The Saavedra position is one of the best known chess endgame studies. It is named after the Spanish priest, Rev. Saavedra (1849-1922), who, while living in Glasgow in the late 19th century, spotted a win in a position previously thought to have been a draw.
The position as it is usually given today, with White to move and win, is shown in the diagram to the right. The solution (in algebraic notation) is 1.c7 Rd6+ 2.Kb5 Rd5+ 3.Kb4 Rd4+ 4.Kb3 Rd3+ 5.Kc2 Rd4 6.c8R! (threatening 7.Ra8#; instead 6.c8Q Rc4+ 7.Qxc4 is stalemate) 6...Ra4 7.Kb3, and Black must either lose the rook or be mated by Rc1. This is one of the most famous examples of underpromotion in chess.
The study has a long history. It has its origins in a game played between Fenton and Potter in 1875. From the position shown to the left, the game continued 1.Rxh3 Kxh3 2.Kc6 Rax5 3.b7 Ra6+ and the players agreed a draw. However, as Johann Zukertort pointed out in the City of London Chess Magazine, 1875, White could have won with 4.Kc5 (not 4.Kb5 Ra1 when White cannot promote the pawn because of 5.Rb1+) 4...Ra5+ 5.Kc4 Ra4+ 6.Kc3 (or 6.Kb3 Ra1 7.Kb2) 6...Ra3+ 7.Kb2, and White will promote the pawn when queen versus rook is a theoretical win (this winning method had earlier been demonstrated in a study by Josef Kling and Bernhard Horwitz published in The Chess Player, September 1853).
Upon Potterīs death in March 1895, G.E. Barbier published a position in his Glasgow Weekly Citizen chess column of April 27, 1895, which he claimed to have occurred in Fenton-Potter. In fact, he had misremembered the game, and the position he published (shown to the right) had never arisen. It was published as a study with Black to play and White to win; the technique is just that demonstrated by Zukertort and by Kling and Horwitz before him: 1...Rd6+ 2.Kb5 Rd5+ 3.Kb4 Rd4+ 4.Kb3 Rd3+ 5.Kc2.
When Barbier published this solution on May 4, he claimed that by moving the black king from h6 to a1 the position could be transformed into a Black to move and draw study. On May 11 he gave the solution 1...Rd6+ 2.Kb5 Rd5+ 3.Kb4 Rd4+ 4.Kb3 Rd3+ 5.Kc2 Rd4! 6.c8Q Rc4+ 7.Qxc4 stalemate. However, as Saavedra pointed out, 6.c8R instead wins, a solution published by Barbier on May 18. The modern form of the position is obtained by moving the c7 pawn back to c6 and changing the stipulation to the standard "White to play and win".
The study has been widely reproduced, and in Test Tube Chess John Roycroft calls it "unquestionably the most famous of all endgame studies". It has inspired many other composers: the many promotions and underpromotions in the studies of Harold Lommer, for example, were inspired by the Saavedra position.
A number of composers have produced work which elaborates on the basic Saavedra idea. The study shown to the left is the most famous of these; it is by Mark Liburkin (second prize, Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1931) and is White to play and win. After the first move 1.Nc1, Black has two defences; the first of these shows the Saavedra theme: 1.Nc1 Rxb5 2.c7 Rd5+ 3.Nd3 Rxd3+ 4.Kc2 Rd4 and we have a position already seen in the Saavedra position itself; White wins with 5.c8R Ra4 6.Kb3.
The other Black defence features two new stalemate defences, and a second underpromotion, this time to bishop; this is why this study is well-known while many other elaborations on the Saavedra position are forgotten: 1.Nc1 Rd5+ 2.Kc2 (not 2.Nd3 Rxd3+ 3.Kc2 Rd5 when the pawns are stopped) 2...Rc5+ 3.Kd3 (not 3.Kd2 Rxb5 4.c7 Rb2+ 5.Kd1 Rc2 6.Kxc2 stalemate) 3...Rxb5 4.c7 Rb8 and now both 5.cxb8Q and 5.cxb8R are stalemate, and 5.cxb8N leaves a drawn position, so White can only win by 5.cxb8B!
- John Roycroft, Test Tube Chess (Faber and Faber, 1972)--positions 112 to 115 tell the story of the position