A Month of Studies: Part 5

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Greetings, chess fans! This is the final part of my series of endgame studies. This month I have learned so much about these wonderful pieces of chess art and their composition. The beauty and majesty of this royal game we all love continues to amaze me.

In contrast to my frustration last week, this week I created a series of similar studies based on what I think is my best theme yet. I really have gotten better after spending this month on studies, and my work is starting to approach publishable (I aim to publish several in the Ohio Chess Bulletin, for any Ohio readers). Nonetheless, I realize that the themes I have investigated have most likely been investigated before, and although my extensive research into the world of studies has not revealed me to be a sub-conscious plagiarist, it is likely that similar things have been done before. Anyway, after that disclaimer, let's get looking at the chess!

This is a pretty gorgeous study, in my opinion, with twists and turns and a surprising finish. It is a far cry from what I started by making. Still, this study does have problems. The artificial-looking construction of the pawns on the f-file and the extra pawns needed to close the c- and h-files are not that attractive. So I tried to render the theme in a more simple setting. How about you try to solve this one? 

That was fun. Here's another lightweight, on a similar theme, just moved slightly down the board.

Oh what fun!
So, after a month of making studies, here are my conclusions for any aspiring composers out there. I think I can break down my study-making habits into steps:
Step 1: Pick a tactical theme. This is often one of the more difficult steps. You can find inspiration in books, other studies, or one of your own games. Sometimes setting up a position and then just fooling around with it helps. Anyway, once you've gotten your tactical theme - it must be super cool and pretty to make a good study - you've gotten what composers call the target position.
Step 2: Retrograde analysis. Look at your target position. How might each side have ended up here? Don't forget about pieces off the board. For example, in today's first study, by using retrograde analysis, I determined that since I wanted the pawn to promote to a knight, it had to capture something on e8, as otherwise White could simply play Kc8 and then promote to a queen. This step may take many hours. Feel free to add as many pawns and pieces as possible. Adding more frees your mind and lets you see additional possibilities. In the final product, you want maximum economy, using as few pieces as possible to carry out the theme. But while you're in the process of composing, go nuts! Otherwise, you may be stuck looking at a position for hours, creatively moribund, as I was. 
Step 3Computer checking. This is very important to do in this day and age, the simplest and most efficient way to make sure your studies actually work.
However, it is VERY IMPORTANT NOT TO DO THIS STEP TOO SOON. All too frequently when I wasted time while making studies, it was because I was looking at computer analysis too soon, to make sure what I was looking at worked. If I had made sure it worked myself before submitting to a computer check (as I did with these last three), it would've made fixing the envitable mistakes a heck of a lot easier, because you actually understand the position and what is wrong with it. Using a computer too soon inhibits creativity in the face of cold, hard judgement. I took a class on creativity last semester, and one of the things I learned is that during the first stages of creative thinking, several higher brain functions associated with self-control and self-monitoring are shut down. Essentially, you must silence the critic within yourself before you can let ideas flow, and having an incredibly mean, always-right critic on your computer or in the palm of your hand doesn't help the process.

Step 4: Variations on a Theme: Now you have a study. You have a beautiful end position, interesting play leading up to that position, and you've made sure it works. Congratulations. However, this is no time to stop and congratulate yourself. You now deeply understand the ins and outs of that position, and thus are ideally placed to vary it. Change the introductory play. Put a pawn somewhere else and see what happens. Add a sacrifice to reach the initial position. Distill the idea down to its essentials. You'll find that once you have done the hard work of investigating the theme, changes are easy to accomplish. That is how today's last two studies came within hours of the completion of the first one, which had taken 4 days of hard work.

Even then, you are not done. Now that I have done this this month, I will most likely never stop working on and tweaking these positions. What is published on Chess.com may be "final" enough for now, but there is always room for improvement. 

While writing this, I also asked myself if I accomplished the goals I set out for myself on the outset of this project. Essentially, yes. I ended up making way more than just 5 studies, and although not all of them were good, I certainly met this requirement as I am proud of and ready to publish several of them. I don't think I'll be winning any composing awards for these first tries but I have no doubt I would have won many had I composed these in 1900! As for my second goal of enlightening the creative process of study-making, as you can see from the steps I listed, I am much better at implement this creative process now than I was at the beginning and have realized many of the mistakes I made along the way. So I think I have met my goals.

I am very sorry to see the end of this project. This has been frustrating and difficult at times, but I don't think I've ever concentrated on chess harder or loved it more fiercely. Thank you for sticking with this series and contributing views and comments. I hope this has been entertaining and instructive.

"I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art - and much more."

- Marcel Duchamp

Continue to seek out chess beauty. Chess is a game, true, with winners, losers, mistakes. But in truth we are all lovesick for the game itself. A good move is a holy truth, that to play is a kind of sacrament. To see the truth of the position with one's own eyes is a black and white knowledge of right and wrong, fact and fiction, that nowhere else is present in life. And it is the utmost joy.

" 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' "

- John Keats

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