The unknown soldiers I

by Siegfried Hornecker
5/30/2020 – Study of the month columnist Siegfried Hornecker starts to explore the works and backstories, in as much depth as the sources allow, of composers that have created one or only a few studies. Theodorus Cornelius Louis Kok, Anatoly Tichonovich Motor, Johann Sehwers and former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk are some of the composers that appear in this first instalment. | Pictured: Kok and Sehwers

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Study of the Month: May 2020

Many countries have tombs or other memorials in commemoration of unknown soldiers, fallen on the battlefield without their names ever being known to the world at large. In the United States, the Arlington National Cemetery is such a place of mourning. In a slightly disturbing audio rendition, the Doors in 1968 sang about the death of such a soldier. In chess composition, there are many small composers, who although known by name have only created one or a few works — also some of the more influential composers have not many known biographical details.

Library of AlexandriaLuckily, I am in the somewhat comfortable position of being able to access a great treasure trove of books from a worldwide digital network, something unthinkable just half a century ago, yet not every last answer is found in that mysterious “internet”. It might be one of the first all-encompassing mediums, including books, magazines and videos in itself, being accessible from nearly everywhere. Yet, even with that incredible knowledge at hand, some mysteries remain, also in the realm of chess, while in other cases there are sources but they are difficult to come by, or they are so rare that they are too expensive for non-collectors. The ancient Library of Alexandria, with its wealth of books decaying over the course of centuries, has a digital counterpart in abandoned websites that eventually will disappear. The comforting narrative of a great fire would like to relegate the uncaringness of mankind to an encounter of chance, yet the gradual degradation of the now lost scriptures over the course of centuries egregiously is showing us that history that should be preserved could easily be forgotten even without its record altered just by the disinterest of those with the financial means to do so.

While I have no secret knowledge, in this new sub-series I want to provide readers with the knowledge of chess composers about whom not much is known, or not much can be found reasonably. In some cases there might be printed sources which are unknown or not available to me.

I.

In eg 135, January 2000, two obituaries appeared. While the British mathematics teacher Wallace D. Ellison (1911-1999) earned his place with 25 endgame studies and a short collaboration with Walter Veitch in 1969 on the “Spotlight” column (ending when Ellison was elected chairman of the Assistant Masters’ Association, “a trade union representing male teachers in British secondary schools”), I had turned to the issue hoping to find more information about a Dutch composer.

II.

Theodorus KokSaid Dutch composer was Theodorus Cornelius Louis Kok (23 November 1906 - 28 May 1999). Looking at the blog by Eric Huber and Emil Vlasák, I found hints leading me to Latvian fairy chess expert Julia Vysotska, or rather a forum entry by her, where she reports receiving information from Hans Gruber (at the time president of the German chess problem society “Schwalbe”). Gruber confirmed that Kok invented the fairy chess piece “imitator”, which imitates all movements on a board, thus adding a further strategic component. For the article in the Fairy Chess Review, April 1939, Kok used the pseudonym Gerrit Jansen. In eg 135 we learn that Kok published his endgame studies mostly in Dutch magazines, but also competed abroad. Unfortunately, the Czechoslovakian prize winner was cooked in 2006 by Mario Garcia who found other solutions, so it isn’t reproduced below.

Other than composing around 250 endgame studies, Kok also wrote two books: Problemen en Eindspelstudien (December 1938) and Wege zur Endspielstudie (1993).

Harrie Grondijs published the “Stes Journal”, an article of Harry Johnson called “Imitating Kok” from its December 1996 issue. It was referenced in my eg 135 source, saying that Kok was an actuary. The word means a business professional dealing with risk assessment and management. They, as an online article assures us, “use math and statistics [...] to help clients minimize risk.” The same article informs us that actuaries may work in the field of insurances or retirement benefits planning.

Kok’s professional career after the Second World War led to him retiring from chess for a long time. This might also explain the long difference between the years of his book and study publications. From 1947 to 1988 there are exactly three unique endgame studies of him — before and after there are aplenty.

(While writing this article, Rainer Staudte informed me that there is a good biography in Jan van Reek and Henk van Donk's Endgame study composing in The Netherlands and Flanders, Margraten, 1992, p. 41ff. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that book, nor to Johnson’s article which holds more biographical information.)

III.

A very elusive chess composer, at least in any internet source, is the Ukrainian Anatoly Tichonovich Motor (born in 1935). He has over 300 endgame studies (the database of Harold van der Heijden lists 343 of which few seem to be corrections and versions), around half of them with other composers, especially two whose last name starts with K: Kuznetsov, Kakovin. No other information about him was found by me.

IV.

