Pal Benko: Variations on a Kubbel study (2)

by GM Pál Benkö
7/12/2015 – 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.

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. In part one Pal showed us how one can fix the study by giving the knight – which in the original only has the flashy role of sacrificing itself for a tempo – an integral role in the solution. In this second part he shows us how the knight can be eliminated all together.

Valuation: variations on a famous Kubbel study (2)

By Pal Benkö

Some years ago a discussion arose within the endgame community on a well-known study, which was shown by Frederic Friedel as part of the ChessBase December 30 2014 Christmas puzzle installment. This theme is timely again, so let’s take a look at what started it all by Russian experts.

Leonid Kubbel, Shakhmatny Listok 1922

White to play and win

The solution, 1.Nc6 Kxc6 2.Bf6 Kd5 3.d3 a2 4.c4+ Kc5 5.Kb7 a1Q 6.Be7 mate, was explained in the previous part. But what fault could possibly be found in this work? White’s first move, a showy knight sacrifice, plays no organic part in the solution. In a game a sacrifice may be the completion of an attack. Even then it will not appear to be especially esthetic if it only happens accidentally, as a direct result of the opponent’s mistake. Similarly, the sacrifice is not so pleasing here because its only function is to lengthen the solution. Also consider that when the only reason for a piece is to sacrifice it, that is less artistic. Kubbel was an outstanding author. However, this time he did not presents his theme in his usual best possible way. There are ways to improve this idea.

Without the knight

Removing the knight from the composition is interesting, since this piece plays no organic role in the original conception. That was the inspiration for the following composition:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "1981.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Godes, D."] [Black "White wins"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "GM Pal Benko"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "K7/8/8/4k3/p2p4/4B3/2PP4/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2015.06.17"] {But this one does not look great even at a glance, since White’s only piece is under attack. The author's solution:} 1. Bh6 Ke4 2. d3+ ({But} 2. Bf8 $1 Kf3 3. c4 (3. Kb7 Ke2 {produces a drawish endgame}) 3... dxc3 4. dxc3 Ke4 5. c4 { wins}) 2... Kf3 3. Kb7 a3 4. Bc1 Ke2 ({However,} 4... a2 $1 5. Bb2 Ke2 {etc. draws.}) 5. Bxa3 Kd2 6. c4 1-0

Therefore I decided to try my hand at making this idea also without a knight in a composition.

[Event "After D. Godes 1981"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "GM Pal Benko Version"] [Black "Black to play – White wins"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "GM Pal Benko"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "K7/8/p7/3k4/3p4/8/2PP1B2/8 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "20"] [EventDate "2015.06.17"] 1... d3 $5 (1... Kc4 2. Kb7 a5 3. Kc6 a4 4. d3+ Kc3 5. Kd5 Kxc2 6. Kc4 {wins.}) (1... a5 2. d3 $1 (2. Bh4 $2 d3 {assures the draw.}) {It is astonishing: the a-pawn can not be stopped, yet White wins.} 2... a4 3. Bh4 a3 4. Bf6 a2 5. c4+ Kc5 6. Kb7 a1=Q 7. Be7#) 2. c4+ Kxc4 3. Bb6 $1 Kb5 4. Bd4 a5 5. Kb7 a4 6. Kc7 Kc4 7. Bc3 a3 8. Kd6 a2 9. Ke5 Kb3 10. Kd4 Kc2 11. Ke3 {wins.} 1-0

Let us see one more example:

[Event "MSV 3.Prize"] [Site "?"] [Date "1934.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Balazs, I."] [Black "White wins"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "GM Pal Benko"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3Q4/3p4/P2p4/N2b4/8/4P3/5p1p/5Kbk w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2015.06.17"] 1. Qa8 {White starts with a sacrifice, but the Queen has no other role...} ({ except for one pitfall:} 1. Qg5 $2 Be4 {would be winning for Black!}) 1... Bxa8 2. Nb7 d5 3. Nd6 Bc6 4. a7 d4 5. e4 d3 6. Nf5 {followed by Ng3#. Therefore this study is rather similar to a mate problem.} 1-0

Let’s see the improvement:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "GM Pal Benko"] [Black "White to play and win"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "GM Pal Benko"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1N2Q3/8/3p4/2P5/8/4Pb2/5p1p/5Kbk w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "33"] [EventDate "2015.06.17"] 1. Qc6 $1 {The queen has to be active to avoid a lot of false tries. For example:} (1. Qg6 $2 Bd5 2. Qg4 dxc5 3. Na6 Bc4+ $1 4. Qxc4 {stalemate}) (1. Qf7 $2 Bg2+ 2. Ke2 f1=Q+ 3. Qxf1 Bxf1+ 4. Kxf1 dxc5 5. e4 c4 $11) 1... d5 (1... Bxc6 2. Nxc6 {and mate on g3 in three more moves.}) 2. Qf6 (2. Qg6 $2 Be4 3. Qxe4+ dxe4 {stalemate}) 2... Be4 3. Qxf2 Bd3+ 4. Ke1 Bxf2+ 5. Kxf2 Bb5 6. c6 Bxc6 {[#]} 7. Na6 $1 (7. Nxc6 $2 d4 8. e4 d3 9. Nd4 d2 10. Nf5 (10. Ne2 d1=N+ $11) 10... d1=N+ 11. Kf1 Ne3+ 12. Nxe3 {stalemate}) 7... Bd7 8. Nc7 (8. Nb4 { would also win but much longer.} Be6 9. Nd3 Bg4 10. Nf4 Bf3 {The bishop could still defend the dangerous points (d5, e2, h5, but is overloaded.} 11. Kf1 $1 Bg2+ 12. Nxg2 d4 13. e4 d3 14. Nh4 $1 d2 15. Ke2 Kg1 16. Nf3+ Kg2 17. Nxh2 { wins}) 8... Be6 9. Nb5 Bf5 10. Nc3 {The quickest solution.} (10. Nd4 Bg4 { would make it very long} (10... Bd3 $2 {is followed quickly by mate.} 11. e4 dxe4 12. Nf5 e3+ 13. Nxe3)) 10... Bd3 11. Nxd5 Be4 12. Nf6 Bg6 13. e4 Be8 14. e5 Bg6 15. e6 Be8 16. Ne4 Bg6 17. Ng3# 1-0


I would like to mention that I. Balazs's study, which is is rather like a problem, reminds me of a Sam Loyd prblem which I also improved:

Sam Loyd/Pal Benko, 1838

Mate in four moves

Loyd's problem had the white queen on c6 and the black rook on g4, with mate in three. I will assume that the ChessBase readers will have no difficulty solving the problem, especially after going through the examples above.

About the author

Pál Benkö, 86, is a Hungarian-American chess grandmaster, openings theoretician, author and problemist. He became Hungarian champion when he was 20 and finished in first place (or tied for first place) in eight US Championships, a record: 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.

Some earlier ChessBase articles by and about Pal Benko

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.

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.

Topics Studies, Endgames

World class chess grandmaster, author, and composer of endgame studies and problems. Benko qualified for the Candidates Tournament for the World Championship in 1959 and 1962, and for the 1970 Interzonal tournament, when he gave up his spot to Bobby Fischer, who went on to win the World Championship in 1972. Pal was born in 1928 and lives in Budapest, Hungary.
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Keesje Keesje 7/12/2015 01:02
"... which I also improved" - I don't like the sound of this.