05 September 2019

Pal Benko 'On the Cover'

Pal Benko has been on my mind lately -- and I imagine he's been on many chess players' minds. While I was preparing the previous post, September 1969 'On the Cover', I decided to find Benko's earliest appearance on the covers of the two main American chess magazines.

The earliest Chess Life (CL) cover is shown below on the left. The year 1961 was the first with CL published in magazine format, switching from the newspaper format of previous years. By coincidence, Benko appeared on the cover of Chess Review for the same month, October 1961.

Left: 'Pal Benko - U.S. Open Champion'
Right: 'Open Champion'

Chess Life

Benko Wins U.S. Open Championship; Highest Score Ever Attained At Largest Open • Hungarian born International Grandmaster Pal Benko, of New York City, topped a record field of 198 players at the U.S. Open held in San Francisco August 14th to 26th with a record-breaking score of 11-1. By drawing only two games and winning 10, Benko's score was the highest ever achieved in the sixty-three consecutive years that the event has been conducted.

The tournament conducted in the picturesque city of San Francisco was the largest attended Open -- Milwaukee, 1953 -- with 183 players holding that first place spot for the last eight years.

Although the article mentions '63 consecutive years' of the U.S. Open, a table at the bottom of the page ('Former U.S.Open Champions') starts with '1941 Reuben Fine'. For the complete list, see Wikipedia's U.S. Open Chess Championship; the 1961 U.S. Open is given as no.62.

Chess Review

Hungarian Day at USCF Open • Two Hungarian-born players finished first and second respectively in the United States Open Championship at San Francisco. Pal Benko, international grandmaster residing in New York, went undefeated through twelve Swiss rounds to gain the crown and a $1,000 first prize with a tally of 11-1. Runner-up was his compatriot, California champion Zoltan Kovacs, 10-2, who lost only to Benko.

The earliest photo of Benko in Chess Life was the 20 January 1958 issue (CL was published twice a month at that time). It showed Benko with the 'Players and Officials at Dallas International 1957'. The players included Reshevsky, Evans, Gligoric, Larsen, and Najdorf, plus other international luminaries. Since Benko was neither a player nor an official in the tournament, what was he doing in the photo? The last CL issue of 1957 explained,

By-products of this assemblage of masters were two challenges: an exhibition match between Dallas Master Kenneth R. Smith and the recently defected Hungarian International Master Paul Benko; and a blindfold match between International Masters Miguel Najdorf and George Koltanowski.

As for Chess Review, we find Benko on the cover for March 1959 (composite photo, centered on Fischer, of U.S. Championship); and August 1959 ('Twice Champion', New York and Western Opens). He also appeared numerous times on interior pages.

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