Here comes Noah’s Ark

by Nagesh Havanur
5/1/2020 – The pandemic has posed the greatest threat to mankind in this century. Who can resist the dance of death? Surely, doctors, nurses and health workers who form the first line of defence. However, civil society also has to rally round and support them. It should appreciate their sense of duty and commitment to the cause. Recently Vladislav Tarasiuk paid them a unique tribute and our columnist learnt from him how it all happened.

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It is a paradox that art finds its finest expression in catastrophes like war, plague and pestilence. It’s an affirmation of the human spirit in adversity. Some times it’s an anguished cry of the soul and at other times it’s a voice of hope and courage. In these days of pandemic we chess players try to retain our sanity even as we try and see how we can reach out to others in distress.

Vladislav Tarasiuk (1968-) is a medical specialist in Kharkov, Ukraine. He has been serving as an immunologist in a diagnostics laboratory since 1992. In the main, his work involves tests and analyses identifying different diseases. However, life has changed in these two months altogether. When I asked him, “How?” he put it simply, “I have been in this fight against the pandemic since it started.”

Who is Tarasiuk and what is his connection with chess? Some may wonder. Connoisseurs of chess art will tell you, he is a composer with more than 300 endgame studies to his credit. A number of them have won prizes in prestigious contests. Last year he won the Gold medal in FIDE World Cup for Composing Endgame Studies. This year also he has won prizes. The saga continues.

Tarasiuk was drawn to chess composition when he was very young. First, he started with problems and then moved over to endgame studies. He was 17 when he published his first study in 1985. Now he is past 50 and amidst his busy life he still finds time to compose works of art.

Last month he came up with a new offering and gave it the picturesque name, “Noah’s Ark” based on the Biblical theme.

Art by late Edward Hicks (1780-1849), an American painter | Wikimedia

Before we see Tarasiuk’s own “Noah’s Ark”, let us hear from his own lips how it all came about. “A little over a year ago, I was attracted by the idea of building a fortress round the king with all available pieces walling up together and ensuring his safety. Soon I composed the following study."

 

In the above White has three pieces for the queen. However, both his knight and the promising g-pawn are under threat. As for Black, he has his own pawn racing to queen on the h-file. So what would you do?

Did you find the solution? If yes, congrats. If not, here is a little hint. Remember the gallant medieval knights who would think nothing short of giving up their lives for the monarch. Now you know what to do!

Buoyed up by the success of his work above, Tarasiuk decided to do even better. He created a study that looks a bit crazy.

In the following position both the White king and the Black queen are imprisoned.. However, it is White who is in great danger. The Black king is going to capture the g-pawn on the next move and single-handedly release his entire army from captivity. Bravo! But what should White do? Should his monarch remain in splendid isolation or should his loyal lieutenants start a counterattack?

 

Did you have success with this one? If so, you are a pro! You should join those WFCC solving competitions. If not, you are in good company. “What kind of problem is this?” complained my friend, Max, “I tried to chase the king with a knight check and he gobbled up my pawn. Now he is mobilising the whole army…”

When you see the solution at the end of the article, it looks beautiful. In the final position White has three different pieces, rook, knight and bishop tied up head and foot. No one can move. Tarasiuk should have been happy to see the fulfilment of his dream. Then he noticed something terrible:

"To my regret, I saw, the initial position of the study was illegal. As retrograde analysis showed, it could not have arisen from the initial position of an actual game. I had to start all over again searching for a new scheme on this theme.”

"At the beginning of this year I tasted success and managed to realize the idea of walling up three pieces. It seemed fantastic then. Now I have made a sketch with five (!) pieces. I draw a parallel between the theme of this study and the current situation in the world. With a vast and powerful army White could still have lost. However, teamwork of all the pieces together led to salvation in the end. If we emulate their example in real life, we will also defeat this virus! Believe me, it will happen. I dedicate this composition to doctors and all the people who are fighting against the pandemic. What else would I do? I am a medical professional myself.”

 

An extraordinary position! White has a queen, two rooks and two bishops, and yet he is a “helpless” against the black king, bishop and the two pawns. There is no way of stopping Black from queening. So what can help White? Your move!

Acknowledgements:

  1. I stumbled on this study while I was paying my customary visit to the ARVES web site last month. It’s always worth a look.
  2. Vladislav Tarasiuk kindly shared with me his experience of composing these studies. My sincere thanks.

Solutions

The author

Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as chessbibliophile) is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for nearly three decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.




Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for more than two decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.
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chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 5/4/2020 06:10
@Frits Fritschy,
I appreciate your effort to rescue the study. Assiac once wrote an essay, “Cure or Kill?” It was about cook hunters turning life savers and turning round studies otherwise declared unsound.
(“How about putting the pawn on a different square?”)
Who knows, a miracle might happen here also some day.
P.S.: It’s Mr. Havanur and not Mr. Haganur!
You were rushing to reply…
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/4/2020 04:32
Mr. Haganur, thanks for your attention. I had a look to see whether Mr. Tarasiuk's study could be saved [the position being illegal]. The furthest I got was black Kf8 Rg8 Qh8 pawns e7 g7 h6, white pawns g6 h5. This looked like a possibility, but it transpired that black's black-squared bishop could never have been taken by a white pawn, leaving the construction on the left side of the board still impossible. Work to do for a [far] more experienced composer.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 5/4/2020 01:34
@Frits Fritschy,

By way of post script, I may add that ChessBase Editors have inserted the entire analysis of 2...Kg4 line. So we did make some progress here.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 5/4/2020 02:13
@Frits Fritschy,
I shall request ChessBase Editors to put up whatever has been found so far by way of analysis on 2…Kg4 line.
I came across Babson’s task in Tim Krabbe’s book “Chess Curiosities”way back in 1985 (How time flies!). That was in the pre-internet era. His site, "Krabbe's Curiosities" went on further by way of revisions and updates. Probably the last I have seen on the subject is here itself:
https://en.chessbase.com/post/revisiting-tim-krabb-and-babson
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/3/2020 05:52
@chessbibliophile,
I arrived at about the same conclusion as M. Tarasiuk. The white king is safe, so all new queens are likely to be exchanged on the right half of the board. One pawn will cost white a bishop, and in the end I also got endgames with rook, bishop, and b and c pawn for white, and queen and pawn for black: probably a draw, but still not completely certain.
As far as I know, endgame studies are expected to end in positions where the prescribed result is proven beyond reaonable doubt. That clearly is not the case here. But of course the bigger issue here is the starting position being illegal. I hope M. Tarasiuk manages to save it.
That won't be easy. Just to get the formation on the left-hand side of the board, white must have taken seven black pieces. Not taking into account the pieces the two other white pawns [they seem necessary] must have taken, black has two pieces too much. Seems a Babson-like task, if you know what I mean [if not, check Tim Krabbé's website].
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 5/3/2020 12:11
@Frits Fritschy,
In the Unpublished study the assessment that White would be winning after 13.b8 =Q was mine. It was not Tarasiuk’s who had intuitively judged it to be a draw from the beginning. Here is his opinion, and your view comes close to his.

“The position after the 17th move in the line 2 ... Kg4 is difficult to analyze. Two black queens with pawns are a force to reckon with, but no less menacing are white pieces with a potentially dangerous passed pawn on c5. If one side commits inaccuracies, the other side can win. I think, in a practical game, such a position would be problematic and difficult to solve for either side.
After 18.Nxc6 Kh3, White can play for example, 19.Qh8+ Qh4 20.Qxh4+ gxh4 21.Kb5 Qd1 22.Na5 Kg2 23.Kc6 h3 24.Bd6 g5 25.c5 g4 26.Kb6 h2 27.Bxh2 Kxh2 28.c6 g3 29.c7 g2 30.c8Q g1Q+ 31.Ka6, =
Or 19.Ka5 Qe4 20.Rb5 Qfxc4 21.Qh8+ Qh4 22.Qe8 Qg3 23.Qh5+ Qch4 24.Qf7 =.
In both cases the game should end in a draw. Even at the end of the above analysis there are no convincing moves showing advantage for either side.”
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 5/2/2020 01:49
Frits Fritschy, That line in Noah's Ark Endgame Study is now fixed by ChessBase Editors. Your contribution is duly acknowledged. I intend to ask Mr. Tarasiuk about the other line you gave. That's challenging: Queen+ rook+bishop and knight versus two queens, mobile pawns and an active king.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 5/2/2020 12:30
Frits Fritschy,
Thanks for both the comments. In the line on Noah’s Ark Study there is no stalemate after 6 e8Q+? Bf8! 7 Qxf7+ Kxf7. White still has 8 Bc6 after which 8... Be7 is mate as you have rightly pointed out. I have requested ChessBase Editors to make the necessary correction. Hope they will do it soon.
The longer line that you give after 2…Kg4 in the Unpublished Study is fascinating. I had stopped after 13. b8=Q. You have gone ahead and the resulting position is worth exploring for its own sake.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/1/2020 05:26
In the second study, something went wrong in the comments: after 6 e8Q+? Bf8! 7 Qxf7+ Kxf7 white would be very pleased with stalemate, but alas, he can play 8 Bc6 after which 8... Be7 is mate.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/1/2020 05:18
In the first study, at the end of the variation 2... Kg4, there may be some engine saying it's a win for white, but my human brain would say that the position after 13... Qxb8+ 14 Nxb8 f4 15 a6 f3 16 a7 f2 17 a8Q f1Q could even have three possible results. The next black pawn is ready to move and white's pieces don't look very active. Of course this is not very important as the author already discarded the study because of the illegal starting position.
TimSpanton TimSpanton 5/1/2020 02:18
The century is barely 19 years old ...
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