Yakov Vilner First Ukrainian Chess Champion and First USSR Chess Composition Champion: A Review

Having earlier reviewed Alekhine’s Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/alekhines-odessa-secrets-chess-war-and-revolution-a-review/) I was pleased when a new book, published by Elk and Ruby (http://www.elkandruby.com/) and by the same author, Sergei Tkachenko,

appeared in the mailbox. Yakov Vilner: First Ukrainian Chess Champion and First USSR Chess Composition Champion,

is the follow up to the aforementioned book.

Tkrachenko writes in the introduction to the latter book, “I found clear evidence that the versions that Alekhine was saved by important Soviet functionaries were incorrect. Historical facts and memoirs pointed to the undoubted fact that his salvation was down to the modest Jewish lad Yakov Vilner, who at the time the grandmaster was arrested was working as a clerk in the Odessa revolutionary tribunal.

Naturally, I wanted to find out more about this figure. However, it transpired that there was little ready information about Vilner. Even his date of birth was unknown. Well, I then spent eight years researching him until the curtain of mysteriousness finally fell! I now saw a vivid and gifted personality who had the “luck” to live in such turbulent times.

Moreover, I collected so much material that on the advice of historians among my friends I decided to split it into two books, with the material on Alexander Alekhine’s three trips to Odessa compiled as a separate book (subsequently published later in 2016 in Russian and in 2018 in English, as Alekhine’s Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution, which was short-listed for the 2018 English Chess Federation Book of the Year).

The book you are now reading was originally intended as a prelude to the book on Alekhine and is devoted to the first Ukrainian Chess Champion, first USSR Chess Composition Champion and first Odessa Master Yakov Semionovich Vilner, who in 1919 managed to save Alekhine from death and thereby cange the courst of chess history.”

Before reading the two books by Sergei Tkachenko what I knew about Ukraine could be summed up in the sentence, “Ukraine was the breadbasket of the USSR.” Because of the attempt of the Commander in Thief of the DisUnited States of America, Donald John (has any POTUS ever had a better fitting middle name?) Trumpster to gain another term as POTUS by strong arming the young President of Ukraine that country has been in the news often this year. In an attempt to learn more about Ukraine I recently watched two documentaries, Ukraine on Fire, and Revealing Ukraine. Oliver Stone

is the Executive Producer, which was all I needed to know to watch. My knowledge of Ukraine was increased exponentially by watching the films, which were viewed between reading the two aforementioned books.

From a historical perspective I enjoyed the book, yet wondered how many others would be interested in what was happening in Chess a century ago. The first book was about a former World Chess Champion with a backdrop of radical political change containing firing squads for those with a different political thought. Firing squads feature in the Vilner book but the drama is lacking. Yakov Vilner was obviously a fine Chess player, but unfortunately, his health was sometimes bad because he had asthma. Thus, his Chess results were rather erratic. The same can be said about the Chess games. For example, the second game, versus Boris Koyalovich, features 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f6? I kid you not. This is the kind of move Chess teachers of children often encounter. The author writes, “One of the weakest ways to defend the Spanish. Koyalovich clearly chooses it to avoid the well-known variations.” I’ll say! This game was played during the Tournament of Kislovodsk in 1917.

When healthy Yakov Vilner was the best player in Odessa, and Ukraine. He was good enough to finish in a three way tie for sixth place in the eighteen player 3rd tournament Championship of the USSR in 1924 played in Moscow in August/September.

Some of the games are interesting and the annotations are excellent. For example, consider this game from the 4th USSR Championship played in Leningrad 1925:

Yakov S Vilner

vs Boris Verlinsky

URS-ch04 Leningrad 1925

E00 Queen’s pawn game

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 b6 4.e4 Bb4 5.Bd3 Bb7 6.Qc2 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.Ne2 c5 9.O-O Nbd7 10.Ng3 Qc7 11.f4 cxd4 12.cxd4 Rc8 13.e5 Nd5 14.Qb3 Ne7 15.Ba3 d5 16.Rac1 Qd8 17.f5 O-O 18.f6 gxf6 19.exf6 Ng6 20.Bxg6 hxg6 21.Be7 Qe8 22.Qe3 Kh7 23.Nf5 1-0

