Jean de Villeneuve-Esclapon

The Earl Jean de Villeneuve-Esclapon

How to Achieve Chess Harmony

Piece harmony, or piece coordination is one of central issues of chess – as Capablanca famously put it, it is the main principle that runs throughout.

Cooperation is based on team spirit and entails the coordination of all units so as to achieve the maximum combined effort from the whole.1

Pieces must work together and complement each others. But it has nothing to do with cramped pieces crowded together as this may impair mobility and demonstrate their vulnerability.

The principle is of great practical importance and nicely illustrated in the following study2 composed by the French Earl Jean de Villeneuve-Esclapon (1860-1943). As you will see, two black pieces, the rook and knight, never make it to achieving harmony which made GM Nikolai Krogius call them a “clumsy couple.”3

A contemporary of the better known French composer, Henri Rinck, the Earl learned chess only at the age of forty. After a short stint at the chessboard, mainly at Cafe de la Regence, he devoted himself to problems and endgame studies. He composed over 100 problems and 300 studies in the period 1906-1929.

The Earl Jean de Villeneuve-Esclapon

Schweizerische Schachzeitung, 1923

1st Prize

Study by Jean de Villeneuve-Esclapon



1. British Defence Doctrine, Joint Warfare Publication JWP 0-01

2. You may find a few existing versions of the study: Pal Benko’s, Chess Life & Review 5/1992; Ilya Maizelis’, 1956; Jan Van Reek’s, Endgame Study Composition in The Netherlands and Flanders, 1992.

3. G. A. Nadareishvili, Studies in Grandmasters’ Eyes, Fiskultura and Sport, Moscow 1982. I used the study version from this edition


Chess, Austrian postcard from 1910, by Moritz Jung

Looking for the solution, Austrian postcard from 1910, artist Moriz Jung



1. Kh5 Nf5 2. Bxb2

Of course, not 2.Kg6 because of 2…Rxg7+ and Black wins.

2. … Rxh6+

Now a fascinating duel starts in which the white bishop and king are able to manage the situation in spite of the opponent’s superiority in force.

Final position, a positional draw

After 10.Kd3

3. Kg5 Rh2

or 3…Rb6 4.Be5 and the knight has no retreat in view of Bd4.

4. Be5 Rf2 5. Bf4 Nd4 6. Be3 Rf5+ 7. Kg4 Rd5

Now, when Black appears to have consolidated his position, follows the march of the white king. It turns out that the the black pieces can’t untangle themselves after all.

8. Kf4 Kb6 9. Ke4 Kc5 10. Kd3! drawing.

It is impossible for Black to break free from the pin, the rook and bishop can move back and forth with no progress made. It is a positional draw.

The idea of (dis)harmony used in this study is fairly common in the over-the-board play. It is probably shown in its most clear and elegant form here and the study of the French Earl remains one of the most instructive examples of it.

A ‘mutual understanding’ with the pieces enables a player to see what often remains concealed to purely logical analysis. It is then that the innate ability of a player, which I call a sense of harmony, manifests itself. — Vasily Smyslov

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