Christmas puzzles with Pal Benko

12/25/2016 – Another year passes, and we end it with our traditional Christmas puzzles – this year for the seventeenth time. Over the holidays we try to give you something unusual: puzzles that cannot be easily solved with a computer, tasks which require you to think all by yourself. And once again, as happened frequently in the past, we received three wonderfully entertaining problems from the great composer Pal Benko, who wished us and our readers a Happy Christmas.

Christmas with Pal Benko

Before we come to this year's puzzles here, for those who missed them, are two from past festivities:

Pal Benko, 2015

White to play and mate in five. Not a simple problem – try to work out the solution by yourself.

Pal Benko, Christmas Tree Puzzles 2010

White to play and mate in two

Above is the famous Christmas puzzle that Pal Benko sent us six years ago. Again: beautiful crafted with a surprising key move. Try solving it with a chess board and pieces, only that way you will enjoy the solution. The above are two of the many problems Pal has sent us over the years. You will find a list of his contributions to our news page at the bottom of this article.

Christmas puzzles 2016

But now for this year's puzzles, which Pal sent us just before Christmas. "They are my original problems," he wrote, "and I sent them nowhere else, just to you. I made the first two recently for a solving contest with the condition that there can be no possible computer solution. But after that I found that even for such retros there are solving programs. I am still in the stone age – I don't have any programs for problems or endgames. So what I send you someone can check for soundnes. Anyway, these computers are depressing for creative activity."

Note that in the following problems there are a small number of alternative solutions or variations – for instance a knight moving from b1 to b5 has two different ways of doing this (via a3 or c3) –, but there is always one attractive line in which the moves and their order cannot be varied.

Pal Benko, 2016 – proof game, mate in nine moves

This is the final position of a game that ended after nine moves. Your job is to find a legal sequence of moves that lead to the above position – in exactly nine moves. Please do not post any moves in our feedback section.

Pal Benko, 2016 – proof game, mate in ten moves

Find ten legal moves that can lead to the above position

Pal Benko, 2016 – proof game, mate in eleven moves

Find eleven legal moves that can lead to the above position

About the author

Pál Benkö, 88 (born July 14, 1928), is a Hungarian-American chess grandmaster, openings theoretician, author and problemist. He became Hungarian champion when he was twenty and finished in first place (or tied for first place) in a record of eight US Championships: 1961, 1964 (in that year he also won the Canadian Open Chess Championship), 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1975. Benko's highest achievements were playing in the Candidates Tournament with eight of the world's top players in 1959 and 1962. He qualified for the 1970 Interzonal tournament, the leaders of which advance to the Candidates. However, he gave up his spot in the Interzonal to Bobby Fischer, who went on to win the World Championship in 1972.

In addition to his success as a player, Benko is a noted authority on the chess endgame and a composer of endgame studies and chess problems. He is an over-the-board GM and also a FIDE IM of chess composition. The only other person we know who has these two titles is Jan Timman of the Netherlands.

Pal Benkois also a dear friend who keeps in touch with us regularly, sending problems and puzzles for the ChessBase news page on special occasions.

This biography is a celebration of a great man's creative legacy, an amazing collection of 138 deeply annotated games which have been carefully prepared to be entertaining, enlightening, and instructive. They are brought to life by Benko's memoirs of his early years in war-torn Hungary, a world of poverty, chaos, pain, and ultimately, personal triumph. His insights into famous grandmasters transform legends into real people with substance and personality, and his reminiscences of famous tournaments take us on a journey through chess history unlike anything that's been published before. A massive survey of Benko's openings shows us the scope of his theoretical contributions to the game. Photos abound, and 300 of Benko's chess compositions allow lovers of the game to become intimately acquainted with a strikingly beautiful aspect of chess that most have overlooked.

This highly entertaining and instructive book gives competitors who wish to improve their playing strength a dynamic, fun way to deepen their knowledge and understanding.

Solutions to the above Christmas puzzles

Some earlier ChessBase articles by and about Pal Benko

6/16/2016 – Can computers compose artistic problems? (2)
Earlier this week we brought you part one of Pal Benko's critique of machine composed chess problems. In part two this world famous problem composer shows us further examples and how they can be improved. He also gives us an example of composing together with a computer, "the first time in my life I did not create a chess problem fully in my own mind," and tells us why he has decided to drop out of problem competitions.

6/14/2016 – Can computers compose artistic problems? (1)
Some time ago Dr Azlan Iqbal presented a program, Chesthetica, that was composing chess problems. We published ten examples of three-movers by the machine. Now a leading expert in the subject, Pal Benko, who is one of the finest problem composers in the world, tells us what he thinks about the quality of the computer compositions – and also what are the criteria that make a chess problem valuable.

