The lone king has wandered on

by Siegfried Hornecker
6/27/2020 – When Bobby Fischer died in 2008, one printed article about him was titled “The lone king has wandered off”. Despite this obscure reference in the title, the topic of this month shall not be a specific composer but rather a curiosity, a subset of endgame studies, called “Rex Solus” — the lone king.

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Study of the Month: June 2020

Many chess players will have their first endgame experience with “rex solus” exercises: Checkmate the lone king with king and queen, king and rook, king and two bishops. The final step, the checkmate with king, bishop, and knight, is not known by all master players, and some of its resources are difficult to find over the board, although possible with some time.

Yet, it seems at first glance that there can’t be much interest to endgame study composers when an endgame is concerned in which one side has only a king. I hope that the following examples can give — although not comprehensively — a short overview of the variety that still is possible in such situations.

Readers who follow the puzzles on ChessBase will remember one particular idea that was discovered by me and independently by some Russian masters, although they put it into the form of an actually good endgame study, while I didn’t find it interesting enough to publish on its own. Similar encounters happened later as well — sometimes other composers reproduce my unpublished ideas independently, more often it is the other way round. Or even there are cases in which I publish a composition independently and only later I find the predecessor. While usually the word of composers is trustworthy in this regard, without publication a composition loses its rights to the ones who do find and publish the same or a similar idea.

So all credit correctly goes to the original publishing composers, which is what I apply below in the following puzzles that you can try to solve if you don’t know them already. For the similar reason, I will only quote the original studies but not re-inventions of the same position, in the replayables.

Steffen Slumstrup NielsenSteffen Slumstrup Nielsen [pictured, right] won the Jan Timman Jubilee Tourney in 2012, making him known in the endgame studies world, whereas Sergiy Didukh, Karen Sumbatyan and Oleg Pervakov published a position (winning the second prize) that ended in an unusual pawn endgame: White has a lone king, Black is to move, has a king and three pawns on different files. Despite this huge advantage of three pawns and the move, the game is a draw. Can you find the position? The solution is found in the last replayable endgame study below. Short biographies are at the end of this column. (Verburg in 1985 also found a very similar position — see replayable studies.)

Quite a few composers explored endgames where one side has only the bare king left, and we look at a few of those endgame studies below, and as they all contain not much content I selected a larger number than I usually present. In 1995 Vladimir Kuzmichev published his book “Шахматные задачи и этюды” (Shakhmatny zadachi i etyudi, which could be translated as Chess problems and studies) with several “rex solus” studies. Marinus Verburg in “The Pawn Alphabet” of 1985 also included some.

Information on the replayable studies

Capablanca Chess FundamentalsThe first example below is from the book “Chess Fundamentals” by José Raúl Capablanca, which was published 99 years ago, in 1921. For the research of this article I browsed through the book (despite being from Germany I can see the HTML version and print it as a PDF file, which might or might not be fixed in the future). Capablanca published it as part of a theoretical endgame study in the book and thought the position was a draw, but Jenö Bán in 1951 pointed out that White wins. This analysis, according to the database, was published in the magazine he founded, Magyar Sakkvilág (to which I have no access). So the question comes up: who deserves the authorship here? I believe both do: Capablanca found the position, Ban the improvement. This is a situation similar to Barbier’s stalemate endgame study that was refuted in the most beautiful way by Saavedra.

Readers will be aware of the “wrong bishop” endgame, but they might not know a series of mutual zugzwangs in this ending. Gijs van Breukelen analyzed it in 1969 and two decades later Sergey Osintsev showed it from the other player’s perspective, possibly without knowing the predecessor.

The incredible Wouter Mees showed that a material advantage of bishop, knight and pawn might still require very precise play to win. The initial bishop sacrifice shows a problem theme: In a twin study the solution becomes the try and vice versa. Of course, what follows after the initial sacrifice is a battle of knight against king to protect the vulnerable pawn.