Episode IV of a famous Disney (formerly Lucasfilm) movie franchise is called “A New Hope”. Fittingly, there are many entries in the databases where there is only a single study by some composers. Leaving jokes and pseudonyms aside, many chess players might have just wanted to publish one great idea they had, possibly sometimes a combination from a game. Those new hopes never had a second study, or in some cases they had a few but didn’t fully commit to composing. As one such example, Alexandria Kosteniuk won the Uralski Problemist 2009 tourney with her only endgame study. If you search for “Kosten” in the databases, also E. Kostenko and V. Kostenkov turn up, the former of them has one and the latter has two endgame studies, one of them with F. Aitov, a composer who was productive for decades and worked together with a few famous composers once, but isn’t known to the “Composers’ Names in Various Alphabets” database. So, those are just a few of the then “new hopes”, the composers with only a few entries in the databases.

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

V.

For a composer with many well-known works, especially known today as the discoverer of the only known fortress in the endgame of KQ vs. KBN (Kb8, Bb7, Nd5 and horizontally/vertically mirrored), not much is known about the German composer of around 150 endgame studies with the (only partially known?) name Max Arn K. S. Karstedt (15 January 1868 - 22 March 1945). The other claimed fortress by Tom Morrell (Kf2, Bf3, Ng2) was defeated by the Nalimov endgame tablebases. Such at least is the information I can collect online from ARVES and the “Chess Composers” blog by Eric Huber & Vlaicu Crişan.

At the time, Europe was in a paper crisis caused by the war, so likely no or very few obituaries exist. In the February 2018 issue of Die Schwalbe, the only additional information given by Günter Büsing, who celebrates the 150th birthday of our composer, is that Karstedt wrote for the Deutsches Wochenschach and Deutsche Schachblätter. From what I see in the database, his endgame studies were mostly of a theoretical nature, detailing often the battle of rook against rook, with few pawns on the board, or queen against bishop and knight, pawnless. The study selected by me resembles an idea of Emanuel Lasker, but is different enough to show new facets.

VI.

We will close with a counter-example, a composer that is well-known and has biographical data available, but not enough for an own article. If you never heard anything about Jānis Zēvers, you might know the transcribed name Johann Sehwers instead. Sehwers (28 June 1868 - 7 November 1940) was an early Latvian study composer. The German Wikipedia gives the “Encyclopedia of Latvian chessplayers” by Val Zemitis (2009) as a source for its article, but the main information comes from Sehwers’ own publications and Szachy od A do Z (Warsaw 1986, authored by Litmanowicz, Władysław; Giżycki, Jerzy), so I will reproduce its information here in my own words, asking interested readers to obtain the original sources

Sehwers was born into a farmer family in Livland, a region in North East Latvia. He started playing chess in his youth, participating at local tourneys. His first endgame study appeared in 1898 in the St. Petersburger Zeitung, also listed in sources as St. Petersburgische Zeitung. Founded in 1727, it was the second oldest newspaper in Russia, and the oldest in a foreign language (German), but it would cease publication in late 1914 or early 1915 due to issues caused by the first global war. Sehwers, in his early years, published his studies mainly in newspapers in the Latvian capital Riga. In 1922, his Sehwers’ Endspielstudien book, published at de Gruyter, contained the titular studies, including many originals. From what I see in the Harold van der Heijden database of 2015, many studies with either stalemate or tactical domination of the black queen respectively appeared there. From the many easily digestible ideas, I chose two battles of knight and rook against queen.

Only five more Sehwers studies appeared after the publication of this book, three of them in the Dover edition of “1234 Modern End-Game Studies” in 1938. This might have been caused by Sehwers’ academic career. After working in Tartu as a school teacher, he decided to take up academic studies in the University of Zurich in the summers of 1910 to 1914. In 1918 he promoted to doctor of philology (the science of languages). Die deutschen Lehnwörter im Lettischen (“The German lean words in Latvian”) was the title of his dissertation, foreshadowing his presidency of the Lettisch-literärische Gesellschaft (Latvian Literary Society) from 1925 to 1940, during which his Magnum Opus Sprachlich-kulturhistorische Untersuchungen vornehmlich über den deutschen Einfluß im Lettischen appeared in 1936, dealing with (so the translation of the title) “Linguistic-cultural historic explorations foremost about the German influence on the Latvian [language]”.

While I found that he was married to Alma Hühn, I have no further information about the marriage. During the marriage, he participated in the relocation of Germans to Poznan, which became his final station in life. According to the Schwalbe, December 2015, Sehwers died on 7 November 1940. Some more of his endgame studies can be found in an article by John Beasley in the “British Endgame Study News” linked here.

The information given there is plausible, telling that Sehwers spent a great part of his life in Estonia and 13 years in “Archangel” (Archangelsk?). Unfortunately it doesn’t give precise dates for those years. But seeing that Tartu is Estonian, it must have been in his earlier years, prior to the First World War.

Readers are invited to provide further information on all composers, especially if they have access to rare sources.

 

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World Federation for Chess Composition

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

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.