Tactics based on checkmate ideas against the enemy king decide a large proportion of chess games, so it is vital to be alert to these possibilities when they occur. Joe Gallagher provides 365 checkmate puzzles to help readers sharpen their skills. The theme is always checkmate: either the enemy king perishes, or can only be saved at a decisive cost in material. Joe Gallagher is ideally qualified to write on this subject. Throughout his career, he has been especially feared for his attacking ability and tactical skills. The puzzles, most of which have never before been published, are grouped into categories, starting with easier positions and working up to more difficult ones. Full solutions are given, and all the positions have been carefully checked for alternative solutions and for soundness of the actual solution.
Over the years I have had great pleasure flicking through puzzle books, and having written numerous other books, mainly on the opening, I felt it was high time I ventured into this field myself. A general puzzle book was a distinct possibility but after discussions with the powers-that-be at Gambit we settled on a theme close to the heart of every chess-player - checkmate! No chess-player can be immune to this topic - either we sit down with the desire to checkmate the opponent or we sit down with the less noble aim of averting checkmate. This latter approach is, unfortunately, more common amongst the professionals. In any event, no matter what your style of play, it certainly pays to be aware of as many mating set-ups as possible. And that is what this book aims to provide you with.
At first I intended to split the material according to various tactical themes, for example one chapter on back-rank mates and another on king-hunts, but finally settled on a different approach. The material has been divided according to the difficulty of the puzzles.
I prefer this method for a number of reasons. Firstly, it makes the puzzles slightly more challenging. You already know that you are looking for a checkmate, and if you always knew precisely what sort of mate you were looking for, that would, in my opinion, be taking things a step too far. Secondly, it could get a little monotonous having to solve 30 back-rank mates in a row, no matter how spectacular they may be. And thirdly, you won't have to spend hours attempting puzzles that are simply beyond your capabilities.
There are five levels of difficulties and each one has their own chapter consisting of 64 puzzles. They range from quite easy in Chapter 1 to very difficult in Chapter 5. Of course this is just my subjective view so don't be surprised if, for example, you find some puzzles in Chapter 3 easier to solve than some in Chapter 2. If you are an experienced club player then I would expect you to be able to solve most of the puzzles in Chapters 1 and 2 fairly quickly and without the use of board and pieces. By the time you get to Chapter 3, however, things start to become more tricky, and if you can do all of Chapter 5 from the diagrams then you are a better player than me!
If you are an inexperienced player then you will just have to see how things go, taking it one level at a time. Each puzzle also has a hint, which should help you if you are really stuck. If that still does no good, then you can always put the book down for a year or two and come back to it when you have improved. Or better still, just enjoy the solutions to the more difficult puzzles and try to learn from
The sixth chapter consists of 45 test positions, making a grand total of 365 puzzles. Perhaps this should have been 366 in a leap year but... there you go. To make them more challenging, these test positions do not contain any introductory comments and neither are there any hints. I have also kept back the names of the players until the solutions as some of you will, no doubt, be familiar with some of the puzzles. This will, at least, make them a little harder to recognize. There are three tests (Levels 1&2, 3&4 and 5) and points are awarded for each one. Afterwards there is a score chart where I assess your strength to within 10 Elo points. Only joking! I am afraid this is not too scientific but I have tested a few players of varying strengths to help me arrive at my predictions for each category.
At the end of the book there is a Glossary/Index. This gives a short description of all the mating ideas and themes I could think of, and points out the puzzles that illustrate them. I hope that this will go some way towards satisfying the more systematic among you.
It would, of course, have been possible to produce a book with 365 forced mates but this would have put a terrible restriction on the puzzles that could be used. For example, what often happens in practice is that one side has a strong attack or a beautiful idea but the defender is able to avert mate by giving up a chunk of material. And very often he just resigns instead of conceding this chunk of material. I didn't want to lose such examples and so my basic qualification criterion is as follows:
Each puzzle is based upon a mating attack that should produce at least a decisive advantage for the attacker.
Still, many of the puzzles do lead to forced mate and while there are also a few exceptions to the above rule, they are clearly pointed out.
As you progress in the book you will find that the solutions become more and more intricate, with more and more branches. Consequently, there is less likely to be a forced mate in Level 5 than in Levels 1 and 2, where there is often just one short, but sweet, solution.
Another slight dilemma is that many instructive and attractive finishes occur in positions where the attacker could win any way he pleases. If one player stands so badly that he is about to get mated, then it is not exactly surprising that there are other more mundane ways to win the position as well. When I have decided to use such examples, I have usually given a specific request, e.g. you have to find the mate in four moves and not any old win. On occasion I have turned it into a double puzzle where you have to find more than one way to win. But, still, in the majority of examples there is just one way to obtain a decisive advantage.
I have also tried to reach a happy medium between instruction and beauty. I think it would be fair to say that in Levels 1 and 2 I lean more towards the more routine mates and try to illustrate as many themes as possible, while in Levels 4 and 5 I am looking for the more beautiful and the more shocking.
There are not 365 completely different checkmates (at least not that I know of) and there are some recurring themes which often occur in more elaborate fashion as the puzzles get harder.
I have found most of the puzzles using ChessBase and have tried to include many recent examples that have not been published hundreds of times before. There are some old classics but these are mainly included as they were my personal favourites as a young player.
OK, I think it's time for you to put your thinking-cap on. Happy solving!
008 Level 1 Puzzles
030 Level 2 Puzzles
052 Level 3 Puzzles
074 Level 4 Puzzles
096 Level 5 Puzzles
141 Solutions to Puzzles
192 Solutions to Tests
203 Glossary/Themes Index