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Chess, June, 2010

Gulyaev, Botvinnik and Liburkin

Readers may well know about the difficulties that all sorts of artists in the Soviet Union had during the Stalin years. Artists were pressured to produce work that conformed to Soviet ideas of what a work of art should be. Readers may not know that a similar pressure was placed on chess composers, who were encouraged not to stray too far from the chess playing masses.

In 1948 the All-Union study composing tourney of the Soviet Union was won by Aleksandr Pavlovich Gulyaev, who lived from 1908 to 1998 and after 1958 published problems and studies under the alias Aleksandr P Grin. His winning study was harshly criticised by Mikhail Botvinnik. First, let’s look at the study.

Aleksandr P Gulyaev

1st Prize, All-Union Ty., 1948


White to play and win

Both sides have passed pawns on the same file and the fight is on for promotion. 1.e7 Moving the attacked pawn forward. Checking first only draws, though after some good play by Black. 1.Rf5+? c5! 2.e7 Re4 3.Rxc5+ Kxa4 4.Rf5 Bf7! 5.Rxf7 Kb3 6.Rf4 Re6 7.Rf6 Re4 = 1...Re4 2.Rf4! The first rook sacrifice. Of course, if Black accepts it, then White promotes and wins. 2.Rf5+? c5! has transposed to the note at move 1. 2...Re6 2...Re5 3.Bg7 Bxa4 4.Rxa4+ Kxa4 5.Bxe5 e2 6.e8Q+ 1-0 3.Rf5+! This now works as the black rook has been decoyed to e6, blocking the black bishop's path to f7. 3.Rf6? Re4 4.Rf5+ c5 has transposed to the note at move 1. 3...Kxa4 Black has a much more stubborn defence with 3...c5 4.Rxc5+ Kxa4 5.Rc8 e2 6.e8Q+ b5 7.Ra8 Bc4 8.Qxe6 Bxe6 9.Kb6+ Kb3 10.Ra3+ Kb2 11.Re3 Bc4 12.Bb4 Kc1 13.Kc5 Kd1 14.Kd4 when White eventually wins on material. 4.Rf6! The second sacrifice. 4...Re5 4...Re4 5.Rf4! 1-0; 4...Rxe7 5.Bxe7 Bc4 6.Rf4 b5 7.Rf3 b4 8.Rxe3 1-0 5.Rf4+ Bc4! Now Black gets in his own sacrifice. 5...Ka5 6.Rf5 1-0 6.Rxc4+ In the following duel between the white rook and the black king, the latter tries to avoid a3 and b4, which would be met by white promoting and discovering check at the same time, and a1, b2, c3 and d4, which would be met with Bg7, pinning the black rook. 6...Kb3 6...Kb5 7.Rc5+! Kxc5 8.e8Q+ 1-0 7.Rc3+ Sacrifice number 3. 7.Rb4+? Kc2 8.Rb5 Re6 9.Rc5+ Kb1 10.Rg5 e2 11.Rg1+ e1Q 12.Rxe1+ Rxe1 13.Kxb7 Rxe7 14.Bxe7 = 7...Ka2 7...Kb2 8.Rc5 Re4 9.Bg7+ Kb1 10.Be5 1-0; 7...Ka4 8.Ra3+ Kb5 9.Rd3 Kc4 10.Rd8 Rxe7 11.Bxe7 e2 12.Bh4 1-0 8.Rc2+ 8.Ra3+? Kb1 9.Ra1+ Kc2 10.Ra2+ Kd3 11.Kxb7 e2 12.Ra1 e1Q 13.Rxe1 Rxe1 14.Kxc7 = 8...Kb3 Black can bow out of the duel if he wants, by going to b1, but then he loses more prosaically - 8...Kb1 9.Re2 c5 (9...Kc1 10.Rxe3! Rxe3 11.Bh6 1-0) 10.Kxb7 c4 11.Kc6 c3 12.Kd6 Rxe7 13.Re1+ Kc2 14.Bxe7 Kd2 15.Rh1 c2 16.Bg5 c1Q 17.Bxe3+ 1-0 9.Rb2+ Sacrifice number 4. 9...Kc4 9...Ka4 10.Re2 Kb5 11.Kxb7 Kc4 12.Rc2+ Kb3 13.Rc3+ Kb2 14.Rxc7 e2 15.Bg7 e1Q 16.e8Q 1-0 10.Rb4+ The fifth sacrifice. White now wins, a possible continuation, including another (though unforced) rook sacrifice, being - 10...Kd3 11.Rd4+ Ke2 12.Rd8 Ra5+ 13.Kxb7 Rb5+ 14.Kc8 1–0

