Study of the month - More about "Ding's Theme"

by Siegfried Hornecker
7/7/2023 – The finish of the 6th game of the World Championship match between Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi was impressive. In a tense and complicated position, Ding surprisingly advanced his d-pawn, and this small pawn advance was crucial to a spectacular mate that could have occurred in the game. The audience was impressed, the study composers were inspired. In his last "Study of the Month" column Siegfried Hornecker had a look at "Ding's Theme" in studies, in his current column he returns to this theme with further insights. | Photo: Ding Liren | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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"Ding's theme"

Before reading our column on Ding's checkmate pattern but inspired by the same World Chess Championship game ending, on 18 April 2023 Lewis Stiller decided to put "Ding's theme" as an example in Chess Query Language (CQL) 6.2, a programming language and tool designed to find complex ideas in endgame studies and practical games. The theme is different from the pattern.

In an e-mail to Yours Truly on 12 June 2023, Lewis Stiller writes: "I had likewise been impressed by Ding's d5". The theme Stiller saw is "codified in the CQL 6.2 beta example:". With this, the experienced programmer not only showed how the same ending of a game can result in different interpretations of the essence of said ending, but also made your author's task for the month easier, as running the already provided file against the complete endgame studies database by Harold van der Heijden (i.e. the sixth published version from 2020) nets the results shown as following. Now, readers of course can replicate the results or test against game databases, by downloading the CQL 6.2 beta (the newest version as of writing this article) for free from (full disclosure: Gady Costeff, an American endgame study composer, was one of the early contacts of Yours Truly and is a former EG editor where Yours Truly also writes a page or two in each issue.) and then using the file for Ding's theme on the PGN file of their choice.

After checking the database against dingstheme.cql an output file with 21 entries is received. As there are many versions and corrections of one Marwitz study, we won't count those as unique, so all in all we get 14 unique endgame studies. Some are incorrect, but I was able to correct or partially correct two so the theme and (part of) the intended solution still is there. For Sochnev, I was unable to preserve the second main variation that ended with the same checkmate. This leaves us with 11 studies that are replayable at the end of the article. As a note, it seems only checkmates in the "main" main variation are checked for the theme, not in any variations in the study. It would be easy to look also for checkmates in variations, but this could also lead to a lot of false positives where sidelines aren't unique. We hope for a CQL version that checks only sidelines marked with "main". It seems this should come soon, as most of the necessary code seems already implemented for other search functions. As Stiller remarks, the CQL is a collaborative effort between the programmers and users.

The definition of the theme by Lewis Stiller is:

A white pawn T moves for the last time. The black king is not in check, nor does T attack a square in the black king's field. Later, the black king is in model mate with some square in its field guarded by T.

Essentially a white pawn moves, then the black king steps to a square where a neighboring empty square is guarded by the white pawn and later (or immediately) a model mate is delivered. So there is, by definition of "model mate", exactly one reason why the king can't move to a neighboring square, and all white pieces, except possibly kings and pawns, participate in the checkmate. Due to the very strict definition only the few results come up, so all correct ones will be reproduced below. As you will see, the results optically have nothing to do with the pattern we saw in Ding's game and talked about two months ago. While researching this article, we also found the term "pure mate", so we asked Lewis Stiller for clarification about the difference. We learned that a pure mate is the same as a model mate, except there could be superfluous non-king, non-pawn pieces by White. A full discussion is found here:

I will explain parts of the endgame studies below (a full explanation is found at the replayable widget at the end of the article) as well as provide a short biography of the composers. If you require any assistance with Chess Query Language (CQL), please contact the team behind it. When I was contacted by Lewis Stiller many months ago, he also asked for ideas on themes he could search for, so practical players might be interested to suggest things they want to look up in their game databases. Note that if you use the ChessBase format (or other formats), you will have to copy/convert your database to PGN before searching with CQL.

Our first composer is G. Mironov. We are currently researching if this is, as is supposed, Vasily Alexeyevich Mironov. If that would be the case, he was 10 years old when the study was published. There are only two endgame studies in that period of G. Mironov, on 2 February 1930 and 2 March 1930, in Izvestia.This suggests that the studies were published in the regular Sunday column, with the following one having had the number 371.

G. Mironov, Izvestia 2 February 1930, 5th honorable mention. White to move and win

1.e4! is one of two moves that would allow wRe2 to join the fight at the kingside, the other one (1.Kf3) would only draw. The variations can be seen in the replayable file, they were not originally given by the newspaper. In the main variation, Black takes the rook and White checkmates with a small combination: 1.-d:e2 2.N:f7+ Kg8 3.Rg1+ K:f7 4.Rg7+ Ke6 5.Re7 mate

Practical players will want to remember the draw idea with 3.Nh6+ and perpetual. It is rare but might happen in a game with a similar backrank mate idea if the rook takes. Even if a pawn is still on g7, Black might be willing to take the draw instead of exposing the g-file for a possibly devastating attack. Precise calculation, obviously, is adviced in your games.

