Study of the Month - Patterns and pictograms

by Siegfried Hornecker
11/26/2022 – Pattern recognition is a major feat of the human brain, albeit one that can lead to wrong outputs. Examples include seeing faces where there are none, known as pareidolia. Once it was believed that the planet Mars has a face structure on it, speculations about former inhabitants of the planet ran wild, later it turned out that this isn't the case and could be attributed to the low resolution of the photo. | Photo: Pixabay

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Patterns and pictograms

In practical play, pattern recognition is used to easily find combinations, pins, forks. Over the course of history, many experiments on pattern recognition were made, including setting up memorized boards. Some of those were about "chunks" of pieces that had to be recognized, others about complete positions. Bill Wall collected information about it, but doesn't list his sources, so readers are adviced to search further sources for any specific study he mentions if interested.

A similar experiment by Qiyu Zhou tested three groups of players, but not grandmasters. It found people with a higher Elo rating had a better recognition even for random positions. The young scientist wrote about her findings on Chessbase. Frederic Friedel mentions a study he performed at the end of her article, three months ago he published a full article about it.

In endgame studies, some kinds of patterns are easily recognizable. Mitrofanov's deflection, also known as the "unguarded guard" theme with a sacrificed queen, is a famous example. The Saavedra position was used in many endgame studies. Pawn endgames with multiple passed pawns, usually one on each side, or a stalemate-like structure, often contain underpromotions.

Apart from such patterns that happen during the game or during the solution, chess composers like another kind of patterns: Epigrams, ornaments. Positions that resemble something at first glance. It could be a letter, an arrow, a Christmas tree, or whatever else can be imagined on 8x8 squares. Many great composers, such as Sam Loyd and T. R. Dawson, created this kind of problems. Only rarely however do we see endgame studies intentionally created to resemble a specific form.

Function follows form

Usually in a chess composition, form follows function. It makes sense: You want to show an idea, so you compose the piece setting in a way that the idea is shown. The form (arrangement of the pieces) follows the function (the idea). When creating an epigram, this is something that obviously isn't as freely available. Limited possibilities arise of how a problem can be arranged. Only in rare cases a problem is good both in form and function.

Let's analyze a classical example.


Sam Loyd, La Strategie 1880. Dedicated to Jean Preti.

Mate in 3.

White wants to move his bishop along the diagonal to prepare for 1.-Kxa2 2.Rc3!, but Black can defend with a check on the f8-a3 diagonal after taking the bishop: 1.Bg7? Bxg7 2.Kxa3 Bf8+!

This is prevented with 1.Bh8! Bxh8 2.Kxa3 Bb2+ 3.Qxb2 mate, 1.-Kxa2 2.Rc3! Ka1 3.Rxa3 mate

There aren't any unnecessary pieces on the board. Without Pa2, for example, White could just play his king to the fifth rank first: 1.K~5 Bxc3 2.Rxc3 a2 3.Qc1 mate. Pa2 prevents this, it would be stalemate after 2.Rxc3. The solution also is problem-like, and acceptable for its time period.

Cosmis heights - excuse the pun! - were achieved by a five-part composition in 2002, one of which is an endgame study. We leave it as an exercise for readers to solve (or look up the solutions in the Schwalbe PDB - left click on the text there to initialize the mouseover replay function): Only the endgame study part is replayable at the end.


Andrey N. Zhuravlev & Vladimir Chekarkov. Shakmatnaya kompozitsiya 2002. Special prize.

Problem name: "The Rocket"

a) "Transport to the Start" Mate in 3 (Ke5/Kg5); b) "The launch" Mate in 3 (Ke4/Ke6); c) "In Cosmos" Mate in 5 (Kc3/Ke5); d) "Starting the deceleration process" Mate in 4 (Kb7/Kd5); e) "The Landing" White to move and win (Ke5/Ke3)

Even the greatest masters, as in a book by Karpov and Gik, try their hands on such ideas. The following problem shows the three cyrillic letters Л, Г and З. Those are the initials LGS for Leonid Genrikhovich Sorin.


Ernest Pogosyants. "Shakhmatny kaleidoskop" 1981 (book by Anatoly Karpov and Evgeny Gik)

Top right: Mate in 2; bottom right: Mate in 4; left: Win

Solving the top right portion, you'll have to notice that Black has no last move, i.e. it must be Black to move. The solution is 0.-Ne7+ 1.fxe7 Rg8 2.hxg8N mate which surprisingly provides a knight promotion. The other parts don't contain such a trick but are also interesting. The bottom right is solved with 1.Bf4 Kh4 2.Kf2 Kh5 3.Kf3 Kh4 4.Rh2 mate. The endgame study's final trick is anticipated by the Platov brothers, but the setting here is new: 1.Kb5! Ka8 2.Ra6+ Kb8 3.Nc6+ and 4.Rxa3 wins. The threat of 2.Nc6+ with 3.Rb8 mate can't be stopped otherwise.

The limitations of endgame studies have become obvious. Yet, a skilled master can turn such forms into interesting ideas. I wrote about [ Hillel Aloni] a few years ago, but at the time limited myself to more orthodox endgame studies. The following diagram, not included in the 2019 article, is meant to form the letter "Q".


Hillel Aloni. Elekes Deszo MT, Magyar Sakkelet 1966.

White to move and win.

Again it looks as if Black has no last move. If the king would come from b7, where could the pawn on c6 have come from? But there is in fact one move Black can - and therefor must - have just played.

