Paul Keres, the Composer

by Nagesh Havanur
2/2/2016 – For his 100th jubilee there was a Keres Memorial tournament in Talinn, Estonia. Paul Keres, the strongest player who never made it to World Champion, is still a legend for his adventurous play and astounding combinational skill. But he was also a remarkable composer who started with a clever two-mover at the age of thirteen. Prof. Nagesh Havanur presents a collection of Keres problems and studies for you to solve.

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Paul Keres, the composer

By Prof. Nagesh Havanur

Paul Keres (1916-1975) was a prince among men. He was among those few players never to have won the World Championship crown in spite of sheer talent and achievement. In his younger years he was known for adventurous play and astounding combinational skill. In later years he moved towards perfection and became a superb strategist with flawless technique. He still played combinations in the autumn of life, and they were of the purest gold, in the striking phrase of Harry Golombek.

As is known, Keres was also a composer of problems and studies. He began when he was very young. The following two-mover was probably the first to see the light of day.

Paul Keres, Päevaleht 1929

White to play and mate in two

When you see this problem you are baffled. Before looking for mate shouldn’t you rescue the queen? But then you get nowhere near the king. So what is the way?

All solutions to all problems are given in the Javascript replay board at the bottom of this page. But we entreat you to spend some minutes trying to find the clever solution before you peek. The above mate-in-two, you will agree, is not bad for a thirteen-year-old! Three years later he produced another gem.

Paul Keres, Esmaspäev 1932

White to play and mate in three.

Here Black is poised for stalemate. How does White stop him with elegant means? You only need an act of imagination for this one.

Keres was less prolific as an author of studies. Some of them did not meet the rigorous standards of composition and were subsequently cooked. Those that have stood the test of time are, however, worth a look.

Paul Keres, Magyar Sakkvilág 1936

White to play and win

White is a queen up and still the king looks doomed on account of the threat of 1...b2+ followed by promotion to queen. But no, he would survive and go on to triumph with a magic display followed by minimum show of force in the end. The third move is a stunner.

Keres loved those little pieces and they in turn did wonders for him. In the following position White appears helpless against the avalanche of Black pawns. His own lone pawn already looks doomed. But help is on the way.

Paul Keres, Deutsche Schachblätter 1939

White to play and draw

In his lifetime Keres is said to have composed about 200 problems and 30 studies. Way back in 1999 Aleksander Hilderbrand and Friedrich Chlubna published a bi-lingual booklet, Paul Keres der Komponist, with a short collection of his problems. A more comprehensive work would be welcome in the year of his centenary.

Solutions to the above problems and studies

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board.

Recent articles on Paul Keres

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.


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chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 2/9/2016 03:20
Päevaleht 1929:
Almost every solver goes through the same route and then discovers that 1.Qd3? (with the threat of Qa6 mate is met by 1…Nc7.
Once he finds the elegant key, he knows, it’s mate next move in this two-mover.
Captain Picard Captain Picard 2/8/2016 03:50
1st one: Qd3 then Qa6# is only prevented by black playing Nc7, which covers a6 for one move, making it mate in 3. I would hardly call that "nowhere near the king" lolol. But yeah, in case all you geniuses who say these are easy probably had no idea why that knight was on e8!!! morons....
tarunvkanth tarunvkanth 2/7/2016 03:23
first is easy , rest 2 needs time to solve
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 2/7/2016 09:04
A few comments are in order:
a)Esmaspäev 1932
Some solvers were “deceived” by the position of the Black king and concluded, Black was on this side of the board. Soon they saw, he wasn’t and Black pawn on h2 could recapture on g1 if the bishop was taken.
b)Magyar Sakkvilág 1936
One solver suggested, the position could be a draw if the h-pawn wasn’t there in the endgame study. In the initial position if Black does not have the h-pawn, White can play 1.Qxh7 and draw by perpetual check. If he follows the main line of the study there is stalemate after 4.Nc6 Bc2! 5.Kxc2 =. If the bishop is not taken, he will guard against any knight mate on b3 or c2. The presence of the h-pawn gives White time to prepare the mate with the knight.
c)Korchnoi expressed great respect for Keres in his autobiography, “Chess is my life” mentioning only his four losses, but not his solitary win. Both belong to the galaxy of great players.
It only remains for this author of the article to appreciate the sincere effort of solvers and thank them for the feedback.

Hawkman Hawkman 2/3/2016 09:46
I was wrong: LIFETIME RECORD: Classical games: Paul Keres beat Viktor Korchnoi 4 to 1, with 12 draws!
richard_l_jones richard_l_jones 2/3/2016 11:07
whoops. Nf6 is also incorrect due to 1. Nf6 e2. Winning would be 1. Qh8, e2, Qxh2+, gxh2, Nf2#.
Footinmouth Footinmouth 2/3/2016 10:17
Mpro100, hxg1
richard_l_jones richard_l_jones 2/3/2016 09:20
First one was super easy. Just look for the pin. Second one was just a little harder, but the pin is already in place, so finding black's main structural weakness around the king was all that was necessary and Nf6 came easily. Third one took more time, though Nc2+ was the obvious first move. Anything other than Ka2 after that gets a quick mate. Took me longer since I didn't see Nc6 right away. The last one is definitely hard, but a6 was the only answer for me. It's a nice long variation after that, which I didn't bother with going on to the end, but no doubt it would end in either a three-fold rep or not having enough mating material on either side. Overall, definitely fun puzzles. Love to do these every morning to wake up the mind.
disneychannel disneychannel 2/3/2016 05:03
THe third problem is a draw if Black doesn't have the h pawn:1.Nc2-Ka2,2.Nb4-Ka1!,3.Qa2-bxa2,4.Nc6-Bc2!
disneychannel disneychannel 2/3/2016 04:31
true gmwdim!
disneychannel disneychannel 2/3/2016 04:29
I got the first one,but I slipped on the second.I thought I was very smart with 1.Rxg1!-Kxg1,2.Qb5!But here there is the cool 2...Kh1!Wow!In the third one I found the main line but couldn't see what happens on 2...Ka3!I was completely clueless about the fourth one.A great composer,Keres!
ewenardus ewenardus 2/3/2016 03:51
Hehe Mpro100 I made the same mistake
anon1dff anon1dff 2/3/2016 01:50
@Mpro: You are forgetting that pawns capture forward.
gmwdim gmwdim 2/2/2016 04:52
In the third problem, the comment on white's third move "any other move draws" is incorrect. White could technically play 3. Nc2+ and still win by repeating the position once, and all other moves for appear to lose! I don't see any move that actually draws with best play.
psamant psamant 2/2/2016 02:17
The first one was cool. The sentence after the problem ("When you see this problem you are baffled. Before looking for mate shouldn’t you rescue the queen? But then you get nowhere near the king") acted as a clue and helped me figure out the solution!