The term ‘motif’ implies both form and content
(Original Slovak version of an article appeared in the March 2005 issue of Pat a Mat, No 48.
Written by Juraj Brabec, translated to English by Juraj Lörinc, English checked and corrected
by Chris Feather.)
Today nobody doubts that chess composition is an artistic activity. It aims to provoke an emotional
response in the spectator, using a combination of the chess elements. These elements are material
(the playing units K,Q,B,R,S & P), spatial (the board and its unit squares), temporal (the moves in
their sequence) and ideal (the motifs which appear in the play). But few realise that, as in every
artistic work, the basic ideal element in chess composition (the motif) has both form and content.
And this is true for both positive motifs (those working towards the accomplishment of the stipulation)
and negative ones (those tending to hinder the accomplishment of the stipulation), as it is also for
both motifs in the white moves (attacking and weakening) and those in the black moves (defensive and
[Remark: In the above context “ideal” means related to ideas, in the same way as “spatial” relates to space
and “temporal” to time.]
Every move of a unit to a square has its own meaning relating to what motivates it. The notion of
“motif” implies consideration of why the unit moves to the square and how the move supports the
fulfilment of the stipulation; the answer to this forms the content of the motif. Only then does the
next stage follow, namely consideration of the way in which the content is conveyed, i.e. of the form
in which the content of the motif is presented.
If we look at the forms which may be taken by the content of the above defensive motifs we discover
It is possible to show the same content with varying form and, vice versa, the same form can be used
to show various kinds of content. Both the content and the form of a motif have their antiforms:
preventing/allowing, guarding/unguarding, creating a flight/removing a flight, checking/unchecking,
or arrival/departure, opening/closing, blocking/unblocking, pinning/unpinning, etc. Using various
fairy elements, a much wider and more varied range of effects than the above becomes possible,
e.g. creation/removal of a hurdle (e.g. for grasshopper-like pieces), paralysis and its removal
(e.g. in Madrasi), change of unit's colour (e.g. in Andernach chess) etc..
- Preventing 2.e4# may take the form of a) capture of the Pe2, b) blocking the way to e4 on the square e3 or
c) making the square e4 inaccessible by blocking it. It is also possible by d) pinning the Pe2, but this
form of the motif, besides preventing the move, also contains an attack on the WK (masked check).
- Guarding the mating square or line may take the form of a) the direct arrival of a guarding unit,
b) the opening of a line from a guarding unit or c) the unpinning of a guarding unit (in combination
with the removal of a masked attack on the BK).
- Creating a flight may take the form of a) capture of the unit guarding the flight, b) interference
with the unit guarding the flight or c) the unblocking of a flight square.
- Attacking the white king may take the form of a) the direct arrival of a checking unit or b) the
opening of a checking unit’s line.
The same analysis (separation of form and content) as for defensive motifs (negative motifs in
black moves) can be applied to attacking motifs (positive motifs in white moves), to weakening
motifs (negative motifs in white moves) and to harmful motifs (positive motifs in the black
moves). Thus we can conclude that every motif has two distinct properties – form and content.
That is why it is appropriate to distinguish between these two properties and to recognise that
when we use the term “motif” we are acknowledging the presence of both.
The full descriptions of the defensive motifs of the specific defences in the scheme are thus as follows:
- 1...Sxe2 – prevention of the threat unit’s move by capture,
- 1...Be3 – prevention of the threat unit’s move by blocking its line,
- 1...e4 – prevention of the threat unit’s move by blocking its arrival square,
- 1...Ra2 – prevention of the threat unit’s move by pinning (by masked checking),
- 1...Ra4 – guarding the mating square or line by arrival,
- 1...g3 – guarding the mating square or line by line opening,
- 1...Bd4 – guarding the mating square or line by unpinning (removal of a masked check),
- 1...Sxb3 – creating a flight by capture,
- 1...c5 – creating a flight by unblocking,
- 1...d6 – creating a flight by interference,
- 1...Rh2+ – attack on the white king by arrival.
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