Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004683, Thu, 13 Jan 2000 09:49:00 -0800

LUzhin & Chess Problem: Translator's Afterword (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. Mr. Wakashima included graphics for the chess positions but
NABOKV-L cannot handle them. If you are interested and can handle BINHEX
stuff Ican try to send the diagrams separately.
---------- Forwarded
message ---------- From: Tadashi Wakashima <auabq710@wombat.zaq.ne.jp>

To Vladimir Nabokov Forum,

As Akiko Nakata informed to you, the Japanese translation of The Defense
was published last November. My "Translator's Afterword" is intended for
general readers, but one thing which I suggested there may interest
Nabokovians (especially those who are keen on the subject of Nabokov and
What I suggested is a probable reason why Nabokov mentioned one of his
chess problems as "my most amusing invention" in the Foreword of Speak
Memory. Actually, it is Problem No.18 of Poems and Problems, and it belongs
to the genre of "retrograde analysis." The position and the stipulation are
as follows:

V. Sirin
Poslednie novosti 17/11/1932
Dedicated to Evgeniy Znosko-Borovski
White: Kf5, Qf8, Rc7, Rc8
Black: Kd6, Qb8, Re7, Re8, Pd5 (Diagram 1)
White retracts its last move and mates in one.

Solution: Retract -1.Pd7xNc8 and then 1.dxe8=N#.

Mating position is
White: Kf5, Qf8, Rc7, Ne8
Black: Kd6, Qb8, Re7, Nc8, Pd5 (Diagram 2)

So what did Nabokov see in this amusing but not so great problem? I guess
the answer lies not in the brilliancy or difficulty of the solution but in
the positions. One evidence to support my guess is Black Queen on b8.
Without it, the problem is still sound (i.e. there is no other solutions).
My guess is that Nabokov put the unnecessary BQ to make the position
quasi-symmetrical. And doesn't it resemble a butterfly folding its wings?
Needless to say, butterfly is the emblem of Speak, Memory.
I have another point to make. In the mating position, Rooks on c8 and e8
magically change into Knights of different colors. Can't this be regarded as
"the mysteries of mimicry" which captivated Nabokov so much in butterflies
and moths?
I am almost certain that Nabokov sensed the keen aesthetic pleasure when
he composed this little problem.

Tadashi Wakashima
International Master in solving chess problems (granted by F.I.D.E.)

Hata 1-14-10-A
Ikeda-shi, Osaka 563-0021, Japan