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John Francis Ling (1927-2023)

  • Tuesday, March 07 2023 @ 03:24 pm GMT
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John Ling, veteran British problemist, died on 13th February 2023. He was 95 years old, and was, until his death, quite likely the oldest living chess problemist in the United Kingdom.

The earliest composition of John's that I can trace was published in 1942 in Chess and his last original I know about was published in 2020 in John's own magazine Problem Observer. It was a joint composition with David Howard, one of that magazine's most stalwart contributors..

John lived through the years in which the two-mover was transformed. In his youth a two-mover had a key and some interesting play after it, possibly with same set play changed by the key. In the 1950 and 60s though virtual-play (or try-play) was developed leading to new and complex themes involving three or more phases, some of them leading to patterns described by the full solutions when written out. As general editor of The Problemist from 1964 to 1972, John found himself at the centre of these sometimes argumentative debates as the younger generation of composers sought to justify their new-fangled ideas. John, however, stayed firmly in the traditional camp, as shown by his output of mainly two and three-movers.

After handing over the editorship to Colin Vaughan in 1972, John set up his own chess problem magazine, which he titled Problem Observer and he stayed at the helm until just before its 50th anniversary in 2022, when the very experienced John Rice stood in temporarily to edit the anniversary issue. Paul Bissicks, one of the BCPS's several volunteer workers, planned to carry Problem Observe forward, but Paul himself died in January, so we must assume that the magazine is no more.

To illustrate the elegant simplicity of John Ling's work, here is one of his three-movers, from The Problemist in 1960.

Any move by the black rook will lead to immediate mate on h7. An attempt by White to force it to move after 1.axb7? allows Black's 1...Ra8+, so White sidesteps to b4 to threaten 2.axb7. The threat though, is unimportant as it is never executed. The only Black piece that can move without instant mate is the black pawn on b7. It has four possible moves and each one makes 2.axb7 impossible. After three of these moves White blocks the pawn with his King, forcing the black rook to move. After 1...b5 the pawn is already blocked, but White has 2.a7, the only move to maintain the block. The full solution follows.

1.Kb4!  (2.axb7 R any 3.Rxh7#)
1...bxa6 2.Ka5  R any 3.Rxh7#  
1...bxc6 2.Kc5  R any 3.Rxh7#  
1...b6   2.Kb5  R any 3.Rxh7#
1...b5   2.a7   R any 3.Rxh7#