Inspirational studies for tournament players

by Frederic Friedel
4/6/2019 – Recently a new book on endgame studies was published, written by IM Yochanan Afek. He belongs to that very rare breed of composition grandmasters, with more studies to his name than we have seen elsewhere. His book is a treasure trove that provides insights into how, on occasion, the games Afek or others have played gave him the ideas for his study compositions. Review by Frederic Friedel.

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On the Search for Chess Beauty

On numerous visits to chess events I will meet an old friend: IM Yochanan Afek, endgame composer from Israel, now living in Holland. He will usually be found in some corner, working on his notebook — like in the picture below, taken in 2011 during the London Chess Classic. I treasure these encounters, since we share a love for endgame studies — me as a connoisseur, he as an absolute professional composer. I look forward to these meetings as I invariably get some tidbit, some nugget of an idea, from him.

When I heard that Yochanan was going to publish a new book on endgame studies I was very excited. "Please get me a copy as soon as possible," I wrote him. "I know that I will be browsing around it every day, for months." The book did arrive, during my trip to India, and it was a wonderful surprise.

Yochanan Afek in 2011 | Photo: Frederic Friedel

book cover

Yochanan's book is unlike any other endgame collection I have. It is voluminous, and beautifully didactic, explaining different themes, like domination, forks, zwischenzugs, incarceration, skewers, perpetual, and many, many more, with lucid examples. The lessons come in the form of chapters, which end with a section entitled "My Studies," demonstrating what Yochanan has made of the each of the subjects and themes. This is the main dish of each chapter, and for dessert he provides exercises on the theme he has just explained, with little hints, followed by the solutions, given with full explanations and annotations.

Let me give you a random example. Chapter 13 deals with the Positional Draw, which is defined as follows:

"Positional draw is a general term for the draw which results when one side is unable to convert what would normally be a decisive material superiority. This may be due to various positional factors such as the vulnerability or limited mobility of pieces, perpetual attacks or... a picturesque fortress!"

Yochanan goes on to show four of his own games in which positional draws occurred. This is followed by the chapter "My Studies", which starts with his second ever published study, "my first attempt to show a positional draw." There are a total of eleven studies on the subject, and this is followed by four studies in the "Exercise" section. I will give you the first one to try your hand at.


TIP: You can move the pieces in both diagrams — the board will defend with counter moves, taking around five seconds to reply. The solutions, fully annotated, are provided at the bottom of this page.

The second diagram is from Chapter 3, Domination, which deals with with a subtle ways of trapping an enemy unit — "by controlling a significant space of the chessboard, the result of which is that certain squares are inaccessible or unsafe for the opponent's pieces."

We come to a distinguishing quality of this book: the author tells us exactly how he comes up with his ideas. He shows us games he played or saw on the boards of other players, and how he extracted an unusual tactical or positional motif and converted it into a study. In his New in Chess 2019/1 review of Afek's book Jan Timman quotes a number of examples from Afek's book. Here is one that particularly appealed to me.:

In the world of endgame studies, the grandmaster title is not subject to inflation. There are only nineteen living grandmasters in the world, compared to over 1600 over-the-board grandmasters. One of this select company is Yochanan Afek, who was awarded the title in 2015. The 66-year-old Israeli, a long-time Amsterdam resident, is indefatigably involved in many disciplines of the game. He is a player, trainer, organizer, writer and, above all, endgame-study composer. A curious fact is that he got a Dutch residence permit because he is a composer. The authorities must have thought that composing endgame studies is something akin to composing music.

Afek recently collected his studies in Practical Chess Beauty. It is a lengthy work full of ideas and beauty. Having started at a young age, Afek has been composing endgame studies for no less than half a century. I was familiar with many of his studies via Harold van der Heijden's database, but it is good to see them back with insightful commentary. Afek has arranged his studies by theme, and has added some games and fragments.

New in Chess review by Jan Timman

GM Jan Timman is a friend and teammate (in Wageningen club) of the author, and himself is an excellent composer. The above photo was taken in Enschede by teammate Kees Stap.

In his New in Chess review Timman quotes a number of examples from Afek's book. Here is one that particularly appealed to me. It shows how an attractive endgame study can originate. On page 276 Yochanan shows us a game from the 2008 World Championship match between Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand, one that "was decided by an unexpected and attractive tactic:"