The author writes, “A game of fireworks! Interestingly, almost all of white’s moves were consistent with Rybka’s first line. In our days that might have led to allegations of cheating!” This is a sad indictment of modern Chess. Spurious allegations by Chess.com, for example, have forced former online players to go elsewhere. An example can be found at GM Kevin’s Spraggett’s wonderful blog with the post, Blogger’s Reputation Intentionally Smeared? (https://www.spraggettonchess.com/chesscom-caught-cheating/) Reading the article caused me to do some checking around and one of the things learned was that one local youngster was given the boot from chess.com for allegedly “boosting.” The youngster was accused of creating false accounts to play in order to beat them and “boost” his rating. The youngster did no such thing, yet had no recourse other than to leave chess.com and play at one of the other, more reputable, websites. How many players have been falsely accused by chess.com ?

Another game from the same tournament attests to the strength of Vilner.

Efim Bogoljubow

vs Yakov S Vilner

URS-ch04 Leningrad 1925

D49 Queen’s Gambit Declined semi-Slav, Meran, Sozin variation

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 e6 5.Nc3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 a6 9.e4 c5 10.e5 cxd4 11.Nxb5 Nxe5 12.Nxe5 axb5 13.O-O Qd5 14.Qf3 Ba6 15.Bg5 Be7 16.Rfc1 O-O 17.Qh3 h6 18.Bf4 Bb7 19.Re1 Bb4 20.Re2 Rxa2 21.Rf1 Rfa8 22.f3 Bf8 23.Ng4 Nxg4 24.Qxg4 Qb3 25.Bb1 Rxb2 26.Ree1 d3 27.Rc1 Ra1 28.Bc2 Rxc1 0-1

The annotations to both games were provided by Yakov Vilner. The author writes, “Naturally, I wanted to find out more about this figure. However, it transpired that there was little ready information about Vilner. Even his date of birth was unknown. Well, I then spent eight years researching him until the curtain of mysteriousness finally fell! I now saw a vivid and gifted personality who had the “luck” to live in such turbulent times.”

Vilner was very ill for a time and the title of one chapter is, How To Combine Treatment With Playing. Then came the Odessa Championship tournament of 1927.

“At first, everything went to plan. On 12 April the 12 best players of Odessa began their battle for the city championship. After round 4 Vilner headed the field with a perfect score. But then his illness returned. The tournament committee managed to postpone several of Vilner’s games so that he could complete the tournament. His short rest brought dividends. After round 8 Yakov Semionovich was still a point ahead of Sergei Ballodit and 1.5 ahead of Dmitry Russo. Vilner then had to play each of them in the final rounds. Such intrigue would have been hard to make up! A reporter hiding behind the initials AMO shared his observations in the newspaper Odessa Izvestia. The column was entitled Before the end and stated:

“Final games. Vilner-Ballodit. Two stubborn “wolf-dogs”. They will battle to the end, to the final pawn. They both possess deep theoretical preparation and have mastered the complex meandering of combinational play. Who will come out on top? So they begin. We see agile bishops slipping out. Knights crawling over the heads of pawns. Carefully feeling out the paths, the queen emerges.
A schematic position has already appeared. Vilner “presses”. With an apparently strong front, Vilner strides towards a difficult but possible victory. Vilner analyzes dozens of variations. He thinks ahrd. But the clock isn’t sleeping. Maestro, time is running out. The maestro makes his move. Then another and another. Time is running out. He needs to catch up.
Well, his opponent is “time-rich”, and coldly calculating. time-trouble disrupts the accuracy of the plan. “Enemy” pieces ahve already broken through. One blunder and it’s death. A crush is close… The game cannot be saved. Destruction…”

This reminded me of the battles between IM Boris Kogan and LM Klaus Pohl, the German Shepard, ‘back in the day’. Boris usually took the measure of Klaus, but occasionally the Krazy Kraut would do the measuring. Ballodit played second fiddle to Vilner, but took over first position in this particular tournament.

Also found is this:

“In order to popularize chess, two rounds were played at factories in the city: at the jute factory and the leather goods factory. “Chess to the masses”, as the slogan went! But of course sharp games are the best adverts for chess.” (The USSR was as full of slogans as it was full of excrement)

Vilner finished near the bottom of the Fifth championship of the USSR in 1927, but did inflict a defeat upon future World champion Botvinnik in the tournament.

