Giants of Modern Studies - Steffen Nielsen Part II

by Satanick Mukhuty
7/12/2020 – In this second article about the life and work of the prominent study composer Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen, we will go through five of his studies, from a light miniature to his most outstanding creation till date. Sit back and enjoy! | See Part I | Photo: Niels Jørgen Jacobsen, Silkeborg

Komodo Chess 14 Komodo Chess 14

Last year Komodo won the world championship title on two occasions and can call itself "2019 World Computer Chess Champion" and "2019 World Chess Software Champion". And the current Komodo 14 has been clearly improved over its predecessor!


Study 1


We begin with a light miniature that should especially be instructive to tournaments players. 1. Nc3+? Kc4 2. b5 Bc5 and 1. Nb6+? Kc6 clearly don't work, so White begins most naturally by pushing the b-pawn. 1.b5 Bd8 and now 2.Bf8! - a subtle move meant to keep the black king at bay. 2.b6? is an inaccuracy as after 2...Kc6 3.Bd4 Kb5 4.b7 Bc7 5.Nc5 Kc6 6.Kc2 Bd6 7.Kb3 Kc7 8.Kc4 Bxc5 Black holds fort. 2...Kc4 3.b6 Kb5 4.b7 Bc7 5.Nc5 Kb6 follows next, and now comes the pivotal move of the study: 6.Ke2!!


This move looks quite innocuous at first glance but later proves critical. Why do you think 6.Kd2 or 6.Kc2 don't work? Well, try 6.Kc2? Ka7 7.Kd3 Bb6 8.Bd6 Bc7! 9.Bxc7 and Black forces stalemate. But after the reti-esque 6.Ke2!! we have 6...Ka7 7.Kf3! Bb6 8.Bd6 Bc7 9.Bf4/g3 and ultimately the subtle point behind is revealed. Ke2 is actually the key move needed to keep control of the important f3 square, in order to be able to later meet 8...Bc7 with either 9.Bf4 or 9.Bg3!

There can also be an alternative continuation with 6...Bb8. In this case White simply brings the king into the thick of action and manages to promote the b-pawn: 7.Kd3 Ba7 8.Kc4 Kc7 9.Kb5 Bxc5 10.Ka6 Bxf8 White just wants to support the b-pawn, nothing else matter, 11.Ka7 Bc5+ 12.Ka8 and wins. An elegantly slender and dynamic production!


Study 2


Perhaps with this study we really enter into what can be called the hardcore Nielsen territory. White begins with 1.Nf8, as 1.Rf7+ Kxg6 2.Nf8+ etc clearly don't go anywhere, the g6 pawn is actually preserved in order to create threats later. Black must take guard now as all sorts of threats with Rh7+ and Rf7+ are in the air. 1.Nb5, for instance, is careless and allows White to overwhelm with 2.Rh7+ Kg8 3.Rh8+ Kxh8 4.Ne6, a deadly double-attack. 1.Qd6, on the other hand, is met with a surprisingly long forcing line: 2.Rf7+ Kg8 3.g7 (threatening 4.Rh8#) 3...Qc6+ 4.Nd7 Qxd7+ 5.Kxd7 Kxf7 6.Rg4 Kg8 7.Kxd8 e5, and here Black has nothing better to do than just push the e-pawn. It isn't fast enough though and White wins without much trouble after 8.Ke7 e4 9.Kf6 e3 10.Kg6 e2 11.Rf4 for there isn't any way to parry the mate threatened in the next move. The mainline therefore continues with 1...Nd5 and 2.Rh7+ Kg8 3.Rh8+! Kxh8 4.Kf7 (threatening 5.g7#) 4...Qh5 5.Rh4 Nf6 follows next leading to the most critical moment in the study.


A highly charged moment in the game. What do you think should be White's key move here?

Well, ideally White would like to get in Nf8-d7 but 6.Nd7 straight away is premature because of 6...Qxh4 7.g7+ Kh7 8.Nxf6 Qxf6+, so clearly the rook on h4 must be transferred to a better square first. The correct move is 6.Rh1!! and only now 7.Nd7 Qxh1 8.g7+ Kh7 9.Nxf6+ Kh6 10.g8=Q followed by checkmate is a real threat. The other plausible alternatives fail to work due to some subtle reason or the other. Try 6.Rh3? Bc7 7.Nd7 Qxh3 8.g7+ Kh7 9.Nxf6+ Kh6 10.g8=Q Qb3+ equalizes. Try 6.Rh2? Bc7 7.Rh1 Bf4 8.Nd7 Bh6 is even winning for Black.


So h1 is the only correct square for the rook and thus, with 6.Rh1, White is now prepared to kick out Nf8-d7. But Black can still continue offering resistance, can you see how?

