Ready for Reti

by Siegfried Hornecker
5/25/2019 – Many will know the Austro-Hungarian (and later Czechoslovakian) Richard Réti as a world-class player, but also as a great composer of endgame studies, so — in time for his 130th birthday — we continue our exploration of European chess composers with him. As it would go too far to analyse his entire biography, just the important details will be given here, while also exploring the history of the Réti manoeuvre. | Photo: Ernst & Cesanek, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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Study of the Month: May 2019

Before we start, I recommend to our readers to also enjoy Pál Benkö’s two-part selection of Réti’s endgame studies, celebrating his 125th birthday in 2014 (see part 1 and part 2).

As our Hungarian study expert outlined in his selection, Richard Réti was born on May 28th 1889 in Bösing in Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia; Réti became a Czechoslovakian after Austria-Hungary split in 1918) as brother of the musical composer and pianist Rudolph Reti (Rudolph did not use the accent above the “e”), who later studied mathematics in Vienna.

As I am not an expert on opening theory or practical play, I can’t say anything theoretical about the Réti opening 1.♘f3. It was, as Réti stated, introduced into master play in early 1923. Theorists say it is in line with Réti’s “hypermodern” approach on chess, which is the term used for the ideas after World War I, challenging the classical understanding of European masters, such as the “Praeceptor Germaniae” Siegbert Tarrasch. One of the most famous contributions to hypermodernism might be Nimzowitsch’s book “My System”, but Réti was among the vocal supporters of those new ideas, culminating on one hand is his opening, the main line characterized by 1...d5 2.c4, otherwise leading often into other openings, and on the other hand in his books Modern Ideas in Chess (1923) and posthumously Masters of the Chess Board (1933, first published in Germany in 1930) which are regarded as classics still worth reading today.

Owing to Réti’s early death on June 6th 1929, both books are in the public domain in almost all countries, so you can find a full transcript of the first book with replayable positions [in the “Open Chess Books” project].[1] As of writing this, I was unable to find the full second book on a trustworthy website for free. Both books have still been reprinted in the 2010s while in the public domain, but the publisher does not seem to understand how copyright works, claiming it for the entire book (hint: Réti’s text isn’t copyrightable).

The Réti maneuver study

One of Réti’s first and also most famous endgame studies shows a geometrical manoeuvre later named the “Réti manoeuvre”. Two kings, two pawns, one seemingly stopped and one seemingly unstoppable, leading to a draw by a geometrical motif. There is however a backstory which I found in Albin Pötzsch’s 2018 book collecting his articles in the German magazine “Schach-Magazin 64” (not to be confused with either the “64” or the “64 - Shakhmatnoe obozrenie”).

In 2011 Pötzsch reported the following episode from the November 5th 1914 simultaneous exhibition by Alexander Alekhine in Moscow (at that time a major city but not the capital until 1918).[2] Hundreds of people wanted to play the master but due to him contracting a cold he wanted to limit the number of players to 30. The organizers obliged and in the end 33 opponents were allowed to play. One of the opponents was a young man named Zuckermann, later champion of Warsaw and Paris. This does not seem to be Josef Cukierman, from what I can see about his biography. Any information on Zuckermann would be welcome. Zuckermann sat next to Vladimir Neustadt (not to be confused with chess composer Vladimir Neistadt, born in 1950), a then 16-year old boy, later a literary critic and Pushkin expert about whom does not seem to be much known outside of Russia, so I can’t provide more details on him. Finishing a game, Alekhine saw the following draw combination and played 1.e6. You can see the actual end of the game at the end of the article, the following board shows Alekhine’s idea.

 

From this position after 1.e6 Alekhine hoped for ...fxe6 2.dxe6 ♞xe6 3.♘xe6 ♝xe6 4.♔g3 a5 5.♔f4 a4 6.♔e5 ♝f7? 7.♔d4 a3 8.♔c3 a2 9.♔b2= believing that the endgame was already a draw after 3.♗xe6, making this an example of the Réti manoeuvre. (See full analysis below.)

Neustadt talked with Zuckermann about his plan to capture first with the pawn and then with the knight, but as Alekhine came to the board, he got confused and immediately took with the knight instead. After 1.e6 ♞xe6 2.dxe6 Alekhine was about to go, but Neustadt decided to immediately reply with 2...♝xe6 after which Alekhine exclaimed the Russian equivalent to “What a pity!” and resigned. Then Alekhine demonstrated the line he hoped for (which was still possible in the case of 2...fxe6 3.♘xe6! etc.), as on the replayable board above (starting the conversation with: “Of course White is lost, but I wanted to see if [...]”). It dawned on Neustadt that the Russian master saw all of this prior to playing 1.e6. Likely it also dawned on him that he won “by accident”, as his originally planned play might have been a draw. As we know today, the endgame is a bit more complicated.

