The chess problem below is No. 117 (p. 120) in Sam Loyd and His Chess Problems by Alain C. White (Dover Publications, 1962 reprint). White gives the 1898 source on the diagram and also mentions that the problem was reprinted in a collection of Loyd's problems by Max Weiss in 1903. White, a friend of Loyd, writes that "while unquestionably by Loyd, [it] is a freak that he never acknowledged in his collections . . ."  Despite the contempt that apparently both White and Loyd had for the problem, it is a remarkable composition. It is easy to construct an endgame position in which only promotion to an immobile  "Dummy Pawn" secures a draw by stalemate. It is not so simple to construct, as Loyd has done, a position in which this option is the shortest path to checkmate of your opponent. Loyd may not have been the first to compose such a task, since according to White there was an early fad for similar compositions (p. 407). But it would probably now be hard to find an earlier example, and if Loyd knew of one, likely his setting is superior.

If the option had always been available to "promote" a Pawn to a Dummy Pawn, this would probably never have been a good choice in all the games of chess that have ever been played. According to H. J. R. Murray (A History of Chess, p. 835, note 36) this was permitted in an English code of rules of 1862. Murray states "This absurdity has been justly condemned by the common sense of players. It has not the slightest historical justification." Just what qualifies a rule for a game to be "absurd" is not clear, and every innovation begins without "historical justification." And suppose there has been a game or two in the last two centuries in which a player's best move was to promote to a Dummy Pawn. Then what a shame that this option was denied and we were deprived of such an amazingly rare strategy.

Since such a promotion would have no impact on the way chess is played, why not allow it? You may counter, why bother?  Here are some reasons: (1) it slightly simplifies the rules of chess, reducing the exceptions to promotion from two to one (no promotion to King); (2) for problems and endgame studies, it would add a thematic possibility, and (3) allowing dummy Pawns on the last rank might enable or simplify certain compositional tasks. Changing (expanding) the rules of chess to allow dummy promotion might lead to consideration of other changes, of real significance, that could improve the game of chess and forestall its domination by computers.


1. c7xd8 (P)!  Bd7-f5+
2. Re5xf5

1.  . . .      Bd7-c6+
2. b5xc6

1.  . . .      Bd7xc8
2. f8 (Q)+

1. c7xd8 (B)?  Bd7-f5+
2. Ke4-d4      Bf4xc8

1. c7xd8 (S)?  Bd7-c6+
2. Ke4-d4      Bc6xa8

Linked to from: Chess with Chinese Pieces  by  Daniel  W. VanArsdale

Index page of Daniel VanArsdale.