Throwback Thursday: Benko's First Columns

With the death last week of GM Pal Benko at age 91, it seems appropriate on this Thursday to take a look back his 46 years writing for Chess Life. Long known as a leading authority on problems and studies, Benko’s first and longest-running contribution to Chess Life was “Benko’s Bafflers,” a monthly set of composed problems (usually studies) for readers to solve. Answers were initially provided two months later, i.e., a January issue would have answers from the previous November. Later they were printed in the back matter of the same issue. Benko's first column from April 1967 is also available in pdf format: page 1 | page 2 “Benko’s Bafflers” ran from April 1967 through December 2013, when Benko chose to retire from his column. At the time of his retirement Benko was also writing his legendary “Endgame Laboratory,” which focused on the endgame in all of its facets. Benko collected twenty years of his columns in the two volumes of his Chess Endgame Lessons (1989, 1999), both of which remain highly sought after by chess book collectors. Benko’s “Endgame Lab” was published from January 1981 through December 2013. In his first column, shown here, Benko focused on a very common type of endgame – rook endings with four pawns for one side, and three for the other, with all the pawns on the same side of the board. You can also read this inaugural column in pdf format. Here are the games from the column in replayable format. Note that there is a correction to the Harandi-Vaganian game as it is presented in MegaBase. Benko’s version, with 44. … Ra4, is correct, as confirmed through reference to both the English and Russian language tournament books.

[Event "IFSB EU-OL prel-B bd1"]
[Site "corr"]
[Date "1935.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Gruenfeld, Ernst (GM)"]
[Black "Balogh, Janos"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D08"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/4kppp/8/2r5/4P3/4K1PP/3R1P2/8 w - - 0 40"]
[PlyCount "30"]
[EventDate "1935.??.??"]
[EventType "team (corr)"]

40. h4 ({The Megabase annotator gives} 40. Rd5 $1 {as it prevents ...h5,
at least initially. But Black can still draw this with} Rc3+ 41. Ke2 (41. Rd3
Rc2 42. h4 h5) 41... g6 42. Rd3 Rc4 43. Ke3 h5 {reaching the desired setup.})
40... Ke6 $1 41. Ra2 Rb5 42. Ra6+ Ke7 43. Kf4 h5 $1 44. f3 g6 45. Ra3 Kf6 46.
Ra6+ Ke7 47. e5 Rc5 48. Ra4 Ke6 49. g4 hxg4 50. fxg4 Rc6 $1 51. h5 gxh5 52.
gxh5 f6 53. exf6 {and now Benko extends the Megabase version, giving three
move moves:} Kxf6 54. Ra7 Rc4+ 1/2-1/2


[Event "Interzonal-11b"]
[Site "Rio de Janeiro"]
[Date "1979.09.23"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Harandi, Khosro"]
[Black "Vaganian, Rafael A"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C16"]
[WhiteElo "2410"]
[BlackElo "2570"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r7/6p1/5p2/4pk2/7p/5P2/4R1PP/6K1 b - - 0 44"]
[PlyCount "35"]

44... Ra4 ({MegaBase 2019 gives} 44... Ra1+ {, leading to the same final
position, but both the English and Russian language books on the event give 44.
... Ra4, as in Benko's column. Thanks to Ken Jones, Brian Thew, and Yakov
Zusmanovich for their help!}) 45. Kf2 g5 46. Rb2 g4 47. fxg4+ Kxg4 48. Rb6 Ra2+
49. Kg1 f5 50. Rg6+ Kf4 51. Rh6 Ke3 52. h3 e4 53. Rxh4 f4 54. Rh8 Ra1+ 55. Kh2
Kf2 56. Rf8 f3 57. h4 Rg1 58. gxf3 Rg2+ 59. Kh1 e3 60. Re8 Rg3 61. Kh2 Rxf3 0-1


[Event "Lone Pine op Louis D. Statham Masters"]
[Site "Lone Pine"]
[Date "1980.03.22"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Panno, Oscar"]
[Black "Reshevsky, Samuel Herman"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E12"]
[WhiteElo "2540"]
[BlackElo "2490"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "6k1/5p2/1R4p1/1p2P2p/5P1P/P5P1/4r3/6K1 b - - 0 35"]
[PlyCount "26"]

35... Rb2 36. a4 Rb3 37. Rxb5 Rxg3+ 38. Kf2 Rg4 39. Ke3 Rxh4 40. a5 Rh3+
41. Kd4 Rf3 42. Kc5 Rxf4 43. a6 Ra4 44. Kb6 h4 45. Ra5 Rb4+ 46. Kc7 Rc4+ 47.
Kd7 Rd4+ 48. Ke7 1-0

Benko took on the “Endgame Lab” series after a stint as the chief author of “In the Arena,” a monthly look at games from a tournament, often one Benko had played in. Dates for Benko’s authorship of this column are generally given as 1972-1981, but this is imprecise. Benko was already writing semi-regularly under this title in 1971, and a September 1970 entry called “Malaga Arena” is a definite precursor. For 46 years Pal Benko made Chess Life a better publication through his presence in its pages. His is a legacy that every chess writer would do well to emulate.