‘Uri Avner: Close Encounters with the Chess Pieces’

10 Mar. 2023 | by Peter Wong

Uri Avner (1941-2014) was a leading Israeli problemist and grandmaster of chess composition, who also served as the president of the World Federation for Chess Composition. A versatile composer, he excelled at two- and three-movers, helpmates, selfmates, and fairy problems; in fact, he was considered one of the world’s greatest selfmate exponents. His talent was such that his earliest entry in the prestigious FIDE Albums was conceived when he was only 15 years old (this superb selfmate is analysed below). Now a wonderful collection of his best problems has been published, titled Uri Avner: Close Encounters with the Chess Pieces (2021). Uri commenced work on the book himself in collaboration with Kjell Widlert. After Uri’s passing, Raffi Ruppin and Jacques Rotenberg took over as editors and completed the selection of problems.

The book begins with three preliminary pieces that examine Uri’s life and achievements as a problemist, as well as his approach and style in composing. We learn, for instance, that after producing some masterful works as a prodigy, Uri at 17 gave up chess composition and focused on the practical game for the next 20 years, to the dismay of his problemist friends! Thankfully in the late 1970s he returned to the fold, not only as a composer but as an active organiser – first in his home country and later in the WFCC.

The main section presents 157 of Uri’s best compositions in chronological order (his total output is about 500). The problems are pleasantly displayed one to a page, together with the full solutions and comments by Kjell Widlert that explain their themes. Many positions have additional comments, such as those provided by Uri (in Hebrew), along with remarks quoted from other sources, e.g. tourney awards. The appendixes include glossaries of themes and fairy chess terms, and an article by Uri named “The Reciprocal Selfmate Battery”. Handsomely produced and filled with first-class problems, Uri Avner: Close Encounters with the Chess Pieces is available in hardcover for 19.90 euro from fidealbum.com.

Uri Avner
Problem 1957, 1st Prize

Selfmate in 2

The thematic pieces of this selfmate are the diagonally-pinned white queen, the black f3-rook and g2-knight. Each of the latter pair can capture the queen or unpin it by interposing on f4, and four such defences initiate the set play. The captures on e3 immediately create a battery with the c1-bishop that’s forced to fire: 1…Rxe3 [a] 2.Bf7+ [A] Re6, and 1…Sxe3 [b] 2.c4+ [B] Sxc4. The unpinning moves to f4 form a masked battery that the queen induces to open: 1…Sf4 [c] 2.Qe6+ [C] Sxe6, and 1…Rf4 [d] 2.Qd4+ [D] Rxd4.

The key 1.Qf4!, by placing an extra guard on the d6-flight, threatens 2.Rxf5+ Qxf5, a pin-mate. Black can defend by unpinning the white queen (so it would cover f5) or by capturing it (to give the king an escape to d6). Thanks to the shift of the key-piece, however, the four set defences have swapped their strategic effects. The moves to e3 become unpins, exploited by the queen that compels the masked battery to open: 1…Re3 [a] 2.Qe5+ [E] Rxe5, and 1…Se3 [b] 2.Qc4+ [F] Sxc4. This pair of variations shows the same defences [a/b] provoking new white continuations [E/F], compared with [A/B] in the set play. The black moves to f4 become captures that create a battery, which is forced to fire: 1…Sxf4 [c] 2.Bf7+ [A] Se6, and 1…Rxf4 [d] 2.c4+ [B] Rxc4. Here the white continuations [A/B] against the defences [c/d] are not only changed from [C/D] in the set play, but [A/B] represent transferred second moves that previously worked against [a/b]. This complex pattern of changed and transferred white play constitutes the selfmate form of the Ideal Rukhlis theme.

Uri Avner
After H. le Grand & J. C. Van Gool
L'Echiquier Belge 1992, Prize

Mate in 3

Uri’s preference for intensive play with many thematic variations is illustrated by this three-mover as well. The black king has a provided flight-move, 1…Kxf6 2.h8=Q+ Kg5 3.Qh4. Two white batteries (Q + B and B + K) are aimed at the king, but neither can be opened as yet: 1.Bd~+? fails to 1…d5! when there’s no follow-up, while the white king is trapped and cannot unleash the b2-bishop. The key 1.Rg4! threatens 2.Sc4+ Bxc4 3.Kc2, or 2…Kxf6 3.h8=Q. Four black pieces – the two rooks, bishop, and queen – can counter by eliminating the potential mate on h8, but these are the same pieces restricting the white king. When each defender moves, it crosses over a critical square, which the d5-bishop then occupies while discovering check (gaining a tempo); this shut-off of the black piece enables the white king to deliver a battery mate. 1…Rb8 2.Bb7+ d5 3.Kb4 (2…Kxf6 3.Qg5), 1…Rh2 2.Bg2+ d5 3.Kxd2, 1…Bxh7 2.Be4+ d5 3.Kc2, and 1…Qh3 (described as a “peri-critical” move that goes around the f3-square while maintaining control of d3) 2.Bf3+ d5 3.Kxd3. Hence White opens both batteries consecutively, each in four distinct ways. The by-play consists of 1…exd5 2.Qxd5+ Kxf6 3.Sg8 and 1…Rf4 2.Kxd2+ Rd4 3.Bxd4.

A classic fairy helpmate by Uri that’s often quoted can be found in the blog linked below.