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The Problemist Diary Part 4: Theatrical Positional Draw

by Satanick Mukhuty - 30/05/2019

A few days ago Levon Aronian posted an interesting study on twitter for solving. He refused to give away the name of the composer and just hinted that its idea was very “theatrical” and “hidden”! So what is it in this position that intrigues a world class player like Aronian so much? We also reproduced the position on our ChessBase India page as an exercise for our readers. Well, here we are now to not only spill the beans but much more! Our compositions expert Satanick Mukhuty also delves into other positions which are similar to this theme. A lot to learn for practical chess players.

Aronian shares a study

Aronian tweeted this position last week | Photo:

Here is the actual tweet:



This study, originally a brainchild of the great Yuri Bazlov, presents a brilliant case of what is known as a positional draw.

White to Play and Win

FEN: 8/8/8/3k4/6Nn/7N/6p1/b3K2R w K - 0 1

White’s rook is threatened and 1.Rg1/h2 runs into 1...Nf3+ fork. So there are only two candidate moves to look for, namely 1.Nf4+ and 1.Ne3+ At first glance they both look the same but there is a subtle difference. After 1.Nf4+?! Ke4! 2.Nxg2 Nxg2+ 3.Kf2 Ne3! 4.Nxe3 Bd4! White is a whole rook up but is he winning?

Unfortunately, despite the huge material advantage, the position here is dead drawn. It turns out that there’s no good way for White to unpin that knight on e3, if 5.Rh3 or 5.Rh4+ then simply 5...Kd3 holds.

Hence, by the process of elimination, we now know that 1.Ne3+ must be the first move. 1.Ne3+! Ke4 2.Nxg2 Nxg2+ 3.Kf2 Nf4

Now if White took on f4 with 4.Nxf4, then after Bd4+ 5.Kg3 Be5! we once again have the same problem with the draw. White cannot break free from the pin.

Hence in the above diagram, White must first insert a check with 4. Re1+! Kf5 5. Nxf4 Bc3!

The bishop attacks the rook and Rc1 is met with Bd2. How should White wriggle out of this and play for a win?

6. Rc1 Bd2 7. Rc5+! Kxf4 and finally 8. Ke2!

The bishop is trapped and White wins the game
IM Sagar Shah explains this study in the above video
13-year-old Indian talent Sreeshwan Maralakshikari is given the above position as one of the positions in the talent test. Look at how he finds the solution in a limited time with the pressure of the video being recorded.

What makes this position so fascinating is the fact that in some lines White is not able to win even with a huge material superiority. This phenomenon is called a positional draw.

Look at these positions carefully. White is a rook up in both of them and yet there is no way to escape from the pin. The position is just a draw.

In the book “Practical Chess Beauty” Yochanan Afek defines this as follows:

"Positional draw is a general term for the draw which results when one side is unable to convert what would normally be a decisive material superiority. This may be due to various positional factors such as the vulnerability or limited mobility of pieces, perpetual attacks or... a picturesque fortress!"


Let us try to understand this unusual, counter-intuitive concept better with a few more examples:

Study 1

Kurt Wilhelm Bruno Heinrich Eucken, Tidskrift för Schack 1948, 3rd Prize

White to Play and draw

FEN: 8/4n3/8/8/8/p4R2/2rp1B2/5k1K

What we have next is yet another Bazlov masterpiece. This composition is truly beautiful for its richness of play.

Study 2

Yuri Bazlov, Armenian Central Chess Club Tourney 1967, 1st Prize

White to Play and draw

Yuri Bazlov is a Russian Grandmaster of chess composition and one of the best contemporary specialists of the study art. Photo: Issue 70 of the German magazine “Problem Forum”

Study 3

D Gurgenidze, Sredba na Solidarnosta 1977, 1st Honourable Mention

White to Play and draw

FEN: 4B3/2pR4/q7/1k2P3/8/1p6/bK1P4/8

The next one presents nice flow and shows queen domination by rook and knight.

Study 4

V Kovalenko, Diagrammes 1996, 3rd Honoroable Mention

White to Play and draw

FEN: 4k2n/4p2P/2K1p1Rn/4P3/6B1/8/P1N1P2q/8

Study 5

Vitaly Halberstadt, Magyar Sakkvilág 1929, 3rd Prize

Black to Play and White draws

FEN: 6k1/4r3/2b5/3N4/P7/6p1/B7/5K2

Study 6

Adolph Jay Fink, The San Francisco Chronicle, 1921

White to Play and draw

FEN: 8/8/8/1n6/8/n4Rp1/pp4Rb/4k2K

We end this article by looking at two simple examples of fortress making.

Study 7

Froim Markovich Simkhovich, Turkmenskaya Iskra 1926, 1st Prize

White to Play and draw

FEN: 4K3/2k1Bp1N/6p1/5PP1/8/7p/b7/8

Study 8

W. Rudolph, The Chess Amateur, 1912

White to Play and draw

FEN: 3B4/1r2p3/r2p1p2/bkp1P1p1/1p1P1PPp/p1P1K2P/PPB5/8

About the author

Satanick Mukhuty has a background in Mathematics. He is an avid enthusiast of composition chess and is sincerely committed to promoting it around the world.

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