The next example is by Ernest Pogosyants. It is a funny small joke. The position is reproduced here so readers can try solving it. White wins:

 

The study by Vladimir Kuzmichev shows an exception to the generally won endgame of king and three knights against king. While the endgame is of nearly no practical value, readers might want to train winning it for fun from a neutral position such as the black king in the centre and the white pieces in a corner. The study has black with the material advantage and a similar situation but in different corners, so the perpetual threat of capturing either the corner knight or the one defending it leads to a draw.

 

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.

Short biographies of the composers 

Please note that for still living composers, for obvious reasons, the number of published works might increase and other data may change at any point, making this only an overview of the current data available.

Steffen Slumstrup NielsenSteffen Slumstrup Nielsen (born 13 August 1975) is a Danish endgame studies composer who often worked together with other composers such as Martin Minski (born 23 August 1969) from Berlin, Germany. Slumstrup Nielsen currently is the editor of the revived “Originals” column in the Dutch (former British) endgame studies magazine “eg”. Minski portrayed him in the German magazine “Problem-Forum” in December 2016. At that point, Nielsen worked as a journalist for a computer magazine in Denmark.

His FIDE Elo is 2170 since February 2020 (highest 2244 in May 2007). Despite the computer expertise, his studies are of a nature that is appealing to humans, often with complex but not complicated ideas: Cross-checks, pins, batteries, etc., are just a few examples of Slumstrup Nielsen’s themes. An interesting perpetual attack won him the first prize at the Timman Jubilee Tourney mentioned above, with the success bringing his name to international attention. Yours Truly met him personally in Belgrade 2016 and Dresden 2017 at the WCCC meetings (World Chess Composition Congress). Unfortunately, my database ends in October 2015, when there were around 30 endgame studies of Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen. When I contacted him for this article, he estimated to have around 240 endgame studies by 9 June 2020.

A very detailed article can be found on ChessBase India by Satanick Mukhuty (in English).

At that 2016 meeting of the endgame studies subcommitte, then presided by Yochanan Afek, Yours Truly volunteered for the new “Study of the Month” project that was to supersede the “Study of the Year”, which after many years was believed to not have done enough for the propagation of endgame studies to a general public. Later, Slumstrup Nielsen became president of the subcommittee. The details of why Afek stepped down are unknown to me; likely he decided to have less work there, although he still remains a member. As of my newest information from September 2019 there were nine members of the committee (the others — apart from Yours Truly, Yochanan Afek and president Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen — were: Harold van der Heijden, Marcel van Herck, Martin Minski, Gady Costeff, David Gurgenidze, and Oleg Pervakov). Originally the plan was to present one study per month, but starting in January 2018 we decided (on my proposal) to provide some detailed information on composers as well as a selection of their studies.

On the topic of his name, Steffen wrote in an e-mail on 27 March 2018:

I prefer «Steffen Slumstrup Nielsen». Steffen is my only first name.

Karen Sumbatyan [pictured] (born 1959 in Russia) and Oleg Pervakov (born 8 April 1960) won the “Study of the Year” in 2014, which was the study selected as most suitable to show to a general public to interest them in endgame studies. It is not selected on other merits, such as being the subjectively best study, which at points seemed to cause confusion. The study is replayable on the ARVES website with the position after 9.Be2 being the main idea that most likely is appealing to players.

Nagesh Havanur detailed Pervakov’s life and endgame studies in two articles from 2019 to which I refer interested readers. So here I give only shortly the most important facts: Pervakov holds the titles of FIDE Master for solving in 2004, GM for Chess Composition in 2005. He created over 300 endgame studies, participating in five of nine WCCT, winning the 3rd, 4th and three times getting 2nd place. Currently the tenth WCCT is running, where Yours Truly expects Pervakov to participate as well. Not wanting to fight such a fierce opponent (and also not having many ideas anymore), Y.T. is trying his hands on another section instead, but will certainly look forward to the results, and will gladly present those studies in this column.

Karen Sumbatyan won the 6th place (co-study with Boris Gusev) at the sixth WCCT. His first endgame study was published in 1976. Since then, over 70 studies of him were published, many of them were co-productions with Oleg Pervakov. His high quality earned him the title of FIDE Master for Chess Composition in 2011. I don’t have more information on this Russian composer.