Yakov S Vilner vs Mikhail Botvinnik

Moscow 1927
A45 Queen’s pawn game

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qd3 g6 4.h3 Nc6 5.Bf4 Bf5 6.Qd2 Bg7 7.e3 O-O 8.g4 Bc8 9.Bg2 Re8 10.Nf3 Ne4 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Ne5 Be6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.Bxe4 Bd5 15.Qd3 e5 16.dxe5 Bxe5 17.Bxd5 cxd5 18.Bxe5 Rxe5 19.O-O-O c6 20.h4 Qd7 21.Qc3 Rae8 22.Rd4 Qd6 23.h5 c5 24.Rdd1 Re4 25.hxg6 Qxg6 26.Rxd5 Rxg4 27.Qxc5 Rg2 28.Rd2 Qg4 29.Rhd1 h5 30.Rd8 Rxd8 31.Rxd8+ Kh7 32.Rd4 Rg1+ 33.Kd2 Rd1+ 34.Kc3 Rxd4 35.Qxd4 Qg5 36.Qd7 h4 37.Kd2 Kg6 38.Qh3 Qd5+ 39.Ke2 Qe4 40.Kf1 Kh6 41.f3 Qxe3 42.Qxh4+ 1-0

We humans like to speculate about “what if?” As in, “What if Klaus Junge

had not died in World War Two?” (http://tartajubow.blogspot.com/2011/01/klaus-junge.html) How many players have died needlessly on a battlefield somewhere in yet another war without end? Hopefully, one day peace will break out… Reading this book brought another to light.

Alexander Moiseevich Evenson (1892-1919)

“He became recognized as a top chess player in 1913 after winning the All-Russian amateurs tournament with a score of 6.5 out of 7! He edited the chess column of the newspaper Kievan Thought (Kievskaya Mysl) (1914). Graduated from the Law Faculty of the Stl Vladimir Kiev University. Fought in WWI. Served in the cavalry and was injured. A Knight of the Order of St. George. Died in the Civil War. According to one version, he served in Kiev as an investigator of the military-revolutionary tribunal and was shot by a Denikin forces’ firing squad after the latter captured the city. Another version has that Evenson actually signed up as a volunteer for Denikin’s white army and was killed in unclear circumstances. Alekhine and Capablanca considered Evenson to be one of the most talented chess players of his time.

The 6th Championship of the USSR was held in Odessa from September, 2-20, 1929. Because of the large number of participants it came to be thought of as “Odessa roulette”. There were so many players because the Communists in charge wanted to welcome “the masses.”

“A record number of players took part – 36! Of these, 14 were masters and 22 were first category players. How were such a large number of players to be paired off? Oddly enough, the tournament had no clear regulations. It was all decided on an ad hoc basis. At the opening, the organizing committee proposed two options for holding the tournament to the players: either six groups each with six players and one game per day, or four groups each with nine players and three games every two days. The majority voted for the second option, which was later subject to harsh criticism… by the very same players. That’s democracy for you!”

The infamous communist apparatchik, Nikolai Krylenko,

who in the 1930s headed the Soviet chess and checkers associations. (https://www.chess.com/blog/Spektrowski/nikolai-krylenko-the-main-goals-of-the-chess-checkers-movement-1931) (https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSkrylenko.htm), wrote in Chess List:

“The outcome of the USSR championship has given rise to a number of critical articles in our periodical publications, most of which lack sufficient objectivity.”

Objectivity being whatever Lenin or Stalin said…

“Many secrets of the championship remained backstage. The biggest one was Izmailov’s withdrawal from the final. The master’s son recalled:

This championship could well have become Izmailov’s hour in the sun. He was only 23,
he was gaining ground and his game was blossoming, but alas, my father didn’t play in the final. Why? I attempted to establish this but failed to do so. In Chess List Duz-Khotimirsky wrote about “the need to take university exams”. Kan in 64 writes that Izmailov withdrew from the tournament at his own volition. Pravada and Izvestiia referred to illness, while Komsomolskaya Pravda cited exhaustion. Half a century later, recalling this episode, my mother told me that in the mid 1930’s she and my father held a conversation on this subject (they didn’t yet know each other in 1929), and he confirmed that he was healthy and ready to continue the battle, but he was forced to leave…

So who forced Izmailov to leave Odessa? Whom was this talented chess player impeding? Is fecit cui prodest (“it was done by the person for whom it was advantageous”). Seven years after the Odessa tournament ended, Piotr Izmailov was arrested by the NKVD and accused of “Trotskyist-Fascist activity”. He was eventually sentenced to the firing squad on 21 April 1937 and executed the next day.”

