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Pal Benko (Hungarian: Benkő Pál; born July 15, 1928) is a Hungarian–American chess grandmaster, author, and composer of endgame studies and chess problems.

Pal Benko
Interfide schaaktoernooi in GAK gebouw, Pal Benko (VS), Bestanddeelnr 916-4586.jpg
Pal Benko in 1964
Full namePál Benkő
  • Hungary (until 1958)
  • United States (since 1958)
Born (1928-07-15) July 15, 1928 (age 90)
Amiens, France
TitleGrandmaster (1958)
FIDE rating2408 (June 2019)
Peak rating2530 (July 1973)


Early lifeEdit

Benko was born in Amiens, France, but was raised in Hungary. He dug ditches for the Hungarian army before being captured by the Russian army, which forced him to be a laborer. He eventually escaped to his home, only to find that his brother and father had been sent to Russia as slaves. During a chess tournament in East Berlin, Benko tried to defect to the American embassy in West Berlin, but he was captured and sent to a concentration camp for a year and a half. He starved and saw others around him die.[1] He became Hungarian champion by age 20. He emigrated to the United States in 1958 after defecting following the World Student Team Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1957. FIDE awarded him the Grandmaster title in 1958.

World title candidateEdit

Benko's highest achievement was qualifying and competing in the Candidates Tournament—the tournament to decide the challenger for the World Championship—in 1959 and 1962. Both tournaments had eight of the world's top players. He finished eighth in 1959 and sixth in 1962. Benko qualified for the 1970 Interzonal tournament, the leaders of which advance to the Candidates. He gave up his spot in the Interzonal to Bobby Fischer, however, who went on to win the World Championship in 1972.

Other achievementsEdit

Benko finished in first place (or tied for first place) in eight U.S. Open Chess Championships, a record. His titles were: 1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1975. He won the 1964 Canadian Open Chess Championship. He represented Hungary at the 1957 Student Olympiad in Reykjavík on board one, scoring 7½/12, and Hungary was fourth as a team. He had earlier played for the national Hungarian team at the Moscow 1956 Olympiad, on board three, scoring 10/15, and helping Hungary to team bronze. He moved to the United States, but it was not until 1962 that he appeared on the U.S. team. He would wind up on six teams in a row. At Varna 1962, Benko played board two, scored 8/12 for the silver medal on his board, and the USA finished fourth. At Tel Aviv 1964, he was again on board two, scored 9½/14, and the USA ended up sixth. At Havana 1966, Benko was on board three, scored 8/12, and the Americans won team silver. At Lugano 1968, he made 6/12 on board three, and the USA finished fourth. At Siegen 1970, Benko was on board four, scoring 8½/12, and the Americans again finished fourth. His last Olympiad was Skopje 1972, where he played on board three, made 9½/16, and the USA ended up ninth.[2]

Benko defeated four players who held the World Champion title at some time. They are Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, and Vassily Smyslov. His score against Fischer was three wins, eight losses and seven draws.

Legacy and writingsEdit

Benko with the Benko Gambit position in 2005

Some chess openings he pioneered are named for him:

He wrote a book on the Benko Gambit for RHM Publishing in the early 1970s.

Benko had a column on chess endgames in Chess Life magazine, which is published by the United States Chess Federation, for decades: In the Arena (1972–81), Endgame Lab (1981–2013), and chess problem column Benko's Bafflers. In 2003 he revised the book Basic Chess Endings, by Reuben Fine. He was awarded the title of International Master of Chess Composition by FIDE. Benko was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1993.


  • The Benko Gambit. 1974, RHM Press. ISBN 0-713-42912-7
  • Chess Endgame Lessons. 1990. Revised 2nd Edition
  • Winning with Chess Psychology by Pal Benko and Burt Hochberg. 1991. Random House Puzzles & Games ISBN 0-8129-1866-5
  • Chess Endgame Lessons Volume 2. 1999.
  • Basic Chess Endings by Reuben Fine, revised by Pal Benko. 2003. Random House Puzzles & Games ISBN 0-8129-3493-8
  • Pal Benko: My Life, Games and Compositions by Pal Benko, Jeremy Silman, and John L. Watson. 2004. Siles Press. ISBN 1-890085-08-1
  • Pal Benko's Endgame Laboratory. 2007. Ishi Press. ISBN 978-0-923891-88-6

Notable gamesEdit


  1. ^ Benko, Pal. Silman, Jeremy. Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions. Siles Press. ISBN 978-1890085087(2004)
  2. ^ Source:
  3. ^ Benko Counter-Gambit, David Levy, (Batsford, 1978), p.11

Further readingEdit

  • Benko's Ultimate Truth, by Diana Mihajlova, Chess Life, Oct. 2013, pp. 36–40.

External linksEdit