Pal Benko
by Bill Wall

Pal Charles Benko was born at Amiens in northern France on July 15, 1928 when his Hungarian parents were traveling on vacation. He grew up in Budapest, Hungary. His family is related to the Arkosi Benko family.

Pal Benko learned chess from his father in 1938, at the age of 9, taught by his father, an engineer and artist who loved to travel. Benko's father owned a machine parts factory in Budapest.

Pal Benko's first chess book was a collection of Capablanca's chess games, written by Ferenc Chalupetzky(1886-1951) and Laszlo Toth. The book was titled: "Capablanca. Sakkozoipalyafutasa es jatszmai 1888-1942."

In 1940, Benko took a job as a messenger boy and started taking chess more seriously.

In 1941, Benko spotted the first chess problems in his life in a student magazine. He got interested in chess problems and was soon composing them. He composed his first chess problem in 1942.

In 1943, he played in his first local chess tournament, a club tournament in Budapest. Benko was leading, but the tournament had to be canceled because most of the players were being drafted into the Hungarian army.

In December 1943, Benko's father was arrested by the Hungarian government for refusing to join the Hungarian army. He was forced into hard labor.

In March 1944, the Nazis released Benko's father from prison, thinking he was pro-Nazi because he was in prison.

In July 1944, Benko was always under the constant threat of the Allies bombing Budapest.

In July 1944, Pal Benko was drafted in theHungarian army and was ordered to go to the front. He deserted from his regiment but was later caught by the Russians. He later escaped from the Russians and made it back to Budapest. However, his apartment had been bombed out by the Allies and his father and brother were gone.

In December 1944, Benko survived the Siege of Budapest, a 50-day-long encirclement of Budapest by Soviet forces. Over 50,000 people were killed.

In January 1945, Benko's father and older brother were shipped to Russia as slave labor. They were considered prisoners of war, even though they were not soldiers.

In June 1945, Benko played in his first major chess tournament (played in Budapest) that had 10 masters and 7 candidate masters, Pal Benko took first place and became a master himself at the age of 17. He won the title of Hungarian master by taking 1st place in his first tournament with masters!

In his next tournament, a small chess masters' tournament in Szeged, Hungary, he took the first-place prize, winning some flour and bacon.

In July 1945, Benko's mother died at the age of 41. Benko was now all alone and had to take care of his little sister. Chess helped him ger food and shelter.

During the war, he dug ditches on the Austrian border for the Hungarian army. He was later captured by the Soviet 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 laborers.

In late 1945, Benko moved to Szeged, Hungary. His father was let out of Soviet prison and afterwards, defected to the United States.

In 1945, Benko won a small Masters' tournament in Szeged. 1st place was flour and bacon. Food, in a time of inflation, was the most valuable currency.

From 1945 to 1947, Benko played several correspondence chess games around the world, representing Hungary in the World Correspondence Team Championship.

When Benko played in the Hungarian Championship in 1946, the prizes were also food rather than money.

In 1947, Benko majored in economics at the University of Economic (later named KarlMarxUniversity, now called CorvinusUniversity in Budapest). While attending school, he worked in a textile company.

Benko's first international competition was a Vienna-Budapest team match, held in Vienna, Austria in the American Zone.

In the spring of 1948, he played in an international tournament in Budapest. It was a 16-player event. Benko took 9th place. The winner was Laszlo Szabo (1917-1998).

In 1948, he played at a chess tournament in Bad Gastein, Austria. Erik Lundin (1904-1988) won the event, followed by Benko and Nicolas Rossolimo (1910-1975) for 2nd-3rd place.

In 1948, he played in an international tournament in Bucharest, Romania.

In 1948, at the age of 20, he won the Hungarian national championship, held in Budapest. First prize was food instead of money.

In 1949, he played for Budapest against Moscow in an 8-player team competition under the Scheveningen System (each team member playing each of those on the opposing team). Benko had the best result for the Budapest team, scoring 7 out of 16 against 8 Soviet grandmasters and received glowing reviews in the European press.

In 1949, he played for Hungary against the Netherlands in a team match.

