Chess composition in Israel

by Siegfried Hornecker
10/31/2020 – Chess composition in Israel can be traced back to 1924. Throughout the years the small country gained relevance in the field of endgame studies. Columnist Siegfried Hornecker presents short bios and notable studies of six remarkable Israeli composers, plus a study he composed with helpmate specialist Paz Einat. | Pictured: Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar'am in Northern Israel. The ruins are located within the site of the ancient village of Kfar Bar'am, about three kilometers from the Lebanese border.

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Study of the Month: October 2020

On 14 May 1948, the State of Israel was founded. Chess composition in the region can be traced back to 1924. The small country not only became one of the most important politically, but also gained relevance in the field of endgame studies. In the book Endgame Virtuosity, from 1945 to 1995 no fewer than nine study composers “and Others” [sic] were named on the cover. Paz Einat, one of Israel’s leading helpmate specialists, sent us further valuable information, based in part on the 1964 book The Israeli Chess Problemist by Eliahu Fasher.

Hillel AloniIt is pretty difficult to find neutral political sources about the history of Israel, and the most widespread one, the Bible, is decidedly religious, but chess composition with its apolitical and areligious nature is easier to document, although only for the 20th century and with many sources only available in Hebrew. As a bi-glot, voluntary help in translation and understanding is always required for your author in everything but German (and partially Dutch) or English, which makes the historic information at the end of this article possible only thanks to Paz Einat’s documentation — his help exceeds a simple translation. We will begin the article with the most important study composers, which likely are more interesting to most readers. (Full disclosure: your author composed two successful helpmates together with Paz Einat. The newest one is added below the article as a diagram for readers to solve, and also in the replayable board.)

Seven of the composers in Endgame Virtuosity had extensive space to present their compositions. Of those, six will be presented below, while I had presented a full article about the remaining composer — Hillel Aloni [pictured] — 16 months ago, so interested readers can find relevant information and a selection of his works there. As in the book, composers are presented in alphabetical order according to their last name here.

Yochanan AfekI shortly talked about Yochanan Afek (born 1952) in another article (December 2016), but I would like to add an experience from Dresden 2017. The endgame study composers sat together sometimes — we solved endgame studies of each other and showed ideas we were working on. At that particular day, Austrian composer Georg Pongrac showed me his helpmates, which I then solved. It was shortly after noon (possibly 1 PM) when Afek came to the small restaurant of the hotel in which the World Congress was being held in order to have lunch and work on a newspaper column. We talked shortly, and Afek invited me  for lunch. This was a great honor for me, as it showed that the work I had done in this column (which he had initiated) —then with only one study presented each month— pleased him.

It is impossible for me to describe the entire scope of Yochanan Afek’s influence in the world of endgame studies, as it extends far beyond mere composing and teaching — and much happens behind the scenes, with little documentation (he showed endgame studies to players in Wijk aan Zee, and likely at other practical tourneys he attended). Thus, I’ll only quote his vita from Endgame Virtuosity below. My annotations are in brackets — note that the three points at the end of the first sentence appear in the book.

Born 1952 in Tel-Aviv, Afek devotes his professional career to [...] being a busy player, organizer, trainer, journalist, problemist, salesman and ... a traveller. He is [as of 1996] an International Master and International FIDE Arbiter for Chess as well as Chess Composition. [As can be seen on the WFCC website, in 2005 he became FIDE Solving Master, and in 2015 Grandmaster for Chess Composition.]

Afek was influenced by Milu Milescu’s column in the Israeli publication Shahmat during his first steps both as a player and composer. The Romanian master, known in Germany mostly as co-author of the book Das 1x1 des Endspiels with Hans-Hilmar Staudte, wrote said column —Chess and Composition— in the 1960s and 1970s, and Afek’s first endgame study appeared in Shahmat. Already three years later, probably Afek’s most reprinted study was published — it can be replayed below.

Afek has (with modifications, corrections, etc.) over 300 endgame studies in the database of Harold van der Heijden as of October 2015 (below just called “hhdbv”).

