In the last few years the British Chess Solving team has been one of the most successful of our national teams at any form or level of chess, having won the World Chess Solving Championship (WCSC) on three successive occasions - 2005, 2006 and 2007. In addition to this, John Nunn has twice been individual world champion in recent years - in 2004 and 2007. These successes have (not accidentally) coincided with the generous, continuing sponsorship of the team by Winton Capital Management. This impressive record of achievement meant that the 2008 British team (GM John Nunn, GM Jonathan Mestel, IM Colin McNab and reserve FM Michael McDowell) travelled to the 32nd WCSC - held as part of the 51st World Congress of Chess Composition in Jurmala, Latvia from 30th August to 6th September, 2008 - with much pressure and expectation on their heads.
The solving events started, as normal, with an Open Solving Tournament, which included two endgame studies amongst all manner of other chess compositions. I published one of those studies here a couple of issues ago and the second of them, by a leading Romanian composer, is our first study this issue. This is a very difficult study and very few of the World’s top solvers managed to unravel it completely. While I was preparing this copy my computer found a flaw, a dual solution at move 2, which is unfortunate, but in the event I don’t think any of the solvers spotted it!
4th Comm., New Statesman, 1973-1974
White to play and win
1.Be4! Saving the attacked bishop and pawn. 1...Rf4 1...Ka4 2.b6 Rg1 3.b7 Rg8 4.Bc7 1-0; 1...Bc4 2.b6 Ba6 3.f6 1-0 It is not yet the time for 2.Bb4+? as this leads to Kxb4 3.b6 Bd5! 4.Bxd5 Rxf5+ 5.Kg6 Rxe5 = 2.b6! Sacrificing the bishop, but this is not actually necessary. It seems that there is another route to victory: 2.Bd3! Rd4 (2...Rf3 3.Bc7 Bd5 4.b6 Rxd3 5.e6 Rh3+ 6.Kg6 Rh8 7.Kg7 Ra8 8.e7 Re8 9.Bd8 Kb3 10.f6 Rg8+ 11.Kh7 Bf7 12.b7 1-0) 3.Bf1 Rf4 4.Bh3 Ka4 5.Bd8 Kxb5 6.e6 Kc5 7.Be7+ Kd5 8.Bh4 Kd4 9.Bg5 Rf2 10.Kg6 Ke5 11.e7 Ba4 12.f6 Be8+ 13.Kg7 Kd6 14.Kf8 Bg6 15.e8Q Bxe8 16.Kxe8 Re2+ 17.Kf8 Rc2 18.f7 Rf2 19.Bc1 Ra2 20.Bf4+ Kc6 21.Be3 Rb2 22.Kg7 Rb8 23.Bg5 Kc5 24.Bd7 Kd4 25.Be7 Rb7 26.f8Q 1-0 2...Rxe4 3.b7 3.e6? Re5 4.Kg6 (4.b7 Rb5 5.e7 Rxb7 6.e8Q Bf7+ 7.Qxf7 Rxf7 =) 4...Rxa5 5.b7 Rb5 6.e7 Rb6+ 7.f6 Ba4 = 3...Rxe5 4.Bb4+! 4.b8Q? Rxf5+ 5.Kg6 Rxa5 = 4...Ka4 4...Kxb4 5.b8Q+ Rb5 6.Qd6+ 1-0 5.b8Q Rxf5+ 6.Kh6! 6.Kg6? Rb5 7.Qd6 Bc2+ 8.Kg7 Rxb4 =; 6.Kh4? Rb5 7.Qd6 Rxb4+ = 6...Rb5 7.Qd6! wins, Black's most stubborn line, according to the tablebases, being - 7...Rd5 8.Qf4 Kb5 9.Ba3 Rd3 10.Qe4 Bc2 11.Qb7+ Kc4 12.Qb4+ Kd5 13.Qc5+ Ke6 14.Qxc2 Rxa3 15.Qc6+ Ke5 16.Qc5+ 1-0, while 7...Rxb4 leads to 8.Qa6#
The top three solvers in this competition were 1) Boris Tummes (Germany) with 56 (out of 60), 2) Georgy Evseev (Russia), also 56 but in slower time and 3) Marcel van Herck (Belgium) 54.5. The top British solvers were: 10th John Nunn (52.5), 11th Jonathan Mestel (52.5), 40th Colin McNab (44) and 61st Michael McDowell (42).