In 1950, he took 3rd place in the Hungarian championship. In 1951, he took 6th place. In 1954, he took 2nd place. In 1955, he took 3rd place.

In 1950, Benko decided to make chess a career, left school and became a bookkeeper.

Benko was awarded the International Master (IM) title in 1950, the first year that FIDE created the title.

In 1951, he took 6th place in the Hungarian championship.

In 1951, Benko qualified for the 1952 Interzonal tournament.

In March 1952, he was invited to play in the GezaMaroczy Memorial (who died on May 29, 1951) in Budapest. Benko took 10th place. The winner was Paul Keres (1916-1975).

In March 1952, Benko played in a team match in Goerlitz, East Germany. He then went to East Berlin, and then took the subway to West Berlin. At the time, he, and is friend, GezaFuster (1910-1990), were thinking of defecting to the West by going to the American embassy in West Berlin. Fuster ran and crossed the border, but Benko wascaught by the East German police, arrested and taken to prison. He was accused of being an American spy. The Hungarian Secret Police thought that his correspondence game chess notation found in his letters and postcards was secret code.

In prison, he was sleep-deprived and bright lights were constantly in his face. He was later tortured. He was then sent toaconcentration campwithout a trial. His friend, GezaFuster, did defect during this time and settled in Canada.

In 1953 Benko was starving in a concentration camp (he lost over 20 pounds) and saw others around him starve to death. It was only after March 5, 1953 when Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) died, that the authorities considered releasing him.The Hungarian president Imre Nagy (1896-1958) gave amnesty to most prisoners in Hungary. Benko was finally released in October 1953. Benko later wrote, "Prison camp really makes you appreciated things that you might have ben oblivious to before!"

In 1954, Benko became a draftsman.

In 1954, he took 2nd place in the Hungarian championship.

In 1955, in a friendly match between Hungary and the USSR, Benko drew against Keres twice, drew Petrosian in one game and lost in the other game, and won one game and drew the other against Ilyvitsky and Mikenas.

In 1955, he took 3rd place in the Hungarian championship.

In 1956, International Master Pal Benko played for the national Hungarian team at the 12th Chess Olympiad in Moscow. He played board three (behind grandmasters Laszlo Szabo and Gedeon Barcza) and scored 10/15 (6 wins, 8 draws, 1 loss). Hungary won the bronze medal for 3rd place. Benko would not play in another Chess Olympiad until 1962, and then it was for the United States. He then played on the US Chess Olympiad team 6 times from 1962 through 1972.

In 1956, the Soviet Army suppressed the Hungarian Revolution and deposed Imre Nagy. Benko took part in the Hungarian Revolt, but remained undetected due to his disguise. It was at this time that Benko was thinking of defecting.

In 1957, Gedeon Barcza (1911-1986) won the Hungarian chess championship. Pal Benko and Istvan Bilek (1932-2010) tied for 2nd-3rd place.

In 1957, Benko played in the West Europe Zonal in Dublin, Ireland. He tied for 2nd-3rd place with Svetozar Gligoric. The event was won by LudekPachman (1924-2003) of Czechoslovakia. Benko qualified to play in the next FIDE Interzonal in Portoroz, Slovenia in 1958. (source: Chess Review, Sep 1957, p. 260)

In 1957, Benko was permitted to play first board on Hungary's team in the 4th World Students' Team Championship (Student Olympiad for students under 30 years of age) in Reykjavik, Iceland. He played board 1 (Lajos Portisch (1937- ) played board 2) and scored 7.5/12. He was also the Captain of the Hungarian team. Hungary took 4th place as a team. The Soviet Union won the event, followed by Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. The USA Student Team took 5th place.

On July 26,1957, Benko walked into the American embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland and asked for asylum. The American embassy officials arranged a press conference for Benko to explain why he did not want to return to Hungary.