You can see here that the pawn move 1.e3-e4 is the thematic move, the king went to e6 later and the pawn cut off d5 and f5. The other endgame studies this month follow the similar idea. As you can replay them below with annotations, they will not all be repeated here. Instead, short biographies of the composers follow after a few more observations that happened while working on this article.

Vladimir Pachman, Ceskoslovensky Sach August 1963, 3rd prize. White to move and win

In the solution, after 1.Nf4 f1Q+ 2.K:f1 Rf6 3.g3 (the thematic move) Kg5 4.h4+ Kg4 5.Kg2 R:f4 6.Bd7+! f5 7.Bc6! Rd4 8.Bf3 mate all is fine. I wondered if Black can't defend better, but obviously 7.-Re4 8.B:e4 f4 fails due to 9.Bf3+ Kf5 10.g4+, etc. Even 9.h5 would win here easily. But there is a third way to win that might look surprising. I quickly made an endgame study from this and shared it on a specialized public Discord server.

S. Hornecker, Chess Problems & Studies Discord, 19 June 2023. White to move and win

First it is noteworthy that 1.B:e4+? K:e4 2.h5 Ke5 3.Kg2 Kf6 4.Kg3 Kg5 5.h6 K:h6 6.Kf4 Kg6 draws. So 1.Kg2 is necessary first. However, Black has an interesting idea to try a draw. 1.-Ke5! 2.B:e4 f4! Taking the bishop obviously would have lost, as 2.-K:e4 3.h5 has the white king closer than before. But now White seems to be in dire straits. The bishop and pawn are of the wrong color. However, after 3.e:f4+ K:f4 with a seemingly obvious draw, White can prevent the opponent from reaching the corner. After 4.Kh3! two main variations come up:

4.-K:e4 5.Kg4 Ke5 6.Kg5 Ke6 7.Kg6 Ke7 8.Kg7 Ke6 9.h5 wins

4.-Ke5 5.h5! Kf6 6.h6 Kf7 7.Bh7 wins

I believe this to be instructive for practical players.

Theoretical endgame. White to move and win

In a sideline analysis to the Katsnelson study, this position comes up. White can win only by being aware of mutual zugzwang: 1.Kc4? Ka5. White to move has nothing better than 2.Kc5 stalmeate. Black to move would obviously lose. So 1.Kc3!! is the way to go: 1.-Ka5 2.Kc4 wins systematically: 2.-Kb6 3.Kd5 Ka5 4.Kc6 Kb4 5.Kb6. The other possibility is 1.-Kc5 2.b4+ Kd5 3.Kd3 Ke5 4.Kc4 Kd6 5.Kd4 Kc6 6.Ke5 Kd7 7.Kd5 Kc7 8.Kc5 Kb7 9.Kd6 a5 10.b5 wins, or for example 9.-Kb6 10.a5+ Kb5 11.Kc7 K:b4 12.Kb6.

The short biographies of the composers for this month follow (the information on G. Mironov's is above at his study).

We talked about Leonid Kubbel before. He was born on either 25 Decmeber 1891 (Julian calendar, as used at his birthday) or 6 January 1892 (Gregorian calendar) in St. Petersburg, later named Leningrad. When World War II broke out in 1941 (in Russia, not to be confused with the general breakout on 1 September 1939), the threat to his hometown Leningrad became imminent, but he didn't want to leave his brother Evgeny behind. Both Kubbels died during the Siege of Leningrad in 1942 (reported by Herbstman in EG 65) - according to ARVES Leonid died on 18 April 1942 -, whereas the third brother Arvid either had been executed by Stalin's forces in 1938 (reported by Yuri Averbakh in [ an online article] and corroborated by a [ Russian purge victims list]) or died en route to a Siberian prison camp after being convicted of the infamous article 58 (in his [ 2013 dissertation] claiming this, Michael A. Hudson from the University of California, Santa Cruz, gives the source "Grodzenskii, Lubianskii gambit, 90-91", referring to, as seen in his bibliography: Grodzenskii, S.: Lubianskii gambit [Lubianka Gambit]. Moscow: Terra-sport, 2004).

All three Kubbel brothers were famous chess composers.

Jan Marwitz (8 October 1915 - 6 December 1991) had his last book "Eindspelkunst" issued on 30 November 1991, a week before his death. He worked for education, first as headmaster of a primary school in Haarlem, where he also was member of the chess club. The books of Alexander Herbstman awoke his interest in endgame studies, so in the 1930s his first compositions appeared. Marwitz became an International Judge and FIDE Master for chess composition each. Prior to "Eindspelkunst", his only book was a co-production with Cor de Feijter in 1948, "De eindspelstudie".

Vladimir Pachman (16 April 1918 - 8 August 1984) was a Czech Grandmaster for Chess Composition (1976), International Judge for Chess Composition (1956), the brother of Ludek Pachman and great-nephew of Josef Cumpe. He composed around 1200 problems and studies and also wrote many books and articles as well as the "Ceskoslovensky Sach" column. All information is taken from the [  ARVES website].

