Benko improves on Kubbel

by Frederic Friedel
12/29/2023 – Today we provide you with a master-level lesson. Leonid Ivanovich Kubbel, born in 1891 in St. Petersburg, Russia, was one of the greatest composers in chess history. One of the greatest composers of our time was GM Pal Benkö, born in 1928, died in 2019. The latter shows us how he improved on one of the most famous studies of all time, composed by the former.

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Some of you may have seen this before – after all, it is a world-famous study, and I posted it a decade ago! But for those of you who haven't this could be a very pleasant journey in the magic world of chess studies.

Okay, Black is going to queen the a-pawn – there seems to be no way to stop that. But let us check: after 1.Bf6 a2 2.c3 Black doesn't save us by taking the pawn but simply queens with check: 2...a1Q+. We can contemplate 2.c4+, but that doesn't solve anything: 2...Kxc4 3.d3+ Kxd3 and Black queens to win. The immediate 1.c4+ doesn't work either. Black simply captures the pawn with his king and we cannot stop the a-pawn from promoting.

So what else is there? How about something crazy like 1.Nc6, which threatens a fork on b4. Black plays 1...Kxc6 (fine, this kind of sacrifice is normal in studies) and we play 2.Bf6. But after 2...Kd5 we are again stuck: 3.c4+ Kxc4 4.d3+ Kxd3 does not prevent the safe promotion of the b-pawn, and 3.c3 a2 loses even quicker.

We have reached the point where we are looking for a way for White to save the game. But we are not playing for a draw, we are expected to win. Any bright ideas?

Well, here is the amazing solution:

Composing a variation

Leonid Ivanovich Kubbel, born in 1891 in St. Petersburg, Russia, was one of the greatest composers in chess history. One of the greatest composers of our time was GM Pal Benkö, born in 1928, died in 2019. The latter found that the wonderful Kubbel study was not completely flawless, and set out to polish it. In 2015 Pal wrote an article for us, one that provides a unique insight into the process. He wrote:

"You may well ask 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."

This was his first try:

"Of course, it is still better if all the pieces cooperate in the actual solution," Pal wrote, and provided the following variation:

"Here the knight moves twice and changes the pawn structure with its sacrifice. In this way the play is more dynamic and at the same time the solution is more difficult.

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 by D. Godes in 1981:"

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

We hope you have enjoyed watching a true master at work, and that this will encourage you to venture into the fascinating world of chess composition. If you do:

Please submit your compositions here

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Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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