As for the protagonist, “At the end of October 1930, Vilner moved to live in Leningrad. Is it not surprising that a person suffering from serious asthma suddenly abandons the warm Odessa climate with its curative sea air in favor of the rainy climate of Northern Palmyra? I consulted with doctors specializing in heart and respiratory illnesses what such a change of environment could bring. They told me that it would mean serious stress on the body and was quite a suicidal step! So why did Vilner, despite his illness, prefer Leningrad? Had he planned this change of residence in advance?”

“At the end of the 1920s the political climate in Odessa worsened, as it did throughout the country. The ideological war against Trotsky and his supporters


reached an apex by the beginning of 1929. At the end of January, the former Minister for War and Naval Matters was secretly transported along with his family from exile in Almaty to Odessa. It was here that the ferry with the symbolic name Illych awaited him. On the night before 11 February the ferry set course for Constantinople accompanied by an icebreaker and government officials, and the next day Trotsky reached Turkey. With Trotsky’s expulsion, the USSR intensified its purges of his supporters and mentors. Christian Rakovsky, the protector of Alexander Alekhine and one of the leaders of Soviet power in Ukraine, was cruelly punished. He had been expelled from the party back in 1927 and then sent to internal exile in Barnaul in 1929. His party membership card was returned to him in 1935 and he was even entrusted to head the All-Union Red Cross society, but not for long. He was arrested in 1937, sentenced to 20 years in jail, and then shot at the start of the war. Vilner also suffered during the battle against Trotskyism.”

It seems Vilner chose the wrong side…

“Vilner didn’t quite live to the age of Christ – he was granted less than 32 years on this earth. Yakov Rokhlin published an obituary on the Odessite in the June edition of Chess List (1931): “Soviet chess players have endured a heavy loss. Master Yakov Semionovich Vilner died on 29 June at &pm in Leningrad after a lengthy illness…”

The book is replete with many interesting Chess games and annotations. In addition, it contains ninety five problems and studies, and if you are into that kind of thing this book is simply de rigeur.

After an email discussion with Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam,

editor of New In Chess magazine, I have decided to forgo the usual star system and grade the way teachers still grade papers, even if they are written in digits now, with A+ being the top of the line and “F” as in “failure” as the bottom. This book deserves the grade “A”.

ECF Book of the Year 2018 shortlist

One of the books reviewed on this blog, Alekhine’s Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution
by Sergei Tkachenko, Elk and Ruby Publishing House, has made it to the English Chess Federation shortlist. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/alekhines-odessa-secrets-chess-war-and-revolution-a-review/)

I have a vague memory of someone, possibly David Spinks, saying something about what counted was not how many times an actor won the award, but how many times he or she were nominated. I feel the same about books.

This brought to mind an email received concerning the book from former California Chess Champion Dennis Fritzinger:

Dennis Fritzinger
To:Michael Bacon
Feb 24 at 3:28 PM

Hi Michael,

You definitely read widely! I would never have heard of this book I’m sure but for your review. Somehow I thought my eyes were going to glaze over reading about such past happenings but they didn’t. I was swept along to the very end. The book reminded me of a certain author, Ian Fleming. It certainly gives him a run for his money!


Book of the Year 2018 shortlist

Posted By: WebAdmin 28th August 2018

The large number of varied and interesting books this year made the selection particularly difficult, but the choice came down to books by two new chess publishers and two excellent instruction manuals (beautifully printed by Quality Chess) which the judges had great difficulty in separating, so included both!

Alekhine’s Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution
Sergei Tkachenko, Elk and Ruby Publishing House, paperback, pp213, £19.99
The cover alone indicates this is not a conventional chess book. It vividly covers the chess community in Odessa, how it and they coped with the rapidly changing governments 1916 to1919. Alekhine was a frequent visitor to Odessa. When the Bolsheviks captured the town in 1919, they shot an estimated 1,200 “traitors”. Alekhine was arrested, imprisoned and was on the list to be executed. Why he was released remains a mystery. Amongst the narrative drama are the chess games he played in Odessa which show his outstanding chess imagination.