Amatzia AvniAs we would say in Germany, Amatzia Avni (born 1954) is an “Original”, an “original character”, i.e. an outstanding character. While the title often is used for eccentric people, in Avni’s case it would be more for his distinctive ability to tell interesting tales with endgame studies (see our July 2018 column). This is not an accident, as Avni wrote books about the interaction between chess and psychology: Creative Chess in 1991 and Danger in Chess in 1994. He studied psychology (title: Master of Arts), but worked as an organizational consultant. Playing chess earned him further titles: FIDE Master in 1988 and Israeli senior master. Chess composition also netted him a FIDE Master title in 2001. While that doesn’t seem like much, the great Nikita Plaksin got the same title in the same year...

Avni’s replayable study below is one he regards highly.

hhdbv: 80 endgame studies

Ofer ComayA software developer by profession, Ofer Comay (born 1957) is a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. His friend Zvi Temes introduced him to chess composition when he was 12; prior to this he was a practical player. After his career as a practical player, which coincides with the composition of most of his endgame studies, Comay turned to solving. But not only in chess (he won the World Chess Solving Championship 1980 and 1985) Comay was successful, as he also won the Israeli Mathematical Youth Olympiad 1975.

hhdbv: 56 endgame studies

Gady CosteffIn an e-mail from several years ago, Gady Costeff told me he preferred to not read much about himself. So I’ll leave his personal data out, instead telling readers that Costeff usually works on highly sophisticated ideas, sometimes with pawn promotions. Costeff, when he started composing at the age of 16, had played at master strength but then stopped his practical play. In 2013, Costeff found the following positional draw in a pawnless endgame. The replayable study below is one of his lighter works, both in variations and in material, as he once joked about the material his studies sometimes need that a miniature for other people is a study with seven pieces on the board, for him it is a study with seven pieces not on the board...

hhdbv: 81 endgame studies


9.Rg8! Rh1 10.Rg4! Rh2 11.Rg8. Also 9...Rh4 10.Rg1 draws. The knight can give a perpetual check on g8 and f6 if the queen moves away, and 9...Qc2 10.Ng4+ Kh5 11.Nxh2 is a draw as well.

Noam ElkiesComposing music since the age of three, the New Yorker Noam Elkies (born 1966) has had his music being played on television and radio in Israel and the United States. His other mastery —doctorate in Mathematics in 1987, full professor in 1993— won him prestigious awards, while he researched numbers theory. With his other great achievements, the fact that he also plays chess is a miniscule detail, having received the National Master title, and having won the World Chess Solving Championship in 1996. It is no wonder, with all his other work, that Elkies has a low output in composing chess studies recently nor that his studies work with near-mathematical precision. His greatest —and most well-known— mathematical trick in endgame studies is replayable below.

Here is a short preview: can you spot the difference between the two positions? (In German Wikipedia we read that Elkies also found many interesting configurations for John Conway’s Game of Life. Another researcher in that field, mathematician Richard Kenneth Guy was also a prolific chess composer.)

Two other members of his family, while not reaching his heights of success, are also prolific in music, as we read in a 28 August 2010 article in the “New York Times” by Dylan Loeb McClain. At the time the mother worked as a piano teacher, while his sister —who has a master’s degree in education— played the violin.

hhdbv: 51 endgame studies


Yehuda HochHumor? Logic? Thematic tries? That is what Yehuda Hoch (born 1946) tries to incorporate into his endgame studies. Although, as we must add, the term “endgame studies” sometimes is of theoretical value, the example shown below could be regarded more like a late middlegame study. Speaking of said term, Hoch would not like studies that only have theoretical value, nor those which have as their only merit to be primarily hard to solve or are very accurate.

Not only of theoretical value are Hoch’s degrees as Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Master of Sciences in Operational Research, as both are excellent skills to use in his occupation as system analyst in a bank’s computer department.

