Pal Benko (Hungarian: Benkő Pál; born July 14, 1928) is a chess grandmaster, author, and composer of endgame studies and chess problems.
Benko was born in Amiens, France, but was raised in Hungary. He was Hungarian champion by age 20. He emigrated to the United States in 1958, after defecting following the World Student Team Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1957. FIDE awarded him the Grandmaster title in 1958.
World title candidate
Benko's highest achievement was qualifying and competing in the Candidates Tournament—the tournament to decide the challenger for the World Championship—in 1959 and 1962. Both tournaments had eight of the world's top players. He finished eighth in 1959 and sixth in 1962.
Benko 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.
Benko finished in first place (or tied for first place) in eight U.S. Open Chess Championships, a record. His titles were: 1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1975. He won the 1964 Canadian Open Chess Championship.
Benko played some of his very best chess in team competition. He represented Hungary at the 1957 Student Olympiad in Reykjavík on board one, scoring 7½/12, and Hungary was fourth as a team. He had earlier played for the national Hungarian team at the Moscow 1956 Olympiad, on board three, scoring 10/15, and helping Hungary to team bronze. He moved to the United States, but it was not until 1962 that he appeared on the U.S. team. He would wind up on six teams in a row. At Varna 1962, Benko played board two, scored 8/12 for the silver medal on his board, and the USA finished fourth. At Tel Aviv 1964, he was again on board two, scored 9½/14, and the USA ended up sixth. At Havana 1966, Benko was on board three, scored 8/12, and the Americans won team silver. At Lugano 1968, he made 6/12 on board three, and the USA finished fourth. At Siegen 1970, Benko was on board four, scoring 8½/12, and the Americans again finished fourth. His last Olympiad was Skopje 1972, where he played on board three, made 9½/16, and the USA ended up ninth.
Benko defeated four players who held the World Champion title at some time. They are Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, and Vassily Smyslov. His score against Fischer was three wins, eight losses and seven draws.
Legacy and writings
Some chess openings he pioneered are named for him:
- The Benko Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5), which he popularised, and played with great success from the mid-1960s.
- Benko's Opening (1.g3), which he introduced at the 1962 Candidates Tournament, defeating Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal with it.
He wrote a book on the Benko Gambit for RHM Publishing in the early 1970s.
Benko is a noted authority on chess endgames. He had a column on endgames in Chess Life magazine, which is published by the United States Chess Federation, for decades: In the Arena (1972–81), Endgame Lab (1981–2013), and chess problem column Benko's Bafflers. In 2003 he revised the classic book Basic Chess Endings, by Reuben Fine. In addition to his success as a player, Benko is a composer of endgame studies and chess problems. He was awarded the title of International Master of Chess Composition by FIDE.
Benko was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1993.
- The Benko Gambit. 1974, RHM Press. ISBN 0-713-42912-7
- Chess Endgame Lessons. 1990. Revised 2nd Edition
- Winning with Chess Psychology by Pal Benko and Burt Hochberg. 1991. Random House Puzzles & Games ISBN 0-8129-1866-5
- Chess Endgame Lessons Volume 2. 1999.
- Basic Chess Endings by Reuben Fine, revised by Pal Benko. 2003. Random House Puzzles & Games ISBN 0-8129-3493-8
- Pal Benko: My Life, Games and Compositions by Pal Benko, Jeremy Silman, and John L. Watson. 2004. Siles Press. ISBN 1-890085-08-1
- Pal Benko's Endgame Laboratory. 2007. Ishi Press. ISBN 978-0-923891-88-6
- Pal Benko vs Viacheslav Ragozin, Budapest 1949, Budapest Gambit (A52), 1–0 Ragozin tries the Budapest Gambit in Budapest, but Hungarian Benko is well prepared.
- Laszlo Szabo vs Pal Benko, Hungarian Championship 1951, Sicilian Defence, Sozin–Fischer Variation (B88), 0–1 Szabo is a nine-time Hungarian champion, but the young Benko more than holds his own.
- Pal Benko vs Robert Fischer, Portoroz Interzonal 1958, King's Indian Defence, Saemisch Variation (E80), 1–0 The young Fischer would go on to qualify, but he suffers a drastic loss here.
- Pal Benko vs Fridrik Olafsson, Yugoslavia Candidates' tournament 1959, Sicilian Defence, Najdorf Variation (B99), 1–0 One of Benko's best games from this tournament.
- Pal Benko vs Robert Fischer, Buenos Aires 1960, King's Indian Defence, Fianchetto Variation (E62), 1–0 Fischer overextends and is punished badly.
- Pal Benko vs Samuel Reshevsky, New York match 1960, Grunfeld Defence (D76), 1–0 Benko lost the match, but he scores a nice win here.
- Pal Benko vs Robert Fischer, Curacao Candidates' tournament 1962, Benko's Opening (A00), 1–0 Benko introduces an original opening scheme (1.g3), and defeats Bobby Fischer.
- Pal Benko vs Mikhail Tal, Curacao Candidates' tournament 1962, Benko's Opening (A00), 1–0 Benko again utilizes his new plan to defeat Tal.
- Pal Benko vs Paul Keres, Curacao Candidates' tournament 1962, King's Indian Attack, Keres Variation (A07), 1–0 An extraordinarily painful loss for Keres, who had beaten Benko in the three previous cycles of the tournament; it costs him a chance to qualify for the world championship match.
- Milan Vukic vs Pal Benko, Sarajevo 1967, Benko Gambit (A58), 0–1 Benko plays the Benko Gambit for the first time.
- Igor Zaitsev vs Pal Benko, Solnak 1974, Benko Gambit (A57), 0–1 Zaitsev came prepared with his own variation, but Benko manages to win anyway.
- Pal Benko vs Yasser Seirawan, Lone Pine 1978, English Opening, Symmetrical Variation (A34), 1–0 Benko is spotting young Seirawan 32 years, but shows experience and craft certainly counting for something in chess.
- Benko Counter-Gambit, David Levy, (Batsford, 1978), p.11