Benko was granted asylum, but had to wait on a preferential visa (which he obtained on Oct 11, 1957). While waiting for a visa, Benko played in two more chess tournaments in Iceland. In the first, he took 1st place, ahead of Olafsson and Pilnik. In the second, he took 2nd, behind Olafsson. (source: "Our New Member," Chess Review, Dec 1957, p. 355)

In 1957, Benko won $350 in prize money in Iceland, which he used to fly to New York. At the time, Hungarian refugees were not allowed in the U.S. as the refugee limit had reached the limit of 30,000. However, Benko was able to come to American with his French passport, having been born in France. As a result, Benko never received benefits that other Hungarian refugees received in America.

October 17, 1957, Pal Benko landed at New York's Idlewood (changed to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1963) Airport in Queens. In the press, he was called a freedom fighter. (source: Rudy, "Chess Life in New York." Chess Life, Nov 5, 1957, p. 3)

In his first tournament in America, Benko showed up at the Marshall Chess Club in New York and won a rapid transit tournament. (source: "Defection," Chess Review, Nov 1957, p. 324)

Benko later stayed with his father in Cleveland, Ohio. Benko could not speak a word of English at the time, and only had a few dollars in his pocket. Later, he wrote of America: "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."

Benko hoped to find employment as a professional in Cleveland, staying with his father. But no Cleveland chess club was interested in paying for a chess professional, so Benko moved to New York to try his luck.

In December 1957, Benko defeated FIDE Master Ken Smith (1930-1999), champion of Texas, in a match. Benko's prize was $500.

In June 1958, Pal Benko won the Cleveland Open with a perfect 8-0 score.

In July 1958, Benko won the 2nd Western Open championship on tie-breaks over Milton Otteson, held in Milwaukee. He took home $250. Benko won 6 games and drew 2. Donald Byrne, who won the 1st Western Open, took 3rd place. There were 119 players in the event. Benko was living in Cleveland at the time and was winning other Oho chess tournaments during this period. (source: Chess Life, July 20, 1958, p. 1)

In August-September 1958, Benko played in the 4th Interzonal Tournament, in Portoroz, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), representing Hungary (but residing in the United States and a legal resident). It was the first time he had met Bobby Fischer. Benko took 3rd-4th place and qualified for the Candidates Tournament. The event was won by Mikhail Tal (1936-1992). SvetozarGligoric (1923-2012) took 2nd. Benko and Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984) tied for 3rd-4th. FridrikOlafsson (1935- ) and Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) tied for 5th-6th.

Benko tied for 3rd-4th in the Portoroz, Yugoslavia Interzonal (defeating Bobby Fischer) and qualified for the Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade Candidates tournament. By qualifying for the Candidates (Challengers) matches, Benko, Fischer, and Olafsson automatically became Grandmasters. Benko was officially awarded the Grandmaster title at the FIDE meeting in 1959

In September 1958, Benko was the 17th strongest chess player in the world. (source: Chessmetrics -

In September-October 1958, Pal Benko was the chess coach of the USA team at the 13th Chess Olympiad in Munich, Germany. The USA team took 4th place. The event was won by the Soviet Union, followed by Yugoslavia and Argentina.

In November 1958, Pal Benko won the Fifth Annual North Central Open in Milwaukee. He scored 6.5 out of 7. (source: "Pal Benko Takes North Central Open," Chess Life, Dec 20, 1958, p. 1)

In 1958, Benko got a job at a brokerage firm in New York.

Benko worked on Wall Street for several years, and then sold mutual funds and real estate as an independent agent. He didn't return to Hungary until 1964 on a visit.

In January 1959, Benko took 8th place in the 11th US Chess Championship, held in New York. The event was won by Bobby Fischer.

In July 1959, Benko won the New York Open.

In July-August 1959, Benko tied for 2nd-3rd with Raymond Weinstein (1941- ) in the 60th US Open, held in Omaha, Nebraska. Arthur Bisguier(1929-2017) won the event. Weinstein defeated Benko in the final round.

In August 1959, he won the 3rd Western Open, held in Milwaukee.

In September-October 1959, at the Candidates tournament, Benko took 8th place (last place), won by Mikhail Tal.

