Hillel Aloni: Patience and perseverance

by Siegfried Hornecker
6/29/2019 – When on May 26th 2017, in Netanya, a man died during the preparations to celebrate his 80th birthday, the jubilee turned into a memorial for one of the greatest study composers from Israel. Many chess composers have an endless love and passion for chess, but he also had it for raising other young talents. | Photos: Arves.org

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Study of the Month: June 2019

Born in Tel Aviv on the 30th of September 1937, young Hillel, together with his brother Yoel, still became one of the best chess players of the city of Holon, nowadays after Haifa the second-biggest industrial city of Israel. Going into the history of that country would be far beyond the scope of this article, but during Aloni’s youth it turned into a sovereign state, the “Medinat Yisra’el”, “State of Israel”, founded on May 14th 1948 after the horrible shoah and during the Arab-Israeli War. To delve into the entire history of this country, both prior and after the foundation of this state is not possible within the scope of this article, so we can only add that the country, even more so than at the USA and the USSR during the Cold War, was and still is under a constant threat of war and terror and yet under these circumstances has made remarkable achievements, also in the field of chess. One of these achievements were the endgame studies of Hillel Aloni.

Hillel AloniWhen Yochanan Afek named Hillel Aloni the “Father of Israeli Chess Composition”, no exaggeration was made. Documents such as Afek’s article in EG 2017 or a 1977 letter to Gady Costeff as published in Variantim 72 (where also an article by Afek based on his EG article is found) show that those great masters were taught by Aloni. In fact, Afek names other composers (the most famous examples being Amatzia Avni, Ofer Comay, Noam Elkies, Yehuda Hoch) who received Aloni’s assistance when they started out. Of course this was in addition to Aloni’s thorough checks of originals he received for the both magazines Shahmat and Haproblemai (later renamed to Variantim, see the link above). On his professional occupation, as Afek reports, Aloni was a teacher for mathematics and physics in high school. Various educational institutions saw Aloni as a chess teacher while with his brother Yoel he also remained an active player in the league of working places. In a research paper by Israeli researchers Shahar Gindi (himself a chess player) and Avital Pilpei we learn that chess leagues in Israel were established in 1954. Israel’s chess championships were held since 1936 by the Palestine Chess Federation which in 1948 became the Israel Chess Federation, according to that paper’s free excerpt on the internet.

Aloni’s activity started in the 1950s, Afek writes, naming Aloni as the first Israeli chess composer to compete internationally. First Aloni composed both mate problems and endgame studies, but later exclusively turned to the latter genre. He used his place in the both magazines he wrote for to encourage his pupils by showing their achievements, but also organized participations of them in international tourneys such as the official top tourney WCCT — or international team matches in chess composition. Afek reports that Shaul Shamir (nowadays a helpmate composer) writes, Aloni not only greatly helped his early steps in chess composition, but also shaped his personality. In Afek’s article, Amatzia Avni, now himself a grand Israeli chess composer, reports a 1977 conversation where Aloni wrote: “Stubbornness, infinite patience, discontentment with unfinished creation, endless search of all sort of improvements and nuances — are the signs of a worthwhile composer...”

As Aloni’s lifelong work led to numerous co-productions with many national and international composers, the example given by Afek at the end of his article, citing one of his two co-productions with Aloni, can be replayed below.

We can only add that Aloni, to our knowledge, also didn’t shy away from turning an interesting endgame he played into a study. A 1963 study from Shahmat that came to existence from a game sadly has some duals, so it is not reproduced here, and I don’t know other examples, but there might be more. When looking through his ideas, I notice that there is a certain humour in his studies, showing (to speak so) fun ideas. Those might not be pleasing artistically by today’s standards, but are light-hearted. One such example can be seen as the second replayable study. Be it a surprising checkmate or stalemate being built, they seem to have been crafted carefully from the final position as curiosities.

At nearly 200 endgame studies, the quantity of Aloni’s work might seem in itself solid, but readers are to be reminded that his original endgame studies appeared from 1953 to 2011, making computer testing impossible for decades, so in connection with the other work he did in his magazines and correspondences, the magnitude surely is of another level. Maybe it is fitting that one of his last studies was a co-production with Harrie Grondijs that ended in the Saavedra promotion, proving his own words from decades before.


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World Federation for Chess Composition

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


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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