So what was Botvinnik’s view? He said, and I paraphrase, “The initial position is pure fantasy. In the normal game it would be completely illogical for the white king to come to a7 and not to capture the pawns on c7 and b7 on his way.” Botvinnik is certainly right in that the white king must have come to a7 via c8 and b8, any other route being illegal. Whether this is important is a matter of opinion. For an artistic study entered into a composing tourney, possibly not, but as an example to encourage chess players to look at studies, possibly. Opinions will have evolved in the years since 1948, though they are still divided.

An answer to Botvinnik’s criticism came, not in a learned article, but in this study composed by Mark Liburkin.

Mark Liburkin

2nd Prize, Erevan Ty., 1950


White to play and win

1.Ke7! c4 Black has other possibilities, but they lose in less interesting ways - 1...Kc4 2.Kxd7 Kxd5 3.Kc8! (3.Kxc7? c4 4.Kb7 Kd6 5.Kxa7 Kc7 =) 3...Kc6 4.Kb8 c4 5.Kxa7 Kd5 6.Kb8 1-0; 1...d6 2.Kd7 Kc4 3.Kxc7 Kxc3 4.Kb7 c4 5.Kxa7 Kd2 6.Kb6 c3 7.a7 c2 8.a8Q c1Q 9.Qc6 1-0 2.Kd8! Taking the pawn leads only to a draw - 2.Kxd7? Kc5 3.Kxc7 (3.Kc8 c6! 4.Kb7 cxd5 5.Kxa7 d4 6.cxd4+ Kxd4 7.Kb6 c3 8.a7 c2 9.a8Q c1Q =) 3...Kxd5 4.Kb7 Kd6 5.Kxa7 Kc7 = 2...Kc5 3.Kc8! For the second time, White must avoid taking a black pawn, lest he throws away the win - 3.Kxc7? Kxd5 4.Kxd7 Ke4 5.Kc6 Kd3 6.Kb7 Kxc3 7.Kxa7 Kb4 8.Kb6 c3 9.a7 c2 10.a8Q c1Q = 3...c6! Again, Black has a less interesting move - 3...Kd6 4.Kb7 c6 5.Kxa7 Kc7 6.d6+ Kc8 7.Kb6 Kb8 8.a7+ Ka8 9.Kc7 c5 (9...Kxa7 10.Kxd7 Kb7 11.a6+ Kb6 12.a7 Kb7 13.a8Q+ Kxa8 14.Kxc6 1-0) 10.Kxd7 Kb7 11.a8Q+ Kxa8 12.Kc6 1-0 4.d6! And now, the only way to win is to sacrifice a pawn. Going straight to b7 (or b8) only draws - 4.Kb7? cxd5 5.Kxa7 d4 6.cxd4+ Kxd4 = (Tablebases) 4...Kxd6 5.Kb8! It's still not the right time to go to b7 - 5.Kb7? c5 6.Kc8 (6.Kxa7? Kc7 0-1) 6...Kc6 = 5...c5 6.Kb7 Kd5 (say) 7.Kxa7 1–0

In this study we see the white King eschewing capture of two pawns on d7 and c7 to reach the important b7 square. Does it answer Botvinnik’s criticism of the Gulyaev study? To be pedantic, no of course it doesn’t, not fully. If we are to assume (and why should we?) that the putative game leading to the opening position of the Gulyaev study was played by competent players, only reasonable moves leading up to it could do that. However, the Liburkin study does show a similar, seemingly illogical sequence by White, albeit shifted a file to the right. Whatever one’s view of the criticism, one must admire Liburkin for the brave way in which he attempted to answer it.

The material above was inspired by a 1997 interview with Gulyaev in the Serbian chess composition magazine Mat Plus.

Our third study is another one by Gulyaev. Why not have a go at solving it?

Aleksandr P Gulyaev

64, 1927


White to play and win

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