As promised, this month I am writing about Mike Bent, a man who had many interests – humorous verse, wood carving, music, butterflies, crosswords and puzzles of all kinds, the Lake District, running half-marathons, playing tennis, and, of course, composing chess endgame studies. Given the number of his interests it is surprising that he seems to have found time to compose more endgame studies (847 published so far, according to the van der Heijden database) than all other British composers put together.
He composed for his own enjoyment and for the entertainment of solvers. To quote from his preface to a collection of his best work: "So the composer enters the fray. Not always belligerently. Sometimes he is even on your side. 'Look at this,' he says, 'simple but rather neat. Doesn't seem possible, does it?' It is greatly to be hoped that the 'Fancy that!' element will be found among these pages, for the author likes to surprise as much as to mystify."
I only met Mike once or twice, so hardly knew him. Our first meeting was at the 1989 congress of FIDE's Permanent Commission for Chess Composition in Bournemouth. He gave a well-received lecture to the assembled experts, but the memorable moment was when he met Georgian composer Vasha Neidze for the first time, after having corresponded with him for some years. There was clearly a mutual respect between these two men who had been brought together through the small, but very international world, of chess composition.
In the days when British Chess Magazine had a monthly studies column, Mike Bent edited it for ten years starting in 1975. It is clear that Mike strove to entertain not just with the studies he presented, but with the prose that accompanied them. It is rumoured that so well regarded were these columns that even wives and girlfriends read them!
In 2001 Mike was presented with the BCF President's Award, only the second British chess composer to have been so honoured.
ur first study is a fine example of Mike's style.
1st Prize, The Problemist, 1972-1973
White to play and win
White is just a piece ahead, which, without pawns, is normally not enough to win, so he must either round up one of the black pieces or mate the black king. The way that works is to go after the black bishop, but first he must place his own bishop in safety. 1.Bf5 Bd8 Alternatives are: 1...Ne4 (threatening 2...Ng3+) 2.Nd5+ Kd3 (2...Kf3 3.Nd4+ Kg3 4.Bxe4 1-0) 3.Nxa5 Kd4 4.Be6 1-0 and 1...Bd2 2.Nd5+ Kf3 3.Nxd2+ 1-0 Everything else loses to an immediate capture or fork. The black bishop has made his last journey and White now pushes the black king around to gain the time needed to cover the black bishop's retreat. 2.Nd5+ Kf3 3.Nd4+ Kg3 4.Nc6 Nf7 Protects the assailed bishop and opens a door for it to escape to h4. 5.Be6 White has to be careful. If 5.Bg6? then Black can play 5...Nh8!, which keeps the door open. 5...Ng5 Black is forced to close the door he has only just opened. 6.Bg8 1-0 The black bishop is attacked and has no safe square, so White wins. Study enthusiasts call this domination. This composition is just about perfect, with everything on the board pulling its weight. The only piece that stays static is the white king, but he nevertheless plays his part.
Our study for solving is one published originally in The Best of Bent, a collection edited by Timothy Whitworth and published in 1993. I hope that you are entertained!
The Best of Bent, 1993
White to play and win
1.f8Q 1.Nb3? Nc5+ = 1...Nc5+ 1...a1Q 2.Qf3+ Kd4 (2...Ke5 3.Nc6#; 2...Kc5 3.Nb3+ Kb4 4.Nxa1 1-0) 3.Nb3+ Kc4 4.Nxa1 1-0; 1...Nb8+ 2.Qxb8 a1Q 3.Qa8+ Ke5 4.Nc6+ 1-0; 1...Nb4 2.Qd6+ Ke4 3.Qxb4+ Kf3 4.Qxb2 1-0; 1...Nc4 2.Qf7+ Ke4 3.Qxc4+ Kf3 4.Qxa2 1-0 2.Ke7 a1Q 3.Qa8+ Nb7 3...Kd4 4.Nc6+ 1-0 4.Qxb7+ Ke5 5.Qf3! 1-0 as Black will have to part with his queen to prevent 6.Nc6#
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