[Event "World-ch Anand-Kramnik +3-1=8"] [Site "Bonn"] [Date "2008.10.20"] [Round "5"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D49"] [WhiteElo "2772"] [BlackElo "2783"] [Annotator "Yochanan Afek"] [PlyCount "70"] [EventDate "2008.10.14"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "CBM 127"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2008.11.13"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2008.11.13"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 a6 9. e4 c5 10. e5 cxd4 11. Nxb5 axb5 12. exf6 gxf6 13. O-O Qb6 14. Qe2 Bb7 15. Bxb5 Rg8 16. Bf4 Bd6 17. Bg3 f5 18. Rfc1 f4 19. Bh4 Be7 20. a4 Bxh4 21. Nxh4 Ke7 22. Ra3 Rac8 23. Rxc8 Rxc8 24. Ra1 Qc5 25. Qg4 Qe5 26. Nf3 Qf6 27. Re1 Rc5 28. b4 Rc3 29. Nxd4 Qxd4 30. Rd1 Nf6 31. Rxd4 Nxg4 32. Rd7+ Kf6 33. Rxb7 Rc1+ 34. Bf1 {[#]} {The fifth game in the world championsip match between Kramnik and Anand was decided by the unexpected and attractive move} Ne3 $3 $17 35. fxe3 (35. h3 Rxf1+ 36. Kh2 Rxf2 $19 {is obviously hopeless for White.}) 35... fxe3 {Stopping the pawn threat would cost White dearly, so he decided to throw in the towel.} (35... fxe3 {Following the forced} 36. Rc7 Rxc7 37. g3 Rc1 38. Kg2 Rc2+ {[#]} 39. Kf3 Rf2+ {Black will be a whole rook ahead. Black remains a whole Rook ahead.}) 0-1

Yochanan writes:

GM Alon Greenfeld who was busy writing an article about the match wondered if this type of combination had been already demonstrated over the board. I replied that I was not familiar with any anticipation of the idea neither in a real game nor in an endgame study. Nevertheless, I added, I am ready to give it a decent try! Here is the fruit of my efforts.

[Event "2nd Pr. Schach "] [Site "?"] [Date "2009.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Yochanan Afek"] [Black "White to play and win"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Yochanan Afek"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1kn3R1/2p5/8/1NP5/7P/8/4r3/2K5 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "25"] [EventDate "2009.??.??"] {Systematic maneuver is the repetition of a coordinated movement of two or more pieces. What is the most effective way to take advantage of the pin on the eighth rank?} 1. Nd6 $3 ({Anand's move is the most agressive approach while the natural alternative attempts prove too slow e.g.} 1. Nd4 $2 Re4 2. Nc6+ Kb7 3. Nd8+ Ka6 4. h5 Kb5 5. c6 Ne7 6. Re8 Rc4+ 7. Kd2 Nxc6) 1... cxd6 2. cxd6 {With the obvious deadly threat which leaves black no choice but harassing the white king} Re1+ 3. Kc2 $1 ({Attacking the Rook by} 3. Kd2 $2 { allows} Re6 $1 4. d7 Rd6+ {draws.}) 3... Re2+ 4. Kc3 Re3+ 5. Kc4 Re4+ 6. Kc5 $1 (6. Kd5 $2 {is met by} Re1 7. h5 Rd1+ 8. Kc5 Rc1+ 9. Kd4 Rd1+ 10. Ke5 Re1+ 11. Kf6 Rd1 12. Rd8 Kb7) 6... Re5+ 7. Kc6 $1 Re6 {Black seems happy with the result of the patient systematic movement.The dangerous pawn is now pinned however White saw farther!} 8. Rd8 Rf6 $1 ({Clever.} 8... Rh6 9. h5 $1 { introduces the reciprocal zugzwang Diagram position # Black on move loses as will be shown soon in the main line.}) 9. Kc5 $3 (9. h5 $2 Rh6 $1 {The same rec iprocal zugzwang , this time with white to play having no useful move whatsoever: 9. Kd5 Rxh5 check!}) (9. Kd5 $2 {allows} Kb7 10. Ke5 (10. d7 $2 Nb6+ 11. Ke5 Rf8 {Or Kc7 =}) 10... Rh6 $1 11. d7 Nd6 $1 12. Rf8 $1 (12. Rb8+ Kc6 13. d8=Q Nf7+ $11) 12... Nf7+ $1 13. Rxf7 Kc7 14. Rf4 Kxd7 {with a drawish rook ending.}) 9... Rf5+ 10. Kd4 (10. Kb4 $2 Kb7 11. d7 Ne7 $1 (11... Na7 $2 12. Rb8+ Ka6 13. Rb6+ $1 $18) 12. Rb8+ Ka7 13. Ra8+ (13. Ka4 Rf4+ 14. Kb3 Nc6 15. Rc8 Rxh4 $11) (13. d8=Q Nc6+) 13... Kb7 14. Rb8+ Ka7 {with a positional draw.}) 10... Kb7 11. d7 Ne7 12. Rb8+ Ka7 13. Ke4 1-0

I asked Yochanan about this aspect of his compositions — did most of his studies originate in similar fashion?

Most of my studies are not inspired directly by over-the-board games, not even my own games — just ocassionally. In fact I am inspired by various sources and often there is not even a direct link between the source of inspiration and the final product. The game Kramnik-Anand is actually an exception. I must say that the greatest ideas in studies are rarely seen in games, so the usual process is that the studies inspire the players much more than the other way round. Good studies show a paradox and this is their greatest value: to improve the creativity and out of the box thinking.

Practical Chess Beauty by Yochanan Afek

Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Quality Chess (February 7, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1784830755
ISBN-13: 978-1784830755

This is, in my opinion, a must-have book, one of a kind. You can purchase it from

Solutions to the studies in this article

Click or tap the second game in the list to switch

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.
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chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 4/6/2019 06:11
Yochanan Afek is a prolific composer. There are as many as 294 Endgame studies in Harold van der Heijden's Database composed between 1967 and 2015. It would have crossed 300 long since.