The task’s namesake, Joseph Ney Babson, originated the concept in 1884. Crafting a fulfilling Babson task is widely considered as one of the most formidable endeavors in chess composition. For nearly a century, there was uncertainty surrounding the possibility of such a task.
The Babson task belongs to a distinctive variation called Allumwandlung in chess. In this type of chess problem, the solution involves promoting a pawn to each of the four potential pieces. It is worth noting that such problems were already familiar before Babson introduced his specific task.
So, what exactly must a chess composition fulfil to be called the Babson task?
- In the given stipulated number of moves, White possesses just a single initial move that leads to a checkmate.
- As part of Black’s defenses, there is the possibility of promoting a specific pawn to either a queen, rook, bishop, or knight. It’s important to note that Black may also employ additional defensive strategies.
- To successfully complete the solution, if Black decides to promote a pawn, White must also promote one of their pawns to the same type of piece to which Black promoted.
That’s some batch of restrictions, isn’t it? The problem is so complex, that it took almost 30 years to present at least a partial solution. Wolfgang Pauly created a three-quarter Babson task: three of Black’s promotions are matched by White.
What happened since the year 1912 when Pauly produced the partial solution? If we don’t count selfmate Babsons (White moves and forced Black to deliver a checkmate in a given number of moves), nothing significant happened in the field of directmate problems (White moves and delivers a checkmate themselves within a specified number of moves) until the 1960s, when Pierre Drumare began his work on the problem, which occupied him for the next twenty years. In 1980, when Drumare finally managed to achieve success by employing conventional chess pieces, the outcome was deemed extremely dissatisfying, even from Drumare’s own perspective:
You have probably noticed what’s so unsatisfactory about this solution. The position completely lacks efficiency, which is usually a crucial part of a notable chess composition. There are 30 pieces on the board, and many of them look like a result of very peculiar promotions – we can see 4 white rooks, 3 white bishops, 3 black rooks, and 4 black bishops, not to mention the black pawn blockade that makes some of these pieces immobile. Furthermore, the position is illegal, as the pawn configuration could have appeared only if at least 3 pieces were captured – but only 2 pieces are missing from the initial set.
Two years after creating this problem in 1982, Drumare abandoned his efforts, firmly asserting that the Babson task would never be resolved to a satisfactory degree.
However, the subsequent year brought about a significant development when Leonid Yarosh, a relatively unknown problem composer hailing from Kazan and primarily known as a football coach, presented a considerably superior Babson task compared to Drumare’s. In Yarosh’s version, the position adhered to all legal chess rules, exhibited a simpler structure, and notably lacked any promoted pieces on the board.
It is generally thought of as the first satisfactory solution of the Babson task. The problem is widely regarded by numerous chess problem composers as one of the greatest compositions ever crafted.