Saturday, 24 November 2012

Chess Reviews: 204

The Art of the Endgame
By Jan Timman
269 pages
New in Chess

Despite being one of the world's top players from the late 1970s to the early 1990s (ranked number two in the world in 1982 and a challenger for the FIDE World Championship in 1993), Grandmaster Jan Timman always found the time and energy to bridge the gap between over-the-board battles and the mysterious world of chess composition, specifically in the genre of endgame studies.

This book, suitably subtitled 'My Journeys in the Magical World of Endgame Studies' is the result of many years of work  As the back cover blurb puts it: 'In this fascinating book, Timman has collected a wide range of the finest endgame studies by other composers and explains in his lucid style how they inspired him to create dozens of brand-new studies himself.'

The material is split into 14 chapters:

Miniature Studies
Rook versus Bishop
Preventing Pawn Promotion
Various Promotion Combinations
Knight Promotions
Bishop Promotions
Mating Patterns
Stalemate Patterns
Mutual Zugzwang
Building a Fortress
Systematic Manoeuvres
The Disappearing Trick
Three Themes
Various Endgame Studies

Note the systematic approach, which is entirely logical but, according to the author, not exactly typical: 'It had struck me that most books on endgame studies were quite random collections.'

The months spent working on the book saw an increase in Timman's own enthusiasm and output.  'Before, I had never occupied myself with the question how you could incorporate the Novotny theme and the related Plachutta theme in studies. Studying a number of examples pointed me in the right direction. Never before have I been so productive as an endgame study composer as in the seven months that I wrote this book.'

His genuine love of studies is apparent throughout and he treats the subject with great care and respect:

'The computer has refuted a number of studies by great composers. Nowadays there is a trend to publish such refutations as if they were great achievements. In this book I have striven to use the computer in a constructive way. An impressive work of art that has been damaged, must be repaired with great care. I have treated studies with such defects in the same way. I corrected them in ways that did not affect the brilliant ideas.'

The book is absolutely full of astounding chess variations and ideas. Even the simplest of positions produces extraordinary passages of play. The very first study given by Timman, in the chapter Miniature Studies, sets the scene well.

You'll have to but the book for the annotations (and for the other examples I'm going to give) but simply following the moves - and looking for the ideas behind them - should convince you that something special is on offer here.

Liburkin, '64' 1933
White to play and win

1 Kd1 Kf5
2 Ke2 Bf6
3 Kf3 Bxh4
4 Bxe4+ Kg5
5 Bd5! Kh5
6 Bf7+ Kg5
7 Be8 

 ...and Black's bishop cannot be saved.

Delights await in every chapter. I particularly enjoyed some of the studies I found in Building a Fortress.

Smyslov 2005
White to play and draw

1 Nb8 Rd6
2 Nd7+ Rxd7
3 Rxg7! Kxg7
4 h4 
4 ...Rd6
5 Kg2 Rg6+
6 Kh3!

'And the black rook has to leave the g-file again in order to prevent stalemate.'

Bishop Promotions are very rare, but there are two in this sample snippet of play.

Timman 2011

5 Bb1!! Bg8
6 b7 a1=B!
7 b8=B! Bc4
8 Bxa7 Bd3
9 Bd4+ and wins.

The final position I'd like to present here features the Novotny Theme. In the words of the author:

'The Novotny Theme signifies that a piece is placed on the intersection between a diagonal of the opponent's bishop and a file (or rank) on which his rook operates.'

It is very rare to find a Queen stepping onto the intersection but by pure chance, Timman found a casual game from 1910 while reading the biography of Amos Burn (Amos Burn by Richard Forster, McFarland 2004), featuring the very thing he had been looking for.


MacDonald - Burn 
Liverpool 1910

33 ...Qg4!!
34 Rxg4 Nf3+

...although White soon missed a chance to gain an advantage, Burn went on to win.

If any book is going to open the eyes of practical chess players to the beauty and value of studies, then this is surely the one. Timman's passion and determination to make this the best possible work on the subject are admirable indeed and this fine book deserves to reach a wide audience.

Timman playing Korchnoi at the 2009 Staunton Memorial Tournament

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