1.a5xb6 e.p.! axb6+ 2.Kc4 and it turns out that White, despite having only a pawn for a piece, will win: 2.-b5+ 3.Kc5 Ka7 4.Kxb5 Na6 5.Ka5 Nb8 6.b5 Ka8 7.b6 Nxc6+ 8.dxc6 cxb6+ 9.Ka6! Kb8 10.Kxb6 Ka8 11.Kc7 wins, or 7.Kb4 Ka7 8.Kc5 Ka8 9.d6 wins.

The dual 7.Kb4 was discovered by Walter Veitch after publication.

Symmetry and ASymmetry

An optical effect in the diagram can be achieved by creating a symmetrical position with an asymmetrical solution. This is called ASymmetry by the German researchers Michael Schlosser, Martin Minski, and Rainer Staudte. The remaining examples for this month are taken from the book "ASymmetrie" by Schlosser & Minski. The 2013 book collected, among other genres, 67 endgame studies with the idea in its section D, ranging from simple (wKg6 Pg5, bKg8; George Walker 1841, White wins with 1.Kh6, etc.) to elaborate. Section S shows special forms of symmetry and asymmetry, which allows Yours Truly to reproduce one of his own endgame studies together with one of the book's authors here.


Siegfried Hornecker & Martin Minski. Schach August 2010, prize.

White to move and draw.

After the introduction 1.e4! Bb1+ 2.Kd2 Bxe4 3.a7 Bxd5 4.g7 Ra4 5.Be4! Rd4+! 6.Bd3! we have reached the critical position for our theme (see diagram below). Black has no way to win but two symmetrical draws play out instead: 6.-Ra4 7.Be4! Rd4+ 8.Bd3, or 6.-Rg4 7.Bc4! Rd4+ 8.Bd3 draw by repeating the position.


Position after 6.Bd3.

Black to move, White draws

Generally more interesting than symmetry is the "ASymmetry" asymmetry. To have an asymmetrical solution from a symmetrical position, the edge of the board has to be invoked, and there are a few ways to do this, which in direct play most often are the attacker being able to utilize a line that doesn't exist on the other side of the board, or the defender being prevented from such utilization. In rare cases other ideas come up: When avoiding a stalemate, the defender might have to be forced to utilize the additional line instead.


Alexander Hildebrand, Tidskrift för Schack 1979.

White to move and win.

Here the interesting stalemate idea can happen, but the way to it is not unique. While playing 1.Bxc7? Kxc5 2.Ka4 Kc6 3.Bb6 axb6 4.a6 Kc7 5.Kb5 Kc8 6.Kc6 Kb8 7.Kxb6 Ka8 8.a7 stalemate there are many other ways to play this line. So this isn't a real try, but the final stalemate is relevant still, for the solution: 1.Bxa7! Kxa5 2.Kc4 Ka6 3.Bb6 cxb6 4.c6 Ka7 5.Kb5 Ka8 6.Ka6 Kb8 7.Kxb6 Kc8 8.c7 wins because the king can - must! - go to d7.

The rest will be left up for readers to solve, at first with a full hint for the Austrian prosecutor's study, then with less hints. The solutions are, as always, replayable below the article.


Alois Wotawa, Deutsche Schachzeitung 1969 (version).

White to move and draw.

After 1.Re5+? Kxd4 2.Re7 d1Q 3.Rd7+ Ke4 4.Rc4+ Kf5 5.Rc5+ Kg4 6.Rc4+ Kh3 the king successfully hides. This knowledge should provide nearly the entire solution for readers: How does White draw instead?


Unto Murtuvaara, Scandinavian Championship 1967, 1st place.

White to move and win.

You might be tempted at first to stay symmetrical, but 1.Ke3? b6 2.Kf4 Kf8 3.Kg5 Kg8 4.Kh6 Kh8 5.Kg5 Kg8 6.Kf5 Kf8 7.Ke5 Ke8 8.Kd5 Kd8 9.Kc4 Kc8 10.Kb5 Kb7 11.h5 h6 doesn't lead anywhere. So will you move towards the queenside, or towards the kingside?


Jan Knöppel, Scandinavial Championship 1967, 8th place.

White to move and win.

The kings oppose each other. There are pawns on the c- and g-file. In the context of a win study, Kb6 Pc7 - Ka8 would be a stalemate that you might need to avoid, but this seems very unlikely here. What else is a difference between a position with a c-pawn or mirrored g-pawn? What could a file less or more on one side be used for - and by whom?


Erich Zepler, British Chess Magazine, May 1938.

White to move and win

Erich Zepler's life story is a very interesting one, which readers are welcome to look up. Previously I quickly touched in it but later information I received indicated that the friendship between Kraemer and Zepler might have actually only have been resumed after World War II instead of remaining throughout. In any case, the study here was published a few years after Zepler fled to England. There is no bishop pawn this time, queen against e-pawn and queen against g-pawn would be won. So something else must happen here. Which tactical trick necessitates the use of the "shorter" or "longer" side, and why?

In the past, I talked a few times already about the magazine "Die Schwalbe" by the German chess problem federation. The magazine was named after a problem where the solution resembles the bird of the same name - a swallow. The initial position of the final study for the month, given some fantasy by the viewer, also resembles a swallow.


Olavi A. Riihimaa. Helsingin Sanomat 1942.

White to move and draw.

This is a calculation example for a pawn endgame. White has two less pawns but can capture on c6, d6, or e6. Capturing on d6 seems like a fast catastrophe, but what is the difference between capturing on c6 and e6? Or is there a way to make a capture on d6 work?

Chess composition news

The 64th World Congress for Chess Composition was held in the United Arab Emirates in November 2022. See the FIDE press release for details. We congratulate the organizers and all successful attendees!


For further information see:


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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