Advice to Tourney Competitors

W. Mitcheson, one of the judges, provided the following advice to competitors when the problem tourney of 1864 was announced.

While it is written for to competitors in this particular tourney, it is nevertheless of general interest as it is an early statement of problem competition ideals.

We have no desire to fetter the efforts of composers; but it may be of service to them to know to what points of their problems the attention of the examiners will be chiefly directed.

In the first place, problems, to have any chance of securing the place of honour, must be free from errors of every kind. Accuracy in every particular will be esteemed an indispensable condition of success.

Consideration will be given to the novelty, depth, and beauty of the conception which a problem seeks to embody; and to the degree of ingenuity and elegance with which this idea is expressed.

Mere difficulty in a problem will not be credited with many marks, particularly if it arises from the accumulation of adventitious pieces and pawns. The pursuit of such difficulty we do not wish to encourage. It is for this reason that five-move problems are not admitted into the competition. Perfect five-move problems are rarely to be met with. Authors are too apt to yield to the temptation of making such problems by the simple expedient of tacking on a move or moves to their three and four-move problems, thus sacrificing closeness of construction and unity of effect to the desire of embarrassing the solver with a multiplicity of resources.

Nothing loose or irrelevant should hang about a problem: it should express the truth which it embodies as clearly and concisely as possible. In its highest manifestation a problem is a work of art, and, as such, all parts are subordinated to the general purpose of its author. The examination of it suggests that it is an organic structure, and not a fortuitous arrangement of pieces, brought about by throwing a handful of them upon the board at hazard. A lyric poem will not bear a profusion of epithets; and the inherent beauty of many a problem is veiled by the heaping up of unnecessary pieces. We have insisted somewhat emphatically on this subject, for we fear that the tendency of the decisions that have been made in several recent tournaments may be to disseminate the notion that absolute difficulty is the distinguishing characteristic of a good problem.

Further: the examiners will regard with partiality such compositions as are referable to a class of situations likely to occur in actual play: and, other things being equal, the naturalness of a position will incline the balance of opinion in its favour.

We may not be right in our estimate of what a good problem ought to be; but, at any rate, the qualities which we desiderate—accuracy, beauty of conception, elegance of expression, and verisimilitude—are to be found in the stratagems of Mr. F. Healey, who is universally acknowledged to be the prince of British composers. If competitors take his problems for their model, they need not fear that we shall disapprove of the principles upon which they work.