Carlsen vs Kajarkin World Chess Championship 2016
Lev Alburt and Jon Crumiller, Chess Information and Research Centre, paperback, pp336, £22.50
World championship matches are the summit of the chess world. Whilst there is extensive short-term media coverage during the match, there are surprisingly few books published after the event giving a considered view. This book is one, with the usual photos, atmospheric background and computer analysis all well done. What lifts the book to an exceptional level is ‘Vlad’s Viewpoint’ which occurs throughout the book. The former world champion Vladimir Kramnik is able, from his unique experience, to give a wider and deeper insight into the play and players. Essential reading for Caruana!

Small Steps to Giant Improvement

Sam Shankland, Quality Chess, hardback, pp 331, £23.99
Shankland had a setback in his chess playing activities so had some free time. He decided to study and write about pawn play which he identified as one of his weaknesses. Written in a refreshing and open style he gives pointed examples of various issues eg advanced pawns can be strong, but they can also be weak. There is much to learn in this book as Shankland himself showed: he won his next three tournaments including the USA championship and raised his grading over 2700!

Under the Surface
Jan Markos, Quality Chess, hardback, pp276, £23.99
Markos has not written a standard text book, rather an exploration of the other factors that affect chess play. A sample of the chapter headings give an impression of his unusual approach – ‘Anatoly’s billiard balls’, ‘What Rybka couldn’t tell’, ‘Understanding the Beast’ and so on. Markos writes in an original way bringing in applicable concepts from the none chess world. There are four fascinating chapters on computer chess. All in all players of every level will find something original or instructive in this book.

— Ray Edwards, Julian Farrand, Sean Marsh – 20th August 2018


Two New Books From Elk and Ruby

In a short time the publishing company of Elk and Ruby (http://www.elkandruby.ru/) has made a very good impression, bursting onto the Chess publishing landscape like a burning fireball comet. The two newest books have added much fuel to the fireball.

Sergei Tkachenko has produced another wonderful little tome devoted to Chess compositions, Nikolai Rezvov, from Child Burglar to Grandmaster: A World Champion’s Favorite Composers. The book contains one hundred fantastic compositions and the story of the composer, Nikolai Rezvov. The first couple of dozen pages comprising the introduction begins, “The community of chess composers is rich in personalities. Nikolai Vasilevich Rezvov, Ukrainian chess composition grandmaster and FIDE chess composition international master, lead a most remarkable life!
At the end of 1921 Odessa Izvestia warned: “Hunger is at Odessa’s door. Until now we have been talking about an impending catastrophe. Now it is here, facing us. All the signs for this are visible. Cases of scurvy and even death from starvation are becoming frequent.”

Nikolai’s family suffered more bad news in addition to this social disaster; his father deserted them soon after Nikolai’s birth and his parents divorced. Our hero found himself the sole male in his family. It’s hard to imagine how his mother and grandmother survived such abysmal times with a newborn.

Nikolai Vasilevich told the author of this book that he was feeding his family by the age of four!

A garrison was located next to the port, protecting the port’s warehouses and equipment. Odessa lads would often run down to the port to watch the cargo ships. The soldiers acted kindly towards these ubiquitous urchins and even fed them porridge. Nikolai would bring some of this precious sustenance home for his mother and grandmother.

Well, it wasn’t only for trips to the port that these Odessite waifs were famous. Their lack of height and innate savviness enabled them to slip through small windows of rich apartments and open the doors for the older hands. This was a particular game of “noble thieves” for which Odessa, let’s face it, had long been famous! It’s not hard to guess what the “endgame” of this romantic way of life would have been for young Nikolai had it not been for one fateful encounter at the age of five or six!

After creeping his way into an apartment belonging to a local jeweler following a tip-off, Nikolai found himself caught in a trap. The owner who had sensed trouble ahead, had stayed at home and caught the young cat-burglar. The logical reaction would have been to grab this Oliver Twist by the scruff of his neck and haul him off to the police. However, the jeweler acted differently. He offered this failed burglar’s mother a deal to take him on as an apprentice and teach him the subtleties of the jewelry trade. A risky and unusual step, frankly! Moreover, in order to dispel any thoughts the urchin may have had about returning to his thieving past, the jeweler, a passionate chess lover, taught his young charge the rules of the game. And that is how the child burglar Nikolai Rezvov crawled through the window into the world of chess!”

