Chess, March 2007

Oldrich Duras

These days not many of the top players are chess composers, but in times past the proportion was higher. The name everybody mentions in this regard is Richard Réti, who has been the subject of many articles over the years, most of them quoting his famous pawn study that earns a place in just about every book on pawn endings. However, there were others, among them the Czech Grandmaster Odrich Duras (1882-1957), one of the leading players in the world of the early twentieth century.

He played in several international tournaments, his last being the unfinished 19th Congress of the Deutscher Schachbund in Mannheim, 1914, which was ended by the outbreak of World War I. During that war Duras served in the Austro-Hungarian army, but after peace broke out he never again played in an international tournament, preferring to pursue his Civil Service career, play at his club (the Cesky spolek sachovni of Prague), edit the chess column in Ceske slovo (1922-1931) and compose. He was amongst the first recipients of the Grandmaster title in 1950 when FIDE started awarding the title.

Duras started composing young, both problems and studies, and continued for nearly half a century. The earliest composition I can trace appeared in 1900 and the latest in 1947, with most of them being published after World War I. To illustrate his work I present the following two Grandmaster Draws and I hope that you will find neither of them boring!

Oldrich Duras

4th Prize, Casopis Ceskoslovensky Sach, 1923

8/p7/8/1Pp2p2/2R1P1k1/8/1p6/1b1K4

White to play and draw

White is the exchange up for two pawns and looks to be in a bit of trouble here. It seems unlikely that he can draw by sacrificing his rook and one of his pawns, but that is what happens. 1.exf5+ Be4! One of the things I like about studies is that quite often Black gets to play well too. Here he draws the rook away within reach of his king so that White can't save his rook and attack the b2 pawn at the same time. Of course, such a plan is not mandatory, but others draw too. 1...Kg5 2.Rxc5 Bd3 3.Rc1 Kxf5 4.Kd2 Ke4 5.Rb1 (5.Rc4+ Bxc4 6.Kc2 Bxb5 7.Kxb2 = also works) 5...Bxb1 6.Kc3 Bd3 7.Kxb2 = which is the well-known rook's pawn and wrong-coloured bishop draw. After 1...Kxf5 one way to draw is 2.Rxc5+ Ke4 3.Rc2 Bxc2+ 4.Kxc2 = 2.Rxe4+ Kxf5 Now what? 3.Rb4! A sacrifice that Black must accept. 3...cxb4 4.Kc2 Ke4 5.Kxb2 Kd4 6.Kb3 Kc5 7.Ka4 (7.b6? axb6! 8.Ka4 b3! 9.Kxb3 Kb5 0-1) 7...Kc4 8.b6! The last sacrifice and it forces the draw. 8...axb6 stalemate.

In our study for solving White is again the exchange up for two pawns and again there is a draw to find.

Oldrich Duras

3/4 Prize, Shakhmatny Listok, 1925

8/4p3/4p3/8/1RK5/k5b1/p4P2/8

White to play and draw


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