Trump, Kramnik, Botvinnik, Junge, Benko

by GM Pál Benkö
1/23/2017 – "Don’t you think I could also be a GM if put in one or two year on chess?" Donald Trump wanted to know, when he met Pal Benko back in 1994. "You need to be born again," Benko replied. "I have never known anyone who started with chess after the age of 20 and became a grandmaster." It happened at the World Championship Candidates match, held in the Trump Plaza. In his article Pal Benko tells us some interesting things about the Botvinnik Variation.

Trump, Kramnik, Botvinnik, Junge, Benko

By Pal Benko

Donald Trump – nowadays we can frequently meet with this name quite often in the media. During a New York City chess event in 1994 I had the opportunity to talk to him in person.

The 1994 Candidates Tournament was held in the Trump Tower [Photo: Chess Life Dec. 2016]

A Kramnik–Kamsky World Championship Candidates match was held in the Trump Tower. Trump gave a reception for the guests, in the company of his secretary and a beautiful model. I was also introduced as "Chess Grandmaster Pal Benko". Mr. Trump turned to his secretary and asked: "Don’t you think I could also be a GM if I put in one or two year on chess?"

I couldn’t believe it. I said: "You need to be born again for that. I have never known anyone who started with chess after the age of 20 and became a grandmaster." Presumably he had no idea of the serious fight for titles in chess. One thing is sure: had he started with chess he could have never been a billionaire.

However, nowadays in hope of increasing popularity of chess FIDE award titles much easier than it had been before. Usually a young talent starts being taught at the age of 4-5, and the best of them usually need about ten years to become a GM.

By the way, I was able to talk to Kramnik too before the match. Amongst others I said to him: "I think you will not use the sharp lines of the Botvinnik Variation this time [which was one of his favourites then], since Kamsky will clearly be well prepared against it.” But let’s see the game:

[Event "Wch. Candidates m4 (1) New York City"] [Site "?"] [Date "1994.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Kamsky, Gata"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D44"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2016.05.30"] [SourceDate "2016.05.30"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 {[#]} 11. exf6 Bb7 12. g3 c5 13. d5 Qb6 14. Bg2 O-O-O 15. O-O b4 16. Na4 Qb5 17. a3 Ne5 18. axb4 cxb4 19. Qd4 Nc6 {[#]} 20. dxc6 $1 {Here is the prepared surprise that is not winning by force but gives good winning chances with the unpleasant b7 pawn.} Rxd4 21. cxb7+ Kc7 22. Be3 e5 23. Nc3 $1 {Another sac that opens files for the rooks.} bxc3 24. bxc3 Bc5 25. cxd4 {Avoids 25.Rfb1 Rxd1+! 26.Rxd1 Bxe3 simplification.} (25. Rfb1 Rd1+ 26. Rxd1 Bxe3 $13) 25... Bxd4 26. Rfb1 Qc5 27. Ra6 Rb8 {27... c3 was better.} 28. Bc1 $1 c3 29. Ba3 Qc4 30. Bd6+ Kd7 31. Bc6+ {31.Bxb8 is quicker.} Ke6 $2 { The last chance was 31.... Qxc6 32.Rxc6 Rxb7} (31... Qxc6 32. Rxc6 Rxb7) 32. Bb5 Bxf2+ 33. Kxf2 Qd4+ 34. Kf1 Qe4 35. Re1 Qh1+ 36. Kf2 Qxh2+ 37. Kf3 Rxb7 38. Bxe5+ Rb6 39. Bc4+ Kd7 40. Rxa7+ Kc8 41. Rc7+ {Black resigned.} 1-0

But why is it called the “Botvinnik System?? Let’s go back in time…

[Event "USA-URS radio m"] [Site "radio"] [Date "1945.09.01"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Denker, Arnold Sheldon"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D44"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "1945.09.01"] [EventType "team"] [EventRounds "2"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [WhiteTeam "US of America"] [BlackTeam "Soviet Union"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "URS"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 {[#]} 11. exf6 Bb7 12. Be2 Qb6 13. O-O O-O-O 14. a4 b4 15. Ne4 c5 16. Qb1 Qc7 17. Ng3 (17. h3 $5) 17... cxd4 18. Bxc4 Qc6 19. f3 { # #} d3 $1 20. Qc1 Bc5+ 21. Kh1 (21. Be3 $2 d2 $1) 21... Qd6 $1 22. Qf4 (22. Bh6 Rh7 $1 $19) 22... Rxh2+ 23. Kxh2 Rh8+ 24. Qh4 Rxh4+ 25. Bxh4 Qf4 {Black resigned. The variation was obviously not known to Denker.} 0-1

Thus it was a quick surprising loss. No wonder that the game became world famous soon, since such a radio-chess team match had also a political angle. It is interesting that I played the system just some weeks before during my first master level tournament. The game was published later in the Magyar Sakkvilag 1946 Nr. 4.

