09 September 2011

Sherlock Holmes in France

Entertaining stories mixed with tricky chess problems is what most of us enjoy. The book Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Raymond Smullyan offers no less than fifty of them. It is a classic and a must-have for all chess lovers, especially for fans of retrograde analysis. Smullyan also wrote The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights, but its stories and chess puzzles are nowhere near as good as those of the first book.

The problemist Barry Barnes followed in Smullyan's footsteps composing chess puzzles packaged in stories with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Apparently, they were all published in the magazine The Problemist, but I don't know how many of them exist. Most probably, there are more than just the two that I have found.

Today's story was published in 1994 and I'll stick to the original text as close as possible. For those of you who don't know it yet and who want to try to crack the puzzles themselves I changed things a bit by hiding the decisive deductions of our famous detective at first. Have fun!



"YOU CAN PREVENT THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY THIS COMING WEEK BY ALERTING THE POLICE NOW"
DEDICATED TO CJM AND SFBM

  1
[3k4/P1N1N2R/1BPb4/3B1pQ1/1PK1P3/rP3P2/5Pr1/n2R2nq]
  #2

  2
[BnNN4/K7/Pn1PP3/p2p2r1/R2P2k1/R2PP1q1/P5pP/B7]
  h#2

  3
[{FEN}]
  White or Black to play and win

  4
[{FEN}]
  Legal?

£16,000 REWARD


Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were in France for the 37th meeting of the FIDE Problem Commission in Belfort. On their arrival on Saturday at the Salle des Fêtes there was a letter waiting for Holmes. He examined the envelope carefully before opening it and taking out a single sheet of paper. "Listen, Watson", said Holmes, "it reads "You can prevent the crime of the century this coming week by alerting the police now." There are 4 chess problems to solve. There is no name or address of the sender. Here, see for yourself. I suggest that we take our cases to our rooms, and that we meet here in 30 minutes".

Half an hour later, the two friends were studying the letter in a bar in a silence only broken by the drumming of Holmes's fingers on the table top. After the time it takes to savour more than one large cognac, Holmes said, "I would value your comments, Watson".

"I do not understand the reference to stopping a crime and telling the police", admitted Watson, "but I think I have solved the problems. And my guess is that the CJM of the dedication is Christopher Jeremy Morse — Sir Jeremy Morse. Again I can only guess that SBFM is one of Sir Jeremy's sons — he has four — and that it is a dedication to father and son. Problem 1 has set play 1... Bxc7/Bxe7/Rxb3/Bg3/Bh2 2.Bf7/Be6/a8=Q/Qg8/Rh8#. It solves most disappointingly by 1.Qxf5! when 2.Qc8/Qd7/Qf8# is irrefutable. The helpmate 2 is a letter problem "FCL" which solves by 1.Qe5 dxe5+ 2.Kf5 Ne7#. But who is "FCL"? I know composers with the initials "FL" — Frank Libby, Frédéric Lazard, and Frithiof Lindgren — but I do not know if their middle names began with "C". Regarding position 3, my guess is that, with or without the move, White always wins in this curiously balanced position. 1.f3 is very strong. Problem 4 has 2 promoted Black bishops and 1 promoted White bishop — and too many captures. The position is illegal. But a £16000 reward is magnificent!" exclaimed Watson.

"But no reward for you, dear Watson", replied Holmes. "You have not told me about the crime and what we should tell the police. You have solved the problems — but it was not necessary. The solutions do not matter. They are pure deception! The positions will speak to us! They can tell us the when, where, what and who of the planned crime. I shall explain!"

What did Holmes discover? Click here to find out.


"So, Watson, let us alert the police of the crime. Please ask the telephone operator to connect me with the Quai d'Orsay in Paris. I will speak to Detective Chief Inspector Lestrade". "But is not Inspector Lestrade in London at Scotland Yard?" queried Watson. "Not that Lestrade" laughed Holmes — "his French cousin, Inspector Marcel Lestrade".

(original text: SHERLOCK HOLMES EN FRANCE by Barry Barnes, The Problemist, September 1994)

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