4/1/2016 – Pal Benko's April entertainment
Our loyal friend, Hungarian GM and problemist Pal Benkö, who at the age of 87 is still composing wonderfully imaginative problems and studies, has sent us four very unusual (and tricky!) puzzles to solve on this auspicious day. We present them to you without solutions, so you have a few days to try and find the hidden subtleties and traps. One thing is certain: Benko never ceases to delight.

12/30/2015 – ChessBase Christmas Puzzles 2015 (6)
This year was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Musing over the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, three years before, Pal Benko found a well-known chess problem that reflects the retreat of the French forces and the attacks by Cossack Hussards. It was composed by Alexander Petrov in 1824, but is somewhat flawed. Our problemist friend could not resist improving on it.

7/18/2015 – Pal Benko's birthday problems
On July 14 Hungarian problem componist GM Pal Benkö turned 87. His wife Gisela is 78, his daughter Palma 45, son David 44 and his grandson Adam 12. Why are we telling you this so specifically? Because Pal is celebrating with some wonderful number problems: positions shaped like digits, to share with his family and with problem lovers all over the world. Now with solutions!

7/12/2015 – Pal Benko: Variations on a Kubbel study (2)
Our good and faithful friend, GM Pal Benko, recently explained to us why one of the most famous studies of all time, composed in 1922 by Leonid Kubbel, was not completely flawless – and indeed worthy of improvement. He showed us how the process works, and in today's second part you can watch one of the greatest composers of our generation polishing flawed studies.

6/23/2015 – Valuation: variations on a famous Kubbel study
One of the greatest chess composers in history was Leonid Ivanovich Kubbel, born in 1891 in St. Petersburg, Russia. One of the greatest contempory composers is GM Pal Benkö, born in 1928. One of the most famous studies of all time is a 1922 composition by Kubbel. It is, however, not completely flawless, and so Benkö set out to polish it. He gives us a unique insight into the process.

12/31/2014 – Happy New Year 2015 from Pal Benko
Our friend, famous chess composer GM Pal Benko, got into the New Year spirit by sending us seven little problems to solve. They are all miniatures, requiring mate in three moves. And together they spell out HNY-2015. The positions look deceptively easy, but some have very clever solutions that are not easy to find. All are cook free. With Pal we wish our readers a Happy New Year 2015!

4/4/2014 – Benko: Fun problems to celebrate April 1st
Our friend and world famous chess composer GM Pal Benko got into the spirit of the day and sent us three problems to solve. They look deceptively easy, but you must consider the day of publication and not be fooled by the guile of the composer. We will leave you to work things out for a few days, and then give you the answers which may come as a surprise to some.

3/29/2014 – Pal Benko on Richard Réti’s endgames (2)
125 years ago a boy was born in the Austro-Hungarian part of what is today Slovakia. Richard Reti was a mathematician and world class chess master. Reti was also an endgame specialist who composed some of the most original endgame studies ever devised. Some were flawed, and now, almost a century later, his compatriot GM Pal Benko provides revisions to these studies.

3/26/2014 – Pal Benko on Richard Réti’s endgames (1)
At the turn of the last century an Austro-Hungarian mathematician shook up the chess world with revolutionary new ideas ("hypermodernism"), and with some of the most original endgame studies ever devised. To celebrate his upcoming 125th birthday another great chessplayer and endgame specialist, GM Pal Benko, has sent us some examples of Reti's works.

12/23/2013 – Pal Benko: Secrets of Study Composition (2)
One of the greatest study composers – as well as a former world championship candidate – is our friend Pal Benko, who never fails to send us a special Christmas gift. This year it was an article that offers unique insight into the process of chess composition. We brought you the first part a week ago. Today it is about breaking the pin and avoiding stalemate. And there is a remarkable study for you to solve.

12/17/2013 – Pal Benko: Secrets of Study Composition (1)
There is more to chess than tournament games. The area of chess studies and problems is equally creative and breathtakingly imaginative. One of its greatest composers is grandmaster (and world championship candidate 1959 + 1962) Pal Benko. The 85-year-old author of some of the most famous studies of all time has sent us an essay on the remarkable process of chess composition.

7/15/2013 – The Life Gambit à la Benko
Pal Benko (Hungarian: Benkö Pál) is, as 99% of our readers probably know, a legendary chess grandmaster, author, and composer of endgame studies and problems. He was born on July 15 1928, which made him 85 today. Diana Mihajlova met the fit and active octogenarian, who has been a "pal" of our company for a decade, in his home town of Budapest. Here is part one of her birthday report.

