ChessBase 25 Composing Tourney Awards – Part one

by ChessBase
4/30/2012 – Special occasions in the chess world are often celebrated by chess problemists with a composition tourney. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of ChessBase we staged a commemorative tourney. A total of 73 eligible entries were received for this tourney, an excellent response. The tourney judge Dr John Nunn selected 22 prize winners and commendations. Today we bring you the top four.

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of ChessBase in June last year the Israeli IM and study composer Yochanan Afek, together with ARVES, the Dutch-Flemish Association for Endgame Study, announced a commemorative composing tourney for endgame studies (win or draw). There were no restrictions on the type of study. ChessBase offered some of their products as prizes. First prize: A copy of the famous Fritz program signed by over-the-board world champions. Special prizes were reserved for the best composing debutants. GM Dr. John Nunn (Great Britain), three-times world champion for solving, was appointed tourney judge, while the tourney director was Luc Palmans (Belgium), chairman of ARVES (an international association promoting the art of the endgame study).

The ChessBase-25 Study Tourney

Award by John Nunn

A total of 73 eligible entries were received for this tourney, an excellent response from composers. As might be expected with so many entries, the level was variable, but the average standard was high with many interesting and original studies. The studies were given to me without the composers’ names and in the end I included 22 in the award.

Tournament judge Dr John Nunn

Practically every award gives me reason to think about particular aspects of study composition, and in this case several studies caused me to consider the question of introductory play. Why do studies have introductory play at all? If the composer has a particular idea in mind, why not just show it without adding any preceding play? Although views on this matter will probably vary, I can list various reasons why introductory play might be desirable:

  • The puzzle element is much reduced if the key idea is already visible in the diagram position.
  • The introductory play includes some thematic element, for example a try, which is essential for the study’s basic concept.
  • The key position involves some unnatural or artificial piece placing, and the introductory play allows the composer to show how the pieces could have arrived in these positions from a more natural starting situation.
  • The introductory play adds some interesting content to the study without significantly increasing the material used.

On the other hand, poor introductory play can have a negative effect. This is especially the case if:

  • The introductory play consists of brutal tactics with several crude captures and checks.
  • The introductory play is too complex, making it unlikely that the solver will ever arrive at the study’s main concept.

Several of the studies entered for this tourney suffered from poor introductory play involving crude tactics and wood-chopping unrelated to the main point of the study. If a composer has a neat idea in a simple position, it’s often better to leave it like that, resulting in a straightforward but memorable study. The advent of strong playing programs makes adding some preliminary tactics rather easy, but the effect is not always positive.

One other point struck me while making this award. A study should be more than a sequence of unique white moves; there should be some overall point or theme to the study. A number of studies entered for this tourney had long and complex play derived either from tablebases or playing programs, but without any real structure. These studies were completely insoluble, very difficult to understand even with computer assistance, and failed to create any artistic impact at all. I did not include any of them in the award.

I would like to thank ChessBase for agreeing to host the event and providing prizes, Luc Palmans for operating as an extremely efficient tourney director, Harold van der Heijden for anticipation checking, and Yochanan Afek, who had the original idea for the tourney.

Today I would like to present the first four prize winners, as diagrams. At the bottom of the page you will find the solutions, replayable on the ChessBase JavaScript board. I urge you to try and solve the studies yourself with the help of the notes provided before you look at the solutions.

Amann,Günter, CB 25, 1st Prize, 2011

White to play and draw

A superb study which I had no hesitation in awarding First Prize. It benefits from a very natural initial position and dynamic play by both sides throughout. Although it looks unlikely from the starting position, White’s main drawing idea is to force stalemate, and he several times tries to sacrifice his queen to achieve this aim. Black’s play is scarcely less interesting, as he too is prepared to offer his queen in an attempt to deliver mate. All the pieces move into position during the course of the play.