José Raúl Capablanca (19 November 1888 - 8 March 1942) was World Chess Champion in practical play between 1921 and 1927. Even trying to start giving biographic information about this Cuban master would go far beyond the realm of this article. He has published nine different endgame studies (twelve total with versions and corrections), four (five) of them in his 1921 book. His most famous one was condensed from the ending of a 1914 blitz game against Emanuel Lasker where Capablanca played the winning idea and later removed unnecessary pawns for the publication. It is reproduced here for readers to solve.

 

Jenö BánJenö Bán (9 March 1919 - 12 November 1979) was a Hungarian medical doctor and “national teacher” (source: ARVES). He founded and directed the magazine Magyar Sakkélet for over 20 years. The following information is from the Hungarian Wikipedia entry: Bán lost his father János at three and a half years old, becoming the foster child of Jószef Kerekes. Graduating from high school in 1937 (where he had learnt chess), he enrolled at the university in the Hungarian capital Budapest (combined from the cities Buda and Pest), where a first medical examination was passed in the second semester 1942. In Bologna, his medical degree was “taken” (Google Translate; probably meaning “passed”). In 1946, after the end of World War II, he dedicated his life to chess, giving up his medical profession without ever practicing.

As a secretary for MADOS (Hungarian Worker Chess Association) between 1945 and 1949, and a writer for Magyar Sakkvilág and Magyar Sakkélet he gained experience that was later used to write multiple books. Notwithstanding, since 1944 he has created 27 endgame studies, but was far more prolific since 1942 in other composing genres, such as helpmates and mathematical and construction (chess?) problems.

Bán has many successes as a practical player’s chess coach and trainer. In 1956 he started coaching the Hungarian team. He worked together with Gedeon Barcza and later trained Vasas Bulb. The Hungarian Chess Association awarded Bán the title “Knight of Caissa” posthumously in 2009. His hometown Dunapataj holds a memorial each year since 1983, which mainly consists of a championship for primary school children, seeing hundreds of participants. His parents’ house received a commemorative plaque on occasion of his centenarium in 2019. In the FIDE Album, Bán received 5.83 points.

Gijs van Breukelen (born 1946 in the Netherlands) is a Dutch chess composer. Possibly, his most famous endgame study is the “taxi study”, an incredible battle of the bishop against knights, blurring the line between studies and problems. There are less than 40 studies in the database, including a five-fold twin study from 1982, and a few variations of the taxi study. His longest endgame study is a walk out of stalemate that takes 101 moves.

Sergey Osintsev (born 1960 in Russia) is International Master for Chess Composition since 2012. He has around 170 published endgame studies as of 2015. Despite his great successes, I found no biographic information about him.

Wouter Mees (6 August 1921 - 25 January 2018), full name Wouter Jacob Gregorius Mees, worked at Hoogovens (Wijk aan Zee) until 1983. Prior to his occupation in Wijk he had graduated from the Technical University in Delft. The ARVES website tells us that he was physically active as a hiker and biker far into the 21st century.

Reading that Fischer’s column introduced him to chess and his first endgame studies were published in 1936 hints that the columnist was the now largely forgotten Jean Fischer (9 December 1909 - 4 December 1939), who ran the studies column in “De Schaakwereld” since 1936, as well as contributing to the “1234 Modern End-Game Studies” with a foreword. Fischer’s date of death and military career suggest that he became a war victim, but ARVES clarifies instead that he suffered a “fatal fall from a motor vehicle”. The German Wikipedia’s sparse entry on Wouter Mees confirms the suspicion of Jean Fischer being the columnist.

Of further interest is Mees’ title of FIDE Judge for Chess Composition in 1959, a very early date. His total output seems to be around 140 endgame studies. With 11.67 points in the FIDE Album, he would have been eligible for the FIDE Master for Chess Composition title, to which the reader is to be reminded that composers’ titles (especially GM) are much more sparse than for practical players.

The “Computer SchaakVereniging Nederland” was co-founded by Mees, who acted as its chairman.

