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Chess, November, 2008


Back thirty and more years ago, when the priority was détente between the superpowers, the last launch of the American Apollo program was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a joint flight of the US and Soviet space programs. It was the final American manned space project until the first Shuttle mission in 1981. The chess composition world is always on the look out for a tourney-opportunity, so the détente in space was celebrated on the chessboard. Here’s one of the prize-winning endgame studies that resulted.

L Katsnelson & L Mitrofanov

2/3 Prize, Soyuz-Apollo, 1975


White to play and win

Black’s two advanced passed pawns look dangerous, but the black king is nearly cornered and the white pieces are just about ready for the kill. Direct action - 1.Kxd6? (threat: 2.Bd5+ Kb8 3.Rh8#) 1...a1Q! 2.Bd5+ Kb8 3.Bf4 Rxb4 4.Rf7 Rxf4 5.Rxf4 a5 6.Rf8+ Ka7 7.Ra8+ Kb6 8.Rb8+ Ka6 9.Ra8+ Kb5 10.Rb8+ - only draws. Black’s saving resource is the long black diagonal, which White thus uses his first move to close. 1.Bb2! axb2 Of course, Black can’t re-open the diagonal in just one move and so accepts the sacrifice. Less interesting alternatives lose in fairly short order. 1...Rxb4 2.Ba1 Rb8 3.Be6 1-0; 1...Ra6 2.Bd4 Kb8 3.Kc4 1-0; 1...a1Q 2.Bxa1 Ra6 3.b5 Rb6 4.Bd4 1-0; 1...Kb8 2.Kxd6 Rxb4 3.Bd5 1-0; 1...a5 2.Kxd6 Kb8 3.Bd5 1-0 2.Kxd6 2.Kc6? Rxb4 3.Bd5 (3.Bxa2 Rb6+ =) 3...a5= 2...Ra6+ 2...Kb8 3.Bd5 Ra6+ 4.Kd7 1-0 3.Kc7 Rc6+ Black sacrifices his rook to close the d5-a8 line. 4.Kxc6 b1Q Promoting the other pawn also doesn’t work: 4...a1Q 5.Bd5 Qc1+ 6.Kd7+ Kb8 7.Rh8+ Qc8+ 8.Rxc8# 5.Rh8! 5.Bd5? Qxh7 0-1 5...a1Q 5...a6 6.Bxa2+ Ka7 7.Bxb1 a5 8.bxa5 Ka6 9.Ra8#; 5...a5 6.Bxa2+ Ka7 7.Bxb1 a4 8.b5 a3 9.b6+ Ka6 10.Ra8#. Black has now queened two pawns, but can’t avoid being mated by White’s royal battery. 6.Bd5+ Qxh8 7.Kc7#. In the world of studies, you never give up just because Black can promote a couple of pawns!

Our study for solving is a miniature (7 pieces or fewer) by one of the famous Platov brothers, who were born in Riga, Latvia.

Mikhail Platov

Nauka I tekhnika, 1925


White to play and draw

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