Pal Benko: Secrets of Study Composition (1)

by GM Pál Benkö
12/17/2013 – 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.

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Secrets of Study Composition

By GM Pal Benko

For a long time I have been asked from where I take the ideas for my studies. Now I intend to give some examples that show how those ideas may come either from games or from other studies mainly, which those that needed improvement or to be enriched. Nowadays it is getting difficult to find completely original ideas taken of one’s own mind. The computer has opened new fields for composing, but in some ways we lose the human creativity by that, specially with the miniatures. But those are not of my cup of tea.

Pal Benko in Budapest last July, when he turned 85

My first serious study

It came about fifty years ago in connection with an adjourned game of my own.

[Event "Belgrade"] [Site "?"] [Date "1964.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Benko, P."] [Black "Matanovic, A."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/4bk2/7p/5p1P/2r2B2/4RK2 w - - 0 57"] [PlyCount "19"] [EventDate "2013.09.23"] {Here I sealed my move.} 57. Rxe5+ $6 {A hasty sacrifice.} ({The main threat was} 57. -- Bg3) ({but not} 57. -- Rxf2+ $2 {since after} 58. Kxf2 Bg3+ 59. Kxf3 $1 Bxe1 60. Kg2 {Kg2 the position is drawn. I knew that without the h3/h4 pair of pawns it would be drawn, as E. del Rio had proved it as early as in 1750. I acted according to that but too early.}) ({Objectively} 57. Bxh4 Bd4 58. Rd1 {could have put up the right defense. Computers proved a win after 40 more moves, because the white bishop can never get back to the vital a7-g1 diagonal.}) 57... Kxe5 58. Bxh4 Kf4 59. Bf6 Rd2 $1 ({In case of} 59... f2 $2 60. Kg2 $1 Ke3 61. Bh4 Rb2 62. Bg3 f1=Q+ 63. Kxf1 Kf3 64. Be1 Rb1 65. h4 $11 { would still draw.}) 60. Bc3 Rd5 $2 ({The shortest win here was} 60... Re2) 61. Kf2 $1 {The only draw, and thereafter White does not leave out any more chances.} Ke4 62. Bb4 $1 Rb5 63. Bd6 Rh5 64. Bc7 Rh6 65. Bb8 $1 Ra6 66. Bc7 { Draw agreed.} 1/2-1/2

That time we could use just our own minds of course. During analyzing the adjourned position I was thinking about what would happen if Black succeeds in advancing his pawn to f2. I found a problem-like saving method.

[Event "1st prize Magyar Sakkvilag"] [Site "?"] [Date "1964.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Benko, P."] [Black "?"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/8/7k/8/r4p1B/5K2 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "14"] [EventDate "2013.09.23"] 1. Bd6 $1 Kh3 ({If} 1... Kg4 2. Kg2) ({or} 1... Ra6 2. Bc7 $1 Rf6 (2... Ra7 3. Bb6 $1) 3. Bd8 $11 {Black can win only if his rook can get behind his pawn.}) 2. Bc7 $1 {mutual zugzwang} Rb2 3. Bd6 $1 Rc2 ({In case of} 3... Rb6 4. Bc5 { - and this repeated motif assures the draw}) 4. Be5 $1 Rd2 5. Bf4 $1 Re2 $5 6. Bb8 $3 {Holds on the opportunity for moving always to the adequate square.} ({ Not} 6. Bc7 $2 {since} Ra2 {would win.}) 6... Re8 ({Now} 6... Ra2 {can be answered by} 7. Bc7 $1) 7. Bg3 $3 ({But not} 7. Ba7 $2 {which would lose after} Kg3 $1 8. Bxf2+ Kf3) 7... Kxg3 {stalemate} 1/2-1/2

The profundity and special logic of this endgame moved me a lot towards starting to compose studies besides problems.

Analysing with WGM Alina Kašlinskaja and GM Wolfgang Uhlmann at the
recent Snowdrops vs Old Hands tournament in Podebrady (Czech Republic)

Let’s now turn to a game with a thematic end of deadly pins.

[Event "Hungarian Ch."] [Site "?"] [Date "1950.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Szabo, L."] [Black "Benko, P."] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1b3rk1/1q3p1p/p3rBp1/5RQ1/8/2P5/P5PP/5R1K b - - 0 28"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2013.09.23"] {The attack of White is illusory. Black comes first.} 28... Qc7 $1 29. g3 ({In case of} 29. Qh6 Qxh2+ $19) ({while after} 29. R5f4 Qxf4 $1 {wins.}) 29... Qc6+ 30. R5f3 ({After} 30. R1f3 $2 Be5 $1 31. Kg1 (31. Bxe5 Rxe5 32. Rxe5 Qxf3+ 33. Kg1 f6) 31... h6 {wins.}) 30... Re1 $1 {A horizontal pin.} 31. Rxe1 Qxf3+ 32. Kg1 Ba7+ 33. Bd4 Qxc3 $1 {A diagonal pin. White resigned.} 0-1

Naturally we can take ideas from studies that have already been published. Let us see how one theme of a study developed. The following one seen in A. Cheron’s text book raised my interest.

[Event "After King and Horowitz"] [Site "?"] [Date "1926.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Rinck, H."] [Black "White to play and win"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1k3q2/8/8/2p4Q/8/2K4R/5r2 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "14"] [EventDate "2013.09.23"] 1. Qe4+ Ka6 2. Rh6+ Rf6 3. Qf5 $1 {wins ?! Cheron claimed it is a draw after} Rxh6 4. Qxf7 Rc6 5. Kc3 Kb6 6. Qe8 Kb7 7. Kb4 $2 ({But later computers showed that after} 7. Qe4 $1 {mates in 34 moves. The computer version (giving the estimated best moves only) starts with} Kb6 8. Qd5 Rc5 9. Qd6+ Rc6 10. Qb4+ Ka6 11. Qb8 Ka5 12. Qb7 {etc. Therefore Rinck's study is correct.}) (7. Qe4 Kb6 8. Qd5 Rc5 9. Qd6+ Rc6 10. Qb4+ Ka6 11. Qb8 Ka5 12. Qb7 {etc.}) 7... c3 $11 1-0

With material like this it is really hard to get at the truth. Therefore I expanded the study by eliminating the pawn and so the doubt.

[Event " StrateGems"] [Site "?"] [Date "1999.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Benko, P."] [Black "White to play and win"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Benko,Pal"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/5q2/8/k7/3K3R/8/1Q3r2/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2013.09.23"] 1. Qa1+ Kb6 (1... Qa2 2. Qc3+ {leads to mate}) (1... Ra2 2. Qc3+ $18 {also mates in some moves}) 2. Qb1+ Ka5 ({In case of} 2... Kc6 3. Rh6+ Rf6 4. Qe4+ Kb6 5. Qf5 $1 {wins}) ({while after} 2... Ka6 3. Rh6+ Rf6 4. Qf1+ $1 {wins.}) 3. Qe1+ Kb6 4. Rh6+ Rf6 {There is a new motif for taking advantage of the discovered check:} 5. Qf2 $1 Qd7+ 6. Kc3+ 1-0

If we use the same motif a number of times during the course of a study it becomes thematic.

The comment of a critic hurt me, stating that it is a computer work. I had no computer that time, and anyhow six men computer endgame database also did not exist then.

Giving a simultaneous exhibition at the Snowdrops vs Old Hands tournament two weeks ago

Continued in Part 2

Some earlier ChessBase articles on Pal Benko

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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