Two Hoch studies are outstanding and have been reprinted many times: the 2nd Prize in A Magyar Sakkszövetség 1986, and the 1st prize in the Mandil MT 1980. They (and works of other Israeli composers) can both be seen on the Variantim website (the former as “Hungarian Chess Federation Ty”). The replayable study below is less known, but will be interesting for readers. Taking into account how many studies Hoch says he has composed  and how many studies are known, a great part seems to be unpublished, and since 1995 there are no new endgame studies of him.

hhdbv: 183 endgame studies (Hoch on the Variantim website: “I composed around 250 endgame studies”. The same number is given in Endgame Virtuosity.)

We close with a (longer) text on the historic development of chess composition (i.e. not only endgame studies) in Israel, which will mainly be interesting to historians due to listings of names of composers. Readers who aren’t interested in the detailed descriptions can try their hands at a helpmate at the end or jump to the replayable list.

A hundred years of chess composition in Israel

The beginnings (1920-1953)

Paz Einat provided a detailed history on chess composition in modern Israel. He prefaces his text:

The history up to 1964 is based on the book The Israeli Chess Problemist, written and edited by Eliyahu Fasher. The book is mostly in Hebrew and was published in 1964.

I will give the most important details below.

This history begins in Palestine from 1920 to 1940, where A. L. Mohaliver published four chess magazines. Einat writes:

Composers in this era included: Y. Ben-Shahar, Aaron Gurevitz, Yehezkel Hillel, Reuven reichman, B. Raucher, Y. Cohen, and several more. The overall level was rather low.
A bit later, several articles by Daniel Itzhaki appeared in Haaretz, comprising the first attempts to establish a serious understanding of chess problems. 

In 1939 a number of composers immigrated to Israel and a flux of original problems started to appear. These included: Dr. Felix Zeidman, Dr. Fritz weber, & Levi Herzog. This prompted local composer to appear: Eliyahu Shahaf, Avshalom Yosha, Eliezer Peer & Dr. Yehuda Grungard.

The next few years after this period, which mostly saw the establishment of a few composing tourneys — although due to World War II, the activity overall was rather low. This changed only when in 1945 the Israeli Problemists Association (IPA) was founded. The period of establishment, 1945-1953, began with Peretz Dagan (Kornfeld) and his chess column in the Palestine Post. The Mishamr (later Al Hamishmar) newspaper also published original compositions.

On 15 September 1945, the IPA was founded. At this point the Israel Ring Tourney was born, where all originals in the country would be judged. This included only the two abovementioned newspapers at that point. On 1 May 1946, a small bulletin of the IPA was published for the first time. Yehuda Veisberg, an emerging composer, later died in the Independence War in 1948. Einat writes:

Additional composers that emerged were Israel Han, Zvi Geller, Yaakov Shalish, Baruch Lender, Itzhak Talmi and Yeshayahu Zegenreich that immigrated to Israel during these years.

Paz Einat

Paz Einat | Photo:

The “Haproblemai Era” (1954-1985)

Notwithstanding the growing popularity of chess columns in newspapers, the new and improved bulletin Haproblemai was published by the IPA in 1954. Josef Goldschmidt, often regarded as the father of Israeli chess composition, ran a successful column in Al Hamishamr while also helping emergent composers. The Jerusalem Post also had a successful column. Einat lists not many more historic details, but rather lists the composers who emerged — his text is copied below:

The 1950s saw the emergence of a young generation of talented composers, mostly Israeli born, that dominated the following decades. These included Uri Avner, Yosi Retter, Rafi Ruppin, Hillel & Yoel Aloni, Uri Grinblatt, Arieh Grinblat, Josef Weisel, Avraham Perlson, Daniel Rosenfelder and Eliyahu Zakon. It is important to note the arrival in Israel of Shlomo Seider who quickly became one of the most prominent Israeli composer. 

During this period, Hillel Aloni started his love story with endgame studies and was responsible for the establishment of this field in Israel and for assisting many new composers. Previous study composers included Yeshayahu Segenreich, Eliyahu Zakon and Milo Milescu. 

