Pal Benko's birthday problems

by GM Pál Benkö
7/18/2015 – 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!

ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2021 ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2021

Your key to fresh ideas, precise analyses and targeted training!
Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Birthday problems for the family

By Pal Benkö

For my birthday I made the novelty number problems shown below. They are for my family, who are all mathematicians and avid chess players. But I want to share them with chess and problem lovers all over the world. The shape of the problems and the numbers of moves indicate are significant, pointing to certain years, as I will explain for each problem.

I share the first problem, an eight-mover shaped like a seven, with my wife Gisela.
I turned 87, while she is 78, which is my age in reverse order.

Mate in eight moves

Click for the solution

1.N5f4 h5 [1...Kg3 2.Be4 (2.Be4 Kg4 3.Kg6 Kg3 4.Kh5 Kh2 5.Kxh4 h5 6.Ng2 Kh1 7.Ne3+ Kh2 8.Nf1#) 2...Kg4 3.Kg6 h5 4.Ne2 Kxh3 5.Kxh5 Kh2 6.Kg4 h3 7.Kf3 Kh1 8.Kg3#] 2.Kg5 Kh1 3.Bxh5 Kh2 4.Kxh4 Kh1 5.Bf3+ Kh2 6.Ng2 Kh1 7.Ne3+ Kh2 8.Ng4#.

The second problem, a four-mover shaped like a four, is for my son David, who is 44 years old.

Mate in four moves

Click for the solution

1.Bd6 e4 2.Rf4+ Kxg5 3.Be7+ Kh5 4.Rh4#.

The third is for my daughter Palma, who is 45 years old.

Mate in five moves

Click for the solution

1.Kf3 e4+ 2.Rxe4 Kxg5 3.Kg3 Kh5 4.Rxe6 Kg5 [4...g5 5.Rh6#] 5.Re5#.

This one is for my son-in-law Jimmy, who is 51

Mate in one move (careful: think for a moment!)

Click for the solution

Black has no previous move, so 1.Ra4# is not legal. It must be Black to move and the correct solution is: 1...axb5 2.Rxa7#.

This is for my grandson Adam, who is twelve.

Mate in two moves

Click for the solution

1.Qb5 fxe4 [1...Kxe4 2.Qc4#; 1...Kg4 2.Qxf5#] 2.Qg5#.

This is for all my grandsons, in order for them to learn to win with two knights.

Mate in twelve moves

Click for the solution

1.Kb5 Kb8 2.Ka6 c6 3.Ne6 Kc8 4.Nbc5 Kb8 5.Ka5! Ka7 [5...Ka8 6.Kb6 Kb8 7.Ng5 Kc8 8.Nf7 Kb8 9.Nd6 Ka8 10.Na6 c5 11.Nb5 c4 12.Nbc7#] 6.Ne4 Kb7 [6...c5 7.Nd6 c4 8.Nd8 c3 9.Nc6+ Ka8 10.Kb6 c2 11.Nb5 c1Q 12.Nc7#] 7.Nd6+ Ka7 8.Nc5 Ka8 9.Kb6 Kb8 10.Na6+ Ka8 11.Ne8 c5 12.Nec7#.

This is for my birthday, July 15 or 7.15, but also to practice how to mate with bishop and knight.

Mate in fifteen moves

Click for the solution

With a light-squared bishop it is only possible to mate in the left corner, which Black will try to avoid. 1.Ba6 Ke8 2.Ke5 Kf7 3.Kf5 Kf8 4.Kg6 Ke8 5.Kf6 d6 6.Bb5+ Kd8 7.Kf7 Kc8 8.Ke7 Kb8 9.Ba6 Ka7 10.Bc8 Kb8 11.Kd7 Ka8 12.Kc7 Ka7 13.Nb4 d5 14.Nc6+ Ka8 15.Bb7#. As a chess problem this one is full of duals – White has a number of alternative paths to mate.

And a final letter problem: all my family's names start with a "B"

Mate in three moves

Click for the solution

1.N5f4 h5 [1...Kg3 2.Be4 (2.Be4 Kg4 3.Kg6 Kg3 4.Kh5 Kh2 5.Kxh4 h5 6.Ng2 Kh1 7.Ne3+ Kh2 8.Nf1#) 2...Kg4 3.Kg6 h5 4.Ne2 Kxh3 5.Kxh5 Kh2 6.Kg4 h3 7.Kf3 Kh1 8.Kg3#] 2.Kg5 Kh1 3.Bxh5 Kh2 4.Kxh4 Kh1 5.Bf3+ Kh2 6.Ng2 Kh1 7.Ne3+ Kh2 8.Ng4#.

Replay all problems

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board

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

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.

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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

BKnight2003 BKnight2003 7/19/2015 09:49
I strongly disagree! Pal Benko will be best remembered by the Benko Gambit!
Ramvakh Ramvakh 7/19/2015 11:19
sorry sir very sorry but our good friend Benko is best remembered for that famous game with fischer where fischer sacs his king rook on f6 to effect a nice mate with queen and bishop
ivan3ivanovich ivan3ivanovich 7/18/2015 10:00

What you're missing is that black could have played bxa6 followed by Rb7 and then you have the starting position.
MaxDev MaxDev 7/17/2015 01:24
Happy birthday Pál!
Nice problems, but I have one concern... unless I am not seeing something obvious, Jimmy's problem is technically illegal, since Black does not appear to have a possible last move to reach the given position.
Rational Rational 7/14/2015 09:18
The Autobiography of Benko above is an excellent book.
jhoravi jhoravi 7/14/2015 04:54
Hawig ni "Chavit Singson" yung isang pic hehe.