Ernest Pogosyants (5 June 1935 - 16 August 1990) deserves an article for himself alone, so for now I give only the cornerstones: Pogosyants composed more than 6,000 works, of which (at least) more than 1,700 are endgame studies. He achieved the title of Grandmaster for Chess Composition in 1988, which is tied to having 70 points in the FIDE Album. Personally my impression is that Pogosyants showed very simple but interesting ideas, in addition to more complex works. The puzzle I gave above is one such idea.

In 1999, Russell Enterprises published the book “A (First) Century of Studies”, compiled by John Roycroft, talking about Pogosyants and presenting a selection of his endgame studies on 48 pages. As I don’t have access to this book, readers are welcome to send us details found therein.

Vladimir KuzmichevVladimir Kuzmichev (born 25 June 1962 in Russia) is a lawyer in Arkhangelsk who creates not only endgame studies but also directmate problems (i.e. mate in x moves), mostly threemovers. His 1995 book is the original source for the replayable problem below, showing his love for minimal material on both sides (information by ARVES). He composed around 120 published endgame studies (as of 2015), many of which were published in his 1995 book Shakhmatnye zadachi i etyudi and his 2012 bilingual book Magic of Thinking. His total output of over 400 studies and problems likely started in the 1980s, as his first published endgame study is from 1984. A listing on an auction website says the 2012 book is very rare, and it seems to have a value of around 100 Euro in excellent condition, hinting at a small number of copies printed. We don’t know what the public association “Quality Guild” in Arkhangelsk is, but Kuzmichev is a member there according to Valery Kopyl on his website.

I have no information about Marinus Verburg. The internet lists a man of that name whose data does not fit. So all I have, from eg issue 90, November 1987 (readers are reminded again that ARVES allows the free download of old issues of the eg magazine, among others), is that he is or was a Dutch chess player who has written — at that time six — booklets in his series The Pawn Alphabet, each featuring a diagram on the front page and analysis of the endgame of the very specific KP-K and KPP-K endings, where at least one pawn is the a-pawn.

Tournament listings (in Gino di Felice’s series of books) give M. Verburg and C. Verburg (likely Cees Verburg, born 1934, no Elo) who played in the 1950s in the Netherlands in chess tourneys. So it seems that Verburg was only a club player (from a chess family?) who just happened to write a few booklets later. According to the database by Harold van der Heijden, Marinus Verburg passed away between 1998 and 2005.

There also is a G. Verburg in the database who composed three endgame studies, published in 1940, 1941 and 2005, so it can be speculated that they might have been related and, after Marinus’ death, Harold van der Heijden received at least one endgame study by both that wasn’t published previously, which he then first published in the third iteration of his database. In total, there are 20 original (and one additional anticipated) endgame studies by Marinus Verburg in the database.

If further information is found out about Marinus Verburg, it will be mentioned in a future “Study of the Month” article.


As a small bonus for readers, I added a study of myself and Ukrainian prodigy Sergiy Didukh, where I talk about a simple “rex solus” idea I had, which Didukh realized with his masterful building skills.

PS: Next month I might tell a sad tale of two Josefs and endgame theory.


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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.
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lajosarpad lajosarpad 6/29/2020 10:09
@Lovuschka thank you for your investigative work, I surely value it! By the way, your nickname is excellent!
Lovuschka Lovuschka 6/29/2020 08:44
@lajosarpad: Yes, the Magyar Sakkélet is correct. http://www.arves.org/arves/index.php/en/endgamestudies/studies-by-composer/627-ban-jeno-1919-1979
calcomar calcomar 6/27/2020 08:36
@herr_doktor - Fixed. Thanks!
herr_doktor herr_doktor 6/27/2020 02:58
Bobby died in 2008
lajosarpad lajosarpad 6/27/2020 01:07
Magya Sakkvilág is actually Magyar Sakkvilág, maybe this way it's easier to find. In the analysis Magyar Sakkélet (another Hungarian chess magazine) is mentioned. Maybe that's the source you are searching for.

"In Bologna, his medical degree was “taken” (Google Translate; probably meaning “passed”). "

This hypothesis holds water. In Hungarian we say "vette a vizsgát", which means he passed the exam. "Vette" means "taken", "a" means "the" and "vizsgát" means "the exam". "Vizsga" is the subject "exam".
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