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This month we get up to date with some recent Modern Benoni action, including lines where Black either has to accept some disruption to keep the d6-pawn, or simply gambit it!

Download PGN of January ’20 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Modern Benoni: 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 [A61]

6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 8 Qa4+ Bd7 9 Qb3 b5:

In recent times there’s been a noticeable shift towards 7...Bg7 over 7...a6. Caruana, for example, has been willing to allow the queen check on a4. 9...b5 remains critical, and the German Grandmaster Alexander Donchenko was able to play it on three occasions at the World Blitz Championship, scoring two wins and one loss. See the notes to Studer, N - Donchenko, A for an update on this pawn sacrifice.

The quieter option for White is to avoid the queen check and instead continue with h3, e3, etc: 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 e3:

Black may transpose to 7...a6 main lines here with 9...a6 10 a4, but 9...Na6 is the independent option Black gains with the 7...Bg7 move order. This knight move has scored relatively well and looks like a solid option for Black. See Kozul, Z - Cheparinov, I for details.

Modern Benoni, Knight's Tour Variation: 6 Nf3 g6 7 Nd2 [A61]

6 Nf3 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 Nc4 0-0 9 Bf4:

Black usually meet White’s quick attack on the d6-pawn with 9...Ne8. At the recent World Rapid Championship, however, Serbian GM Ivan Ivanisevic unleashed 9...Nbd7!?. This move is rare, although the idea of gambitting the d6-pawn with moves such as 9...Na6 or 9...b6 is well known. White declined the gambit and chose 10 e3, but after 10...Nb6! Black was already fine. Grabbing the d6-pawn is critical - see the analysis within Kryakvin, D - Ivanisevic, I.

Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation 9...Re8 [A62]

6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Re1 Bf5?:

Vachier Lagrave played 10...Bf5 against Ding Liren at the London Classic. As we’ve seen on site, against 10 Bf4 the move 10...Bf5 has become a significant development to theory in recent years. Against 10 Re1, however, the bishop move doesn’t seem to work. I suspect Vachier Lagrave momentarily got confused here and thought that 10...Bf5 was a known option for Black. In fact, it had only been played in a handful of games, and by no-one rated over 2100. Ding Liren replied with the logical 11 Nd2! simply preparing e2-e4. In the 10 Bf4 Bf5 variation, 11 Nh4 may be met effectively by 11...Nh5!, harassing the bishop. Here, however, that possibility doesn’t exist so Black ends up losing precious time and is already in some trouble - see Ding Liren - Vachier Lagrave, M.

Modern Benoni: 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 a6 8 Bf4 [A70]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 a6 8 Bf4:

Above is the ECO move order, but in practice the move order for this line is often 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 a6 8 e4 (or 7 e4 a6 8 Bf4). The main line from the diagram is 8...b5 9 Qe2 Be7! as we’ve seen on numerous occasions. The alternative 8...Bg7 is natural, but possibly a mistake. The queen check with 9 Qa4+! is stronger than the check after 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 - the insertion of e2-e4 and ...a6 helps White more than Black. See the notes to the recent game Tanriverdi, E - Ceres, D.

Modern Benoni: Old Classical 9...Re8 10 Nd2 Nbd7 [A77]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Be2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Nd2 Nbd7 11 a4 a6 12 Ra3 Rb8:

The ...Re8/...Nbd7 line in the Classical Variation remains a reasonable option for Black. A game from the World Blitz Championship continued 13 Re1 (allowing White to reroute the d2-knight via f1) 13...Ne5 14 h3 g5 with typically complex play. Black tends to gain practical counterplay even when the position is objectively worse - see the notes to Wojtaszek, R - Ponkratov, P.

Modern Benoni: Old Classical 9...Re8 10 Nd2 Na6 11 f3 [A79]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Be2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Nd2 Na6 11 f3 Nc7 12 a4 b6 13 Nc4 Ba6 14 Bg5 h6 15 Be3:

In contrast to ...Re8/...Nbd7, this line with ...Re8 combined with ...Na6-c7 is less popular than it once was, probably because Black finds it harder to gain significant counterplay. From the diagram, the main continuation is 15...Bxc4! 16 Bxc4 a6 when Black aims for ...b5 and White goes for b2-b4. In the recent game Postny, E - Lahav, M, Black delayed ...Bxc4 in favour of 15...Qd7 16 Qd2 Kh7, but after the strategically desirable 17 b3! White already enjoyed a clear advantage which soon became decisive.

Till next time, John

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