In 1959, during the Candidates' tournament Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) tried to unnerve his opponents by staring at them while they were thinking. Some players thought he was trying to hypnotize his opponents. When he had to play Pal Benko, Benko brought a pair of dark sunglasses to wear during their game. Later, Benko explained that he wore the glasses not to ward of Tal's "evil eye," but as a stunt. A couple of Yugoslav reporters asked Benko to wear them to provide an eye-catching photo and a lively story for their newspapers.< br>
In 1959, Benko introduced Bobby Fischer to Benko's tailor in the Little Hungary section of Manhattan. Benko encouraged Fischer to dress well, like Benko. For the first time, Fischer showed up at the U.S. championship in a suit and tie instead of one of his old sweaters.

In January 1960, Benko took 4th place in the U.S. chess championship (won by Bobby Fischer).

In 1960, Benko was selling mutual funds to earn a living.

In January 1961, he took 8th-11th place in the 13thU.S. Championship, won by Bobby Fischer. He took 1st place in the speed championship, ahead of Bisguier and Bobby Fischer.

In June 1960, Benko won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship in New York. In June-July 1960, he played in an international tournament in Buenos Aires. He tied for 11th place. The event was won by Viktor Korchnoi(1931-2016) and Sammy Reshevsky (1911-1992).

In September-October 1960, Benko lost a match with Sammy Reshevsky in a 10-game match in New York, with 2 wins, 3 losses, and 5 draws.

In 1961, he won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship.

In 1961, he won the U.S. Open in San Francisco and appeared on the cover of Chess Life magazine.

In January 1962, Benko tied for 3rd-6th place in the 14th US Chess Championship, held in New York. The event was won by Larry Evans (1932-2010).

In January-March 1962, Benko shared 6th place at the Stockholm Interzonal (won by Fischer) and qualified for the Curacao Candidates, where he took 6th place. Benko had a performance rating of 2724 at Stockholm.

In 1962, Benko tied for 1st in the Southwest Open championship, held in Dallas.

In 1962, Benko played Leonid Stein (1934-1973) and Gligoric in a three-way Interzonal Playoff. He scored 2 draws with Stein and a win and a draw against Gligoric.

In May-June 1962, Benko played in the Candidates Tournament in Curacao.

In 1962, during the Candidates Tournament, Benko played 1.g3, defeating Fischer and Tal with it. 1.g3 was later called Benko's Opening. He opened 11 of his 14 games with White with 1. g3.

It was in Curacao on May 9, 1962, that Pal Benko hit Bobby Fischer after Bobby insulted him, mocking Benko's thick Hungarian accent, and continued to goad him. The fight was over Benko asking for Arthur Bisguier to help him analyze an adjourned game when Fischer also need Bisguier to act as Fischer's "second." To be fair, Benko was not in a good mood after just lost a hard game against Viktor Korchnoi and have an adjourned game against Tigran Petrosian (Petrosian's record was 7 wins against Benko and no losses). Benko wanted Bisguier's help in his adjourned game, but Fischer ordered Benko out of his room. Tempers flared and Benko finally slapped Fischer. Fischer did not slap or fight back, but, instead, wrote a letter to the authorities asking that Benko be heavily fined or kicked out of the competition. The letter was ignored.

Bisguier later wrote, "Apparently he [Benko] developed this feeling of righteousness after he got off to such a good start [he defeated Tal and Fischer in rounds 1 and 2]. I was willing to give my services to both but Fischer wanted a second all to himself and it was so agreed in advance." (source: Brady, Endgame, p. 57)

Despite all this, Benko and Fischer became good friends. Benko wrote, "We [Fischer and Benko] have met frequently at tournaments and on other occasions. We have analyzed chess games and positions together and have talked about chess and other subjects. I know him very well — as well or better than anyone else in chess did. I have never observed at close range any other player as prodigiously as he was." (source: Benko, Winning with Chess Psychology, p. 71)

Years later, Bobby Fischer gave Benko one of his old chess clocks and a chess set. Fischer told Benko that the chess set and clock had been gifts which Bobby received for his Bar Mitzvah when Fischer turned 13.

