Solution of the Endgame Riddle Smyslov vs Benko

by Karsten Müller
10/29/2020 – About a week ago, Karsten Müller invited readers to analyze a fascinating rook endgame that occurred in a game between Vassily Smyslov and Pal Benkö from 1975. Smyslov was an endgame specialist but he still failed to grasp the hidden depths of this tricky endgame. But after taking more than one close look and with the help of the ChessBase readers, Karsten Müller and Zoran Petronijevic are now closer to the truth. | 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 solved!

The rook endgame was really tricky to defend and both sides made a number of mistakes. However, the analyses indicate that the initial position was a draw.


Zoran Petronijevic sums up his findings:

  • 1. Smyslov and Mikhalchishin think that the initial position is won for White but our analyses indicate that it is a draw.
  • 2. The easiest way for Black to make a draw is probably 42...Rc6, which defendson the 6th rank.
  • 3. The game move 44.Rh1!? is an interesting attempt to play for win.
  • 4. 44...g5 is a mistake after which Black is lost. 44...Rg8! draws. In this line 50...g4 is an important resource that was found by Charles Sullivan. Without 50...g4, Black is lost.
  • 5. 46.Ra1 is a mistake, which gives the win away. But the strong 46.Re4 should lead to a win.
  • 6. 46...Kc7 is an instructive mistake that loses. At first, I thought that the prophylactic move 46...Rb8 would lose as well. However, with the help of  Alberto Oggero, Charles Sullivan, and last but not least, Karsten Mueller, we now know that this move leads to draw. In this fascinating line readers can find a lot of astonishing ideas for Black.
  • 7. 48.b5 is a mistake after which the position is even again.
  • 8. 50...Rb6 is very strong – Black defends on the 6th rank.
  • 9. 51...Kc8 leads to a draw but makes things more difficult for Black. Easier was 51...Kd8.
  • 10. 55... Kb7 is a mistake, after which Black is lost. After 55...Kc8! Black can draw.
  • 11. After the careless 62.Rf6 the position is again drawn.
  • 10. 62...Re4 was the last mistake in this very interesting and instructive game. After this move Black is finally lost.

Thanks to the help of a lot of endgame lovers (Charles Sullivan, Alberto Oggero, Karsten Müller, and a lot of other analysts who suggested interesting lines in the ChessBase comment section), we are now closer to the truth. I don't want to say that we know the truth, but we are closer to it.



Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.


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