This study brings us back to the earlier discussion on introductory play. The main part of the study begins with Black’s queen sacrifice on move four, so is the addition of the preceding moves justified? Here the answer is definitely yes. Firstly, in the main part of the study, the white king occupies an unnatural post at h5, and if it started there, the solver might well wonder how the king could have arrived in such a position. The composer has provided a very plausible answer to this question by providing introductory play involving the addition of just two pawns.

The position after 11 Qg5 is in fact reciprocal zugzwang, but this plays no real part in the play and there is no related thematic try. However, in my view this doesn’t matter at all thanks to the overall richness of the play.

Becker,Richard, CB 25, 2nd Prize, 2011

White to play and win

I don’t normally like studies with this type of material. These days it is often a signal for a long and complicated position which is hard to understand without computer assistance. However, this study won me over with its unusual content. It is in fact an amalgamation of the old-style studies of Rinck, Troitzky and Vandiest with the modern try-play study.

After three introductory moves, White has a long and admittedly fairly complicated winning attempt, but before embarking on it he has the option of taking the a4-pawn, the a7-pawn or both by a series of checks. Which choice is correct only becomes clear round about move 23. It turns out that White has to remove the a7-pawn, otherwise Black’s queen will be able to move to b6 later, but he must preserve the a4-pawn in order to deprive Black of a possible stalemate defence.

This study has one feature which I regard as very important in such ‘long-range try’ studies, namely that the play in the try and the main line should be essentially identical up to the point where the crucial difference between try and main line is highlighted. If this is not the case, the contrast between the two lines is no longer ‘pure’. Here the main line and two tries both follow the same path up to the key moment.

Other highlights of the study include an unusual staircase on moves 13-19 and a tempo-losing manoeuvre on moves 21-26. This miniature study is analytically quite difficult, but the lines are surprisingly clear-cut considering their length, and the overall impact of the work is profound.

Amann,Günter, CB 25, 3rd Prize, 2011

White to play and win

Some good introductory play leads to a position in which Black is on the verge of defeat, but has a variety of ingenious stalemate defences which place unexpected obstacles in White’s path. The bishop and rook line-up on the long diagonal is in itself familiar, but here White has to manoeuvre his bishop with remarkable subtlety in order to achieve success. The climax arrives with the final retreat of the bishop to a1 which, although rather signalled by the pawns on the a-file, nevertheless creates a splendid impression.

Polasek,Jaroslav, CB 25 revised, 4th Prize, 2011

White to play and win

Despite the limited material, this is a complex study. The key point is that White would like to arrive at the position after 1...a6 with Black to move. In that case Black would lose, since ...Kxb4 would allow Rh4+ followed by Rg4, ...Kb5 would allow Rh5+ followed by b5, while ...Rg6 would allow the white king to gain a tempo when it arrives at f5. However, to lose this tempo requires an exquisitely subtle king manoeuvre via e3, d3, e2, e3 and back to f3. What’s special about this manoeuvre is that in similar cases of king triangulation in rook endings, the king is often constrained in its movements by the edge of the board or some other limiting factor. Here, on the other hand, the king is in the middle of the board and can apparently move anywhere, so it’s astonishing that there is only one way to lose a tempo. Working out why is an entertaining and instructive process.


Note that you can select the individual studies in the dropdown menu. Click on the notation will cause the board to display the position. You can also download the studies as a PGN file to replay and analyse with Fritz.

If you enjoyed these endgame studies, you may be interested to try the puzzles in John Nunn's book Endgame Challenge, which features 250 of the world's greatest endgame studies.

GM John Nunn is the Chess Director of Gambit Publications, a specialist chess publishing company, owned and run exclusively by chess masters and grandmasters. Gambit is committed to producing high-quality, instructive books suitable for all levels of chess player and currently have over 200 titles in print. Visit the Gambit website for details of current and forthcoming books.


ChessBase 25 Composing Tourney
08.06.2011 – Special occasions in the chess world are often accompanied by a chess composition tourney. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of ChessBase, the Israeli study composer IM Yochanan Afek, together with the Dutch-Flemish Association for Endgame Study, ARVES, has announced a commemorative tourney. All are invited to test their creative skills.

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