In September-October 1962, Benko played on the American team at the 15thChess Olympiad, held in Varna, Bulgaria. He played board two (behind Fischer), scoring 8/12 for the silver medal on his board. The USA took 4th place. The Soviet team won the gold medal, followed by Yugoslavia and Argentina.

At the end of 1962, Benko was the 2nd highest rated player in the U.S at 2608. Fischer was rated 2687 and Reshevsky was rated 2597.

In January 1963, Benko tied for 9th-10th place (1 win, 7 draws, 3 losses) in the 15thU.S. Chess Championship, won by Fischer.

In 1963, Benko was selling real estate as an independent agent. He later quit his job and became the only professional chessplayer (other than Fischer) in the United States.

In 1963, Benko shared 1st place with Ariel Mengarini(1919-1998) at the Atlantic Open in New York.

In 1963, Benko played in the first Piatigorsky Cup. He tied for 7th place. Paul Keres and Tigran Petrosian tied for 1st place. Benko was only invited after Bobby Fischer declined the invitation after his appearance fee was denied.

In January 1964, he took 3rd place in the 16thU.S. Championship, behind Fischer and Evans.

On April 26, 1964, Benko began a match with Arthur Bisguier to see who qualified for the Amsterdam Interzonal. Benko won, 4.5-1.5.

In 1964, Benko returned to Hungary for the first time since 1957.

In 1964, he won the 65th U.S. Open in Boston. There were 229 players.

In November 1964, at the 16th Chess Olympiad in Tel Aviv, Benko played board two (behind Reshevsky) for the USA. He scored 9.5/14. The USA took 6th place. The event was won by the Soviet Union, followed by Yugoslavia and West Germany.

In 1964, he won the Canadian Open Chess Championship.

In 1965, Benko won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship.

In August 1965, he tied for 1st place at the U.S. Open with Bill Lombardy (1937-2017), held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In November 1965, he won the 1st American Open, held in Santa Monica. There were 124 players.

In December 1965, Benko took 7th-9th place in the 17th U.S. Championship, held in New York. The event was won by Fischer.

In 1966, Benko was called the "King of the Opens."

In 1966, Benko won the National Open. He won it again in 1968 and tied for 1st in 1975.

In 1966, he won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship.

In August 1966, he tied for 1st place with Robert Byrne (1928-2013) in the U.S. Open, held in Seattle.

In October-November 1966, at the 17th Chess Olympiad in Havana, Benko was board three (behind Fischer and R. Byrne) for the USA. He scored 8/12. The USA won the silver medal for 2nd place. The Soviet Union won the gold.

In December 1966, Benko took 3rd-4th place in the 18thU.S. Championship, behind Fischer and Evans.

In 1967, Benko won the first New York City championship.

In 1967, Benko introduced his "Benko's Bafflers" chess problems to Chess Life magazine.

In 1967, Benko won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship.

In 1967, Benko first played the Benko Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 Bxa6) in international competition against Vukic in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia). He had played it earlier in some U.S. Swiss events. At the time, Benko developed the opening (known as the Volga Gambit in Soviet literature) because he disliked opening preparation and thought it would take his opponents out of their books. He used to say that if Black won, it was the Benko Gambit. If White won, it was the Volga Gambit.

In 1967, he won the U.S. Open, held in Atlanta.

In 1967, he won the Atlantic Open in New York. There were 240 players.

At the end of 1967, Benko was the second highest rated player in the U.S. He was rated 2592. Bobby Fischer was rated 2762.

In March 1968, he won the National Open, held at Lake Tahoe.

In 1968, Pal Benko, age 40, married Gizella ("Ziki") Nagy (1937- ) in Budapest,Hungary. She was a professor of mathematics. Benko had known her for over 11 years before they got married. He met her at a chess tournament. His daughter Palma was born in 1969, and his son David was born in 1971. His grandson, Adam, was born in 2003.

In 1968, he tied for 1st in theSouthwest Open championship in San Antonio, Texas.

In July 1968, Benko took 4th place in the 19thU.S. Championship, behind Evans, Robert Byrne, and Reshevsky.

