[Retros] 1. Introduction to Retrograde Analysis

Kevin Begley kevinjbegley at gmail.com
Thu Sep 16 23:39:00 EDT 2010

Indeed, this introduction presents many "problems" which are neither
original, nor credited (particularly in the "legal?" section).
These would be better presented in their original form (especially via
Illegal Clusters -- which are, unfortunately, completely neglected).

I could not recommend this introduction, in its present form, to any
beginner (nor to anyone beyond).
I would highly recommend solving the many compositions in this introduction
-- but, almost nothing else.
Pardon me if this seems overly critical -- but I hope some honest feedback
might prove constructive here...

First, the erroneous title requires revision (along with the forward).

The forward begins "Dear reader, This book aims to introduce you to the
noble art of retrograde analysis."
Buried at the end of the forward, after the author has lost his audience (by
thanking many contributors), the aim is changed:

"Finally, it should probably be noted that this book only deals with the
so-called classical, or orthodox, retroanalysis..."

Leave this matter not to an afterthought in the forward.
That which should probably be noted, should definitely be noted -- within
the title!

It continues: "...in which no artifical constraints are imposed on the
history of the position whatsoever. It makes no mention of the numerous
related genres such as shortest ProofGames, help and defensive retractors,
series consequent movers, etc."

The author should be aware that the "numerous related genres," which have
been tossed out -- presumably due to their having "artificial
constraints"(an artificial term, if ever I heard one, which like many
others, is left
undefined in the text) -- are not merely related to the genre being
introduced: they happen to be contained within the Retro genre.

Before the reader can begin to intuit what is Retrograde Analysis, the
subject has already been (quite discretely) distorted.

If "An Introduction to Automobiles" claims that pickups are merely
"related," then casts aside as mysteriously artificial, who would buy it?
Only somebody strictly interested in "An Introduction to Cars."
Anybody else might feel cheated.

How is it that the numerous coloring problems contained reasoned to impose
no "artificial constraints...whatsoever?"
I find the coloring problems highly enjoyable -- but no less "artificial"
than a two-movers which employs A Posteriori reasoning (something which
might easily have been accepted over the default standard of
And, the same may be said of Illegal Clusters, Consequent problems,
Retractors, etc etc etc.

I will admit that ProofGames (or Help-Games) are a slightly different breed.
They constitute a vast subject matter, falling somewhere between the Retro
and Helpmate genres, but requiring their own unique approach to
For these reasons, they are usually judged separately (save in the FIDE
Album, which seems more a political- than a problem-journal).

Second, the intro seems to read like a disorganized afterthought, without
any consideration for the intended audience.

Consider Chapter 2 ("Moves and Retromoves"), for example -- which begins on
page 25.
What exactly does author mean by the term, "Retromoves?"
The term "Retromoves" is not discussed until the end of page 29 -- where it
is used with neither definition, nor significant purpose.
This is a relatively minor sample of a frequent occurrence -- but, it well
illustrates a larger issue.
If unfamiliar jargon is important enough to appear in a chapter heading, it
requires some definition.

Third, the text is poorly edited.

I'm sorry to say this, given the respected composer who is listed as an
I presume his involvement was limited to the composed problems (which are
well selected, and presented).

Page 35: "Many years had to pass before it was realized that deep artistic
value could be contained solely in the past of a position."

Huh? It sounds like a chemical reaction was taking place, over a number of
years, then presto, "deep artistic value" began to form in a jar.
The text is full of such bizarre commentary -- as if the author were pressed
to meet a minimum word count.
The reader is advised to clear space in the air, into which they may often
throw their hands up.

Fourth, readers are left to solve vastly simplified (uncredited) retrograde
problems, as exercises.

The "legality duos" may seem helpful to some beginners -- indeed, it might
seem the most beneficial portion of the book...
We learn by doing.

But, I see a well known retrograde problem (usually an illegal cluster)
hiding behind virtually every duo.
I would argue that there is a better way to help readers navigate backwards
through some non-trivial retrograde possibilities.
One needn't resort to (uncredited) simplifications of published works --
there is no shortage of less challenging problems.
Or, perhaps walk the reader, in reverse, through a few of these (properly
credited) illegal clusters.
Far better, of course, to use classical retros (if this is the intended

Fifth, every book tells a story -- this one tells a very good one, but
unfortunately, it is scattered across a number of pages.

I would recommend the following reorganization:

0) Forward -- tell the reader only what they really need to know

Readers need only know what are they expected to know (that is: you need
only know the rules of chess).
Thank folks later -- when you don't mind losing the reader's attention.

1) What is a chess problem?

Here is where you should introduce the assumptions about castling, and en
passant captures -- rather than on page 34!
BTW: that section needs a rewrite too...
Page 34: "There are only two moves in chess which are affected by the
position’s past: en passant capture and castling."

This sentence has little meaning to anyone not already familiar with the
intended point.
Try something like this:

"There are only two special moves in chess, in which their legality depends
not only upon the diagram position, but also upon the moves which previously
occurred in the diagram:
1) Castling - which can only be legal if the King & Rook to castle are
unmoved, and
2) En Passant - which can only be legal if the last move was a double-step
of an enemy pawn to an adjacent square."


2) What is retrograde chess problems (very briefly, and in very simple
3) What is classical retrograde analysis (again, very briefly, and in very
simple terms)?
4) What motivated the first retrograde chess problems?

On this topic, your introduction tells an excellent story -- accompanied by
many precisely selected diagrams.
Unfortunately, as I've noted, this story is scattered throughout many pages.

Begin with the imposition of a "legality" constraint upon orthodox chess
problem diagrams (the seed of all RA problems).
Then, move on to joke problems (such as Karl Portius' #2 joke problem, which
you don't site until page 33), and early RA problems, etc.

5 and beyond) Introduce modern developments in the story of Classical RA.

Elaborate on the "deep artistic value" you say has emerged, and give the
reader some insight into current challenges in composing.
At some point, you may want to introduce the art of composing classical
retros, too.

... etc ...

You get the idea...
Remove comments like, "we learned from diagram #... etc" -- it's too
elementary school.
Instead, just be the narrator in the story of Classical RA -- and keep to
the narrative.
Just point them to the action -- the problems will sell themselves.

I really think this could be very good, if you refocus on your aim,
reorganize the material, and rewrite for the target audience.
Finally, I would encourage you to leave room to expand into non-classical
retro problems.

Apologies if I have been overly critical...
I only aimed to present my honest opinions (which might easily be entirely

Best Regards,
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