Latest news

General May 12, 2022 | 5:04 PMby FM Yosha Iglesias

How Yuri Averbakh fell in love with chess — Grigoriev's best pawn studies

The year is 1935. Salo Flohr has just won the 2nd Moscow International Tournament in front of Mikhail Botvinnik, Emanuel Lasker, and Jose Raul Capablanca. The late Yuri Averbakh is 13 years old. He knows the rules of chess but is not an enthusiast yet. A lecture by Nikolai Grigoriev is about to give birth to a love for chess that will dictate each day of the 87 years that Averbakh has left to live. 

Here is what Yuri said about this budding love in his book Selected games:

Late in 1935 I visited the Moscow Chess Club for the first time, and there I was fortunate enough to listen to a lecture by the great endgame expert Nikolai Grigoriev. It made an indelible impression on me. When Grigoriev explained his pawn studies, moving the pieces on the demonstration board with his thin, artistic fingers, I sensed, rather than understood, the great depth and beauty of chess, observing with my own eyes how human thought spiritualises these little wooden pieces, and they, like real actors, begin performing miraculous spectacles, capable of touching the most sensitive parts of the human soul. It was this perception of chess as an art that finally linked me with it. I wanted to understand chess and study it.

Yuri Averbakh passed away on May the 7th. If you want to know more about his incredible life devoted to chess, I invite you to read the article I wrote on his 100 birthday. This article will show you some of Grigoriev's best studies that made Averbakh fall in love with chess.

If you prefer watching videos to reading, I present all the content in this video of my YouTube channel.

I will proceed in order of increasing difficulty and start with three positions that should be displayed in every good book on endgames.

Grigoriev, Isvestia, 1929

White to play and win.

A perfect example of distant opposition!

1.Kf7? would lead to a draw. After 1...Kd2! 2.Kg6 Kc3 3.Kxh5 Kxb4 4.Kg5 Ka3, and both pawns will promote on the same move. 

1...Kd7? 2.Kf7 would draw similarly.

1.Ke7! taking the distant opposition (both kings are on the same line, separated by an odd number of squares.)

Now 1...Kd2? and 1...Kf2? would respectively lose to 2.Kd6! and 2.Kf6!. Black's king has to wait on the e-file for White's king to choose a direction and then go in the opposite one. 

1...Ke2 2.Ke6! Ke3 3.Ke5! Ke2 4.Ke4! Ke1 5.Ke3!

Black can no longer stay on the e-file. It's all over, as 5...Kd1 6.Kd4! or 5...Kf1 6.Kf4! win. 

Grigoriev, Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1931

White to play and ?

n.b. this is the position after move 7 of the study.

For this study, I am breaking the rule of announcing what White should do.

At first sight, it seems that White should win, but 1.Kg5?? Kb2 2.Kf6 Kb3 3.Ke6 Kb4 4.Kd7 Kb5 5.Kc7 Ka6 leads to a famous zugzwang called Trébuchet.

After 5...Ka6. Mutual zugzwang with White to move.

We established that White couldn't win, so let's try to draw. Black will play Kxb6 sooner or later, to which White has to answer with Kb4, to take the opposition and prevent Black from reaching the key squares.

At first it seems easy: 1.Kg4 Kb2 2.Kf4 Kb3 3.Ke4 Kb4 4.Kd4 Kb5 5.Kc4 Kxb6 6.Kb4 and voilà! But this variation is wrong. After 1.Kg4? Black wins with the shouldering technique: 1...Kc2! 2.Kf4 Kd3!

White has to anticipate this shouldering and play 1.Kg3! Kc2 2.Kf2! Kd3 3.Ke1! Kc4 4.Kd2! Kb5 5.Kc3! Kxb6 6.Kb4!

The shortest distance between two squares is not necessarily a straight line!

The attentive reader will have noticed that the heart on the thumbnail corresponds to the white king's road to b4.

Grigoriev, Isvestia, 1928

White to play and win.

