Endgame Riddle: Is Smyslov right or is he wrong?

by Karsten Müller
10/22/2020 – Vassily Smyslov, the 7th World Champion, was an endgame specialist, and for generations of chess players Smyslov's book about "Rook Endings", which he wrote together with Grigory Levenfish, was the "Bible of Rook Endings". However, is everything in this "bible" really true? Karsten Müller and Zoran Petronijevic have doubts - and ask the readers to help analysing a fascinating endgame, which Smyslov presented in the third edition of his classic. | Photo: Dutch National Archive

Endgames of the World Champions Vol. 2 - from Steinitz to Spassky Endgames of the World Champions Vol. 2 - from Steinitz to Spassky

Enjoy Capablanca's fine technique, Tal's magic, Lasker's fighting spirit, Petrosian's defensive skills, Smyslov's feeling for harmony, and Alekhine's and Spassky's flair for the attack.


Endgame riddle V. Smyslov - P. Benko

For a long time Vassily Smyslov (March 24, 1921 - March 27, 2010) was one of the best players in the world, and after beating Mikhail Botvinnik 12½-9½ in their World Championship match 1957 Smyslov became the 7th World Champion in the history of chess. However, one year later, Smyslov lost the revenge match in 1958 with 10½-12½ and was thus World Champion for only one year.

Smyslov's feeling for the harmony of the pieces is legendary and he is considered one of the greatest endgame players of all time. The book "Rook Endings" which he wrote together with Grigory Levenfish, was for generations of chess players the "Bible of rook endgames".

Endgame analyst Zoran Petronijevic has also studied this book thoroughly, and a position that first appeared in the third edition of the book has particularly fascinated him.


Petronijevic writes about the final of this game Smyslov - Benko:

Despite the progress of chess engines, the many good chess books and the large number of fantastic players, rook endings still remain a big mystery. One reason for this is the uncanny dynamics of these endgames. This position in the Smyslov - Benkö game has intrigued me for years and I have analyzed it again and again.

Smyslov won against Benko and as his comments and analyses show, Smyslov also considered the starting position of the endgame as won for White. But is that really so - or is Smyslov wrong?

This is where the help of the readers is needed: Is Smyslov right? Is this position really won for White? And if it is not won, then where have White and Black made mistakes - and what is Benko's last mistake?

Share your analyses in the comments. Endgame expert and endgame detective Karsten Müller looks forward to your insights!



Karsten Müller, born 1970, has a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest endgame experts. He has, together with Frank Lamprecht, written a book on the subject: “Fundamental Chess Endgames” in addition to other contributions such as his column on the website ChessCafe as well as in ChessBase Magazine. Müller's ChessBase-DVDs about endgames in Fritztrainer-Format are bestsellers. The PhD in mathematics lives in Hamburg, where he has also been hunting down points for the HSK in the Bundesliga for many years.


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