7/18/2013 – The Life Gambit à la Benko – Part two
On Monday Pal Benko, legendary grandmaster, author, and problem composer, turned 85. Diana Mihajlova, who recently met with the fit and active octogenarian in his home town of Budapest, sent us a birthday report in two parts. Today we learn of Benkos escape from Communist Hungary to the US, and his relationship with Bobby Fischer. And we get to solve two highly entertaining problems.

5/20/2011 – Greetings from Pál Benkö for 25 years of ChessBase
"Congratulations to ChessBase on your 25th anniversary! Your news page is the the first thing I look at every day when I go on the Internet. You do such wonderful work. Keep up your great service for the whole chess world." Heartening words from legendary great chess player, theorist, author and problem composer – who in addition sent six anniversary puzzles for our readers.

4/24/2011 – Easter puzzles by Benko – a World Champion challenge
Pál Benkö, 82 and still going strong, is a world class grandmaster, author and problem composer. He is also a faithful friend who periodically sends us puzzles for our newspage. This time, for Easter, he has selected four problems which stumped a World Champion. It is a challenge for you to do better, and win a special prize in the process. Enjoy.

12/30/2009 – Pal Benko improves on Troitzky
In 1856 the great Sam Loyd composed a chess problem, which 75 years later inspired Alexey Troitsky, one of the greatest composers of endgame studies, to create a puzzle with a similar theme. It proved to be flawed. 75 years after Troitzky another great composer, Pal Benko, took up his problem, improved on it and submitted it for our Christmas Puzzle page.

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vinniethepooh vinniethepooh 12/25/2016 04:10
It's all about knights today. As usual, great work Pal. Woohoo!
turok turok 12/25/2016 07:13
I never have had an interest in his stuff. Normal stuff actually used in games yes but not anything that just would never happen in games. But hes the best for sure just not my cup of tea.
jsaldea12 jsaldea12 12/26/2016 12:44
Beautiful puzzles by GM Benko, my contemporary. Merry Christmas
to all.
jsaldea12 jsaldea12 12/26/2016 12:49
Correction: Very familiar GM Benko is 10 years older. Would appreciate your deleting that cross in my comment. Merry Christmas again!
moonsorrow55 moonsorrow55 12/26/2016 02:18
Great puzzles as always, these ones really make you think logically about how to go about solving them.
lightningchess lightningchess 12/26/2016 10:15
solution for position one mate in 5 moves 1.Bd5-Kg6 2.Bd4-Kh7 3.Kf4-Kg6 4.Bg8-Kh5 5.Bf7#
solution for position two mate in two moves 1.Qc5 [1...dc5 2,Re5#] [1...Rc5 2. Nd4#] [1...Be4 2. Nf4#] [1...Re4 2. Qd5# or Qc8#] [1...c2 2.Qd5#]2.Qd5#.... Merry Christmas to all respected players from all over the between thanks for the wonderful puzzles..
vinniethepooh vinniethepooh 12/27/2016 05:01
lightning chess, why are you posting the solutions?
ghosts ghosts 12/27/2016 11:03
Great problems! Is the reader supposed to send in solutions? In case, to what address?

IvaVidenova IvaVidenova 12/31/2016 12:10
Excellent puzzles! I will certainly read Pal Benko's book as well. It seems to be an inspirational read.
IvaVidenova IvaVidenova 12/31/2016 12:15
Excellent puzzles! I will certainly read Pal Benko's book as well. It seems to be an inspirational read.
bro bro 1/12/2017 07:40
The first proof game "Mate in nine moves" is most difficult to solution. I think because it is not possible to catch up the right key for idea. I found the solution two days ago after many days of variation on the board, but now do not find it again.
bro bro 1/14/2017 07:18
The lost solution for "Proof game. Mate in nine" was found out secondly in three evenings. Firstly the right solution was found out after almost week of unsuccessful exercises. After shot interrupt during 3-4 days the solution was lost. I think that is the most difficult puzzles this Christmas days. Thank You Pal Benko for it present!
satkul satkul 1/16/2017 11:59
Very interesting and and challenging puzzles!We are falling short by one move,Can't wait anymore for the solutions.
itizi itizi 1/29/2017 07:25
Why have solutions not been published yet?
itizi itizi 2/14/2017 05:20
Where are solutions to Christmas puzzles?
lnlver lnlver 2/17/2017 05:21
Alternate solution for the last problem - mate in 11 moves. 1. Nc3, e5 2. Nd5, Qe7 3. Ne7, Nc6 4. Nc8, Be7 5. Nc7, d6 6. Ng8, 0-0-0 7. Ne7+, Kb8 8. Nc6+, Ka8 9. Nd8, c6 10. Ne6, Rb8 11. Nc7#