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GM Pal Benko Print E-mail
GM Pal Benko
Pal Benko's biography, co-written with IM Jeremy Silman (2004), won the triple crown of chess publishing. It was selected as the book of the year for Chess Journalists of America, the British Chess Federation, and in a contest sponsored by chesscafe.com.
Benko is full of passion for chess. At tournaments he sets up one beautiful composition after another for enthralled chess friends and students, many of who are estranged from the world of chess composition. "I wish Benko was here, said a bored Grandmaster at one tournament, so that he could show us some chess magic!" His joie de vivre extends to other areas. Pal Benko, a confident ladies' man with many admirers, impressed even the young Fischer, who once declared, "I want to be a playboy like Benko one day!"

Benko has a harrowing life story. He had an idyllic childhood until the age of 12, when World War II turned his world upside down. Pal eloquently describes the horrors of living in Hungary during the war, in his award winning autobiography, co-written with IM Jeremy Silman. Tired of digging ditches for the Hungarian army, he fled only to be caught by the Russian army, who turned him into a laborer. When he finally escaped to his home, he learned that his brother and father had both been shipped to Russia as slave laborers. He had little food, and was constantly in danger of being abducted by omnipresent Russian soldiers. Inflation was so terrible that Benko was thrilled to find that the prizes for the 1946 Hungarian chess championship were food instead of money.

But the worst was still to come. Benko, on a tournament in East Berlin attempted to defect to the West via the American embassy in West Berlin. He was caught, questioned, and spent one and a half years in a concentration camp. He lost 20 pounds, saw many of his fellow prisoners starve to death, and wondered whether life in hell was worth living. Luckily, when Stalin died, Hungarian President Nagy gave amnesty to most prisoners, including Benko.

After this experience he was determined to escape to the West. In 1958, he played in a chess tournament in Rejkjavik. He waltzed right into the American embassy in Iceland, asked for and received a visa.

The hardships he endured have helped him to appreciate small pleasures of life, "everything had a wonderful glow to it, the food tasted like nectar and women seemed so beautiful that I had to date as many as possible."

He later became known in America as the "King of Opens"- he won eight U.S. Opens! He gave up his spot in the 1970 Interzonal World Championship qualifier to Bobby Fischer. He knew that Bobby would have a much better chance than he did to earn the ultimate crown. Bobby did go onto win the world championship and Benko's gift is seen as one of the biggest ever to American chess.

Benko started to analyse and play this gambit to avoid the main lines of opening theory. He was so successful with it that the number of Benko practitioners grew, along with its theory. "I had created a monster," he said. "I found it necessary to turn to other openings in the mid-seventies."

Benko composed this mate in three Letter Problem (a type of chess composition in which the pieces form a letter, in this case "M") for World Champion Max Euwe's birthday party. The position was frosted onto a cake with chocolate chess pieces.

GM Pal Benko

Rating: 2525
Birthdate: 7-15-1928
Birthplace: Budapest
Residence: New York/Budapest

1948 Hungarian Champion
1969+1970-Malaga Open champ
8 time U.S. Open Champion
World Championship contender
Winner of numerous first prizes
in chess composition competitions
Inducted into U.S Chess Hall of Fame:1993