An étude (a French word meaning study), is an instrumental musical composition, most commonly of considerable difficulty, usually designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular technical skill.
In chess, etude means finding singular “hidden” gorgeous way to win or draw in a given position. Etudes are like a composition, featuring a point of technique, but performed because of its artistic merit. Etudes are closer to real games positions than puzzles, they look natural as if taken from real games (and sometimes they really are).
First etudes were composed in the East, around second half of the first century. People in the Middle East and Arab countries used to play “Mansube”. “Mansube” is a game which resembles Indian chess, but players are offered different initial positions, in which they should achieve a result (usually win) in a forced way.
But the real etudes “renaissance” started in the second half of the XIX century. Etude techniques and requirements begin to form: the legality of the initial position, forced moves requirement cancellation, hiding and outlining the main idea, single solution presence in all variants etc. Etudes merits were defined: etudes can be graded by significance of the contrivance, economy of pieces, camouflage of the main motive and beauty of solution.
Etude is not only art, but may have a practical value, especially in endgames – analytic etudes, in which the analysis prevails, are useful especially in endgames, in comparison to artistic etudes, in which the main idea and it´s camouflage is highlighted.
In ?? century etude has got its´ attention all over the world, but Russia and then USSR always remained the center of etude creation.
First etudes as we know them (and not forced variations like in the past) were composed by Alexei Troitzky, chess amateur from Sankt-Petersburg, Russia, in the beginning of the last century.
His main contribution to the etude development was reflection of the practical chess game, with all its beauty of counter game and struggling, into artistism but economic form of chess etude. Troitzky created the connection with the real chess game: set initial positions like naturally taken from games, added mutually sharp emotional struggle, main motives camouflage with false traces and spectacular manoeuvres leading to inevitable grand finale.
After Troitzky, most remarkable etudists were Leonid Kubbel, Alexander Kazancev, Genrikh Kasparyan, Efim Rukhlis, Alexander Sarychev and many others.
Although most of the great etudists were amateur chess players, some ranked players composed etudes as well: second World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker, seventh World Champion Vasily Smysslov, Grandmasters Rikhard Reti and Yan Timman etc.