    2...Ke8 3.Bc5=
    2...Kf8 3.Qe6=
1...Kd6 2.Qf7 Kc6 3.Bc5=
1...Kc6 2.Qd8 Kb7 3.Kb5=

Comments: A classical miniature.

St Louis Globe Democrat
24 December 1911 (version)
Mate in 3. Chancellor (R+S) g1.
Empress (R+S)

Solution: 1.Ba2
1...Kh5 2.(R+S)h3+
    2...Kxg6 3.(R+S)g3 mate
    2...Kg4 3.Be6 mate.
1...P-move 2.Be6 any 3.(R+S)h3 mate.

Comments: B. R. Foster's Chancellor Chess was published in St Louis in 1889. For more details and another Chancellor problem see Caissa's Playthings.

La Strategie
December 1911
Mate in 4 by PxP e.p.
Mate by PxP ep

Solution: 1.Pd5 Ke5 2.Qb8+
    2...Kd4 3.Qh8+ Pe5 4.PxP e.p. mate
    2...Kf6 3.Qb2+ Pe5 4.PxP e.p. mate

Comments: A number of orthodox, or near-orthodox, problems appear in Dawson's MS books of fairies because of such features as WK in check, promoted men in diagram, castling and e.p. keys and twinning, which were, and indeed still are to a large extent, debarred from orthodox competitions. Dawson also composed numerous conditional direct mates at this time, with stipulations such as mate by discovery or by double check, mate with specified men, or on specified squares. Such stipulations can also be found in mediaeval examples.

American Chess Bulletin
December 1911
Model mate in 3
Model mate

Solution: 1.Ke3
1...Kxe6 2.Qf5
    2...Kxf5 3.Bxd7 mate
    2...Pxf5 3.Bc4 mate
1...Pxe6 2.Qf3 Bxf3 3.Pc4 mate
1...else 2.Qf5
    2...P/Bxf5 3.Sf4 mate

Comments: A model mate is defined as one that is pure and economical. A pure mate is one in which the cells of the king's field are blocked or attacked once only (not both blocked and attacked, or attacked twice). An economical mate is one in which the whole force of the attacking player, with the possible exception of king and pawns, takes part in the mate. The theme shown is elimination of the queen.

Natal Mercury
3 October 1914
Selfmate one King in 2
Multirex monomate

Solution: 1.Be4+
    1...Rbb7+ 2.Rb2+ Rg2 mate (of WKh8)
    1...Rgb7+ 2.Rg7+ Rg2 mate (of WKa1)

Comments: The first multirex monomate problem.

Deutsche Schachblatter
17 December 1911
Semi-reflex mate in 3
Semi-reflex mate

Solution: 1.Qd5
1...Rxd8 2.Qf7+ KxQ 3.Kf5 Rd5 mate
1...Rxf8 2.Qd7+ KxQ 3.Kd5 Rf5 mate

Comments: The semireflex condition applies the reflex rule only to Black; White is not obliged to mate, but Black is.

Pittsburgh Leader
24 December 1911
Reflex mate in 3
Reflex mate

Solution: 1.Bb7
1...Kf6 2.Sd5+ Kxe5 3.Sb6 Bxd6 mate
1...Kd8 2.Sc6+ Kc7 3.Sd4 Bxd6 mate

Comments: This example must serve as representative of 30 reflexmates among the first 500 compositions in the MS folders. They are numbers 27-36, 38, 76-78, 157-8, 198-9, 201-4, 259, 261-4, 322, 386-7.

Deutsche Arbeiter Schachzeitung
December 1911
(i) Mate in 3. (ii) b5–›b4 and the same.
Mate in 3 twin

Solution: (i) 1.Bc4
1...Pe6 2.Bd3 Kd5 3.Pc4 mate
1...Kf5 2.Kf3 Pe6 3.Bd3 mate
(ii) 1.Pd5 Kxe5 2.Kf3
    2...Kd6 3.Bf4 mate
    2...Kf6 3.Bd4 mate

Comments: An example of “twinning”: by the most common method of moving a pawn.

La Strategie
December 1911
Selfmate in 10. Backward pawns.
Backward pawns

Solution: 1.Rb5 Ka4 2.Re5 Ka3/Pa3 3.Bc3 Ka4/Pa2 4.Sb2+ Ka3 5.Sg3 PxS 6.Qg4 PxP 7.Qf5 PxR 8.Qe6 PxP 9.Qd5 PxB 10.Qc4 PxS mate. “Ph2 travels over the Alps to b2. Bh1 is not irreal with backward pawn play.”

Comments: The stipulation says only that “P's may move backwards” The solution implies that they can also capture backwards. Another composition shows that they cannot move back to the first rank.

