Study of the Month: December, 2017

by Siegfried Hornecker
12/23/2017 – In the final episode of this year, we will have a look at a some great enthusiasts among the chess composition community who by their work directly or indirectly made this monthly column possible. The first two of them are the former and the current chief editor of the magazine "eg" (or: EG), short for "end-game".

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Behind the scenes:

Composers who enabled this column

At the age of now 88 years, one practitioner of yoga stands out as founder of the magazine "eg", he has wide knowledge about many different countries, especially of the Soviet Union. While I was in Belgrade, the one hour I spent talking to him in a café turned out into an experience that showed that this incredible man has a deeply humane side, that there is a beautiful soul that has experienced many things, and the book "EGEG" he published last year is with almost 250 pages only a relatively small but interesting personal document, while the EG magazine is the work of his life. The man who brought endgame studies coinnosseurs from all over the world together is a citizen of London, the capital of the British Empire, and he has all of the British gentleman deeds: John Roycroft!

 

John Roycroft (*1929) is founder of the magazine “eg” and an endgame studies circle in 1965. His ambition to create a series of magazines that should contain all awards and important news about chess “end-game” studies was only realized by a lot of personal effort and good friends, who can be read all about in the first few issues of the magazine, available online.

John RoycroftRoycroft corresponded with many, possibly even most, contemporary composers of endgame studies, and he was not afraid of tackling controversial topics, leading to one issue of the magazine being banned in the Soviet Union for featuring emigrant Alexander Herbstmann on the title. However, the great success of “eg” also meant that his magazine managed to bring awards from the Soviet Union into the west, while also publishing theoretical articles, news, biographies and much more. Roycroft’s lifelong work and contribution to the development of this art can only in part be honored by the title of Honorary Master for Chess Composition that he received at the 2016 world congress (WCCC). For almost three decades he worked for the U.K. branch of a company whose inventions in computer technology enable me to write this article - IBM.

Photo: Rainer Staudte (Own work) CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons


Our next enthusiast was mentioned already in connection with his database. He is called the “studies pope” or a “guru”, and it is no wonder he became the “eg” chief editor when Roycroft decided to retire from this work, as the self-set goal of this Dutch collector is to re-publish all chess studies ever published — a huge task, but his collection gets close to 100,000 studies, which are estimated to be reached by 2024. The chief editor of “eg” and publisher of the “hhdb” was met in person by me only in Dresden this year, but I was in contact for over a decade already with Harold van der Heijden!

 

Harold van der Heijden (* 1960) is a Dutch chess studies collector and composer who works as head of a R&D facility in a veterinary institute. Harold took time to even respond to — by mistranslation from German — rude or sarcastic comments about studies in great detail when I sent them to him in 2004, and thus helped me to be careful with my wording in general.

His database was a great source of inspiration when I picked up the second edition of 2000, back then sold by ChessBase. Later on I bought another collection that was compiled by a concurrent of ChessBase, but while it had a good idea — offering almost 1,000 studies to solve — it was not a database in that sense, and some of the solutions also were incorrect. While that piece of software was a one-time (or judging by the title, a two-time) enterprise, Harold van der Heijden always was open to sending him additions and analyses for the studies in his database. When he became chief editor of "eg" some time later and a composition grandmaster retired from his article series in that magazine, I was invited as an editor there and humbly accepted — a task that has prepared me also for writing this series, as I write them in a similar style but try to make this more accessible and enjoyable to players.

Harold van der Heijden

Harold van der Heijden | Photo: Hhstudy (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Our next guest is a very special friend of mine, I am honored to know him, and I am even more honored still by him appointing me to this series. To me he is not only a chess teacher, but also a life teacher, a man with rich and wide knowledge and always eager to share it. His studies are impressive, but it is even more impressive in what an open way he is willing to discuss very much anything else as well. The man who had the idea to this column and who organized the contact between ChessBase and me is Yochanan Afek!

 

Yochanan Afek (* 1952) is an Israeli chess trainer, author, journalist living in the Netherlands. In both over-the-board chess and chess composition he is International Master and International Judge, in chess composition even Grandmaster since 2015. His great work for the chess community can’t be expressed in words,, he works tirelessly behind the scenes as an organizer and as the delegate for endgame studies at the World Federation for Chess Composition. The position was held earlier by John Roycroft. His columns in EG and The Problemist promote chess studies among enthusiasts, his numerous articles and books among players.

Extreme Tactics

Yochanan recently published a book named “Extreme Chess Tactics”, which he sent to me for a review.

The position on the title is a study by Ernest Pogosyants, Shakhmaty v SSSR 1976, to be solved with 1.Qc8+ K:c8 2.a8Q+ Kd7 3.Qe8+ Kd6 4.Qe6 mate. This combination is of practical relevance, as indeed it happened without the initial sacrifice in the (not mentioned in the book) game of Andrey Batuev vs. Vladimir Simagin, Riga 1954, where Simagin in a won position blundered so Batuev applied this checkmate. The book itself consists of 16 chapters, usually showing a tactical motif in games of world champions from Steinitz and Miss Menchik up to Hou Yifan (but not Tan Zhongyi) and Carlsen, as well as in endgame studies. The reader is prompted with around five positions that explain the idea, then several pages of diagrams to solve follow (17 to 28 solving diagrams per chapter). The overall difficulty is varying from easy to too hard for me. The semifinal chapter is rather short, showing combined motifs. The final chapter has 40 diagrams for the reader to test his skills.