The introduction ends, “In over half a century, Rezvov created around 450 compositions encompassing all known types. Many of these are true classics!”

For instance:

1st team championship of Ukraine, 1965
(edited by S. Tkachenko, 2017)
1st place

White to move and draw

Mikhail Zinar’s Difficult Pawn Endings: A World Champion’s Favorite Composers.

From the introduction:

“One spring weekend the lad was walking in the Yuri Gagarin(!) Park in Simferopol and dreaming of his future glorious pilot studies. The world of aviation incurred a terrible loss and the kingdom of Caissa experienced a fantastic gain when Zinar stumbled upon an open pavilion in the park with people playing chess!

Chess! This became Zinar’s life obsession. In just half a year he made the journey from absolute beginner to first category player (1800 plus). After that, it was onwards and upwards. With the wish to focus entirely on chess, our hero changed jobs in 1974. This wasn’t a fair exchange! Only an incurable romantic would agree to give up a position of aviation mechanic with free accommodation in a dormitory and a salary of 130 rubles per month (a very decent amount in those days) in favor of a salary of 90 rubles per month and no accommodation as a coach at a children’s chess club! The chess atmosphere now literally encircled our hero 24/7. Locking the doors at night after the last chess club member had left the premises, Zinar would move tables together, pull a mattress and bed linen from the cupboard and settle down for the night. The following morning the same procedure would take place in reverse…”

The book contains one hundred pawn endings, each a thing of beauty.

M. Zinar
Chess in the USSR, 1981
1st special prize

White to move and win

The King and Queen Save the Day

Two more books have been published, The Queen Saves the Day: A World Champion’s Favorite Studies,

and The King Saves the Day: A World Champion’s Favorite Studies,

by Elk & Ruby. Having previously written a review (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/?s=one+pawn+saves+the+day) of the previously published books, I racked my addled brain in hopes of fostering an idea of what to add to what has already been written. After writing the earlier review the 2018/1 issue of the best Chess magazine being published, New In Chess,

arrived, which contains a review by GM Matthew Sadler

of the first two books published, One Pawn Saves the Day and One Knight Saves the Day. After reading the excellent review I sent an email to the publisher, Ilan Rubin, in which I wondered if it would be possible to publish GM Sadler’s full review on this blog, or would it infringe upon copyright law. Ilan suggested I write to the NIC folks, asking permission. Rather than do so I decided to publish an excerpt from GM Sadler’s review, which is allowed under copyright law. I also mentioned Matthew’s review was so good compared to my review that it was about as much better as the difference in our ratings. I am no Grandmaster Chess player; far from it, and I am not a GM writer, although I work hard in an attempt to be the best I can be. I strongly urge anyone reading this to obtain a copy of the magazine, or at least a copy of his review in NIC. From GM Matthew Sadler’s review, Be Prepared: The eternal question remains: how do I get myself in good shape before a tournament?

“The most fundamental requirement to playing a good tournament is to spot simple tactics. Continually missing easy tricks is terribly bad for your morale. The higher level you play, the more you need to concentrate on the difficult things – drawing up a plan, keeping up the purpose and drive in your play throughout a whole game. You need to assume that your sense of danger will pick up on the simple stuff: if you can’t, you’ll waste masses of time frantically checking and rechecking everything. Solving tactical puzzles is the obvious way, but it’s hard to find the right material. Ideally you would challenge yourself with spectacular positions ( which keep you interested) at a moderate level of difficulty (you want to give yourself a morale boost before and during the tournament, not destroy yourself!)

This time, I was extremely lucky to be able to turn to One Pawn Saves the Day and One Knight Saves the Day by Sergei Tkachenko, published by the new Elk and Ruby publishing house. These small-format books each contain 100 studies in which the hero is the piece in the title. The idea is very nice; in each of the studies, a pawn or knight will deliver the coup de grace in the final position. The author is a member of the very strong Ukrainian team which has scored consistently high placings in the World Chess Composition Tournaments (winning in 1997). Solving studies as training before a tournament was a recommendation of Mark Dvoretsky’s, but one that always filled me with trepidation. Everyone knows the feeling of staring at a fiendish study for 15 minutes and not finding any idea at all. Not the feeling I want before a tournament! These books are excellent in three ways. Firstly, the chosen studies are exceptionally beautiful. I was constantly oohing and aahing with satisfaction! Secondly, the examples are a good mix of the famous and the unfamiliar. I’ve solved a fair number of studies in the past, but about 75% of the studies in each book were unfamiliar to me, which is excellent. Thirdly, the level of the studies is very rewarding. Some are harder than others, but the knowledge that a pawn (in the first book)or a knight (in the second book) will deliver the final blow is a wonderful hint that always helps you in the right direction without revealing too much. I worked through all 200 before and during the tournament and I felt that it had helped immensely. Can’t wait until the next pieces!”

