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White and Black from Brown - A Selection of 168 Diagrams and Chess Related Fluff by David L. Brown

Copyright (c) 1998 by Ben Good

Last updated 8/16/98

David L. Brown currently does the Key Krackerscolumn for USCF's publication Chess Life magazine. The monthly column features 12 diagrams of problems, typically five or six mate-in-two's, and few mate-in-three's, as well as a couple of helpmate problems. All of the problems are relatively difficult. The readers can then send their solutions to Mr. Brown, who keeps track of a solving ladder for all those who participate.

Mr. Brown uses all previously published problems for his column, but he is in fact quite an accomplished problem composer himself, and has several decade's of experience working as an editor and judging tournaments. His self-published book White and Black from Brown - A Selection of 168 Diagrams and Chess Related Fluff is his collection of his best and favorite problems of his own that he has composed over the years. I ordered it from Mr. Brown by mail for $10 in the spring of 1998.

The "book" in the physical sense is probably more accurately described as "booklet" since it is simply a stack of 8x11" pieces of paper folded in half and stapled through, with heavy-weight paper for the cover. There is no true spine to the book, and it won't look impressive on your bookshelf. Fortunately, the contents of the book more than make up for its slight appearance.

The format of the book is simply to put four diagrams per page, accompanied by the year and place of publication (and of course, any awards it may have won), with the solution to each one listed directly underneath it, with an occasional comment from Mr. Brown. Why he chose to do this instead of listing all the solutions safely in the back of the book is not clear to me. Perhaps Mr. Brown felt that it didn't matter where he put the solutions, the truly disciplined would refrain from looking at them before making a sincere effort to solve the problems, and those of us who are weaker would be saved the hassle of a lot of page flipping. To me though, the effect of accompanying all the problems with their solutions was to change the feel of the book from a bunch of puzzles to be solved, to a collection of objects to be observed and admired, sort of a museum of great chess problems. I suppose the reader can read it either way.

I must confess that I've been quick to look at the solutions. I'm relatively new to the problem-solving world, and therefore not very good at it. Recently I became interested in composing fairy chess problems, and I thought a good way to improve at it would be to advance my skills as a solver. Purchasing Mr. Brown's book was part of this process; I figured that by analyzing the problems of a master composer, I would see what kind of techniques he used to try and beguile his reader, and that such knowledge would give me insight on both solving and composing on my own. I must admit that for the most part however, that when going through the problems in his book, I am simply reading for the sheer delight of seeing how his solutions unfold. By the end of almost every solution I was shaking my head in amazement at how cleverly the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Mr. Brown's particular area of expertise is the two-mover, so it's no surprise that the book starts off with 56 diagrams of this type of problem. But the book eventually touches on all major problem themes: Helpmate, Selfmate, Circe, Retrograde, Series, Stalemate, Grasshoppers, Nightriders, Reflex, Maximummers and others all are touched upon with a tremendous skill and creativity. Surprisingly, the book only contains a handful of directmates of more than 2 moves, a type of problem that Mr. Brown calls his "weakest genre."

What is undoubtedly the most interesting part of the book however, is Mr. Brown's own fairy-chess creation from the early 70s, the Orphan. The Orphan is a piece that acquires the powers of whatever enemy pieces are attacking it. Once the piece is no longer attacking the Orphan, the Orphan loses the power it had gained from that piece. For example, an Orphan attacked by a Queen and a Knight has the ability to move like a Queen or a Knight. If the Queen is blocked, then the Orphan can only move like a Knight. The important thing about the Orphan is that it can also gain powers from enemy Orphans; thus it is possible to set up large and complicated chain reactions.

The difficulty of composing with the Orphan lies in the fact that as the number of possible moves and connections piles up, it becomes increasingly difficult to check for cooks. In the introduction, Mr. Brown comments "I believe, however, that the Orphan has tremendous potential, and now with computer testing available, it should see a renaissance. I hope concentrate most of my future composing in using the Orphan."

I have to wonder if Mr. Brown isn't just being modest, and what he was really thinking is "the Orphan is one of the greatest contributions ever to fairy-chess composing." Because it could very well be true. In 24 diagrams, Mr. Brown uses the Orphan in directmates and helpmates, including a series 36 directmate and problems using Orphans with Grasshoppers and Nightriders. Each problem is a masterpiece. If there is any criticism to be made, it is that more of the book wasn't devoted to the Orphan.

The book is of course, almost entirely diagrams of chess problems. The preface is by Edgar Holladay, and Mr. Brown gives a nice introduction, telling of his major life events, how he got into composing, his favorite problems, and some amusing anecdotes. This review wouldn't be complete however, without mentioning the "chess related fluff" that is interspersed throughout the book. Cartoons, poems - Ode to the Queen-Bishop, Ode to Ye Composers - short stories - including a brief murder-mystery where a chess problem is the clue giving away the murderer, among others - and other snippets not only are an entertaining diversion between problems, but also serve well to give an air of fun about the book, something notoriously lacking from chess problem books.

You can order this book by sending $10 to:
David L. Brown
2217 N Alpine
Rockford, IL

You can also contact him at:
(email removed contact us for address)

Ben Good
[email protected]

Written by Ben Good, (c) 1998.
WWW page created: August 17, 1998.