[Event "Budapest"] [Site "?"] [Date "1945.08.09"] [Round "?"] [White "Szigeti, Miklos"] [Black "Benko, Pal"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D44"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2016.05.30"] [SourceDate "2016.05.30"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 11. exf6 Bb7 12. Be2 Nxf6 13. Bf3 Be7 14. Bxf6 $2 ( 14. Nxb5 $1) 14... Bxf6 15. Nxb5 cxb5 16. Bxb7 Rb8 17. Bc6+ Ke7 {[#]White has regained the pawn. He has an extra pawn, but the position is definitely worse because of the strong f6 bishop.} 18. Qd2 ({Interesting that the same position come up in game H.Ullrich-K. Junge, Dresden 1962. There came} 18. a4 b4 (18... bxa4 $5) 19. Rc1 c3 20. bxc3 bxc3 21. d5 Bg5 22. d6+ $2 (22. Rxc3 Qa5 23. Qd4 $11) 22... Qxd6 23. f4 Bxf4 24. Rf1 Qd2+ 25. Qxd2 cxd2+ {wins.}) 18... Qd6 19. Bf3 Rh4 20. g3 Rxd4 21. Qa5 c3 $5 {Too complicated.} (21... Rd3 $1 {was the strongest.}) 22. Qxa7+ Kf8 $2 (22... Ke8 $1 23. bxc3 Rd3 24. Bh5 Qe5+ 25. Kf1 Rd7 $1) 23. O-O (23. bxc3 Rd2 (23... Qe5+ $5) 24. Bh5 $1 $11) 23... cxb2 24. Rab1 Rd3 25. Be4 Ra3 26. Rbd1 Rxa7 27. Rxd6 Rxa2 $19 28. Rb1 Ra1 29. Rdd1 Rc8 30. Kf1 Rc1 31. Ke2 Bc3 32. g4 Be5 33. h4 Bf4 34. Bd3 b4 35. Be4 Kg7 36. g5 b3 37. Bd3 Rc2+ 38. Kf3 Bc1 {[#] A nice game. The jam of pieces in the final position is quite spectecular.} 0-1

Klaus Junge (1924-1945) was a great hope of German chess, but unfortunately died tragically during the last month of World War II, serving a a soldier. During the years 1941-42 he was equal opponent to Aljechin, Keres and Bogoljubov. Let’s see another interesting game by him:

[Event "Lublin/Warsaw/Krakow"] [Site "Poland"] [Date "1942.??.??"] [Round "3"] [White "Zollner, Hans"] [Black "Junge, Klaus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D44"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "1942.10.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "POL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2000.11.22"] 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 11. Qf3 Bb7 12. Be2 Qb6 13. Bxf6 c5 14. Ne4 Rg8 15. Qf4 cxd4 16. Bh5 Nc5 {[#]} 17. Bxf7+ Kd7 $1 ({Black picks up the fight by sacrificing the exchange because} 17... Kxf7 18. Bh4+ Ke8 19. Nf6+ Kf7 20. Nd5+ Ke8 21. Nf6+ {leads to repetition.}) 18. Nxc5+ Bxc5 19. O-O-O ({Better was} 19. Bxg8 Rxg8 20. Bg5) 19... Bd5 (19... Rxg2) 20. Bxg8 Rxg8 21. h4 (21. Qh4 Kc6 22. Be7) 21... c3 22. bxc3 Qa5 23. Rd2 $2 (23. Qd2) 23... dxc3 $2 (23... Qxc3+ 24. Kb1 Rg4 $1 25. Qxg4 Qxd2 {and White has no defense.}) 24. Rxd5+ exd5 25. Qf5+ Kc7 26. Qh7+ (26. e6 {was the last chance.}) 26... Kb6 27. Qc2 Qb4 28. g3 $2 ( 28. Bg5) 28... Qd4 (28... Rxg3 $1 29. fxg3 Be3+ 30. Kd1 Qg4+ 31. Ke1 Qxg3+ { etc. wins.}) 29. h5 Ba3+ 30. Kb1 Qb4+ 31. Ka1 d4 32. Rd1 Rc8 33. Bg5 d3 34. Qb3 Bb2+ 35. Kb1 Qxb3 36. axb3 c2+ {and White resigned.} 0-1

There is another addition to this line from even earlier time played by an ex-World Champion against a Hungarian GM.