A good composition always equips the defending side with attractive hidden resources and this particular study achieves that quite gloriously. Black plays the move 6...e6!! here - defending subtly against the threat by opening up the seventh rank. Now 7.Nd7 would be met with 7...Qxh1 8.g7+ Kh7 9.Nxf6+ Kh6 10.g8=Q Qb7+. But take note that 6...e6 has also incurred a crucial shortcoming: the b3-f7 diagonal is closed now. Thus, White plays 7.Rh3, once again improving the position of the rook, exploiting the fact that Black doesn't have Qb3+ anymore!


The rook is repositioned for the second time and once again White is threatening Nf8-d7!

Black continues with 7...e5! again, cleverly opening up the b3-f7 diagonal. But now since the h2-c7 diagonal is closed and with that the threat of Qc7+ eliminated, White repositions his rook yet again for the third time with 8.Rh2! How magnificent! This manoeuvering continues a little more with 8...e4 9.Nd7 Bc7 and 10.Rh1!


Finally once the rook settles on h1 (thanks to the unavailability of Qh1-Qb7+), Black starts to run short of defenses! 

In a desperate bid, Black tosses out 10...Qxh1 but now after 11.g7+ Kh7 12.Nxf6+ Kh6 13.g8=Q White wins, as it is impossible to avert checkmate on both g6 and g7. A truly gorgeous jewel, the beauty of which will perhaps not fade in an eternity!


Study 3


White is on the defensive in the above position, his biggest worry being the pawn on e2. However it is not yet time for active counterplay. 1.Qc4 loses to both 1...Bh7 and 1...Qe8. The square c4 is actually needed for the bishop on a2. Solution: 1.Qb5! Qe8 2.Qd3 White is not allowed to play Bc4 and is forced to retreat instead, 2.Qxe8? runs into 2...e1=Q+ 3.Kc2 Qd2+. 2...Qxe4 3.Qxe4 Bh7 Black pursues the white queen relentlessly. 4.Qd3! White too must endure and not lose focus of the e2 pawn, 4.Qxh7? e1=Q+ 5.Kc2 Qd2+ and we know what happens. 4...Kf2 Black unpins the pawn, 5.Qc2! and White retreats some more not letting go of the pin. But Black simply plays 5...Ke3 preparing e1=Q, and what does White do now?


There's no stopping the e2 pawn anymore. Is it time for White to lash out?


Well, not really. White retreats yet again: 6.Ka1!

Next, White's pieces get driven all the more into the corner. 6...e1=Q+ 7.Bb1 Qd2! (7...Bxc2 not possible because of 8.Nxc2+ fork) 8.Qa2 Qc1 and finally 9.Nc2+! a check! White gives a check burying Bb1 and Qa2 even deeper! Who would have ever guessed that the path to redemption could actually lie through such hopeless passivity? 9...Kd2! 10.Nd4+ and now, at last, White strikes: 10...c2 11.Nb3+ axb3 12.Qa5+ Kd1 13.Qe1+ Kxe1, the stalemate combination hits almost like a bolt from the blue and suddenly, as the dust settles, we have a draw! This is escape by the skin of the teeth, literally so! Even the most pompous attacker can't help but envy this sort of outrageous defensive play. Brilliant!


Study 4


This study is perhaps Steffen's most outstanding creation till date. In fact it was one of the determining entries for the WCCI 2016-18 that helped him bag the bronze medal, and oh boy! so stupefyingly complex it is... The difficulty starts from move one itself. White intends to support the bishop on c1 and hit at the black king at once. There are several candidate moves that seem fit to serve that purpose: 1.Qa1, 1.Qb2, 1.Qc2, and 1.Qa3. But it turns out that of this four options it is only 1.Qa1! that works. This can be proved only through painstaking analysis which has been duly covered in the replayable annotation below. So let us in this text focus more on the mainline and try to appreciate the many twists and turns that abound it. 1.Qa1! obviously threatens Qg7# so now Black goes 1...Qe1+ 2.Kf4 Rf8+, and here after 3.Ke5+ e3 4.Bxe3+ we already arrive at a strange juncture.


With the move 4.Bxe3+ White has opened up a discovery on the loose Qe1. How does Black deal with it?


Well, here comes the first of many stunners, a defense that is nothing short of shocking: 4...Rf4!!

White can't capture 5.Qxe1 because (behold!) there comes the sneaky 5...c6#; nor can White pick up the rook because 5.Kxf4 runs into 5...Qxa1 6.e7 Qa4+ where there's no time for 7.Rg8. Thus, White contents with playing 5.Qb2 and the mainline continues  5...Qc3+ 6.Kxf4 Qxb2 7.e7


Now White has its e-pawn on the seventh rank. But Black will simply get in Qh8 here, after that how would White have any chance to hold?


Well, it's time for another stunner, but this time from the White side. The play follows 7...Qh8 8.Kf5+ Kh7 and in comes 9.Rg7+!!