The great mystery remains why Alekhine, who sometimes complained on how his opponents hinder him to create real beauty, did not publish this position as an endgame study, or why the position was not widespread. Instead, Richard Réti, whose position clearly has the greater appeal by looking completely lost to even a beginner who doesn’t need to count or know the “pawn square” in which the king can stop the promotion, published his study in Bernhard Kagan’s magazine Kagans neueste Schachnachrichten, making it world-famous after having it published in the Deutsch-Österreichische Tageszeitung a few months earlier. You most likely know the study but can enjoy it again as the third replayable entry below this article, directly after the ending of the game diagrammed above and a Gunst study related to a game variation. Maybe if the 22-year-old future world champion had taken the effort and known how to properly advertise his idea in widespread chess magazines so everyone could see it, the manoeuvre would be named after him. But even then, Réti’s setting would have been the one that demonstrated the idea best for players, and in a correct form as Alekhine didn’t know Black still could win...

In the second part, we will look at what Mandler says in the book Sämtliche Studien von Richard Réti about the titular hero. Also, a short overview of his tourney successes over the board will be given alongside with a small selection of Réti games your author likes.

 

Click or tap an entry in the list to switch positions

You probably know that you can move pieces on our replay boards to analyse and even start an engine to help you. You can maximize the replayer, auto-play, flip the board and even change the piece style in the bar below the board.

At the bottom of the notation window on the right there are buttons for editing (delete, promote, cut lines, unannotate, undo, redo) save, play out the position against Fritz and even embed the ChessBase game viewer on your website or blog. Hovering the mouse over any button will show you its function.


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World Federation for Chess Composition

World Federation for Chess Composition (www.wfcc.ch)


[1] Legal note: Mexico has a general “life+100” copyright, but apparently for books there is an exception shortening it to 50 years after death. I still advise Mexican readers to look up their laws prior to looking at the transcript.

[The copyright in Jamaica and Cote d’Ivoire exceeds 90 years after death], so readers in those countries might legally not be allowed to click the link to the transcript.

[2] The Russian capital for almost two centuries was the city then recently renamed to Petrograd, until 1 September 1914 Saint Petersburg, also the site of a major chess tourney in April/May 1914 won by world champion Lasker.

Correction May 25: Added information on Réti's nationality after 1918. In an earlier version of this article, Reti's birthplace, Bösing, was indicated as being in Hungary instead of Austria-Hungary.

Links




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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macauley macauley 6/2/2019 02:04
@wlk1977 - Amended the teaser text accordingly. Thanks.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 6/2/2019 07:04
For English language readers an important source is the section on Reti’s Endgame Studies on John and Sue Beasley web site (easy to find with a simple Google search) It offers a thematic selection plus revisions and updates.
wlk1977 wlk1977 5/30/2019 09:47
Lovuschka: In the headline text there is still written "Hungarian Richard Réti". This is not correct, he was not Hungarian, but Jew. If you take the same attitude, you can even Serb Nikola Tesla call an Austrian.
According to his close friend S. Tartakower, he even did not speak Hungarian at all, what is written even in wiki sites https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_R%C3%A9ti

Savielly Tartakower sagte über diese Zeit:
Réti studiert Mathematik, ohne trockener Mathematiker zu sein, vertritt Wien ohne Wiener zu sein, ist gebürtiger Alt-Ungar ohne Ungarisch zu können, redet ungemein rasch, um desto bedächtiger zu handeln, und wird noch der beste Schachspieler, ohne Weltmeister zu sein. Er ist eben ein forschender Künstler, der sich mehr mit dem „Warum“ der Dinge als mit deren Wesen beschäftigt ...

His father and mother, both were Jews. Next week, there will be open small exhibition about Reti in the Museum of Jewish culture in Bratislava, Slovakia. https://www.snm.sk/?about-the-museum-11, you can try also our quiz with close cooperation with learningchess.net: https://learningchess.net/reti.php. Exhibition will be held till September.
Lovuschka Lovuschka 5/26/2019 10:34
Hey, joseph39: Your correction has been implemented. Thanks! The last study was supposed to say it is to be solved by readers, and the solution is given in part 2. The "S. S. #" prior to each study indicates the number in Mandler's book "Sämtliche Studien von Richard Réti".
ludovicus ludovicus 5/25/2019 11:06
Excellent article. The 1922 study is in Fine's Basic Chess Endings (1972 reprinting) p. 10, No. 13a, and I remember being astonished by it when I first encountered it there. No. 13a is not an actual diagram, but one has to set it up from a description. And Modern Ideas in Chess is a masterpiece, in my opinion. I loaned my copy years ago and it never came back, so I was happy to know of its existence in the Open Chess Books project.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/25/2019 10:49
'Alekhine hoped for 1... fxe6 2 dxe6 Nxe6', but isn't 2... Bxe6 still easily winning? Looks like his hopes were a bit more distant than is described.
joseph39 joseph39 5/25/2019 08:49
I am happy that Richard Reti is not forgotten.
One correction - Richard Reti wasn't Hungarian chess player. He was born in 19-th century in former Austria-Hungary monarchy (not Hungary).
He played on chess tournaments as citizen of Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia was founded in year 1918 and Richard Reti died 11 years later.

But anyway - thanks for this nice article :-)

Jozef
Logos Logos 5/25/2019 07:11
Nice article and analysis. Thank you. I remember the first time I saw Reti's pawn endgame motif. It seemed like magic that broke the laws of chess.
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