- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In the hallways of Chess High, the over-the-board stars and the problemists tend to run in sharply separated cliques.

The greatest composers of endgame studies and mates-in-three are typically competent players, but nowhere near the strength of the best players of their time. Top grandmasters will occasionally author a nice problem (often a variation on an idea from their own games), but do not produce a large volume of top-quality compositions.

So a double congratulations to veteran Israeli IM Yochanan Afek, who last month became only the seventh problemist in the world to earn the title of grandmaster of endgame composition, a ranking based on the annual prizes won for the estimated 400 studies and problems he has produced over the past half-century. (By contrast, there are over 1,400 “regular” grandmasters in the world today, according to FIDE, from Scotland’s Jacob Aagaard to Russia’s Vadim Zvjaginsev.)

The 63-year-old Afek is now the only person ever to hold international titles in four major aspects of the game: an IM at the board (with one grandmaster norm); a GM for endgame composition; and certification as an international arbiter both for tournament play and for composition and problem-solving judging. Afek even co-authored “Invisible Chess Moves” with Emmanuel Neiman, which won ChessCafe’s Book of the Year award for 2011.

We celebrate his versatility with an ingenious study from 2005 and a nice win over Dutch master Roel Donker taken from a 2012 tournament. For the problem, shown in today’s diagram, White moves and somehow finds a win despite the reduced material and the far advanced Black pawns. The solution is at the end of the column.

That Afek doesn’t always need tricks or out-of-the-blue moves to succeed seems clear from his win over Donker. The Israeli grandmaster plays the positional side of a Benko Gambit to perfection, building up great pressure on the a- and b-files while the great Benko bishop strafes the White position from g7. Just when White appears set to break out of his positional bind, Black finds a nice combination to win decisive material.

Thus: 20. Be3 Na8! (a clever repositioning that will force the White pawns into weakening advances) 21. a3 Qc7 22. a4 Rab7 23. Na2 Nab6 24. Rdc1 (Donker is all set to play the freeing 25. b4, solving all his woes, but never gets the chance) Nxa4! 25. bxa4 Rb2! (the fianchettoed Black bishop plays a critical role from the other corner of the board) 26. Rxb2 Rxb2 27. Qd1 Be2!, and the White queen is trapped on her home square.

After 28. Qc2 Rxc2 29. Rxc2 Bd1!, White resigns, as 30. Rc1 (Rc4 Bb3 wins more material) Bxa4 gives Black a queen and a pawn for rook and knight and a massive positional edge.

The best switch-hitter in the game today is English GM John Nunn, a highly successful player and author (his “Understanding Chess Move by Move” is a modern instructional classic) who is also a top composer and three-time world problem-solving champion. The spectacular finale of his brilliancy prize-winning game against Bangladeshi GM Niaz Murshed from a 1985 tournament plays out almost like a composed study, with Nunn finding a string of superb tactical ideas to notch the win.

In a doubled-edged Sicilian Velimirovic Attack, both kings come under fire, but White’s attack proves stronger in the end. The pins and counterpins come thick and fast on 29. Bc5 Rfd8 30. Qd5 Rxd6?! (an error, though the refutation is admittedly hard to spot; Black appears to hold on with 30Rb5!, since 31. Qc6? Rxc5 32. Rxd8+ Qxd8 33. Qxc5 Qd1+ 34. Kh2 Qxg4 leaves Black much better) 31. Bxd6 Qd7 (Qd8 32. Bxe5!) 32. 32. Qxe5!, when 32Bxe5?? 33. Bxe5+ leads to a quick mate.

Murshed tries 32Qd8 33. Qg3 (Bxb8? Bxe5 34. Bxe5+ f6) Rb5 34. h6 Rd5 35. Bc7 Qe8 36. Ka2! (with the idea of Rb4-b8+ and wins) Rd2, threatening 37Rxb2, but his cornered king proves too much of a liability. Nunn concludes magnificently with 37. Be5!! Rxf2 (both 37Bxe5 and 37Qxe5 are met by the rook check on g8) 38. Re4 Bxe5 39. Qg7+!!, and Black resigns as 39Bxg7 40. Rxd8+ Bf8 41. Rxf8 is mate.

Afek’s fabulous idea is to let Black have his queen but give her nowhere to go. The solution: 1. Nhf1! (and not 1. Nhg4?, as Black has 1f1=Q! 2. Nxf1 Kg2! 3. h4 Kxf1 4. h5 Ke2 5. h6 g2; 1Kg1 2. Nxg3 wins)1g2 2. h4!! g1=Q (gxf1=Q 3. Nxf1 Kg1 4. Nd2 is no better) 3. Kf7!!. Remarkably, White’s minimal army covers every square on the g-file and the Black queen is lost, after which the White h-pawn will decide.

Donker-Afek, 16th Unive Open, Hoogeveen, Netherlands, October 2012

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bxa6 7. g3 d6 8. Bg2 Bg7 9. Nf3 O-O 10. O-O Nbd7 11. Qc2 Qa5 12. Rd1 Rfb8 13. Bd2 Qc7 14. b3 Qb7 15. Rab1 Ra7 16. e4 Ng4 17. h3 Nge5 18. Ne1 Nb6 19. f4 Ned7 20. Be3 Na8 21. a3 Qc7 22. a4 Rab7 23. Na2 Nab6 24. Rdc1 Nxa4 25. bxa4 Rb2 26. Rxb2 Rxb2 27. Qd1 Be2 28. Qc2 Rxc2 29. Rxc2 Bd1 White resigns.

Nunn-Murshed, Commonwealth Championship, London, 1985

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 Be7 8. Qe2 a6 9. O-O-O Qc7 10. Bb3 Na5 11. g4 b5 12. g5 Nxb3+ 13. axb3 Nd7 14. h4 b4 15. Na4 Nc5 16. h5 e5 17. Nf5 Bxf5 8. exf5 Nxa4 19. bxa4 Qc6 20. Kb1 Qxa4 21. Rh4 Rb8 22. Rd5 Qd7 23. Qd3 b3 24. cxb3 O-O 25. f6 gxf6 26. gxf6 Bxf6 27. Rxd6 Qe7 28. Rg4+ Kh8 29. Bc5 Rfd8 30. Qd5 Rxd6 31. Bxd6 Qd7 32. Qxe5 Qd8 33. Qg3 Rb5 34. h6 Rd5 35. Bc7 Qe8 36. Ka2 Rd2 37. Be5 Rxf2 38. Re4 Bxe5 39. Qg7+ 1-0,

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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