I found rather few positions I already knew, although some are so famous they are universally recognized. Mostly the positions were from at least to me rather unknown games and studies. I loved that on the diagrams (except in the final chapter) always a question is given that might or might not lure the solver on a wrong way, such as “How can White secure the future of his e-pawn?” So instead of just a wall of diagrams to solve we are presented with a certain goal, with an initial thought that can lead us further to solve the position - a very good didactic concept.

Overall, the reader receives probably around 400 positions in a tactical book that is great to read and solve, but does nothing fundamental new. If you like tactics books, you can get this enjoyable work that includes positions from as new as 2016.

There is an index of players and composers at the end of the book.


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Possibly less famous than the other composers presented this month, the next man is a great solver. He has composed a few problems himself, but after solving my studies in “Schach” became someone who would support me on my journey of composing and writing about studies: Klaus Rubin.

 

Klaus Rubin (* 1962) is a problem chess expert in Berlin, winning the first solving championship of the so-called “German Democratic Republic” (GDR) in 1987/1988. He is working in the field of metallurgy. Klaus is a great fan of riding bicycle, and currently meeting regularly with other studies composers from Berlin, especially Martin Minski and Michael Roxlau. His great solving expertise makes him a welcome expert to discuss with when judging awards, but also to test or just enjoy studies before publication. As the mate problem above shows, he also is a good composer himself, but sadly created only few works. His tireless personal technical support enables me to contact him whenever I have questions about very much every computer issue - purchasing another hard disk, unexpected errors -, and sometimes he even gave me equipment for free. When he had a two years old PC to spare and my old PC had broken down completely, he just sent it to me for free in 2009, and it still is in use today for chess, multimedia, video games, and of course writing this column.


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Our second-to-last enthusiast became a fatherly friend to me, but sadly our contact broke some years ago. Nevertheless he pulled me through some hard times, and without him I might not be here today. He had a column for the U.S. Chess Federation himself, but nowadays sadly not much is heard from Steven B. Dowd.

 

Steven B. Dowd (* 1957) is an US-American pensioner. He wrote columns in several chess magazines and websites, but also creates problems of various genres himself, including studies, although he specializes on helpmates and selfmates. He holds on practical play the National Master title since 2001. For a while we had columns on a chess problem forum hosted by the great philosopher Alexander George, but for me it became too much work and Steven’s column also eventually came to an end.


At the end of our list is a composer who died almost five years ago. He was a grandmaster, he published a high-quality magazine, he was one of the best composers of chess problems, but — to me — most important of all he was a friend. After his death I went to Belgrade three times, the third time of which marked the birth of this column. An inspiration to many, as his fruits are seen by the strength of Serbian chess problemists, was the man I first met on his website in 2007 and to whom I had contact over the next six years: Milan Velimirović!

 

Milan Velimirović (1952-2013), or MiVel as I always called him, was a Serbian computer engineer, having scored the highest score at the test he had to fill when applying for Microsoft. He worked there for many years and his expertise in programming allowed him to create the internet forum and website MatPlus.net, which became a general discussion forum for all chess composers. His website was launched in connection with the resurrection of the magazine MatPlus and the establishment of the short-lived high-quality magazine MatPlus Review. Because of financial issues he was unable to maintain the magazine after a few years, although it was generally considered to be of high quality.

Milan’s numerous accomplishments on the field of chess composition include the title of Grandmaster for solving of chess compositions (1984), Grandmaster for Chess Composition (2010, the title is for composers), around 300 chess problems of often highest quality, research into several fields of chess composition (such as the Pape theme), and much more. His personal friends showed me great hospitality when visiting Serbia in 2013. My third and possibly last visit there was in 2016 at the World Congress for Chess Composition where the idea for this column was conceived. Yochanan Afek, when taking the microphone before official lectures, was telling his emotional story about meeting Milan, and naturally the congress there would not have been possible without his tireless effort for Serbian chess composers. In a way you could say Milan, three years after his death, became the true father of this column, as I never would have visited Serbia if I never knew him.

There are of course many more enthusiasts who enabled this column, but there is one that doesn’t understand much about chess, who never composed a single problem and never will, but who gave me more support than all of the people above together. Nevertheless, she became the organizer of the congress of the German problemist association “Die Schwalbe” in 2016, traveled to Belgrade with me and supports me in every possible way in my work. There are three phases in the life of a man: At first he is dependent on her, then puberty comes and he dislikes to have her around, then eventually he understands how valuable her tireless support really is. As an adult, I am not afraid to say thank you to my biggest fan, whose creation is showcased not in a chess diagram but on the photo below each issue of this column: Thank you, mother Monika!


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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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Andy Gruenhagen Andy Gruenhagen 1/21/2018 02:07
After 2...a1Q white wins by 3.Nf6 Qxb1 4.Ng4#
johnstdm johnstdm 12/23/2017 10:17
@david young, I was just wondering the same (before I saw your comment). The author was right to include the line with the bishop promotion, but the line with the queen isn't entirely obvious. The knight comes back to f6 with threats of mate from g8 or g4; the queen can't stop both.
david young david young 12/23/2017 10:01
On the Klaus Rubin study. Did anyone figure out how white wins if black plays pawn to a1 queen? Maybe I am missing something obvious
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