Reading Observer
27 July 1912
Mate in 3, without moving the Knight
Non-moving knight

Solution: 1.Qf3
1...Ph5 2.Qg2 PxS 3.Qh2 mate
1...Kh5 2.Qh3 Kg6 3.Qxh6 mate (S guards h6)

Comments: This was one of several problems by Dawson in which particular types of piece do not move. A similar idea was rediscovered by J. deA. Almay in Fairy Chess Review (Vol.4 #5 April 1940 p.83) where he introduced “capturing pieces” they move only to capture. He also proposed unnecessary individual names for them (B = brontosaurus, Q = dinosaurus, S = hippopotamus, R = mammoth, K = atlantosaurus) which led me to suggest the name ‘saurian’ pieces. The knight in Dawson's problem is not quite saurian since it is not permitted to play 1.SxPh6, though it is considered to check if the K moves there.

Norwich Mercury
27 November 1912
Mate in 2 (Ps may promote to either colour)
Promote to any colour

Solution: 1.Pf8(Black S) any 2.Sf7 mate
Not 1.Pf8(Black B) since then Bg7 pinning the S.

Comments: The stipulation in fact read simply “White mates in 2” with an exclamation mark, which was the conventional way of indicating that some unusual interpretation of the rules was required. A more explicit stipulation is now needed since the Laws of Chess are now more firmly established.

Reading Observer
29 June 1912 (version)
Mate in 2. Dragon (S+P) f2
Dragon (S+P)

Solution: 1.Pg4
1...Bxg4 2.Df4 mate
1...Pxg4 2.De4 mate
1...Rxg2/Rh3 2.Dh3 mate
1...else 2.Df3 mate

Comments: See Caissa's Playthings for another Dragon composition.

Reading Observer
29 June 1912
Mate in 2. Terror (Q+S) d5
Terror (Q+S)

Solution: 1.Kh3 with model mates by 2.Td8, d6, e6, f6.

Comments: For another Terror example see Caissa's Playthings.

Reading Observer
18 January 1913 (version)
Mate in 2. X-Ray Chess
X-ray men

Solution: 1.Pb8=S Kb4 2.Sc6 mate

Comments: Problems 231 and 232 are also X-ray chess. The term X-ray chess however was not used by Dawson in 1913, instead the stipulation read: “Line pieces act through any number of obstructing men”. The idea was rediscovered by E. Feigin and N. Givoli in Fairy Chess Review August 1951.

I think Roentgen himself named his discovery 'X-rays'; others called them 'Roentgen rays'.

Reading Observer
28 December 1912
Mate in 2. Neutrals d4, g3, h1.

Solution: 1.Ra4 waiting
1...NPd3 2.Ra5 mate
1...Ke4 2.Sc3 mate
1...NS-move 2.Sf4 mate.
Try: 1.Kd3? NSf2+

Comments: The definition of Neutrals is given as: Pieces “which each player on his turn may take as either White or Black”. This implies that if the K is ‘observed’ by a neutral he must treat it as a check, since his opponent will so interpret it on his next move (i.e. as an attack rather than as a guard).

Reading Observer
30 May 1914
Mate in 2. Ship (R+P) f3.
Ship (R+P)

Solution: 1.Kd2
1...Kc4 2.Ship-c3 mate
1...Pe5 2.Ship-d3 mate
1...Ke5 2.Ship-f4 mate (check by pawn component)
1...else 2.Ship-f4 mate (check by rook component)

Bolton Football Field
23 December 1911
Selfmate both Ks in 3
Multirex Selfmate

Solution: 1.Qf5
1...Qxe1/Qe2 2.Qe4+ QxQ 3.Rc6+ Qxc6
1...Qxg1/Qg2 2.Rg4+ QxR 3.Qc8+ Qxc8
1...Qxf2 2.Rc6+ Qc5 3.Sxf3 Qxc6

Comments: This is a multirex problem of the supermate type in which both WKs have to be checkmated at the same time. Problem 62 published 1914 was the first monomate type.

Bolton Football Field
27 December 1913
Mate in 2. Side-step pawns
Sidestep pawns

Solution: 1.Sb8 (threat Sc6)
1...Qxe6 2.Pe2 mate
1...Qe3+ 2.Pxe3 mate
1...Qxf3 2.Pd3 mate
1...Qd5 2.Pd4 mate
1...Qc3+ 2.Pxc3 mate
1...Qxa2 2.Pc2 mate.
An extended pawn-field task.

Comments: The full stipulation reads: “Two White Ks. Pawns may move 1 square either side as well as forwards. White mate in 2”. The extra WK is a constructional device that could be more widely used. Only the Pd2 uses its extra move power – the others could all be normal pawns.