It's easy to calculate that 1.g4? b5 2.g5 b4 3.g6 b3+ 4.Kc3 b2 5.g7 b1=Q 6.g8=Q+ Ka1 is a draw
To find the hidden win when you know it's there requires talent. That Grigoriev discovered the win without knowing that it was there is proof of his genius.

1.Kc3! Ka3 2.Kc4! Ka4 3.g4 b5+ 

4.Kc3? would let the win slip: 4...Ka3 5.g5 b4+ 6.Kc2 Ka2 7.g6 b3+ and Black will promote first with a draw.

The solution resides in the counter-intuitive move 4.Kd3! with the idea of going to c2 only after Black plays b2! 4...Ka3 5.g5 b4 6.g6 b3 7.g7 b2 8.Kc2! Ka2 9.g8=Q+

Grigoriev, Isvestia, 1931

White to play and win.

n.b. this is the position after the 1st move of the study.

In a blitz game, everyone would play 1.Kf7? (what else?) and draw after 1...g5! 2.hxg5 h4 3. 3.g6 h3 4.g7 h2 5.g8=Q h1=Q. At the end of the variation we see that White's king is misplaced, and so we find:
1.Kf8!! 1...g5? would now lose as White promotes with check; therefore, Black plays 1...g6!

Now 2.Kf7? g5! leads to the same draw as before, and 2.Kg7? g5! would see White's king in the way of the pawn. Here, Sherlock Holmes would explain that, "when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."


For two moves, White just passed while Black moved a pawn forward and gained another tempo. This is why he is lost. If only he could play g6-g7, he would draw. Instead, he can resign. 

2...g5 3.hxg5 h4 4.g6 h3 5.g7 h2 5.g8=Q+ wins, as well as 2..Kb3 3.Kf6 Kc4 4.Kxg6 Kd5 5.Kxh5 Ke6 6.Kg6

Grigoriev, 64, 1st Honorable Mention, 1930

White to play and win

1.b4? Ka6 draws as Black simply keeps the opposition.

1.Kb8? b4! 2.c4?? b3! would even lose.

1.b3! Ka5! Black's trickiest move. Now 2.Kb7? b4! 3.c4 is stalemate, so 2.Kb8! is forced. 2...b4! 3.c4 Kb6! Black naturally takes the opposition.

As long as Black keeps the opposition, he is fine. It takes quite the journey to make him lose it!

4.Kc8 Kc6 5.Kd8 Kd6 6.Ke8 Ke6 7.Kf8 Kf6 8.Kg8 Kg6 9.Kh8! Kf6! (9...Kh6? 10.c5!) 10.Kh7 Kf7 11.Kh6 Kf6 12.Kh5 Kf5 13.Kh4 Kf4 14.Kh3! Kf5! (14..Kf3? 15.c5) 15.Kg3 Kg5 16.Kf3 Kf5 17.Ke3 Ke5 18.Kd3

At last, Black can no longer keep the opposition! 18...Kd6 19.Kd4

Grigoriev, Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1st Prize, 1937

The first move, 1.g4!, is very natural to fix the weakness on h6.

Now the first variation that comes to mind is 1...Kb3 2.Kb5 Kc3 3.Kc5 Kd3 4.Kd5 Ke3 Ke5 5.Kf3 Kf5

Now we can realize that this position is a zugzwang, and so is every position with the kings in opposition on the same file! After 1.g4!, Black should try his best to induce White to fall into a zugzwang, while White should carefully sidestep every trick. The solution displays a mesmerizing dance of the two kings: 1...Ka3! 2.Ka5! Kb2! 3.Kb6! Kb3! 4.Kb5! Kc2! 5.Kc6! Kc3! 6.Kc5! Kd2! 7.Kd6! Kd3! 8.Kd5! Ke2! 9.Ke6! Ke3! 10.Ke5! Kf2! 11.Kf6! Kf3! 12.Kf5!

We did reach this position, but it took a bit longer than expected! Is it finally over with the zugwangs? Of course not! 12...Kg2 13.Kg6 Kh3! 14.Kh5! 

Here is the final zugzwang! 14...Kxh2 15.Kxh6

Grigoriev, 64, 2nd Prize, 1930

White to play and win

n.b. Pal Benko later added the Black pawn on g3 to prevent an alternative solution at the end.