Sadler “…worked through all 200 before and during the tournament.” Imagine that, solving studies while playing in a tournament. Maybe that is part of the reason Matthew is a Grandmaster…Every day I go to Mark Crowther’s This Week In Chess (http://theweekinchess.com/), spending time attempting to solve the puzzle of the day before attempting to solve only one position from one of the two new Elk & Ruby books received recently as an attempt to keep my aged brain working. Use it or lose it! I read Sadler’s book, Chess for Life,

which deservedly won the ECF Book of the Year 2016 prize., and will recommend it wholeheartedly!

I never read any review of a book before reviewing it, unless I have read it before knowing I will review the book, because I want to keep an open mind, and think for myself. After writing the above I went to Amazon where I was surprised to find one review, by Paul Maginley, a rated Expert, as shown at the USCF website, already published for the book, The King Saves the Day: A World Champion’s Favorite Studies by Sergei Tkachenko, posted May 11, 2018. (https://www.amazon.com/King-Saves-Day-Champions-Favorite/dp/5604071013/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1528563249&sr=1-1&keywords=tkachenko)

“I retired from tournament play years ago, yet I still purchase chess books. How does one explain that? Chess remains an excellent avenue for mind exercise even if one has eschewed the rigors of competitive play. And what better way to exercise the mind than to work on endgame studies? Publisher Elk and Ruby have put out six related books on endgame studies favored by the Soviet composer Sergei Tkachenko.
The books are pocket sized and nicely produced with one puzzle per page and the solution printed on the next page thereby facilitating those who would prefer not to accidentally view the answer before attempting to solve the puzzles. There is a series of six books representing a 100 puzzles per book. The compositions represent multiple composers and one ends up with a lone king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, or pawn at the end of each puzzle. The books are pocket sized and the typeset and diagrams are large enough to rule out any eyestrain. The puzzles can be quite challenging, but the solutions frequently display a high degree of beauty and pleasure. English translations of Russian chess books are often stiff and unappealing but translator Ilan Rubin presents the material clearly and concisely.
We live in a culture dominated by the cell phone and people can be seen with their faces glued to their mobile devices whenever they find themselves in a situation involving any kind of waiting. What better way to overcome such dead time than to pull out one of these books and work out a beautiful endgame composition? The books are affordably priced at $11.99 each. I don’t know how many will ultimately be printed, but it would make sense to jump on these while they last.
If poetry represents the ultimate beauty of literature then I can argue that endgame studies represent the ultimate beauty of chess. If I were to find myself exiled on a small island and allowed only a handful of chess books, most of them would likely be books on endgame studies. These wonderfully diminutive volumes would be worthwhile selections for any kind of trip. I look forward to seeing more from this small publisher.”

I cannot add anything to that wonderful review, other than to say “Ditto!” This series of books will bring pleasure and enjoyment while sharpening your tactical awareness.

One Pawn, Knight, Bishop, and Rook Save the Day

Sergei Tkachenko,

a Grandmaster of composition, is a member of the Ukrainian team that won the 5th World Chess Composition Tournament in 1997 and which came in second in 2000. 2004, 2013, and 2017, has produced four books in which white ends up with just one pawn, knight, bishop, or rook in the finale manages to win or draw.

I think of these small books as “little jewels,” as in diamonds! These amazing and fantastic studies, some classics from bygone ages, others originally published in the Soviet Union, or ex-Soviet countries, and Sergei’s own compositions, are a feast for those who enjoy expanding their minds and improve their play.

I recall reading a story about former US Chess Champion Stuart Rachels,

from Alabama, in which his father, James Rachels, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama, a position in which one can now find Stuart, who followed in his father’s footsteps, said that when he came home Stuart would often greet him in the driveway while holding a Chess board with a study he had been attempting to solve. Stuart would have loved these books!