In October-November 1968, at the 18th Chess Olympiad in Lugano, he played board three (behind Reshevsky and Evans) for the USA. He scored 6/12. The USA took 4th place. The event was won by the Soviet Union, followed by Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

During the Lugano Olympiad, Benko made a bet with Bobby Fischer (who attended as a spectator) that he could not solve a particular chess problem in 30 minutes that Benko composed as a 15-year-old teenager. Fischer lost that bet. Fischer then made a bet that there was at least another solution to the chess problem. After several weeks, Fischer lost that bet, too, as there was only one solution. (source: Benko &Silman, pp. 581-582)

In 1969, Benko's daughter Palma was born.

In 1969, he won the Atlantic Open in New York. There were 376 players.

In August 1969, he tied for 1st place with Arthur Bisguier and Milan Vukcevich at the U.S. Open, held in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In 1969, he won the Atlantic Open in New York. There were 376 players.

In December 1969, Samuel Reshevsky won the U.S. Chess Championship. Bill Addison took 2nd place and Pal Benko took 3rd place. All three qualified for the 1970 Interzonal tournament. Bobby Fischer did not participate in the 1969 U.S. Championship over objections concerning the number of players.

In 1970, Benko lost his first Benko Gambit playing Black against FranciscusKuijpers(1941- ) in Wijkaan Zee.

In 1970 Benko yielded his Interzonal place at Palma de Mallorca to Bobby Fischer, who went on to become World Champion. Benko, at the urging of Ed Edmondson, President of the US Chess Federation, agreed to give up his place in the Interzonal for Fischer, but the spot could not be offered to Fischer unless the other 9 participants (Lombardy, Donald Byrne, Evans, EdmarMednis, Bernard Zuckerman, Bisguier, Robert Byrne, Anthony Saidy, and Karl Burger) in the U.S. championship agreed. They all did. Of this incident, Benko in 1975 wrote, "The only condition I asked for stepping down was for Fischer to agree not to withdraw from the Interzonal or the ensuing matches should he qualify for them — and he fulfilled this condition." (source: "Benko interview," Chess Life & Review, July 1975)

In 1970, Benko was paid $2,000 for his services as second to Reshevsky and Addison at the Interzonal. Benko was never paid a certain sum of money to give up his place in the Interzonal in place of Bobby Fischer. (source: Chess Life and Review, July 1975, p. 439)

In September 1970, at the 19th Chess Olympiad in Siegen, Benko played board four (behind Fischer, Reshevsky, and Evans) for the USA. He scored 8.5/12. The USA took 4th place. The event was won by the Soviet Union, followed by Hungary and Yugoslavia.

In 1971, Benko's son David was born. He is now an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of South Alabama and has taught at Purdue University. He received a PhD in Mathematics from the University of South Florida in 2001 and another PhD in Mathematics from the University of Szeged. His USCF rating is 1572 (he is a stronger tennis player).

In 1971, Benko was the captain of the U.S. Student Team.

In 1971, his peak FIDE rating was 2520.

In May 1972, Benko took 5th place in the U.S. Championship, behind Robert Byrne, Kavalek, Reshvesky, and Evans.

In September-October 1972, at the 20th Chess Olympiad in Skopje, Benko played board three (behind LubomirKavalek (1943- ) and Robert Byrne). He scored 9.5/16. The USA took 9th place. This Olympiad was the first major success for the Benko Gambit. In 16 games, Black scored 10 wins, 6 draws, and no losses with the Benko Gambit.

In September 1973, Benko took 5th place in the U.S. Championship, held in El Paso, Texas. Kavalek and John Grefe (1947-2013) tied for 1st place.

In 1973, Benko's peak Elo (FIDE) rating was 2530.

In 1974, he tied for 1st place with VastimilHort (1944- ) at the U.S. Open, held in New York. There were 549 players.

In August 1974, Benko took 2nd place in the U.S. Championship, behind Walter Browne (1949-2015). Benko never won the U.S. Championship, and this was his best result (winning 3 games, drawing 10 games, losing no games).

In March 1975, he won the National Open in Las Vegas.

