What are Chess Problems? Studies


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Written by Michael McDowell   

The study is the type of composition which tends to hold most appeal for the player, as it follows the aim of the game. Depending on the stipulation White has to reach a position which is clearly won or drawn, after best play from both sides. Tactics are demonstrated in a highly refined form, as the composer presents an idea which is based around a move or a sequence of moves. In common with other forms of composition no superfluous force is used, and the composer usually tries to present his idea in as natural a setting as possible. Note that in the main line of the solution Black's moves are those containing most artistic merit and not necessarily those which allow Black to hold out for the longest time.

The modern artistic study dates roughly from the 1890s, when outstanding composers such as Troitzky and Rinck became active. Throughout the succeeding decades many classic lightweights were composed, featuring ideas which have sometimes been incorporated into later studies. 1 is a fine example.

(1) H. Mattison

Rigasche Rundschau, 1914



To win White must promote the e-pawn, as his bishop moves on the wrong coloured squares to assist the promotion of the a-pawn. 1.e7 clearly fails to 1...Re1+ followed by 2...Rxe7, so he begins 1.Be3+. Black's best reply is 1...Kb7, leaving a route for the rook to cover e8 from a8. After 2.e7 Rxa3 Black is attacking in two directions, but 3.Ba7! saves the day. Black's best reply is 3...Ra1, again threatening the e-file, to which White replies 4.Kf4, to support a bishop return to e3. Black checks at f1, attempting to drive the king away from the e-file, only to be met by a second bishop sacrifice 5.Bf2!, decoying the rook within range of the king. After 5...Rxf2+ 6.Ke3 Rf1 7.Ke2 Black can no longer prevent the pawn's promotion, queen v rook being a standard win.

Studies are composed primarily to entertain, but may also offer practical instruction for the player. It is easy to imagine the position of 2 arising from a game where Black, in a last-ditch attempt to draw, has sacrificed material to allow his king to attack White's last pawn. Yet White can win if he plays exactly.

(2) Leonid I. Kubbel

Ragaer Tageblatt, 1914



1.Sg5+ fails to 1...Kg4, so White must play 1.h3 to save his pawn. The next few moves are easy to understand, as White keeps the king at bay and tries to approach the black pawn. 1...Kg3 2.Sg5 Kf4 3.Se4 Kf3 4.Kd4 Kf4 5.Kd5 Kf5. Now 6.Sf2 fails to 6...Kf4 7.Ke6 Kg3 8.Kf5 Kxf2 9.Kg4 Ke3! 10.Kxh4 Kf4 drawing, but White wins by the odd-looking 6.Sc3! Kf4 7.Se2+ Kf3 8.Sg1+ Kg2 9.Ke4 Kxg1 10.Kf3! (not 10.Kf4? Kf2 11.Kg4 Ke3 12.Kxh4 Kf4 as before) Kf1 10.Kg4 and the rest is simple.

The best studies feature cut and thrust, with both sides producing surprise moves or deep manoeuvres, as illustrated by 3.

(3) Yochanan Afek

2nd Prize, Tidskrift för Schack, 1972



White is a piece ahead, but his rook and knight are in danger. He can exchange rooks by 1.Se5 Kxb6 2.Sd7+ Kc6 3.Sxf8, but after 3...Bxg4 Black is threatening both 4… Bf5, trapping the knight, and 4...Bd1 followed by 5...b4 , which will draw. White finds an imaginative solution: 1.Rxb5+! Kxb5 2.Se5+. 2...Kb6 and 2...Kc5 again lose the rook after a fork at d7, the difference being that this time Black has lost the b-pawn, leaving White with a winning position. The best reply 2...Ka4 looks suicidal, as 3.Sd7 threatens two mates, but Black is resting his hopes on a stalemate trap 3...Be2! 4.Bxe2 Rb8+, intending to follow 5.Ka2 with 5...Rb2+. White however has a counterstroke, 5.Bb5+!!. As 5...Kxb5 6.Sxb8 wins easily Black must take with the rook, and after 5...Rxb5+ 6.Ka2 leaves Black in zugzwang. The rook must move and will be captured after a fork.

