Study of the Month: March, 2018

by Siegfried Hornecker
3/24/2018 – Mate in 2 — It's not easy to see at first how White can checkmate in two moves. If White could give a check on g7, then 1.Bg7+ Ke7 2.Nc6 mate is reminiscent of a famous opening trap in the Russian (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4!? 4.Qe2 Nf6?? 5.Nc6+). Of course in the problem, the king just could take on g7. This is but one of nine problems you will encounter in this look at the life of the three Kubbel brothers, from study expert and historian Siegfried Hornecker.

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Two’s a couple, three’s the Kubbels

It is difficult at times to find the difference between Leonid Ivanovich and Karl Artur Leonid Kubbel, mainly because both were names used by the same person, the second and most well-known of three brothers. Karl Artur Leonid Kubbel (25 December 1891 — 18 April 1942) had a book by Vladimirov and Fokin (who sadly died on 16 February this year, just prior to writing this article) dedicated to him in 1984.

Leonid KubbelAccording to information in the German national chess problem magazine Die Schwalbe, Kubbel got rid of his first two names after the Russian Revolution in 1917, now being known as Leonid Ivanovich Kubbel. His descendancy from the German Baltic region was to be hidden by the name change. Until 1918 he composed mainly problems, i.e. chess puzzles that ask for example for a “Mate in x moves”, of which around 2300 are known. Afterwards, he turned mainly to studies, i.e. puzzles with the challenge of finding a win or draw. Circa 500 studies of Leonid Kubbel are known. The clarity of the position and economic use of material were important parts of Kubbel’s studies.

The newspaper Novoje Vremja (“The new week”) saw Kubbel as its author for the chess column from 1913 onward. Similar work was done by him from 1922 to 1931 in the Shakhmatny Listok (“Chess Papers”), the later Shakhmaty v SSSR (“Chess in the USSR”). There were two collections of Kubbel’s studies written by him in 1925 (150 studies) and 1938 (250 studies). The abovementioned book Leonid Kubbel by Vladimirov and Fokin contains over 400 problems and 200 studies as well as 250 comparison works, i.e. compositions similar to those of Kubbel.

The book 150 Endspielstudien of 1925 has an introduction, in Russian and German, by “G. Levenfish”, most likely Russian master player Grigory Levenfish. From this introduction, we learn more details about Kubbel’s life up to that point. There also is a prelude written by Kubbel himself, which we also use as the source for the following information. Wolfgang Siewert from Germany sent us a scanned copy of this public domain book for our research, many thanks for that!

Kubbel's endgame studies book coverAccording to Levenfish, the first K.A.L. Kubbel study appeared already in 1904, and complete artistical creations are seen from 1911 onwards. Levenfish praised some of the stalemate studies of Kubbel, we include one of these in our selection (the website mentioned in one of the comments is found on According to Levenfish Kubbel took a three year break and returned to studies composition in 1914, being a famous composer of problems (that is, mate problems, as opposed to studies) by now. From 1914 to 1917 he created many great studies. The number 65, praised especially by Levenfish who also quotes praise by Mieses for the “electrified” versatility of the knight on b8, is selected as second K.A.L. Kubbel study here. Of course, in my opinion it is rather forced...

Sometime in 1918 Kubbel almost completely turned to studies composition, ending his composing of mate problems. As there was no chess press around that time, many compositions were published in Listok Petrogubkommuny in 1921, Levenfish writes. The themes of the “Neudeutsche Schule”, the New German School (often translated as "logical school", although this wouldn’t engulf all of this school), such as the Roman, Indian and other famous themes were an open book for Kubbel, so some of those were shown by him in studies as well. From Levenfish’s selection of studies, we selected also number 105, a lesser-known study that first looks like a Berger endgame — which we believe to mean a theoretical one. The final two studies were selected from the later period after the book was published.

Kubbel became a victim of the “Siege of Leningrad”, classified by modern historians as a hunger genocide, ending his life on 18 April 1942 (according to Vladimirov/Fokin), but his art still lived on in future composers’ works. In the final words of the introduction to the “150 Endspielstudien”, Levenfish calls K.A.L. Kubbel the “inventor of the hypermodern study composition”. To my knowledge, this title isn’t applied today as much as the referred Tartakower term for over-the-board chess, if at all. But it is true that both terms refer to the combinatoric playstyle.

As Alexander Herbstman wrote many years ago, Kubbel refused to be evacuated from Leningrad by train in 1942, saying he could not leave his brothers (!) behind. This indicates Arvid Kubbel’s death wasn’t known to K.A.L. Kubbel yet.

When Karl Artur Leonid Kubbel was born, his elder brother Arvid (12 November 1889 - 11 January 1938) already was two years old, the younger brother Evgeny (23 October 1894 - 1942) was still to follow. Arvid would become a composer of problems in the Bohemian style, that is with at least three checkmates with all white pieces involved in main variations, creating more than 500 problems in total, of which most were Bohemian checkmates in three moves. There are a few studies as well of him.

As the three-mover expert we have mailed also had no details on the life of Arvid Kubbel, nor any selection of interesting problems of this composer, your author chose two studies instead, lacking three-mover expertise himself.

Arvid Kubbel Arvid Kubbel, by profession an accountant of the Spartak sports society, was probably the strongest player of the three brothers, Three USSR championship finals and several Leningrad championships saw him as a participant, with good results.

Arvid Kubbel eventually became a victim of Stalin’s “Great Purge”. He was arrested under article 58-1 and brought into a “Gulag” in November 1937 for (made up) “counter-revolutionary activity” and shot dead on 11 January 1938 after a “trial” eight days prior. The “Leningrad Martyrology”, volume 7, gives the dates above, according to an article by Alain Pallier (see endnote). Officially at the time, the death was caused by nephritis with the truth hidden for decades. The murderers to my knowledge never were punished, and there is no Russian “Operation Last Chance” equivalent...

Unfortunately, I am unable to provide many details on the life of Evgeny Kubbel (23 October 1894 — 1942). The “Chess Composers Blogspot” entry by Eric Huber & Vlaicu Crişan tells us only he composed around 150 problems, mainly two-movers. Evgeny Kubbel also died during the Siege of Leningrad. Two of his two-movers were selected which are in no way representative of his work but rather show rather light positions with play that hopefully can be appreciated by a general audience.

As for the reason why disproportionally many chess players and chess composers died in the Siege of Leningrad, the history of the city is important. The 1933 over-the-board Soviet Championship saw eight out of 20 total participants from Leningrad, winning the first five prizes. The problem magazine Zadachi i etyudi ("Problems and studies", 1927-1930) had its staff from Leningrad, and the Shakhmatny Listok/Shakhmaty v SSSR magazine was published from 1922 to 1938 in Leningrad. Chess life went so far that even during the evacuations during the Siege of Leningrad chess was taught to children, and among those who learnt the moves on the train was a young child named Boris Spassky who would go on to become World Champion. But that is a story readers might know already.


Sources, in addition to the ones given above

  • Schwalbe Heft 284 Kalenderblatt in April 2017
  • An article series by French endgame studies historian and composer Alain Pallier in John Roycroft’s magazine “eg”, then already led by Harold van der Heijden, about Troitzky and the Kubbel Brothers in January and April 2012 (Part 1 and Part 2 - for this article on part 2 was used as a source as part 1 only deals with Troitzky, it might, however, be interesting to readers who want to learn more after reading our January article

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World Federation for Chess Composition

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Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.


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