Each book contains one hundred problems. The paperback books measure four by six inches so they can be transported easily. They can also be purchased in Kindle form. Unfortunately only One Pawn and One Knight are available on Kindle now. They are free if you purchase a Kindle unlimited. How can one beat that price? In addition, the Endgame Books Available on the Forward Chess App, which can be found here: https://forwardchess.com/product-category/endgame-books/

Some examples follow:

Black to move

M.Klyatskin, 1924 (finale)

The first problem is No. 1 in the pawn book. It is one of the most well-known studies in Chess, and the solution should be known by anyone attempting to play Chess. This illustrates there are studies for everyone, from beginner to Grandmaster.

White to move and win

Authors: J. Kling and B. Horwitz, 1853

One more pawn study by the man famous for ending World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca’s

long winning streak (http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1102101):

White to move and draw

Author Richard Reti, 1925 (position after black’s first move)

From One Knight Saves the Day:

“Newbies to chess problems will also find analyzing these studies useful. The diverse set of tactical ideas involving a single knight in the finale will enable them to gain a deeper understanding of the knight’s resourcefulness. The first studies appeared in the game of shatranj, a precursor of modern chess (VII-VIII centuries). They were called mansubat (singular: mansuba), which can be translated from Arabic as “an arrangement.” Around 700 mansubat have survived, some of which involve a lone knight n the finale.”

Mansuba No. A1 from the XII century has spawned a vast number of studies:

White to move and win

Unknown author, XII century

The next is from one of the most famous Chess players in the history of the game:

White to move and win

Author Paul Keres, 1936

I had the good fortune to meet Paul Keres

A stamp released in the USSR in 1991 to mark the 75th anniversary of the birth of Paul Keres

at the Church’s Fried Chicken tournament in San Antonio, Texas in 1972. For those with a desire to learn about Paul Keres I highly recommend the magnificent six part series recently concluded @ https://chess24.com/en/read/news/paul-keres-prince-without-a-crown

The next volume, One Bishop Saves the Day,

contains a history of the development of the bishop. “In the game of shatranj, a precursor of modern chess, the bishop differed from its modern cousin. It could jump diagonally over both its own player’s and its opponent’s pieces. At the same time, this bishop was much weaker and more vulnerable: it moved diagonally only two squares at a time (no lese and no more)), which made it easy prey for more mobile pieces.” Examples are given, but you must purchase the book to see them, as I give only modern examples:

White to move and draw

Author Jan Timman, 1982 (Grandmaster Jan Timman

is the Honorary Editor of the best Chess magazine in the world, New In Chess)

White to move and draw

Author Pal Benko,

1967 (Everyone should be familiar with Pal Benko, the man who punched out by Bobby Fischer! http://chessmoso.blogspot.com/2010/12/getting-killed-over-chess-game.html)

In One Rook Saves the Day

we find:

“In the game of shatranj, a precursor of modern chess, the rook was the strongest piece. The rook featured frequently in ancient mansubat (singular:mansuba) – the first chess compositions. In those days, it was called a ‘rukh’ (sometimes spelt ‘roc’ or ‘rucke’), an ancient and powerful phoenix-like firebird so big that it could even carry elephants in its claws.”

Black to move. White achieves a draw

Author Sergei Tkachenko, 2000, the GM who put these wonderful books together. (http://www.gmsquare.com/composition.pdf)

Every day for I do not know how long I have gone to TWIC (http://theweekinchess.com/) every morning an attempt to solve the Daily Chess Puzzle as a way of firing my brain. Since receiving these books I attempt to solve at least one study. There have been days when I hold the position in my mind and reflect on it throughout the day. For example, yesterday I kicked back in our new recliner to rest, close my eyes, and there was the morning position. One day we were busy so I had not had time to attempt to solve the position that had been indelibly etched in my memory, but when I went to bed that night, there was the position, which I was still unable to solve. The next morning, after taking a couple of jolting slugs of coffee, I opened the book currently being read, looked at the page, and “Wa La,” there was the position! Getting up immediately I walked over to the desk graciously given to me by my friend Michael (Mulfish) Mulford when he moved to Lost Wages, set up the board, and solved the study!

The books are published by Elk and Ruby (https://twitter.com/ilan_ruby?lang=en).

‏I love these books I have come to think of as little nuggets of gold!