This study illustrates one major difference between problems and studies. In problems any play outside of the thematic variations is considered secondary and no composer would add force simply to give extra variations or extend the length of the problem; however in studies, where the point may reside in a single move or, as above, in a specific position, the composer actively tries to incorporate interesting introductory play. The more pieces move into position during the course of the solution, the greater will be the solver's surprise when the finale is reached.

Some ideas are particularly suitable for presentation in studies. One of the most popular themes is the systematic manoeuvre.

(4) V. A. Korolkov

4th Prize, Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1964



4 is a clear-cut example. White's material advantage will win provided he can deal with Black's pawn. As 1.Ra1? fails to a skewer, he plays 1.e5 to set up a skewer of his own. After 1...Bxe5+ 2.Ka2 Black has the defence 2...Bd4!, attempting to decoy the rook within range of the king. 3.Rxd4? fails to 3...h1Q 4.Be4+ Ke3 5.Bxh1 Kxd4, leaving White with bishop plus the wrong rook's pawn for promotion. The next few moves, in which White renews the skewer threat and the quartet waltz up the board, are easily understood: 3.Bb3 Ke4 4.Ra5 Bc5 5.Ba4 Kd5 6.Ra6 Bb6. Now White can take the bishop, because after 7.Rxb6 h1Q 8.Bc6+ Kc5 9.Bxh1 Kxb6 10.h4 the king is too far away to catch the pawn.

Stalemate may occur rarely in games, but is one of the most common drawing devices in studies.

(5) F. Simkhovich

Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1940



5 features a struggle between the minor pieces. White can set up a fork to win a piece by 1.b7 Sxb7 2.Bc6, but after 2...Sd6 3.Bxd5 Black counters with 3...Sf5+ 4.Kh5 (not 4.Kg4 Se3+) 4...Be2+ 5.Kg6 Se7+. The king must advance to set up stalemating possibilities, and there follows 6.Kf7! Sxd5 7.g6 Bh5 8.Kf8 giving Black the choice between delivering an immediate stalemate by 8...Bxg6 or delaying the same outcome by a couple of moves 8...Sf6 9.g7+ Kh7 10.g8Q+ Sxg8.

Some studies sacrifice plausibility of position to show spectacular content, and are termed romantic.

(6) V. Korolkov and A. Dolukhanov

Sovremenni Shakhmatny Etudi, 1937



In 6 Black has somehow missed a chance to win a piece . After 1.Se5+ Black maintains the double attack with 1...Ke6. 2.Rb6 saves the rook and threatens to regain a piece after 2...Kxe5 3.e3. Black's best reply 3...Sf5 prepares to meet 4.Rxc6 with 4...Sd5! (4...Sxh4 5.Rxc7 is easy for White). Now one rook is threatened directly, and the other by a fork at b4, however White has a spectacular combination in reserve: 5.f4+ exf4 e.p. 6.d4+ cxd4 e.p. 7.Re4+ Kxe4 8.Re6 mate! Try to work out why the pawn checks must be played in that particular order!

In most studies White plays first, but sometimes the composer finds that his setting offers no scope for a suitable opening move. John Beasley's cute miniature 7 is a straightforward demonstration of another popular idea, reciprocal zugzwang, where each side would achieve a better result from a position if the other was to move. It is not possible to retract a white move from the diagram without leaving an immediate mate.

(7) John D Beasley

diagrammes, 2001


Black to play; White wins

Black's only chance is 1...Rg6+. If White replies 2.Qb6? Rxb6+ forces stalemate, so the bishop must interpose. After 2.Bf6? Rxf6+ 3.Qb6 Rxb6+? 4.axb6 Kb8 5.b7 wins, but Black has the surprising resource 3...Rd6! which places White in zugzwang, leaving a choice between 4.Qxd6 stalemate or 4.Kb5 Rxb6+ drawing easily. White can turn the tables by playing 2.Bd6!, and after 2...Rxd6+ 3.Qb6 Black is in zugzwang and must abandon the potential stalemate.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 November 2011 16:16
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