Afek's Mutual Phoenix

After the Romanian-Dutch WGM Katy Van der Mije-Nicolau had died in October last year – I wrote about her on this site in November 2013 – I had to find another partner for my bi-weekly blitz sessions. I asked Yochanan Afek, the Israeli IM who is one of the best endgame study composers in the world. He has been living in Amsterdam for many years and I knew him well. He obliged.

I wondered why it had to be a foreigner again. I have good relations with many players in Amsterdam who are at least as good in blitz as I am, but it never occurred to me to ask one of the Dutch to play with me. Was I play-acting as a cosmopolitan, or did I really feel more at ease with foreigners?

I also wondered what the people of my neighborhood café where we play our blitz sessions might think. Through the years they had seen Katy shrinking to a weight of 40 kilograms and then she died. Yochanan is 62 years old and his body weight is at least 20 kilograms more than is good for him. What if through the years he would expand even more and then die also? Would the people from the café think that I was leading my chess partners to their doom? It would almost be a moral duty for me to die also soon afterwards. But let me not speculate about the future too much.

During one of our blitz sessions Yochanan said, “Why do you write in your newspaper columns always about top tournaments? Everybody is writing about them, it’s boring. Present instead an endgame study. Then you’ll do something for art.”

I demurred, saying that I didn’t have enough space in my newspaper column to do justice to the art of an endgame study, but that didn’t convince him. He said, “That is because you want to tell a story, apart from the chess moves, but that’s not necessary. The art itself is the story.”

Can it really be called art, an endgame study? You might think about music without the actual sounds, only the score on paper. I can well imagine that someone who is born deaf might enjoy that, and in that case you would certainly call this inaudible music “art,” an intellectual form of art. An endgame study might be comparable to this.

Yochanan was not quite disinterested with his praise of art, for he liked to spread the word about the study that a few months ago had been chosen by the World Federation for Chess Composition as the endgame study of the year for 2012. That study had been composed by him.

The fact that the distinguished jury members had only decided on the winner of 2012 early in 2014, shows that their decision was well-considered.

Afek’s study had originally been composed for a tourney at the occasion of the 60th birthday of Jan Timman, who himself is a gifted study composer as well. There Afek’s study had won second prize.

How come that it would be the study of 2012, when earlier it had won only a second prize? That is because this “study of the year” competition puts great weight on a criterion that usually is of lesser importance. The winning study should be able to convince chessplayers who do not know a lot about endgame studies, of the beauty of that art.

Yochanan Afek, Study of the year 2012. 
White to play and win.

Afek describes the theme of this study as the “Mutual Phoenix.” On the squares that the knights perish, first a black one and later a white one, other knights of different colors rise from their ashes by promotion. My comments and exclamation marks are based on those by Afek.

Play through this endgame study - Click here.