Thursday, July 31, 2014

Afek's Challenge!

The Dutch NK Open in Dieren is currently in progress. One of the participants in the tournament is the world famous study composer IM Yochanan Afek (2298). Afek is a brilliant composer. Some of his studies are very deep and can really teach you a lot and at the same time give you loads of joy and satisfaction solving them.
At the age of 62 Afek is still quite sharp and is currently playing excellent chess at the Dutch NK Open in Dieren. (Photo by Alina L'Ami)

Afek has composed a study specially for the tournament. He will reveal the answer today i.e 31st July at 17.30 hrs. Let's have a look at what this man has composed.

It's White to play and win.

I know many people who when confronted with a study, start the engine. Houdini or Rybka or for that matter Fritz are so strong these days that the toughest of positions are solved by them within fractions of a second. This can give you the illusion that these positions are not really so difficult. The sad part is that during the game it's your head that has to do all the thinking. You have no computer with you (unless of course you are cheating!!) So as Aagaard says: You have to train your mind to do the thinking and not your computer! My advice to you would be to dig your head in by setting up the position on a board and taking 30 minutes on the clock to find the win for White. If you find the answer then compare your thinking with mine and if you don't then do not give up. After thinking for 30 minutes the position will be firmly engraved in your head so try thinking blindfolded. Like when you are travelling and have nothing to do or you are about to sleep and can think about this position for a few minutes. But in no case should you see the answer before solving the study. It will rob you of the happiness that you will get after you solving it correctly!

To tell you the truth when I first saw this position, the first move seemed clear right from the word go. When two black pawns are about to queen, you really do not have much time to waste, you have to go start your own play. 1.d7 is bad because of Qd7. And after checking the futility of 1.Re5+ Kd7 I think you will settle for the right move which is 1.a7.

Black has two possibilities now Qc2+ or Qc6. How do you decide which one to calculate first?

I think this is really a very difficult question. But when you go deeper you realize that one move is completely illogical. For eg. let's start with 1...Qc6. Now our rook is hanging and d7 would have been cool but unfortunately the pawn is pinned. Hence we have to play 2.a8=Q Qa8 3.d7+ Black king has two options Ke7 or Kd8. To Kd8 we go Bb6+ when Black king has to come up to e7 anyway. Keep this position of black king on e7 in your mind and go back to the diagram above.

Now let's check 1...Qc2+ White can now get in the important move 2.f5! (As pointed out by one of my good friend CRG Krishna 2.Kf6 also wins easily)

Black has no more checks and nothing better than the move 2...Qc6. When it turns out that the pawn on f5 instead of f4 is a huge advantage to us. 3.a8=Q Qa8 4.d7+ Kd8 5.Bb6+ Ke7 6.f6+! This is the point! Thanks to our pawn being on f5 we get this important check and Black is busted. Thus through logical means we deduce that 1....Qc2+ can help only White.

So we have confirmed that the right move is 1...Qc6

Choices are not so many. The d pawn is pinned, rook on d5 is hanging. White reply seems forced. 2.a8=Q+ Qa8 3.d7+

Important question: Where will the black king go? Ke7 or Kd8

Once again we are at cross-roads. What shall we calculate first. I think the natural tendency for any player is always to see the more active move for the opponent. Hence instead of the passive 3...Kd8 we will definitely looks at 3...Ke7 first. White doesn't have many options here. Bf6 or Bc5. (d8=Q transposes to Bf6 variation). 4.Bf6+ Ke6 and now we have to queen as black is threatening to pick up our rook and also start checking with his queen. 5.d8=Q Qd8 6.Rd8

It's Black to play and white has set up a devious mating net. If either of the black pawn queens f4-f5 would be a very pretty mate.

I call such positions as "Mirages." Often in our game we are drawn to a brilliant idea from far. It's simply beautiful and the temptation to have our name in some tactical books written by some famous author is huge! We know that the trap works. But the opponent has a way to escape from it. But we try to keep working on the details because the trap is just too beautiful. We do not want it to go waste! For eg. in the above position Black has the simple 6...gf4 and there is absolutely no way for White to stop one of the black pawns from queening. The trap with f5# was only an illusion. A mirage which looks beautiful from far but is just sand when you come near it! A huge mistake would be to spend a lot of time over such positions. If you keep doing that, you will find yourself tired and under grave time pressure. The right way is not to get attached to an idea. If it doesn't work move ahead and think of new ones.