The main competition, the WCSC itself, took place over the next two days and consisted of six timed rounds, each of a different type of chess composition. The studies were the third round on the first day and competitors were given the following three positions to crack. The first, by a prolific Moscow composer who died some years ago, is typical of its author - short, sharp and sweet.
2nd Prize, Mkhedruli, 1975
White to play and win
Black's mate threat on e1 limits White's first move choices. As 1.b8Q? Be1+ 2.Qg3 Bxg3+ 3.hxg3 e1N 0-1 doesn't work, the only other mate-stopping move must. 1.Nd6+ Kd7 2.Nxe4 Be1+ 3.Ng3 Bxg3+ 4.hxg3 e1N! Black's only chance is to threaten mate. 5.b8N+ Only a checking move will avoid mate. 5...Ke8! Laying a trap for an unwary opponent. 6.a8B! 6.a8Q? Nf3+ 7.Qxf3 is stalemate! 1–0
The second study is not so short, but also features an underpromotion.
White to play and draw
White has to nullify the threat from Black's passed pawn and it turns out to be important which square the black king ends up on. This explains why White doesn't simply sacrifice his rook on c2. 1.Rh1+! c1Q Black doesn't have to promote, but then he still can't avoid the draw: 1...Kb2 2.f8N Ng4 3.Kc7 Nf2 4.Rg1 Nd1 5.Rg2 e5 6.Rxc2+ Kxc2 7.Kxd8 = 2.Rxc1+ Kxc1 If he is to win, Black must promote his pawn; so to draw White must strive to stop that happening. 3.f8N! Nec6+ 4.Ka8! Out of the way of any future checks. Other moves show why this is important - 4.Kc8? e5 5.Nd7 e4 6.Nf6 e3 7.Nd5 Ne7+ 0-1; 4.Kc7? e5 5.Nd7 e4 6.Nf6 e3 7.Nd5 e2 8.Nf4 Ne6+ 0-1 4...e5 5.Nd7 e4 6.Nf6 e3 7.Nd5 e2 8.Nf4 Now we see why the black king had to be on c1, vulnerable to check by the white knight from d3. 8...e1N! Three knights and a king can round up a lone knight separated from its king and can then mate a lone king ... 9.Nd3+! Nxd3 ... but not if stalemate intervenes! Apart from avoiding checks, the square a8 had other benefits for White.
The final study is by the Romanian composer whom we met earlier, though things aren’t so complex this time.
2/3 Prize, Revista Romana de Sah, 1977
White to play and win
Black's pawns are dangerous and he threatens Bf1+, so White takes defensive action. 1.Rd1 Bf1+ But Black plays the check anyway, sacrificing the bishop to decoy the white rook off an open file. 2.Rxf1 g2 Now White needs time to both move his threatened rook and capture the black pawn on h2. Doing this without interference from Black will involve checking the black king, which explains the subsequent play. 3.Bb3+ Ka3 3...Kb4 4.Bc3+ Kc5 transposes. 4.Bb2+ Kb4 5.Bc3+ Kc5 6.Bd4+ Kd6 7.Be5+ Ke7 8.Bf6+ Kf8 9.Bg7+ Ke7 10.Re1+ White follows this with 11.Kxh2 and Black's threats have disappeared. There is a small flaw in that there is an alternative move that also wins, tough in slower time - 10.Bf8+ Ke8 11.Re1+ Kxf8 12.Kxh2 f2 13.Re8+ Kxe8 14.Kxg2 1–0
The competition in the WCSC has always been fierce and it is getting fiercer. This year we had, for what I think is the first time, an allegation by one team that a member of another team had been cheating. Of course, it had to be treated seriously and an appeals panel was duly formed, which took evidence, which included video footage. In the event the panel came to the conclusion that cheating could not be proven and so the appeal was denied.
