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, 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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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 10/31/2020 07:44
Indeed an instructive point!
bounce bounce 10/31/2020 06:54
Near the end there is a nice line.

62...Rg7! 63.h6 Rh7 64.Ke7 Kd5 65.Kf8

At first I thought that White wins after 65...Ke5? 66.Kg8! But 65...Ke4! 66.Kg8 Rxh6 gains a tempo for Black and is the difference between a draw and a loss. Somehow I think 65...Ke4 is hard to see.
zoranp zoranp 10/30/2020 05:18
No one blame great Vassil Vasilevich Smyslov! The article is absolutely affirmative and his book is called "The Bible" for Rook endgames. He was, and for ever he will be one of greatest chess players. However, chess changes, and we should see what new we can find in old games. On this way chess improves. In this analyze we have learned a lot about defensive resources in Rook endgames. Only on this way we can find new ideas in chess. That is our goal.
Yasser Seirawan Yasser Seirawan 10/30/2020 04:14
Absolutely fascinating! Thank you! Yasser
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 10/30/2020 02:37
On the one hand it is indeed a bit unfair to compare the modern computer analysis with Smyslov's work. On the other hand it is interesting to see at which points he underestimated the defensive ressources...
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 10/30/2020 02:10
Maybe Smyslov would have figured this out too if he'd had endgame tablebases and the latest computer programs and a few decades to analyze it.
zoranp zoranp 10/29/2020 01:41
Also, in such analyzes we are searching the truth, we aren't interested was this possible from practical point of view.
zoranp zoranp 10/29/2020 01:37
MauvaisFou, I agree with you that it is practically hard to defend such positions. However, stronger side, Smyslov made few important mistakes as well. It means, that it is hard for both sides. It means that Benko had practical chances as well.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 10/29/2020 12:54
So theoretically draw, but practically extremely difficult to defend, i.e., humanly losing.
Smyslov is right to say that it is winning, in practice
Gerald C Gerald C 10/29/2020 12:28
What an analysis !