Thus to 3...Ke7 4.Bf6? is a grave mistake. So What do we do? The only other option is 4.Bc5+

Immediately we notice that 4...Ke6 is a mistake because we can just 5.d8=Q and after Qd8 6.Rd8, the rook controls the d2 pawn and the bishop controls the g2 pawn. It's an easy win. 

So to 4.Bc5+ Black must go 4...Kd8. Also if Black would have gone 3...Kd8 to 3.d7+ instead of Ke7 we would reach a similar position. Hence it doesn't really matter if Black played 3...Kd8 or 3...Ke7 if White were to play correctly (i.e Bc5+ to Ke7) but Ke7 had the additional trap that 4.Bf6 was tempting and wrong!

My intuition told me that this is the critical position of the study. Why did I think that this was the critical position? In chess whenever you reach the level of maximum activity and all your pieces are in play is usually a critical position for you. Because if you do not do something at that point then from there on your activity can only reduce because you are at the maximum level. 
I knew that the moves preceding it were correct because there were really no options and here I have maximized my position. My pawn is on d7 and I have been able to corner the Black king on d8. I thought on this position for a long time. After being unsuccessful in my initial attempt to solve this position on the board. I put this position in the back of my mind. Whenever I would get some time I would start thinking about it. The good part about being in a foreign country (Currently I am in Spain to play tournaments) is that you can think even while you are walking as the traffic rules are followed by everyone. While in India I would really not recommend you to do that! So I kept thinking about this position and I just couldn't break it. The rook was attacked. Moving it made no real sense as Qc6+ would come. Even Rd6 was being met by d1=Q Rd1 and Qc6. Hence I had to play 5.Bb6+ Ke7 but what next?

Making a queen looks like a logical progression but after 6.d8=Q Qd8 7.Bd8 Ke6 

The white rook is attacked and also g1=Q is threatened.

It was already late and I had work to do the next day. Unable to see anything for White at this point I decided to go bed. To go to sleep without being able to solve a position is actually a good training. It means that you accept the defeat for that day. But bear in mind only for that day. You haven't seen the answer so you are ready to fight fresh for the next day. This attitude helps you to take defeats during a tournament in stride and come out stronger the next day. I have heard of players who have sat entire nights trying to solve a position. While such an exercise is great for building up one's never say die attitude I think you can never really concentrate 100% if you think on the same position for long hours. You are tired and the same variations keeps running in your head over and over again.
After the sun rose on the next day I was fresh! I set up the initial position of the study and believe it or not I was able to solve it within a few minutes. In the above position White allows Black to make a queen.
8.Rd2! g1=Q

And now is the time for the fireworks. 

9.f5+ Black has no options and must go 9...Ke5 I just need to bring the Black king now to e3 I thought to myself. A deadly skewer awaits black. After 10.Bc7+ Ke4 there is just no way to bring the black king to e3. Maybe White can fight on in this position but he is the one who is fighting for a draw. It was at this point that the brilliant idea struck me! A combination of Skewers and keeping the black king contained inside the box.

Can you see the composer's brilliant idea?!!


The move becomes extremely easy to understand once you see it but so difficult to find it from the initial position!! Qd4 is met with Bf6 and Kd4 with Bb6. And there is just no way to stop Bf6#. What a finish! Hats off to the true Genius, the composer: Yochanan Afek.

But how can one find such a move from the initial position. Rd4 is the tenth move in the variation and it's not at all easy to find. In my case I had seen a similar idea before. This made my task easier. Here is the position.

Black pawns are about to queen. What should white do? 
The right answer as in our study is to build a mating patter with Rf7!! with the idea of Bd5 and f4#
You can see the entire study over here.

But as you see chess is not all about calculation and over the board skills. You also need to see more and more positions and keep them in your memory. When you go deep into some variations these patterns will come really handy.

Though it's not possible to win a prize for solving this study as I have to be present at the Dutch Open for that, I cannot deny the joy and fulfillment that I derived form solving this study! Did you also feel the same?!!

Can you guess the time it took for world no.2 to solve this position?

The PGN for this study can be downloaded from here.

And here is the entire study with all the variations for you to play it over.

I am very happy that Yochanan put the link of the solution given by me here on his website and had good words to say for my blog.

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