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Modern Benoni Classical Variation: 9...Ne8 and 10...f5 [A73]
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Be2 Ne8!? 10 0-0 f5:
This plan with ...Ne8 and ...f5 was first played by the likes of Suba, Kudrin and Romanishin, and I feel it remains a good alternative to the more popular 9...Re8 and 9...Na6 main lines - when White has avoided ...Bg4 lines with an early Nd2.
The two key ideas behind ...f5 are to activate Black's pieces and to weaken White's centre, in particular the d5-pawn. In some lines Black attacks the pawn with everything he's got: ...b6 and ...Bb7, ...N(b8)-a6-c7, ...N(e8)-f6, ...Qd7-f7 and even ... Rf5. Obviously there's some risk involved with the ...f5 plan, as it opens up Black's king to some extent and creates weaknesses, especially the e6-square. On the other hand, this plan does seem like a logical way to exploit the slowness of Nf3-d2.
The main line runs 11 exf5 Bxf5 12 Nc4 Na6, after which White has tried various moves:
a) 13 Bd2 was tried in the recent game, Kozul - Cvitan, Sibenik 2011, where Black equalised quite comfortably and won a nice game.
b) 13 Bf4 has been White's most popular response, and to me it remains the most critical try. See Shen - Maze, Moscow 2009.
c) 13 a3 worked out well for White in Korobov - Kurmann, Rijeka 2010, but I don't think this line should worry Black.
Other options for both sides, and move order issues - of which there are quite a few - are covered in the notes.
Modern Benoni Classical Variation: The Delayed ...Ne8 and ...f5 [A73]
Another, related line which Black can play is the same ...Ne8/...f5 plan, but this time only after completing the manoeuvre ...Na6-c7 which offers more options for both sides. Kramnik and Ivanchuk have tried this line as Black, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Be2 Na6 10 0-0 Ne8 11 0-0 Nac7:
a) The main line runs 11 Nc4 12 a4 f5 13 exf5 when 13...Bxf5 is still possible, but with this move order 13...Rxf5!? is seen just as often:
With the knight already on c7 Black can try to hit the d5-pawn as quickly as possible, and he isn't unhappy to exchange light-squared bishops after Bg4 and Bxc8. This line is covered in Fish - Edouard, German League 2008, which turns out to be a very good advert for Black's chances.
b) In Neverov - Eggleston, Hastings 2011, various alternatives to capturing on f5 after 11 Nc4 12 a4 f5 are considered, including 13 Ra3!?, 13 Bf4, 13 Bf3 and 13 f3.
c) In Wang Yue-Kurmann, Zürich 2010, we look at alternatives to the usual 11 Nc4, including 11 Re1, 11 f4 and 11 Kh1.
A Tricky Move Order? [A72]
Finally, the thought occurred to me that in this line White could delay castling and try to utilise the extra move. 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Be2 Ne8!? 10 Nc4 f5 could simply transpose to normal lines after 11 exf5 Bxf5 12 0-0, but White can also play 11 Bf4!?:
This tricky option is covered in Meister - Madl, London 1990, where it certainly worked well for White and I've searched for improvements in the notes. I would have possibly chosen a more recent game, or one where Black put up more resistance, but this is actually the only game I could find where White played this idea. A 21-year-old novelty, yet to be repeated!
Till next time, John
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