Black is ready to promote his d7-pawn with check in 5 moves. The only way to prevent this is to threaten to promote the f-pawn, as it would also be check. 1.f4! Black's king has to enter the pawn's square.

1...Kb4! Pushing the f-pawn would simply lose it, so 2.h4! If Black plays 2...a5? he'll lose after 6.h8=Q a1=Q+ 7.Qxa1. Hence, 2...d5!

We now repeat the same maneuver till the end: 3.f5! Kc5! 4.h5! d4! 5.f6! Kd6! 6.h6! d3! 7.f7! Ke7 8.h7! d2!

One more time! 9.f8=Q+! Kxf8 10.h8=Q+ 

Grigoriev, Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1932

Grigoriev's studies changed Yuri Averbakh's life forever. The following one had a significant impact on Boris Spassky's life. 

White to play and win.

In 1961 Boris Spassky left his previous trainer Alexander Tolush for Igor Bondarevski. In one of their first sessions, Bondarevski gave Spassky this study by Grigoriev. Boris sat in silence for 20 minutes before exclaiming, "Qg2!". 

Since then, it has been Spassky's favorite study, and he showed it to many grandmasters, Bobby Fischer included. Bobby was puzzled. The next day Bobby phoned Boris, said "Qg2!", and hung up. (Story told by GM Andy Soltis in Chess Life, August 2016) So what is this mysterious "Qg2!" about?

1.a4? c5 2.a5 c4 3.a6 c3 4.a7 c2 5.a8=Q+ Ke2! is a theoretical draw. 

1.Kf5! Ke3 2.Ke5 looks easily winning until we find Black's best move 2...c6!

3.Kd6? Kd4 4.Kxc6 Kc4 5.a4 Kb4 is a draw, so White has to go for the following: 3.a4! Kd3 4.a5 c5 5.a6 c4 6.a7 c3 7.a8=Q c2

It will be a theoretical draw if Black's king can reach the corner. 8.Qe4+? looks tempting but doesn't work after 8...Kd2 9.Qd4+ Ke2 10.Qc3 Kd1 11.Qd3+ Kc1 12.Kd4 Kb2 13.Qe2!? Ka1!=

The only move is 8.Qd5+! and now

8...Kc3 9.Qd4+ Kb3 10.Qa1

8...Ke2 9.Qa2! Kd1 10.Kd4! c1=Q 11.Kd3


And finally, 9.Qg2! intending 9...c1=Q 10.Qg5+!

Bondarevsky's coaching of Spassky culminated in Spassky's World Championship title, won against Tigran Petrosian in 1969.

Aronian-Firouzja 2022 or Grigoriev 1952?

I had established the above selection of studies in the hours after the heartbreaking news of Averbakh's passing. Among the numerous masterpieces that I did not pick, one study ended with this mutual zugzwang.

The end of a study by Grigoriev.

A couple of hours later, I was shocked when Aronian managed to get a similar position after being lost since the opening. I was happy to be probably the third person who understood that it was also a zugzwang (the first being Levon and the second Alireza).

Who still doubts the practical value of studies?


Back to 1935. In the following 87 years of his life, the new chess lover will become Grandmaster, USSR Champion, second of several World Champions, World Championship arbiter, President of the Soviet Chess Federation, successful author, recognized historian, and, of course, study composer, like his mentor.

Unfortunately for chess, the 4-time Moscow Champion, tournament organizer, journalist, and genius composer, Nikolai Grigoriev, wouldn't have the same longevity. At the age of 43, he tragically died from cancer aggravated by the torture inflicted by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. His studies remain immortal.

Sort by Date Descending Date Descending Date Ascending Most Liked Receive updates

Comments 2

Guest 16425512801
Join chess24
  • Free, Quick & Easy

  • Be the first to comment!

Lost your password? We'll send you a link to reset it!

After submitting this form you'll receive an email with the reset password link. If you still can't access your account please contact our customer service.

Which features would you like to enable?

We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.

Show Options

Hide Options