It used to be the case that all protests or appeals were made to increase one’s own score, but over the last couple of years we have seen the start of protests aimed at reducing the scores of other teams. The rules, it has to be said, are rather vague and should have been tightened up long ago. I suspect that they now will be, at least in the areas that are causing concern at the moment. It is unfortunate that a competition that used to be very friendly (though very fierce too!) can these days leave a bad taste.
After all the delay caused by the appeal, the result was finally posted. The team competition was won by Russia with a total of 178 points (out of 180) in 512 minutes. Second was Germany, also with 178 points but in a slower time of 559 minutes. In third place was Poland on 171 points. Great Britain, mainly because of a terrible final round (the selfmates) came only 5th with 168 points, so a fourth successive victory was not to be. The individual winner was Piotr Murdzia (Poland) on 90/90, with Georgy Evseev (Russia) 2nd, also with 90 but in slower time. Third was Michael Pfannkuche (Germany), who was just half a point behind. The top British solver was Jonathan Mestel, who came 7th with 84 points. John Nunn scored 80 (15th), Michael McDowell 79.5 (19th) and Colin McNab 71.5 (43rd). This was good news for Michael who thus scored his second, and final, solving IM norm and now only needs to achieve the appropriate rating performance. One of the really good aspects of the WCSC is that the reserve always gets to take part, although his score can never go towards the team score, which is made up of the best two performances from the three man team in each round.
After this relatively disappointing performance, it was good that there were some better performances by the solvers. A team of Colin McNab and John Nunn came 3rd in a Bughouse competition with a score of 7/10 and John Nunn won the knockout Solving Show, beating just about all of the best solvers in the World.
While all this solving was going on there was also much composing and the delegates of the countries present were meeting in conference, debating the many thorny issues involved in the world of chess composition. This year the issues proved to be more thorny than usual and an extra session had to be scheduled. Most of the trouble was caused by a dispute over the results of the 8th World Chess Composition Tournament (WCCT), in which there was a protest concerning the study section, where one of the three judges had awarded zero marks to 4 studies. It emerged during the meeting that this was because they were derived from database positions. According to the rules, zero marks should only have been given to compositions that were unsound, anticipated or unthematic, in which case explanations were required. The protesting nation asked in vain that these zero marks be disallowed and the commission voted 16 to 10 that the published results should stand, so upholding a clear breach of the rules. It is probable that this particular thorn has not drawn its last drop of blood, and we had our second bad taste of the week. I must stress though that overall the week was very enjoyable!
UPDATE: Since this article was first published, it has been revealed that the judge who awarded the zero points to the studies had done so because he considered them unsound, not because they were derived from database positions. I understand that the judge, having been sent further analysis, now considers at least some of the studies sound. So the commission didn't have the correct evidence before them and no doubt this issue will continue to be discussed.
Enough of the politics and back to the chess! Our final study, not used in Jurmala, is by study anthologist Harold Lommer. Why not have a go at solving it?
Harold M Lommer
1st Comm., Isenegger Memorial Ty., 1966
White to play and win
1.Re2+ 1.Bd5? Rc7 2.Re2+ Kc1 = 1...Kb1 2.Kb3 Kc1 3.Kc3 Kd1 4.Bf3 Rc7+ 5.Kb2 Rb7+ 6.Ka2! 6.Ka1? Rb3! 7.Re3+ Kc2 8.Bd1+ Kxd1 9.Rxb3 Ke2 = 6...Ra7+ 7.Kb1 Rb7+ 8.Rb2+ 1–0
The paragraph labelled ‘UPDATE’ above did not appear in the original printed article.