9...Qxg7 10.e8=Q is clearly a draw. So Black takes on g7 with the king, and after 9...Kxg7 10.Bd4+ Kf7 11.Bxh8 we yet again arrive at a position which completely defies intuition!


So here we have liquidated to a bishop ending where Black will simply be up two pawns after Kxe7. How on earth can this again be a draw? 

Yes, the drama is still very much on! The game continues: 11...c5 12.Bf6 Bd6 13.Ke4 Bxe7 and here comes the final trick, guess what it is?



This bishop sacrifice surprisingly returns equilibrium back. Well, 14...c4 15.Kd5 h4 16.Kxc4 h3 17.Bg1 is obviously a draw and in the mainline after 14...cxd4 it turns out that the white king is just in time to stop Black's h-pawn: 15.Kxd4 h4 16.Ke3 h3 17.Kf2 h2 18.Kg2 No luck for Black unfortunately with the wrong coloured bishop there! And that, dear readers, is the end of the study. How breathtakingly complex! The solution is not only replete with flashy tactics but even some of the seemingly most prosaic moves conceal points of great delicacy.


For instance, consider White's eighth move where White opens up the above discovery on the black king. This isn't a casual check and you can't really replace 8.Kf5+ with 8.Ke4+. Can you see why?

Well, the move 8.Kf5+, as simple as it may seem, is actually critical to reaching the particular drawn bishop ending (with the 14.Bd4! trick) that we have just seen. It is very important to note here that 8.Ke4+ instead of 8.Kf5+ leaves White a completely lost position with two pawns down after 8...Kh7 9.Rg7+ Kxg7 10.Bd4+ Kf7 11.Bxh8 c6. Several other nuances like this one have been rigorously analysed in the pgn below for your diligent perusal. Replay and learn. Learn and replay!


Study 5


We end this part with a study that is more fun to replay than to understand ... It's a mammoth 24 moves deep task problem, and it has a logical try whose refutation too runs twenty moves deep! But no worries, the play is delightfully linear and therefore easy on the eyes. It's just a single piece that does all the work here. The action begins with 1.Ne7! threatening 2.Nc6+ Kxe4 3.Qxc5 followed by Qxf5#. Black obviously captures 1...Qxa3 and now starts the knight's cosmic dance of destruction:

2.Nxf5+ Kxe4 3.Nd6+ Kd4 4.Nb5+ Ke4 5.Nxc3+ Kd4 6.Nb5+ Ke4 7.Nd6+ (7.Nxa3? g2 draws) 7... Kd4 8.Nf5+ Ke4 9.Nxg3+ Kd4 10.Nf5+ Ke4 11.Nd6+ Kd4 12.Nb5+ Ke4 13.Nxa3 h2 14.Nb5 h1=Q 15.Nd6+ Kd4 16.Nf5+ Ke4 17.Ng3+ Kd4 18.Nxh1 b2 19.Ng3 b1=Q 20.Nf5+ Ke4 (20... Qxf5+ 21. Kxf5 Wins. No stalemate thanks to the mobile pawn on h6) 21.Nd6+ Kd4 22.Nb5+ Ke4 23.Nc3+ Kd4 24.Nxb1 1-0 In an absolutely thrilling episode the knight makes twenty-four consecutive move wrecking havoc across the board!

1.Nxh6 instead of 1.Ne7 almost works, but ultimately doesn't. The reason being precisely the absence of the h6 pawn which results in a stalemate. Here is the line:

1.Nxh6? Qxa3 2.Nxf5+ Kxe4 3.Nd6+ Kd4 4.Nb5+ Ke4 5.Nxc3+ Kd4 6.Nb5+ Ke4 7.Nd6+ Kd4 8.Nf5+ Ke4 9.Nxg3+ Kd4 10.Nf5+ Ke4 11.Nd6+ Kd4 12.Nb5+ Ke4 13.Nxa3 h2 14.Nb5 h1=Q 15.Nd6+ Kd4 16.Nf5+ Ke4 17.Ng3+ Kd4 18.Nxh1 b2 19.Ng3 b1=Q 20.Nf5+ Qxf5+ 21.Kxf5

Now over to you! Just play out the entire thing in the board below and watch all the magic unfold!


The next and final part of this article is truly the cherry on the cake. As it happens, Steffen graciously agreed to give ChessBase India a detailed interview. So what follows next will give you an insightful peek into the mind of a composer, how he thinks and works. It will also give you a perspective of different styles of composing and how they evolve. We know our chess players well, it's time that we get to know our chess composers too!

Stay tuned for Part III.


Satanick Mukhuty has a background in Mathematics. He is an avid enthusiast of composition chess and is sincerely committed to promoting it around the world. He works for ChessBase India.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register