Pal Benko on Richard Réti’s endgames (1)

3/26/2014 – 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.

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Richard Réti’s endgames (1)

By Pál Benkö

It is time to celebrate Richard Réti's upcoming 125th birthday! He was born on May 28, 1889 in Bösing, Hungary (now Slovakia), where his father worked as a physician in the service of the Austrian military. His older brother Rudolph Reti was a noted pianist, musical theorist, and composer.


Richard Réti studied mathematics at Vienna University, and at the same time advanced to become one of the top chess players in the world. He began his chess career as tactical player, favoring openings such as the King's Gambit. However, after the end of the First World War, his playing style changed, and he became one of the principal proponents of hypermodernism. The Réti Opening (1.Nf3 d5 2.c4) is named after him. He used it to defeat world champion José Raúl Capablanca in the New York 1924 chess tournament – Capablanca's first defeat in eight years. In 1925 Réti set a world record for blindfold chess with 29 games played simultaneously. He won 21, drew six, and lost two.

Réti was also a notable composer of endgame studies, with about 60 original pieces of work. I wish to present some of these, starting with the Hungarian Championship in 1907, where he provided a demonstration of his endgame skills.

[Event "Szekesfehervar"] [Site "?"] [Date "1907.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Demeter, A."] [Black "Reti, Richard"] [Result "0-1"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/6p1/8/8/4n3/5k2/7K/7N b - - 0 74"] [PlyCount "15"] {The imprisoned knight has fatal consequences.} 74... g6 $1 75. Kg1 g5 76. Kh2 g4 77. Kg1 Ng3 78. Nf2 Ne2+ 79. Kf1 g3 80. Nh3 g2+ 81. Ke1 Kg3 0-1

The "Excelsior" theme in a practical game. It fits Reti’s artistic spirit: produce a lot with very little material.

Bleak Bishop

Reti's ideas were usually excellent, but there are some works with errors. I can best pay tribute to his memory if I restore these studies while keeping the original spirit and without adding new material.

[Event "Kagan's Neueste Schachnachrichten#3"] [Site "?"] [Date "1920.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Reti, Richard"] [Black "White to play and win?"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p6/8/P1K5/1P6/5b1P/4k3/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "17"] [EventDate "1920.??.??"] {Kagan's Neueste Schachnachrichten/7-9 1922 @3: Bondarevsky=I Shakhmaty v SSSR/ 1955} 1. Kd4 (1. h4 $2 Ke3 $1) 1... Kf2 2. h4 Kg3 ({Unfortunately} 2... Be2 $1 {refutes the study} 3. Kc5 (3. Ke4 Kg2 $1 4. Ke3 (4. Kf5 Kf3 $1 5. h5 Ke3 6. h6 Kd4) 4... Kf1 5. Kf4 Kf2 6. Kg5 Ke3 $11) 3... Ke3 $1 4. Kb6 (4. b5 Kf4) 4... Bf3 5. h5 Bxh5 6. Kxb7 Be2 7. Kb6 (7. a6 Kd4 8. a7 (8. Kb6 Kc4 9. b5 Bf3) 8... Kc4 9. Kb6 Bf3 10. b5 Ba8 11. Ka6 Kc5) (7. Kc6 Kd4 8. b5 Kc4) 7... Kd4 8. a6 Kc4 9. b5 Bf3) 3. Ke3 $1 Bg4 $1 4. b5 $1 Kxh4 5. b6 $1 Bc8 6. Kf4 Kh5 7. Ke5 Kg5 8. Kd6 Kf5 9. Kc7 1-0

We can improve this so that the bishop could not get to e2:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Reti/Benko, Richard/Pal"] [Black "White to play and win"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p6/8/P7/1P6/5b1P/2K5/7k w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "19"] 1. h4 $1 (1. Kd2 $2 Bc6 $1 2. h4 Be8 $11) 1... Kg2 2. Kd2 (2. Kd3 $2 Kf2 3. b5 Be2+ $11) 2... Kg3 {and now the win as given in the original Reti study:} 3. Ke3 Bg4 4. b5 Kxh4 5. b6 Bc8 6. Kd4 Kg5 7. Ke5 Kg6 8. Kd6 Kf7 9. Kc7 Bg4 10. Kxb7 1-0

Concealed Cook

[Event "1.hm Shakhmatny Listok"] [Site "?"] [Date "1928.03.10"] [Round "1"] [White "Reti, Richard"] [Black "White to play and draw?"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/3k2K1/2p1p3/b5P1/3P1P2/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "13"] [EventDate "1928.??.??"] 1. Kf7 (1. d5 $2 Ke7 $1 2. dxc6 Bc7 3. g6 Bxf4 4. Kh7 Be5 5. Kg8 Ke8 6. Kh7 Ba1 $1 7. Kh6 (7. Kg8 e5) 7... Bf6) 1... Bc3 2. d5 $1 cxd5 ({But} 2... exd5 $1 3. g6 Bh8 $1 4. Kg8 (4. f5 d4 5. f6 d3 6. g7 Bxg7 7. fxg7 d2 8. g8=Q d1=Q) 4... Bb2 $1 5. Kf7 c5 6. f5 c4 7. f6 c3 {wins for Black.}) 3. g6 Kd6 4. Kf8 $1 Bb2 5. Kf7 Bh8 6. Kg8 Bc3 7. Kf7 {The idea is positional draw since Black cannot move his pawns because they would close the bishop diagonal.} 1/2-1/2

As correction I propose pushing the whole position to the right by one file to eliminate the 3….Bh8! cook. However, I think this endgame deserves a further workout.

[Event "Correction"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Reti/Benko, Richard/Pal"] [Black "White to play and draw"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2k1b1K1/8/3p1p2/8/4P3/8/6PP/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "21"] [SourceDate "2014.03.18"] 1. g4 (1. Kg7 $2 f5 $1 {wins}) 1... Kd8 (1... Bc6 2. Kg7) (1... Kd7 2. Kf8 $1 $11) 2. h4 (2. Kf8 $2 Bd7 3. h3 Be6 {wins.}) 2... Ke7 3. h5 Bc6 4. e5 $1 fxe5 ( 4... dxe5 5. h6 Be4 6. Kg7 Bd3 7. Kg8 {draws.}) 5. h6 Be4 6. g5 d5 7. Kg7 d4 8. g6 d3 9. h7 d2 10. h8=Q d1=Q 11. Qh4+ {draws. The study has been enriched with an Excelsior theme.} 1/2-1/2

– Part two of this article by Pal Benko will follow soon –

Pal Benko (right) Analysing with WGM Alina Kašlinskaja and GM Wolfgang Uhlmann
at the recent Snowdrops vs Old Hands tournament in Podebrady (Czech Republic)

Benko's 2003 autobiography, which was reviewed by Prof. Nagesh Havanur


Topics Benko, Endgames
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