Pal Benko Dies at Age 91

The last two or three times I had visited, I had brought with me an autographed copy of Grandmaster Pal Benko’s endgame book, a volume that Benko had published himself and which he had asked me to give Kasparov. I believe there were a hundred copies or so in this new edition. Each time I came, I forgot to give it to Garry, or his mood was so bad that I thought that he wouldn’t notice it. …

When Garry came back in the room to sit among the boxes, I handed him Benko’s self-published book, half-expecting him to drop it at his feet. But instead, he started reading. “This is very important,” he said, as he slowly turned a page. Garry’s face softened. He moved his lips and smiled as he calculated a witty move. For the next hour or so, he lost himself in Benko’s book, which contained interesting and instructive endings culled from numerous games, along with Benko’s sharp analysis. Garry was enjoying chess for the first time since the start of the match.

— Fred Waitzkin (Mortal Games: The Turbulent Genius of Garry Kasparov, Putnam, 1993.)

We have received reports that GM and longtime Chess Life columnist Pal Benko has died at age 91.

Benko’s contributions to chess are many and varied. He was a pioneer in the openings, a leading authority in the endgame, a world-renowned problematist, and a friend and trainer to many, including Bobby Fischer and the Polgar sisters.

One of Benko’s final articles for Chess Life, published in August 2018, just won an award for “Special Achievement” from the Chess Journalists of America.

To see Benko’s CLO articles, go to:

CLO will have a longer appreciation of this giant of the chess world in the coming days. Our condolences to all of his family, friends, and admirers.


  1. Condolence to the family of GM Pal Benko, we lost another pillar/icon of the chess world !!! I met GM benko in Asia long time ago, we play several friendly games specially blitz!!! Analyse his own invention ” The Benko Gambit ” against the Queen’s pawn opening !!! Honestly speaking I have never lost with the Benko Gambit !!! RIP GM Benko Gambit !!!

  2. His best move ever- he vacated his spot in the 1972 World Championship cycle so that Bobby could play. Given their competitive history, and that this decision cost Benko a chance at competing in the Candidate’s matches, this could not have been an easy decision!

  3. I first met Pal Benko in 2002 in Danny Kopecs chess camp and second time we had a great dinner in NY with Dr.Brady(2008). Amazing person , Rip Mr.Benko, you will be missed!!

  4. I do play the Benko. I am saddened this day. One of the most interesting facts I can think of right off was his relationship with Bobby Fischer. Pal introduced Bobby to his tailor back in the day. It was the beginning of Bobby beginning to dress to impress. I was hoping to meet Pal Benko…

  5. I’m very sorry to hear of Mr. Benko’s passing. Didn’t have the pleasure of meeting the man but I feel like I knew him…through his games. My most sincere condolences to his family and friends. The chess world will miss you very dearly…R.I.P. Mr. Benko.

  6. While in university, I used to wait for the arrival of the monthly issue of Chess Life magazine at the library. Enjoyed immensely Benko’s Bafflers and Endgame Lab among other regular columns. My condolence to his family.
    Rest in Peace GM Pal Benko

  7. Pal Benko dominated U.S. Opens in the 1960s, winning at San Francisco in 1961, Boston in 1964, co-champ in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico in 1965, co-champ in Seattle in 1966, clear winner at Atlanta in 1967, and co-champ at Lincoln, Nebraska in 1969. He also notched a couple of co-championship victories in the mid-1970s: New York 1974 and Lincoln, Nebraska 1975. He was one hell of a player. I anticipate a great story (actually stories) about his life and career in a future “Chess Life.”

    • A “Tribute to GM Pal Benko: 8-Time U.S. Open Champion” will be presented on the popular TV series “Chess Chat,” produced by members of the Wachusett Chess Club at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. The program will be aired on Monday, October 7th, at 7 p.m. on Fitchburg Access Television (FATV) and can be viewed via LIVE STREAMING at at that time. The show will be also be available on video on demand on the TV station’s website. Hosts George Mirijanian and Dave Couture of the Wachusett CC will talk about Benko’s life and career and will present one of his games early in his career in Budapest, Hungary, where he sacrificed his queen and mated his opponent.

  8. I just learned of Pal Benko’s death. There are few GMs from his chess era now left. I had an opportunity to interact with him from time to time over many years while I was still living in the NY area and saw him at various tournaments. I particularly remember him as a GM instructor at one of the many Danny Kopec summer chess camps I attended ( it must have been the 2002 camp at Lawrenceville, NJ school in 2002 that Fedor Khrapatin mentions above. ) I always enjoyed reading his endgame columns and admired his endgame study expertise. He was a great and interesting chess personality. May he rest in peace.

  9. I did not meet Mr. Benko personally, but as a teenager, I submitted problems to his “Benko’s Baffler’s column”, and some were published. One or two were used as bad examples — “this problem could be improved by putting a knight here instead of this pawn there” — a unique feature of Benko’s handling of submitted material. His columns were always instructive and enjoyable.

  10. The first time i heard about Mr. Benkö, was when he gave his Interzonal Place to Bobby Fischer in 1971 (?). RIP Pal Benkö!

  11. I am very saddened to learn of Pal Benko’s passing. I followed his games as a boy, and was always a fan of the Benko Gambit. As one other individual mentioned, he was one of a very few Grandmasters left from his day. He contributed greatly to the sport of chess, and I for one will miss him. May he rest in peace.

  12. In his career he won games vs

    Among others. He was a terrific writer. RIP Pal.

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