My question is on the definition of the term "study." If there is an interesting endgame position that occurs in a real game between two real players, and the position is later posed to somebody who has not seen the game, would it be technically incorrect to call this a "study"?

The Wikipedia page seems to suggest this terminology as technically incorrect, but to me it makes the most sense to differentiate "composed studies" from "studies." I'm happy for any input.

  • Such ending are called "study-like" Jun 10, 2021 at 12:08

3 Answers 3


According to the FIDE Directory the associate member organisation responsible for governing chess compositions is the World Federation for Chess Composition (WFCC) Their website is here. Their handbook is published here.

Page 19 of the handbook has what they call the "Codex". The introduction gives the meaning of this -

This codex deals with general principles of chess composition activities such as composition, solving and publication. The codex is intended to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive, and it is also intended to offer constructive guidance in areas where there has been no central guidance before. It is not intended to be a body of established law which problemists must observe on pain of being condemned of heresy or worse; problemists are independent spirits, and it would be pointless for the PCCC to attempt to legislate in that way.

Part One starts like this, which makes it clear that problems are composed and do not come from real games -

Part One: The Chess Composition

Chapter I - General Principles

Article 1 - Independence

Compositional Chess is an independent form of chess activity which consists of using features found in, or derived from, the game of chess as the material for the creation of artistic effects or constructional feats, in the form of chess compositions.

Article 2 - Chess Composition

A chess composition consists usually of a position on the chess board, a stipulation in the form of words, and the solution. A chess composition is the result of an individual creative act of one or more authors.

This is qualified by this footnote (and others) -

The use of a computer does not result in an authorship of the computer. Nor does the compilation or publication of a computer generated database constitute the publication of one or more chess compositions

Further useful information can be found on the website of the British Chess Problem Society.

One particularly useful section is How to Solve Chess Problems written by Ian Watson the 2017 British champion (beating the former multiple World Champion, John Nunn!) On the page What is that piece for? he says this -

One of the most useful things that help you solve problems is that all the pieces are relevant – they all have to have a role. If they don’t, then the composer doesn’t include them – there are no superfluous pieces in a composed problem. That isn’t always useful, but very often is: suppose there’s a pawn a long way from the action – ask yourself how it could possibly be needed.


First, let's look at the origin of the term "study". In art, a study is

a drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece, or as visual notes. Studies are often used to understand the problems involved in rendering subjects and to plan the elements to be used in finished works, such as light, color, form, perspective and composition.


Endgame studies in chess got that name because they try to render a given theme or idea as clearly as possible, without distractions or irrelevant parts.

A part of an existing drawing may be interesting, but it wouldn't be called a study.

Here's what Wikipedia says about endgame studies, emphasis mine:

Composed studies predate the modern form of chess. Shatranj studies exist in manuscripts from the 9th century, and the earliest treatises on modern chess by the likes of Luis Ramirez Lucena and Pedro Damiano (late 15th and early 16th century) also include studies. However, these studies often include superfluous pieces, added to make the position look more "game-like", but which take no part in the actual solution (something that is never done in the modern study). Various names were given to these positions (Damiano, for example, called them "subtleties"); the first book which called them "studies" appears to be Chess Studies, an 1851 publication by Josef Kling and Bernhard Horwitz, which is sometimes also regarded as the starting point for the modern endgame study.

So in modern times they are as streamlined as possible and that is also when they started to be called studies.

As for the link with computers, that is very interesting. Here is a link to a Powerpoint presentation "Composing chess studies with the computer", unfortunately in Dutch only, by the precise people you'd want to have talking about that: computer chess expert and AI professor Van den Herik and GM Jan Timman, also famous for his endgame studies.

They explain that theoretically it is possible to have a computer program that can decide whether a study is correct (single solution) and judge its quality, based on a list of desired qualities:

  • Successfully breaking heuristics
  • Use of the weakest piece
  • Using all of the power of a piece
  • Giving more esthetic value to critical pieces [I don't know what they mean]
  • Using a single "heavy" piece instead of several "light" pieces
  • Use of themes
  • Avoidance of obvious stereotypes
  • Strangeness and difficulty do not lead automatically to "beauty"

A computer could then assist a composer, or go through databases of games or endgame tablebases to find potential beautiful studies.

But, that program hasn't been invented yet.

There are tablebase positions that have single solutions (at least for a large part of the main line). They could qualify, but most people think they don't demonstrate a clear theme, for a human the moves look incomprehensible. Thus they fail as works of art.

  • +1 interesting points you make about modern studies. Unfortunately, you don't ultimately answer my original question, so I marked the other answer as "correct." Jun 1, 2018 at 17:44

There are a number of rules for what constitutes a proper problem / study which are extremely unlikely to be satisfied by a position arising in a real game -

  • there must be only one solution
  • there must be no superfluous pieces - i.e. if any piece is removed then the solution no longer works or is no longer unique

Sometimes positions arise in a game which come close, usually when there is only one solution which is also rather difficult. Then the position is called "study like" but usually not all pieces on the board are essential.

The WFCC (World Federation for Chess Composition) publishes their Handbook of Chess Composition which includes a Codex section detaining what constitutes a proper composition.

  • 2
    Do you have a source where these rules are described? I haven't heard of these before. May 31, 2018 at 16:46
  • 1
    I found a lot more information which justified an additional answer. Probably the best link is that for the WFCC Handbook - sci.fi/~stniekat/books/hcc8.pdf
    – Brian Towers
    Jun 1, 2018 at 11:01
  • A very useful book for anyone interested in endgame studies is John Roycroft's "The Chess Endgame Study" where just about everything related to the subject can be found.
    – user30536
    Sep 20, 2022 at 11:05

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