[Event "Hastings 3839"] [Site "Hastings"] [Date "1938.12.30"] [Round "3"] [White "Szabo, Laszlo"] [Black "Euwe, Max"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D44"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "1938.12.28"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 {[#]} 11. Qf3 Bb7 12. Be2 Rg8 13. Bxf6 (13. h4 $5) 13... Nxf6 14. Qxf6 Qxf6 15. exf6 Rxg2 16. a4 Rg6 17. Ne4 c5 18. Bf3 O-O-O 19. dxc5 Bxc5 20. Ke2 Bxe4 (20... Rd3 21. Rhc1 $5 $14) 21. Bxe4 Rxf6 22. f3 { and later a draw after 66 moves.} 1/2-1/2


After all these to whom should we give the trophy? It is really hard to establish who had played it first. A Russian book by V.A. Csapusin “Dance at the Edge of a Volcano” (1993) which contains 90 games of K. Junge. It is claimed in the book that the system should be named after Junge since he played it earlier and more times than Botvinnik. It is also true that Junge methodized it and played it both at board and in correspondence chess too. His analysis about it appeared in chess magazines.

Aljechin once complained that a system played by him was named the Kecskemet Variation, where it was first played (1927), and not named after him. As he wrote: "It is not important who played a system first, and where. The most important is who made it well-known and popular."

It reminds me of the Benko (Volga) gambit. I had played it about 40 times at tournaments and also against grandmasters. I published a lot of analysis and wrote a book about it. The Benko Gambit was published in New York in 1972 and everyone in the West named the system like that. But not in the East. I may write more about that next time…

The above article appeared in the December 2016 issue of USCF Chess Life. We reprint it with the kind permission of the author.

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

Some earlier ChessBase articles by and about Pal Benko

12/25/2016 – Christmas puzzles with Pal Benko
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.

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.

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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calvinamari calvinamari 1/23/2017 10:13
t-Rump has the attention span of a gnat. High level chess? No way.
tom_70 tom_70 1/24/2017 12:08
This is nothing new. 90% of the public consider chess to be 'just a board game'. They don't understand or appreciate how truly talented and rare a world class player is.
calvinamari calvinamari 1/24/2017 12:39
Brilliant game by Kamsky, by the way. I would love to see Gata author a monograph about his career. He now does not always execute at the highest levels, but it is frequently clear that he understands some things about chess that few others can penetrate. I’ve seen him be patient and clear in post-mortems at open tournaments, and I have always suspected that he has the capacity to confer a lot of wisdom if he took the time to do so in a book.
PEB216 PEB216 1/24/2017 02:19
Trump's remark is probably true of most chess players when they first learn the game and have ambitions of becoming a master. Many people have speculated on what it takes to accomplish this feat. I once read that it takes so many hours of dedicated study (if memory serves me correctly, something like 10,000 hours to become an International Master). There is also a formula that predicts your "potential" chess rating based on your IQ. As I recall, this is the formula: Chess Rating = (IQ x 10) + 1000. Since Bobby Fischer's IQ was approximately 180, then his "potential" chess rating would be: Chess Rating = (180 x 10) + 1000 = 2800. Of course, it is probably a combination of ability (IQ) and hours of hard work that will determine how successful one is. Which factors of intelligence (memory, spatial ability, etc.) and what's the most appropriate expenditure of time (amount of time spent on openings, tactics, the endgame and so forth) are probably the questions that need answering.
turok turok 1/24/2017 05:26
of course at one time titles were hard to come by but now it is like giving candy to a baby just as bad as all the inflated ratings
koko48 koko48 1/25/2017 02:25
"had he started with chess he could have never been a billionaire."

Sure he could have...considering Trump inherited not only an obscene amount of money (possibly as much as $100 million), but an established foothold in a New York City real estate market that was exponentially appreciating in value by the 1980s

My guess is Trump would not have been very good at chess, even if he devoted many hours and decades to the game....but he might have still been a billionaire, with the kind of head start he had

An analogy would be, Trump actually becoming a GM after learning the moves in his forties or fifties...By having a Rybka chip implanted in his head

I say this tongue in cheek of course, but who knows...that kind of thing could become a reality in the not too distant future
Miguel Ararat Miguel Ararat 1/25/2017 06:01
Thank you GM Benko for the effort. I am looking forward to read your future article on the Benko Gambit.