How much can you learn from a chess study or problem? Not to improve your solving skills, but for your over-the-board tournament play? Many chess players are suspicious, believing that outlandish positions and tricky solutions are of little use to their general skills. But many studies are quite useful and solving them will show you ideas and manoeuvres that will be genuinely useful in your practical play.
This, incidentally, is also true of endgame databases: trying to win a won position against the perfect defence of a computer, or watching it win such a position itself, will involve seeing a lot of preposterous moves. Watch, for instance, the computer force the defending king away from the back rank to win a queen vs rook endgame. But quite often you will encounter moves the like of which you have never seen before. And during a tournament game you may hit upon a situation that requires exactly that kind of move.
But back to studies. Here is a prize-winner we spotted in the July edition of the British magazine CHESS, which we ask you to explore for yourself. Note that the composer is not our dear friend Pal Benko – there is a one-letter difference to the author, who also hails from Hungary.
A brief look at the position brings a few key factors to light: Black, who has an overwhelming force, is restricted to moving his queen back and forth between a8 and b8, since any other move will lead to immediate Ra7 mate. But how can White profit from this, and make any progress, enough to actually win?
One idea might occur to you: if the black queen is on b7, White can check on the sixth rank, forcing the black king to a5, and then attack with the rook from a1 or a2. But of course the white king needs to be out of the way and safe from refuting checks by the black queen. But how to do this? The correct path is convoluted and subtle, but it’s the only way to win.
Well, here’s the deal: you, dear readers, are invited to try to solve the above problem by yourselves, ideally first with just a chess board and pieces, then together with a chess engine. You will find a surprisingly complex manoeuvre is required to execute the above plan, and finding all the subtlties will do absolutely no harm to your general playing strength in over the board chess.