The chess composition world (just like the chess world generally) is full of people who give of their time freely and selflessly to organise enjoyment for others. One such passed his 70th birthday a few years ago. He is Ward (short for Edward) Stoffelen, the amiable Belgian endgame study connoisseur who edits the study column of the Dutch chess composition magazine Probleemblad
He also runs solving tournaments in Belgium, the Netherlands and other parts of the world. He celebrated his birthday by inviting study composers to enter original endgame studies in a formal jubilee tournament, the results of which have recently been published. The following study from the award particularly got my attention.
1st HM., Stoffelen-70 JT, 2004-2008
White to play and win
White is two whole rooks up, but Black has two menacing passed pawns on the seventh rank. Moving behind one of the pawns only draws, as shown by 1.Rgc3? f1Q 2.Rxc2 Nf2+ 3.Rxf2 Qxf2 4.Rxh3 Qe2+ 5.Kf4 Qd2+ = or 1.Rgf3? c1Q 2.Nb6 Ng3+ 3.Kd4 Ne2+ 4.Ke4 Ng3+ =. Guarding the promotion squares doesn’t work either - 1.Ra1? Nxg3+ leading to the same play as the main line but with the black king on f7. The difference this makes becomes clear on move 10! Now that I have told you that the black king needs to be off f7, perhaps White’s first move will not be such a surprise. 1.Rg7+!! How many players down at your chess club would be able to come up with that move without being given any clues? 1...Kxg7 2.Ra1 f1Q Of course, this move is not forced. Black could lose more slowly with 2...Ng3+ 3.Kd3 h2 4.Kxc2 h1Q 5.Rxh1 Nxh1 6.Nb6 f1Q 7.a8Q Ng3 (7...Qxf5+ 8.Kc3 Qf6+ 9.Kb3 Ng3 10.Qa7+ Kg6 11.Nd5 Qe5 12.Qa6+ Kh5 13.Qb5 Kh4 14.Nc3 Qe3 15.Qb6 Qd3 16.Qh6+ Nh5 17.a6 Qd4 18.Qc6 Nf4 19.Qb7 Qe3 20.a7 Qe6+ 21.Kc2 Qg6+ 22.Qe4 Qg3 23.a8Q 1-0) 8.Qb7+ Kf6 9.Qc6+ Kg5 10.f6 Qe2+ 11.Kb3 Qd3+ (11...Nf5 12.Qc3 Qd1+ 13.Ka2 Qe2+ 14.Ka3 Qe6 15.Nc8 Kg6 16.Kb4 Kg5 17.f7 Qxf7 18.Qc1+ Kh5 19.a6 Qd5 20.Qc5 Qd2+ 21.Kb5 Qb2+ 22.Ka5 Qa1+ 23.Kb6 Qf6+ 24.Kb7 Qb2+ 25.Kc7 Qg7+ 26.Ne7 Kh4 27.Kd7 Ng3 28.a7 Qa1 29.Nc6 Qa2 30.Qf8 Kh3 31.a8Q 1-0) 12.Qc3 Qb5+ 13.Qb4 Qd3+ 14.Kb2 Qe2+ [14...Qf5 15.f7 Qf6+ 16.Qc3 Qf2+ 17.Ka3 Kg6 18.a6 Ne4 (18...Qxf7 19.Qc6+ Qf6 20.Qxf6+ Kxf6 21.a7 1-0) 19.Qc6+ Kg7 20.Qxe4 1-0] 15.Ka3 Qd3+ 16.Qb3 Qd6+ 17.Ka4 Kxf6 18.Qd5 Qc7 19.Qc4 Qd6 20.a6 Qd1+ 21.Ka5 Qe1+ 22.Kb5 Ne4 23.Qd4+ Kg5 24.a7 Nc3+ 25.Kc6 Qe6+ 26.Kb7 Qf7+ 27.Qd7 Qf3+ 28.Kc8 Kg6 29.a8Q 1-0 3.Rxf1 Ng3+ 4.Kd3 Nxf1 5.Kxc2 Ne3+ Another slower, technical win follows after 5...h2 6.Nb6 h1Q 7.a8Q Qh2+ 8.Kb3 Qg3+ 9.Ka4 Qf4+ 10.Kb5 Qxf5+ 11.Qd5 Qb1+ 12.Kc6 Qa1 13.Kb7 Ne3 14.Qd7+ Kg8 15.a6 Qh1+ 16.Kb8 Qh2+ 17.Qc7 1-0 6.Kd3 6.Kb3? leads to the main variation but White will not have better than 12.Kc4? - see later. 6...Nd5 6...h2 7.Nc7 h1Q 8.a8Q Qb1+ 9.Kxe3 Qc1+ 10.Kd4 Qxc7 11.Qd5 1-0 (Tablebase) 7.Nb6 Nc7 8.Nd5 Na8 8...h2 9.Nxc7 h1Q 10.a8Q Qd1+ 11.Kc4 Qc2+ 12.Kb5 Qxc7 13.f6+ 1-0 (Tablebase) 9.Nf4 h2 10.Nh5+ This explains the first move – White gains a tempo. 10...Kh6 11.Ng3 Kg5 12.Ke4 12.Kc4? Kf4 13.Nh1 Kxf5 14.Kd5 Kf4 15.Kc6 Ke5 16.Kb7 Kd6 17.Kxa8 Kc7 18.Ng3 Kc8 = 12...Kg4 13.Nh1 1–0
So, 1.Ra1? nearly works but White can win by overcoming the reason for its failure and then playing it. Composers call moves like 1.Ra1? tries, but only if they fail for one, and only one, reason. The clarity of this example is somewhat obscured by Black’s choices of 'stronger' moves at 4 points during the solution. I haven’t investigated what effect having the black king start at a different square would have on these variations.
So, apart from the wonderful rook sacrifice, have you noticed anything else about this study? If you compare the diagram position with the final position it will be clear that the black and white knights have exchanged squares, a feature German composers (and the rest of us!) call Platzwechsel. This platzwechsel will not be accidental – it will have been central to the composer’s intention. The composer has set himself a very ambitious task and then achieved it, combined with a deep sacrifice. Such successes explain why composers compose.
It seems appropriate that our study for solving should be Belgian and I have selected the following by one of Ward’s friends, the veteran Belgian composer Roger Missiaen. Enjoy your solving!
1st HM., L'Echiquier de France, 1957
White to play and win
1.Ne7+ Kh5 2.Bd1! Bb5 2...Bd4+ 3.Kb8! Bb5! 4.Nf6+ Kh6 5.Nf5+ Kg6 6.Nxd4 Kxf6 7.Nxb5 1-0 3.Kb6 Ba4! 4.Nf6+ Kh4! 4...Kh6 5.Nfg8+ Kh7 6.Bxa4 1-0 5.Ng6+ Kh3 5...Kg3 6.Nh5+ Kf2 7.Bxa4 1-0 6.Bg4+ Kg3 7.Nxh8 1–0
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