In 1975, Bobby Fischer gave up his world championship crown to Anatoly Karpov without playing a game. Fischer told Benko why he didn't play. Benko was quoted as saying, "Bobby was afraid that if he had defended against Karpov in 1975, the Russian would have had him murdered."

In July 1975, Benko tied for 1st place with Alan Trefler(1956- ) at the World Open in New York. There were 815 players. I played in the same event and interviewed Benko during the tournament.

In August 1975, he tied for 1st place with Bill Lombardy at the U.S. Open, held in Lincoln, Nebraska. He had placed first or tied for first place a record 8 times.

In June 1975, he took 14th place (last place) in the 24thU.S. Championship, held in Oberlin, Ohio. He didn't win a game and scored 10 draws and 3 losses.

Benko did not play in the 25th US Championship in 1977.

In June 1978, at the age of 50, he took 9th-10th place in the 26thU.S. Championship, held in Pasadena, California. The event was won by Kavalek.

On May 20, 1978, Benko was in Brazil to celebrate Max Euwe's 77th birthday. A cake was brought out that had two chess problems on it, devised by Benko. Euwe was told to solve the two chess problems before anyone could eat cake. Euwe solved the first problem but was stuck on the second problem. After a while, Benko had to whisper the solution to Euwe so that Euwe could avoid embarrassment and that the rest of the group could have some cake.

On February 26, 1979, Bobby Fischer wrote a 10-page letter to Pal Benko. Fischer wrote that he was continuing his studies of the Jewish World conspiracy, and that Christianity itself was just a Jewish hoax. Fischer was convinced that Chess Life and Review, under editorship of the Jew Burt Hochburg, had become a slick low-quality Jew rag that was pro-Soviet and anti-American.

From 1981 to 2013, Benko wrote a chess column called "Endgame Lab" for Chess Life magazine.

In 1986, Benko was playing Hungarian Grandmaster Gyula Sax (1951-2014) in the final round of the New York Open. If Benko won, he would have earned $12,000 for first prize money. If Benko drew, he would only get $3,000. Sax offered Benko a draw at a critical position. Benko turned it down, blundered in time pressure, and lost. He got nothing. Benko wrote, "Refusing Sax's draw offer was a costly decision, but I don't regret it. Similar gambles have paid off for me many times. What I regret is the 10 valuable minutes I spent thinking about his offer, 10 minutes that would have come in very handy indeed lateron." (source: Benko, Winning the Chess Psychology, p. 208)

In 1991, he co-wrote with Burt Hochberg (1933-2006) Winning with Chess Psychology.Benko dedicated the book to Palma and David, his children.

In 1992, he played in the World Senior Championship in Bad Worishofen, Germany at the age of 64. It was his last international tournament. Geller took 1st place. Benko and Lein took 2nd-3rd.

In 1993, he was inducted in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.

In 1994, he was team captain of the Hungarian Woman's Olympiad team, which won the silver medal.

In 1994, Donald Trump met Pal Benko at the World Championship Candidates matches at Trump Tower and asked Benko, "Don't you think I could also be a grandmaster if I put in one or two years of chess?" Benko replied, "You need to be born again. I have never known anyone who started with chess after the age of 20 and became a grandmaster." (source: Pal Benko, ChessBase Chess News, Jan 23, 2017)

In 1995, he was awarded the Problem Composing International Master title.

In 1995, Hungary created a postage stamp with Benko on the cover.

In 1996, he was team captain of the Hungarian Woman's Olympiad team. In August 1996, Benko played in the Hall of Fame Invitational in Alexandria, Virginia. He tied for 2nd-4th win Bisguier and John Curdo (1931- ). LubomirKavalek won the event.

In 1998, Benko played in his last chess tournament. He was 70. His last USCF rating was 2525.

In 2000, Bobby Fischer stored all the belongings he had in Benko's apartment in Budapest. At the time, Fischer was living in Budapest and was a frequent guest at the Benko apartment. Fischer never returned as he moved to Tokyo, then to the Philippines.

