Pal Benko's April entertainment

by GM Pál Benkö
4/1/2016 – 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.

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April problems for ChessBase readers

By Pal Benkö

The first three problems are classical helpmates – both sides cooperate to make the task possible. In the first two it is White to play, and both sides work together to set up a position in which Black is mated on move four. In the third problem it is Black to move, with White mating four moves later. But keep your eyes open: for a very specific reason this problem is completely different from the first two – as is the fourth problem, which is described below.

White to play – helpmate in four moves

White to play – helpmate in four moves

Black to play – helpmate in four moves

Black to play – help-stalemate in five moves

In this final problem Black makes the first move, and the two side cooperate to construct a position in which one side is stalemated after five moves of play. Careful: the problem is not trivially easy, as you might think at first glance.

We wish you fun with these four problems, which appeared in the April 2015 issue of Chess Life (in slightly different form). The solutions will be given here in a few days. It is important that you do not post them or any key observations you make in our discussion section below – you may only announce that you have solved the problems. Please let other readers work out the tricks for themselves.

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.

As we have learned (in the magazine New in Chess 2016#2) Benko actually struck the 19-year-old Bobby Fischer during the 1962 Candidates tournament in Curaçao during an argument over the services of GM Arthur Bisguier during adjourned games. Pal called Bobby a selfish pig, and Bobby said equally nasty things to Pal, who told him not to repeat that. When he did, "I hit him. The next day I regretted it and from that moment on I could not play against him." (Benko had beaten Fischer in the first round of that tournament). "I should not have hit him," says Benko. Miraculously the incident did not destroy their friendship – Fischer continued to revere, admire and respect Benko till the end of his life.

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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RJS RJS 4/16/2016 07:20
@José Fernando Blanco
Eh? There are no choices at all in puzzle number four.
José Fernando Blanco José Fernando Blanco 4/5/2016 07:39
@gmwdim I am with stephen brady.
gmwdim gmwdim 4/5/2016 03:38
@stephen brady Looks like you lost the bet, then. I saw the "tricks" immediately. I also figured out the multiple solutions to #4 depending on how you interpret the problem description. Pay up, bro.
José Fernando Blanco José Fernando Blanco 4/4/2016 11:07
And to solve the 4th you have to definitely rethink everything. True, Black's 4th move has at least a triple choice.
José Fernando Blanco José Fernando Blanco 4/4/2016 10:20
So number 3 is done. Very funny! but with a slight dual, if we are strict.
José Fernando Blanco José Fernando Blanco 4/4/2016 10:15
OK, now I see "la letra pequeña" as we say in Spanish. I have to start anew with numbers 3 and 4 :-) Mean Pal, Benko! hahahaha
José Fernando Blanco José Fernando Blanco 4/4/2016 10:10
I think I have solved all 4 problems, but something may be wrong with the last two, since they seem too easy. I have tried to apply some retrospective anlysis but nothing seems wrong with the positions. The black knights have had quite a meal, and at least one white knight has just been captured on b8or g8.
stephen brady stephen brady 4/4/2016 09:07
That's great, RJs. So I guess you saw that black was moving up the page for problems 3 and 4. Nice job.
DropkickIggy DropkickIggy 4/3/2016 12:48
I saw the 'tricks' immediately and I still think the fourth problem is weak: I get the stalemate after black's fifth move, but you can get the same ending in a many different ways... In fact, you can get the stalemate with all possible black's first move! So, right now, I'm kind confused and do not know what's going on...
Grey Hiker Grey Hiker 4/3/2016 05:04
I have solutions to all four problems, but I'm suspicious. First of all, it was way too easy (less than ten minutes total). Second, the "helpful hints" for problems 3 and 4 seem to make no sense at all. Third, my solutions for 3 and 4 are, let's say, "inelegant" [yes, that's vague: I'm not supposed to post "key observations"].

Looks like there are two possibilities:

(1) I'm missing something fundamental about problems 3 and 4 (could be: I have OTB and CC experience, but none with problems), or
(2) The "helpful hints" (and problems 3 and 4) are just April Fool's nonsense.
gmwdim gmwdim 4/3/2016 01:58
@stephen brady If there's an issue with #4 it's probably due to the wording of the problem. There are several ways to interpret the problem and I haven't found a solution to most of the possibilities.
stephen brady stephen brady 4/2/2016 09:19
It's fun seeing these comments about easily solving number 3 and number 4. Looks like you may not have seen the "tricks", as they stated.

@gmwdim, @hari2209, @RJS from your responses, I would bet you don't have the correct solutions yet :)
hari2209 hari2209 4/2/2016 11:47
the fourth positions answer is very easy
gmwdim gmwdim 4/1/2016 10:41
Okay, I think I solved the fourth problem.
gmwdim gmwdim 4/1/2016 10:12
As for the fourth problem, I found several solutions with a stalemate in 6 moves, but nothing in 5 moves so far. Still working on it...
gmwdim gmwdim 4/1/2016 09:57
I solved the first three. Once you get the solutions it's funny to look at how similar the starting positions in the first two problems are, yet the solutions are quite different. It's interesting to note why the solution from the first problem doesn't work for the second problem, and vice versa.

The third problem looked easy at first, using the same idea as the first problem. But then I realized why it doesn't work. However, the correct solution wasn't too hard to find after that.

The fourth problem has me stumped right now, it's more complicated.
DropkickIggy DropkickIggy 4/1/2016 07:35
I have to agree with Mel Griffin: too simple, and the last one with lots of variations ... Not in P. B. style!
hari2209 hari2209 4/1/2016 06:37
Benko sir those are easy problems
Petrosianic Petrosianic 4/1/2016 06:24
In the 70's, Benko played with a thing called the HelpNOTMate. A problem where the object was to avoid delivering checkmate for so long. It was kind of a limited concept. Probably not very many of them could be made. But it would be fun to see another one or two of those.
Mel Griffin Mel Griffin 4/1/2016 04:37
If GM Benko actually had a hand in this, it was helping out with a well crafted April Fool's joke. Let me guess all problems are "Black is winning". Well done gents. You reel them in every year.
Attack_the_king Attack_the_king 4/1/2016 03:58
All the sums are easy and I got them!!!
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 4/1/2016 01:33
Hmmm.... one could even create even stranger Fischer Random setups using Benkos tricks!
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 4/1/2016 01:16
Looks like cool helpmate problems - imagin with Fischer Random setups all posibilities in this for me new format of helpmates
Ed-mundo Ed-mundo 4/1/2016 12:43
The first is done!
Ed-mundo Ed-mundo 4/1/2016 12:35
"It is important that you do not post them (the solutions) or any key observations you make in our discussion section below – you may only announce that you have solved the problems. Please let other readers work out the tricks for themselves."
reefat_chess reefat_chess 4/1/2016 12:14
@pedrops: the article strongly advised readers not to post solutions in the comment section...also, pls recheck the second solution