Christmas Puzzles 2014 – My Favourite Studies

by Frederic Friedel
12/29/2014 – Chess endgame studies used to be great fun, especially the creative and artistic variety that brought hours of solving pleasure. These days you simply enter the position in a computer and hit "Go". The solution usually appears in milliseconds, giving you milliseconds of enjoyment. Why don't you try to work with a chessboard and pieces. Here are two studies with solving instructions.

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ChessBase 2014 Christmas Puzzles

For the fifteenth anniversary of our apparently well-loved Christmas puzzles we have decided to go back in time and pick some of the best or most popular puzzles for you. Remember there are GM readers (and one of our regular authors) out there who were not born when we started the series. For older readers the cherries we will pick out of the original section will hopefully bring on nostalgic memories; and the younger ones will learn for the first time what we have been up to over the years.

(One top GM, who is approaching 2800, wrote us: "Terrible puzzles on the ChessBase page. Especially the first one. It keeps bothering my brain during my holidays. It took me couple days to figure out it's must be Black who is mating, but I am still struggling to see how.")

And of course we will start the new year with our traditional Christmas puzzle contest. On the first of January 2015 you will get some problems to solve, with the chance of winning interesting prizes. In the meantime here are the final three sections for 2014. The page will be updated from December 29–31.


December 30

December 31

January 1

December 29, 2014: My favourite studies

I was introduced to chess studies by one person, a world champion, and one book. It was over thirty years ago, in 1981, when a young Finn named Mika Korhonen came to stay for a week in my home. Mika was part of the Finnish problem solving team that had won the world championship in the helpmate section. He had written one of the world's first problem solving programs, Mika's Mate, for the Apple II computer.

Mika was also an endgame specialist, and he brought with him a book that we read, virtually from cover to cover, while he was there. It was John Roycroft's The Chess Endgame Study. Originally the book had appeared around 1972 and had been called Test Tube Chess, but Mika had the latest edition with the new title.

There was another guest staying with us at the time. It was a young boy from England, fifteen years old, tall and lanky, with feminine features and a giant Elo. It was Nigel Short, still an IM and playing in a Hamburg Grandmaster Tournament. Every morning, still in his pyjamas, every evening and on his free days he joined in the fun and solved studies with us. Naturally he was much better at it, so Mika had to pull out helpmates and other weird stuff to put the lad in his place.

I still own Roycroft's book, which Mika left behind, unable to bear the traumatic parting scenes that would have inevitably followed. It is well-thumbed, with dog's ears and little slips of paper in it, and pencilled notes on the side of hundreds of positions. These include solving times for Nigel and other top GMs who visited me, as well as for early chess computers. Big heavy "X"s mark my favourite studies. My taste has not changed substantially over the years.

15-year-old Nigel Short and Mika Korhonen solving puzzles

M. Klyatskin, Schachmat 1924

White to play and win

Let us start solving this position. 1.Rxa8 is naturally the first move we check, but 1...Nxa8 2.Kxa7 Kxc6 3.Kxa8 Kb5 is an obvious draw. So we check 2.Kb7 Nc7 3.a6 Nxa6, which also only draws.

So let's try 1.axb6 Rxb8 2.bxa7, but again 2...Re8 (for instance) 3.Kb7 Re7+ is a draw (4.Kb8 Rxa7).

What else? 1.c7 looks promising, since Black can't take the rook. But after 1...Kxc7 2.Rxa8 Nxa8 we are once again left with a draw.

So how on earth is White to win? Well, you can enter the study in Fritz or Komodo and find out in a millisecond. Or you can enjoy the exquisite pleasure we experienced at the time, setting up the position on a chessboard and working it out all on our own. They were good days.

J. Gunst, Das illustrierte Blatt, 1922

White to play and win

Now this is a really simple position, isn't it? It is immediately clear that White must capture the black pawns without losing either of his pieces. But these are being acutely threatened by the black king.

We should be able to work out the solution by brute force. Let's start by eliminating the obviously bad tries: any king or knight moves drop the bishop and the game is immediately drawn. This is an enormous help, because we now know that the first move must be with the bishop.

So let's start with 1.Bxd7. Unfortunately 1...Kc7 results in one of the white pieces being captured and a draw. This means we are left with only two candidate moves. We try 1.Bb7, and are again confronted with 1...Kc7. Black again picks up one of the white pieces and draws. So obviously the correct move is 1.Ba6. But hang on, after 1...Kc7 where does the knight go? Once again it is captured and Black has secured the draw.

We have run out of moves, the problem doesn't appear to have a solution. Maybe there is an error in the diagram? This is a very unpleasant possibility that come up more often than you'd expect in chess magazines. One spends hours working on a study and in the next issue the editor writes "we apologize for an error in the diagram, there was a white pawn missing on b5" or something like that. But rest assured, the above diagram is correct, the position is wKd5, Nb8, Bc8, bKd8, Pa7, Pd7, six pieces on the board, three of each colour.

So how in the world does White win? Well, that is your task for today – or one of them. Out with the chessboard and six pieces, and a hot coffee, cold beer or nice glass of wine, whatever is your thing. Just leave the computer out of it.

– Part two of My Favourite Studies will follow tomorrow –

Please do not post any solutions in the discussion section below and spoil the fun for everyone else. Nobody will admire you for it, and some will be extremely annoyed. Just keep it all to yourself.



Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.