In January 2003, he co-wrote, with Jeremy Silman, Pal Benko: My Life, Games and Compositions. The book won the British Chess Federation "Book of the Year" Award in 2003.

In 2003, he revised and updated Reuben Fine's Basic Chess Endings.

By 2004, Benko's USCF rating was 2525 and his FIDE or Elo rating was 2408.

In 2014, he retired from doing his endgame column in Chess Life after 45 years.

On July 15, 2018, Benko celebrated his 90th birthday.

Benko's last article for Chess Life was published in August 2018. The article won an award for "Special Achievement" from the Chess Journalist of America.

On August 26, 2019, Pal Benko died in Budapest at the age of 91. At te time of his death, he was the 2nd oldest grandmaster. Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh (1922- ), the oldest living GM, is 97.

Benko won or tied for first place in eight U.S. Open tournaments, a record. He won or tied in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1974, and 1975.

He represented the USA in six chess Olympiads in a row.

Benko was the last surviving participant of the 1962 Candidates Tournament, held in Curacao.

Of the 19 games Benko played against Fischer, he lost only one with White (missing a forced win) and 7 with Black.

Benko was fond of saying, "Being a professional chess player is something akin to a prostitute. First, I played because other people did it. Then, I played because I liked to play. And finally, I played just for the money."

Benko said, "I think I blunder more that other Grandmasters. Mostly I specialize in rook blunders, whit I have done at least a dozen times!"

Another quote of Benko: "Kibitzers don't play, they kibitz. They always know what you should have played, and they will tell you without being asked. It's almost impossible to shut them up."

Benko enjoyed mathematics and arm wrestling.

Benko composed over 300 chess problems.

Benko beat Bobby Fischer three times in his career.

Benko's wife and children are all mathematicians.

Benko played for the USA in five chess Olympiads.

Benko played every world chess champion from Botvinnik to Karpov.

Among Benko's students were the Polgar sisters (Susan, Sofia, and Judit) and Peter Leko, who was once the youngest grandmaster in history.

The 2019 SPICE Cup that Susan Polgar organizes will be dedicated to Pal Benko's memory. In attendance will be Benko's daughter, Palma, and his only grandson.

Benko has authored the following:

The Benko Gambit (1973)
Understanding the Queen's Indian Defense (1982)
Chess Endgame Lessons (1990 and 1999)
Winning with Chess Psychology (1991) — with Burt Hochberg
Basic Chess Endings (2003) — revised from Fine's book
Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions (2004) — with Jeremy Silman
Pal Benko's Endgame Laboratory (2007)


Benko, "Pal Benko's Birthday Problems," ChessBase News, July 18, 2015
Benko, "Trump, Kramnik, Botvinnik, Junge, Benko," ChessBase News, Jan 23, 2017
Benko &Silman, Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions, 2004
Friedel, "Happy 90th Pal Benko and eleven twins solutions," ChessBase News, July 15, 2018
Friedel, "Pal Benko dies at 91," ChessBase News, Aug 27, 2019
McClain, "Pal Benko, Who Stepped Aside for Bobby Fischer, Dies at 91," New York Times, Aug 26, 2019
Mihaljlova, "The Life Gambit a la Benko," ChessBase news, July 15, 2013
Nicholas, "The End of the Golden Era of Chess." The Atlantic, Sep 5, 2019
"The chess games of Pal Benko,"
"Pal Benko," Wikipedia
"Pal Benko," World Chess Hall of Fame -
"Pal Benko die at age 91, FIDE News, Aug 27, 2019 -
Ree, "Pal Benko, 1928-2019," Dutch Treat articles, Sep 2, 2019
Sands, "Pal Benko lived a full life at the chessboard — and away from it," Washington Times, Sep 3, 2019
Spragget, "Pal Benko: RIP,", Aug 26, 2019
US Chess, "Pal Benko Dies at Age 91," US Chess Federation News, Aug 26, 2019
USCF, "Articles by Pal Benko" -
Wall, "Pal Benko Biography," White Knight Review, Nov/Dec, 2011, pp. 12-13
Weeks, "GM Pal Benko," chessforallages -

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