The Hungarian/American grandmaster Pal Benko has died at the age of 91. Among his numerous distinguished achievements was his double qualification for the World Championship Candidates tournaments of 1959 and 1962, eight victories in the US Open, his invention of the Benko Gambit (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5) and his prowess as a subtle composer of endgame studies. Over the board, he defeated such eminent opponents as Tal, Fischer, Petrosian, Smyslov, Korchnoi, Keres and — as seen in this week’s game — Najdorf.
Benko-Najdorf: Piatigorsky Cup, Los Angeles 1963; King’s Indian Defence
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 d6 4 Nc3 g6 5 e4 Bg7 6 Be2 0-0 7 Nf3 e5 8 Bg5 h6 9 Bh4 g5 10 Bg3 Nh5 11 h4 An experiment that worked out well in this game, but the usual, and best, line is 11 Nd2 Nf412 0-0 Nxe2+ (else White will play Bg4) 13 Qxe2, with a very nice game. 11 … Nf4 Another possibility is 11 … g4 12 Nd2 Nxg3 13 fxg3 h5 14 0-0, when the weakness of the f5-square gives White good chances. 12 hxg5 hxg5 13 Bf1 Bg4 14 Qc2 Bxf3 15 gxf3 Nd7 (see diagram 1) Black’s idea is to bury White’s dark-squared bishop. Of course, taking on f4 via Bxf4 would be great for Black after … exf4, since Black’s bishop would then rule the board. 16 0-0-0 Re8 17 Bh3 This leaves Black with a difficult choice. He can either give up his good knight for the light-squared bishop, or let it become powerful on f5. 17 … Nxh3 18 Rxh3 Nf8 19 Rdh1 Ng6 20 Nd1 Rc8 Going into complete defensive mode. More active was 20 … Rb8. White’s plan is simply to occupy the hole on f5 and then penetrate with his rooks into Black’s kingside fortress. 21 Ne3 Rc7 22 Nf5 Rf8 This move is hard to understand, but in any case Black was running out of options. The only way to get rid of the dominating f5-knight was by 22 … Ne7, but that does not work because of 23 Nxg7 Kxg7 24 f4!, when White’s buried bishop comes strongly into play. (see diagram 2) 23 Qd1 Tempting was 23 Rh7, since 23 … f6 24 Rxg7+ Rxg7 25 Nh6+ Kh8 26 Nf7+ Kg8 27 Nxd8 wins. However, the line 23 … Bf6 24 Nh6+ Kxh7 25 Nxf7 + Kg7 26 Nxd8 Bxd8 simply was not enough. 23 … f6 24 f4 This allows White’s queen to penetrate to the kingside. 24 … exf4 25 Qh5 Ne5 26 Qh7+ Black resigns
Notes to this week’s game are based on those from Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions, by Pal Benko and Jeremy Silman (Siles Press). This is a massive tome that tells you everything you need to know about Benko. It is a real labour of love.