In the 1960s additional composers joined and a very strong community of composers was established. These included Aaron Hirschenson, Itzhak Grossman, Gideon Husserl, Giora Silberman, Emanuel Navon, Haran Tubin, Zigi Skarbnik, Yochanan Afek (Kopelovich) and Itzhak Kelson. A highly talented composer, Yashayahu Blaustein, emerged in the later part of the 1960’s but he tragically died in a car accident in the early 1970s.  In studies, Mordechai Shaham joined Yochanan Afek in this field.

The 1970s started with the appearance in Israel of Jean Haymann. He started composing in the 1950s in France, mostly two-movers, and after reaching Israel quickly became the leading local helpmate composer. Another wave of young composers, again mostly Israeli born, also emerged. These included Zvi Roth, Ofer Comay, Menachem Witztum, Shaul Shamir, Theodor Tauber, Paz Einat, Yosi Raz, Yoav ben Zvi, Amazia Avni and Gady Costeff. 

The 1980s saw a slowing down in the flux of new composers. Noam Elkies, Noam Manela and Yehuda Lubton joined during these years.

The “Variantim” era (since 1988)

Changing laws necessitated the foundation of a legal body as association. Uri Avner, who later became the President of the PCCC World Federation, transforming it into the WFCC, drove the establishment of the “Israel Chess Problem Association”, replacing the IPA. Haproblemai, appearing irregularly, was replaced by the new Variantim, which Avner founded and edited until 2009. After a hiatus, the next issue appeared in 2011 with Paz Einat as the new editor. Since then, nearly 30 issues appeared (Avner had published 52 issues, Einat became editor with issue 53; the most recent issue was number 81). Yours truly also had published a few endgame studies in the magazine, and worked together with Einat on two helpmates. The prolific writer once more takes over below:

During 1990s Israeli chess problem composition benefited from the immigration from the former Soviet Union of several established composers. These included Mark Erenburg, Leonid Makaronez, Leonid Lyubashevsky, Yaakov Mintz, Semion Shifrin, Michael Grushko,  & Paul Vatarescu.

From 2000 until today: Dmitrij Baibikov (immigrated from the former Soviet Union) emerged as a top class retroanalysis composer. Impressively, since his problems started appearing, Dmitrij was always among the top three retro composers in the WCCI, taking the top place three times. Another young composer that emerged is Evgeni Bourd, who became the youngest Israeli composer to gain the title of International Master for Composition. Another composer arriving in Israel is Michael (Misha) Shapiro.

Finally, Michael Pasman, for many years a strong chess player in Israel, got hooked onto endgame studies as of 2019 and quickly gained significant successes. Younger composers (teenagers) include Roy Ehrlich, Tomer Tal and very recently Itay Richardson.

Finally, Paz Einat provided a list of major achievements by Israel, which we copy from his text.

Summary of major achievements

  • WCCT - Highest place was 2nd (WCCT2). Notable also: 3rd (WCCT7 & 9), 4th (WCCT10), 
  • 5th (2nd International Team Match 1968-70 & WCCT8)
  • WCSC - Israel Won 6 times the world chess solving championship and several times in the top 3. 
  • Composing matches - Israel participated in ~20 friendly matches with various countries winning roughly half of them. The most recent was the Italy Israel match won by Israel.

A joint helpmate

Paz Einat and I recently composed a helpmate that might be interesting for readers. In two positions, Black begins and helps White to checkmate him in two moves (i.e. Black begins, both sides play two moves and cooperate, then Black is checkmated).


a) diagram
b) move Pc2 to h6

If you have trouble solving the helpmate, or you give up, you can find the solution below. 


a) 1.c1B K:f2 2.Bg5 Kg2 mate
b) 1.Kh5 Kf3 2.f1N Kf4 mate

The theme of the tourney was having a black piece being removed by capturing in one phase and by moving away in another phase.

Note that black moves are given first in helpmate notation.


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 (


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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