Vanishing Act

by Siegfried Hornecker
7/27/2019 – Study of the Month columnist SIEGFRIED HORNECKER outdoes himself this month with a tour de force including eight studies! You can truly spend the entire month with this one. Featured first is Sergiy Didukh (pictured), a Ukrainian studies composer who invented the term “thematic wrong try”. Enjoy! | Photo: Arves.org

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Study of the Month: July 2019

As announced in the previous month, we will look at endgame studies with a “thematic wrong try” this time. I can only give my recollection of events, which might or might not be true as I started participating in the discussions about chess composition in the mid-2000s. Specifically, after presenting a study by the composer who invented the term, we examine studies where White sacrifices a piece, including the 7th WCCT theme where the same position is repeated after a white piece has disappeared. Afterwards, as a bonus, your author shows one of his ideas with that theme.

From my recollection, the inventor of the term “thematic wrong try” as opposed to the previously used “thematic try” was Sergiy Didukh, a Ukrainian studies composer who spawns — for lack of a better word — controversial discussions and never shies away from giving his true opinion. This was in the late 2000s, around the time that studies with subtle differences were greatly explored by many composers. He used this term in his own studies, of which I remember mostly one that had the king lured to b1 from c1 for reasons completely not obvious.

 

This 2008 study (1st prize in “Shakhmatnaya Poesia”) ended with 17.b8♕+, explaining the difference by the second move of White. What happens in the study with the lone king battling against two knights to put his pawn into motion is beyond comprehension unless one really tries to look for alternative moves for Black. After capturing both knights, a skewer will win the newborn white queen if the promotion is without check. By this time, the pawn on h7 has promoted on h1 while White “ate” both knights. Naturally, the entire study can be replayed below, and it has left an impression.

The impression must have helped to cultivate the use of that term, which soon was used by many composers. By now, however, it seems that such studies have become rarer, with other themes being more explored. But what exactly would I classify as the theme here? I would call it a small difference that leads in the future to a major change in the position’s evaluation, i.e. the game is drawn instead of lost. Of course, Didukh was far from the inventor of the theme itself — in fact, the 7th WCCT, the World Chess Composition Tournament, had as its theme for endgame studies that a position is reached during play that is reached later again but with one white piece missing. In that vein, the actual play but with that piece could be called the thematic wrong try if one wants, and this subset of the theme shall be what we concentrate on this time.

The results were published in 2004 and Hungarian Pál Benno — not to be confused with Pál Benko in whose 2003 jubilee tourney Benno won a commendation — was the winner. Maybe his play was not as deep or spectacular as other entries, but he showed the theme three times in a quite natural position. We can imagine both players castling queenside, White leads a ruthless pawn storm, sacrifices pieces, wins back some material, and eventually is left with a slight material superiority when Black has to give both rooks to stop the attack. The aftermath of that fierce battle then would be the beginning of the study, also replayable below.

Three years ago, Frederic Friedel showed another study by this composer, with the similar material fighting a deep strategical battle. Unfortunately, apart from several more ingenious ideas, I have no information about Benno. Is he the same P. Benno who had a study each in 1973 and 1984? Why are there (apart from those) only studies from 2000 to 2008? With only 15 (or 17 if he is the same P. Benno) studies in total plus 1 (2) study versions he might be the equivalent not to a one-hit-wonder in music but to a famous band with few albums, such as Guns N’ Roses.


Gratuitous digression of the month: IM Anna Rudolf & Juga perform Guns 'N' Roses' "Patience"


I am a great fan of many other studies of the 7th WCCT, but those might at least with their full analysis given not be suitable for a mass audience, such as the 13th place by Kralin and Pervakov, incorporating a task named after Joaquim de Valladao Monteiro which includes castling, unique promotion and en passant. Prior to the combination, Pe4 is sacrificed so the newborn queen can give a check on f5. Sadly the study has also many other unthematic variations. When you look at it, number three in our selection, please understand that I trimmed all variations except the thematic one. The study with all variations can be found below that, at number 4. This is copied straight from hhdbv, the database by Harold van der Heijden from October 2015, without any comment but with his kind permission, as given a while back. More endgame studies by Oleg Pervakov are available in a beautiful article by Professor Nagesh Havanur.

The study that left the most impact on me with a thematic wrong try where a piece must disappear however has not the 7th WCCT theme. Most likely you saw it already, it is featured in for example “Secrets of Spectacular Chess” by Jonathan Levitt and David Friedgood, an interesting book on aesthetics in not only endgame studies and games but also problems. It takes over 20 moves to understand why White has to sacrifice a pawn seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

The theme can be used in settings that resemble endgames, this is found in a study by Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen and Martin Minski from 2017. Interestingly, White must sacrifice his passed pawn in order to trap the knight. The logical try occurs when the bishop must be sacrificed in order to make room for the queen. Of course this trick is easily understandable, and we can imagine it happening in a real endgame eventually. Readers are, of course, welcome to point out examples where this theme happened in games with the reason for the sacrifice being not obvious at first.

Of course, the basic premise of such an idea dates back as long as modern chess exists: Of course that square g8 is attacked, but to deliver a smothered checkmate, you must sacrifice your queen there first. But in endgame studies the difference can be much more subtle, and maybe Martin Minski managed to do in a co-study with me (I had supplied the knight manoeuvre, he supplied the logical introduction, later Mario Garcia added Ph7 to remove possible cooks) the ultimate trick: A pawn is sacrificed to make room for a piece that does not exist yet to win another piece that also does not exist yet. You find it after the regular studies, replayable below.

Many more studies are available with the theme, but it would go beyond the scope of this article and beyond the knowledge of your author to list them all or even give an overview historically. Of the endgame study themes in the now ten WCCTs, this one stands out by its flexibility, making it attractive to composers still one and a half decades later, and — as I hope — also to the readers when they replay the examples. As a final bonus, I added a chess problem by Bo Lindgren that probably has the deepest thematic wrong try I’ve ever seen. White under-promotes in this 30-mover(!) that I first saw in 2008 because Black, who has no less than 13 pieces on the board, would otherwise be stalemated later.

 

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World Federation for Chess Composition

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

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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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Martin Minski Martin Minski 7/28/2019 02:20
At least two photos of Benno:

http://www.arves.org/arves/images/PDF/EG_PDF/eg154.pdf
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