In recognition of his life's work on behalf of chess endgame studies, John Roycroft was earlier this year accorded Honorary Membership of the Alexander Rueb Vereniging voor SchaakEindspelStudie (ARVES - see them and much else about studies at www.arves.org), one of the most important endgame study associations.
It was to see John that I went when I first discovered my own interest in studies in the 1970s. I travelled up from the West Country, where I then lived, on a quarterly basis to attend the Chess Endgame Study Circle (CESC) meetings organised by him in London and there I met many of those in this country with a similar interest. These meetings have been running since 1965, as has the magazine then founded, EG.
In 1972 Faber published Test Tube Chess, his classic work on the genre. This was revised and republished as The Chess Endgame Study by Dover in 1981. Either edition is highly recommended. Gracing the cover of the first edition of this volume is the following study, one of the relatively few that John has found time to compose in his busy life of encouragement and editing. Appropriately, it was published in issue 1 of his magazine.
White to play and win
For an endgame study to be sound, each white move of the solution must be the one and only move that fulfils the stipulation. This study is one where the black moves of the composer's intention are not always the ‘best’, but they are the ones that force White to play accurately. Of course, Black's 'best' moves have to fail too and my computer confirms that in this study they do.
The study opens with the wR imprisoned and attacked at c3, making the first move pretty obvious. In his book, John tells the story of the hard work he, and others, put in trying to add moves before the diagram position during which White would willingly imprison his own rook. Although the book publishes a version of the study where that happens, it was later shown to be unsound. 1.Bg7 (threatens 2.Rxd3+) Kb1 (1...Ka2 2.Nf6 b4 3.Kxb4 Kb2 transposes to the main line. The text threatens 2...b4 3.Kxb4 Nd5+ =) 2.Nf6 (2.Kxb5? Nd1 3.Ra3 c3+ 4.Kb4 Bxh7 =; 2.Ra3? Nc2 3.Ra5 Bxh7 =) 2...b4 3.Kxb4 Kb2 4.Bh8!! The heart of the study and White's only waiting move. 4.Rxd3? cxd3 5.Ng4+ Kc1 6.Nxe3 d2 = 4...Nc2+ 5.Ka4 Now White sacrifices the rook he has spent the last few moves defending! 5...Kxc3 6.Ne4#
After attending the evening meetings of the CESC I was usually lucky enough to be able to stay the night at the house of Richard Harman, a CESC stalwart about whom I shall write more in a later column. During 1978 Richard was directing a composing tourney to celebrate John's 50th birthday. The bulk of the work involved in this was receiving and making anonymous (for the judge who was John himself) originals from composers all over the world and I was glad to assist in this. One of the abiding chess memories of my life is opening the envelope that contained the following study and then playing through the solution. Although I didn't get the chance to solve it, you do have that opportunity as it forms this month's solving competition.
2nd Prize, Roycroft JT, 1978
White to play and win
1.Rg1 1.Rd3? e2 2.Rxf3+ Ke7 3.Re5+ Kd6; 1.Rf5+? Kg7 2.Rd5 e2 1...f2 1...e2 2.Rxf3+ Ke7 3.Re3+ 2.Rf1 d1Q+ 2...e2 3.Rxf2+ Kg7 4.Rg3+ Kh6 5.Rh2# 3.Rxd1 e2 4.Rf3+ Kg7 5.Rg3+ Kf6 6.Rgg1 Ke5 6...Kf5 7.Rdf1 7.Rge1 7.Kb2? exd1Q 8.Rxd1 Ke4 9.Kc2 Ke3; 7.Rdf1? fxg1Q 8.Rxg1 Kf4 1-0 John Roycroft's comment was "A miniature whose charm grows, and grows."
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