Grandmaster Benko Revisits Waterloo

In this article we’ll look at a famous problem that inspired me. The problem is connected to the history of Bonaparte Napoleon (1769-1821). I thought it was a perfect time to revise and expand the theme, since 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the remarkable Waterloo battle.

This well- known piece was created by Alexander D. Petrov (1794-1867), the best Russian player, theoretician (Petrov Defense), chess writer and composer of his time.

The position is rather chaotic and doesn’t immediately seem to fit the historical story either. The French army (black) should surround the Russian leadership at St.Petersburg. There are also extraneous pieces. For instance, the e3B the f4R and the g4 pawn do not have any role. There are also multiple mates, for instance either 5.Na3+ or 5.Nbc3+ are good. Or at the end 14.Kg2 or Kg3 both mate. And yet, these are all forgivable mistakes.

But there is a shorter solution (cook) 6.Qa8 mate, a deadly sin that ruins the value of the problem. Even so, this work has historical value. The role of Cossach Hussards chasing out Napoleon from Russia is witty and original.

I was inspired by the compelling theme to create my own version. There are more historical references in my improvement, so let me give a refresher. There are 18 pieces on the board to symbolize that we are at the beginning of the 1800s. Napoleon deployed a huge number of troops, only half French.

The Russian Chief Commander Kutuzov  avoided the final clash and even evacuated Moscow but his army did not resign. Faced with cold and hunger, it was a difficult task to keep such a big army together. There was no hope for supplies and they had to retreat. It turned to be a desperate escape and  just a fraction of the “Grand Armada” got home. It all happened in 1812, a date I refer to on move 12, when the black knights can no longer jump. 


Pal Benko, 2015

                        Mate in 15

This strange defeat encouraged France’s enemies. The decisive battle took place near Leipzig against the 6th Alliance (Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Swedish army). The overwhelming majority of the Alliance finally succeed and they marched into Paris. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. The “Battle of Nations” at Leipzig (more than one million soldiers took part in it) in 1813 is shown in the problem by the side-track of 10…Ke6 with the mate coming in move 13 (13.Nd7 mate).

While the winners were negotiating future power arrangements in Europe, Napoleon returned secretly and took back ruling France without resistance. The 7th Alliance had to be created against him and the final battle took place in Belgium at Waterloo. Napoleon made hasty efforts to in preventing the allied enemy forces to be united.

This time the English helped the 7th Allies not only financially but with troops led by Duke of Wellington. They put up a strong resistance until the relief troops of the Prussian army arrived led by G. L. von Blücher. So shortly in 1815 Napoleon had to put arms down. This is represented by the mate in move 15.  Napoleon was this time exiled to as far St. Helena Islands.

Pal Benko, 2015

                       Mate in 15

The solution of the third problem is principally the same as for the second one, but it has been enriched by a switch-back of 1.Kh2+ and 15.Kg1 mate. The army of the Tsar is ready for counter-attack while the army of Napoleon is scattered on the way of retreat. The historical numbers of 12 and 15 appear here too. At the end there are 21 pieces left on the board referring the death of Napoleon in 1821.

Napoleon, in his exile passed most of his time dictating his memoirs and playing chess. His early death raised suspicions since a great deal of arsenic was found in his organism. The cause of his death was given as cancer of stomach. In such an illness patients usually lose weight but he put on weight. There are a lot of mysteries in history because there are as many contradictions as there are sources.

Look for more from GM Pal Benko over the holiday season, and see his latest for US Chess, a birthday tribute to STL Chess Club founder Rex Sinquefield here. 




  1. Dear: Pal Benko

    I am sorry, if this is the wrong time and place to send this comment. I don’t have your email address so, I thought this game might interest you. My name is Gerald Aspler, and I played you at the Canadian Open Chess Championship in 1971. Ironically, I just played (as a floater) in the Canadian Senior’s Chess Championship in the Vancouver area, this last weekend. I played the black side of your Benko Gambit against NM Roger Patterson, which ended in a draw. Interestly, it was very similar to the variation I played against you up to a point. Please contact me, if you have the time or interest in this particular game. I have been playing the black side of the Benko, since we played in 1971, and have never lost. Chess has been one of my hobbies, along with playing drums, and although I have never really studied chess seriously, I managed to play at the NCM Level. Here are the moves White: Roger Patterson Black: Gerald Aspler

    1. d4 Nf6
    2. c4 c5
    3. d5 b5
    4. c x b a6
    5. b x a B x a3
    6. Nc3 d6
    7. Nf3 N(b)d7
    8. g3 g6
    9. Bg2 Bg7
    10. o-o o-o
    11. Re1 Ng4
    12. Bf4 Qb6
    13. Qd2 R(f)b8
    14. R(a)b1 N(g)e5
    15. Nxe5 Nxe5
    16. Bxe5 Bxe5
    17. f4 Bg7
    18. e4 Bd4 check
    19. Kh1 f6
    20. h4 Bc8
    21. Qc2 Bg4
    22. Kh2 Qa5
    23. R(e)c1 Bxc3
    24. bxc3 Rxb1
    25. Rxb1 Qxa2
    26. Rb2 Qa1

    Draw agreed

    I realize that I could just put this in a search engine, but it doesn’t have the nuance of your positional brilliance. I am particularly interested if B x e5, for white has any merit.


    Gerald Aspler

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