Alexander Sochnev (born 9 December 1961) from St. Petersburg (the same birth city as Kubbel) is Grandmaster for Chess Composition since 2015. I don't have personal information about Mr. Sochnev.

Oleg Pervakov (born 8 April 1960) is another great Russian composer. He is Grandmaster for Chess Composition since 2005, a year after obtaining the title of FIDE Master for Solving. He wrote numerous books (for example "Studies for Practical Players" with Mark Dvoretzky) and articles, in addition to being a composer of numerous studies of the highest quality.

In the predecessor selection to this article series, aimed at educating "non-composition" chess players about endgame studies, he won with Karen Sumbatyan the award "Study of the Year" in 2014 which was for the endgame study that was deemed most fit to reach that goal, i.e. advertising endgame studies to everyday chess players. It is reproduced here.

Oleg Pervakov & Karen Sumbatyan. Dobrescu-JT 2014, 2nd prize. White to move and draw.

1.Bf5 d4 2.N:h5+ Kh6 3.Bd2 K:h5 4.Bg4+ Kg6 5.Bf5+ Kh5 6.Bg4+ Kh6 7.h4 Be3 8.h:g5+ K:g5 9.Be2! with nice symmetry. 9.-B:e2 10.B:e3+ d:e3 11.K:e4 draws, or 9.-B:d2 10.B:d3 e:d3 11.K:d4 draws

It is easy to see how the end can be appealing to a wider audience.

Sergey/Sergyi Borodavkin (born 10 December 1969) was a strong practical player before at 13 years old he decided to become a chess composer. His economical interest likely was not needed as an inspector-controller for the railway, so he became administrator of a chess-draughts club. His 2004 book "Kak ja stal shachmatnym kompositorom" (How I became a chess composer) with 120 selected compositions is not available to me, so I can only go by the information on the [ ARVES website], which also gives his chess composition teachers as Lyubashevsky, Rudenko, and the Semenenkos. He apparently shares his name with multiple people, including an early video game programmer, a politician, and a high-ranked official of a big tech company, making it apparent that the surname "Borodavkin" is not too uncommon. The "chesscomposers" blog by Eric Hubar and Vlaicu Crisan adds that Borodavkin composes direct mates (checkmates in x moves), endgame studies, and selfmates, i.e. problems where White forces Black to checkmate White.

When the ARVES short biography was written, Borodavkin was with the Dnepropetrovsk team six times champion in composing and twice in solving of the Ukraine.

Brian Edwards was described as a "home-grown composer" in the January 1993 issue of "The Problemist" where the solution to his study was originally published, suggesting British nativity. I don't have further information.

Leonard Katsnelson (born 10 January 1936) and his brother Vladimir Katsnelson (born 7 November 1937) often compose endgame studies together. According to the database by Harold van der Heijden, Leonard composed around 200 endgame studies alone while Vladimir composed around 60 alone, and they composed around 60 together. Leonard gained the title of FIDE Master for Chess Composition in 1988. They both are among the most famous Russian study composers of their generation. (As a curiosity, it also seems that 7 November is a great birthday for chess composers, as other chess composers born on the date in other years include [ Miroslav Havel], Vladimir Korolkov, Silvio Baier, and Paz Einat who once composed a helpmate with Yours Truly.)

Alexander Zhukov (born 10 January 1963) is a Crimean composer of endgame studies. Vasily Lebedev wrote a book about 111 of Zhukov's studies. Zhukov uses social media such as Youtube and Facebook to show his endgame studies. He is not to be confused with a Russian chess player turned famous politician of the same name but over six years older.

Serhiy Didukh (born 31 May 1976, formerly writing himself as Sergiy Didukh) grew up in Western Ukraine where he taught French in Andrivka since 1998. Since 2003, he established himself as one of the most knowledgeable but also controversial commenters on endgame studies on his blog that often changes the internet address. His open character that doesn't hold back in giving his opinion on endgame studies can easily be misinterpreted, but we believe that he genuinely cares more about the art of the endgame study and in the process, as a side-product of harsh criticism, also might hurt the opinions of the authors. On the other hand, Peter Krug in 2013 described him as "a very great expert of studies", expressing his gratitude to learn from Didukh and Yochanan Afek (source: comment by Peter Krug on the Julia's Fairies website). As we find on the internet, Didukh still actively composes many endgame studies. We remember that many of his studies have been highly awarded.

This shall conclude our short biographies. Please enjoy replaying the endgame studies below.

ChessBase Magazine 213

Review of the WR Masters 2023 with analyses from Aronian, Duda, Esipenko, Gukesh, Keymer and Praggnanandhaa. "Special" on Vishy Anand. Opening videos by Mendonca, Bauer and Marin. Opening articles from Caro-Kann to King's Indian and much more.


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.