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This month we take a look at the Modern Benoni, including a promising Bf4 sideline for White.

Download PGN of May '12 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Modern Benoni: Another Tricky Line for White 7 Bf4 a6 8 Nd2!? [A61]

There are a number of tricky weapons for White against the Modern Benoni, one of which is 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 a6 8 Nd2!?:

This line has been largely forgotten, but I feel it certainly contains some danger for Black, and it's quite revealing that even leading Modern Benoni expert GM Vugar Gashimov has struggled against it.

7 Bf4 a6 8 Nd2 is similar to the Knight's Tour (7 Nd2), but with the bishop already on f4, any Nc4 is going to exert immediate pressure on the d6-pawn. For this reason Black usually prevents Nc4 with 8...b5, and here 9 a4! is clearly the most challenging response. Black must play ...b4, but he has two options: he can either force the bishop off the diagonal first with 9...Nh5 10 Be3 b4, which is covered in Munkhgal - Pavlov, Moscow 2012; or he can play the immediate 9...b4, which is dealt with in Pedersen - Haubro, Helsingor 2011. In both lines there have been new ideas for White and things are certainly not that easy for Black.

Gashimov has played 8...b5, but he lost badly to Aronian with it. More recently, in Laznicka - Gashimov, San Sebastian 2012, he tried the rare move 8...Nbd7!?, which could be taken as a sign that he isn't entirely happy with the main lines after 8 Nd2. He loses this game too, but 8...Nbd7 does look like a decent alternative to 8...b5.

Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation [A63-64]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8:

In the Fianchetto Variation there's no obligation for White to go headlong into the sharp theoretical lines which occur after 9...Re8 10 Nd2 a6 11 a4 Nbd7 12 h3. There are a number of alternatives available which, although not overly threatening to Black, might offer White chances of a small edge. In this update we'll look at just a couple:

a) 10 Re1!?

White's idea with 10 Re1 is to play a quick e2-e4, making it a little bit different to many lines in the Fianchetto, where White holds back on this advance. The main line runs 10...a6 11 a4 Nbd7 12 e4 and here Black can sacrifice a pawn for some activity with 12...c4!?:

I'd previously been successful with this idea and repeated it recently in O'Kelly-Emms, National Club 2012. I struggled to remember the theory during the game, but luckily this seemed to work to my advantage!

White doesn't have to play 12 e4, of course, even if it is the consistent follow-up to 10 Re1. Another option is 12 Bf4, leading to positions which could easily arise via the more normal Bf4 move orders. See Kostiukova - Brodsky, Cappelle la Grande 2012, for details.

b) 10 Nd2 a6 11 a4 Nbd7 12 a5!?:

Although nowhere near as popular as 12 h3, or even 12 Nc4, this pawn move is a reasonable alternative to the main lines and has been played on numerous occasions by GM Predrag Nikolic, one of the world's leading experts on the g3 Benoni. It looks innocuous, but it could catch a Benoni player off guard. In Brunello - Naiditsch, Plovdiv 2012, the German GM shows how Black should react with 12...b5! 13 axb6 Nxb6 14 Nb3, and now Naiditsch's choice of 14...Bf5!? appears to be an excellent alternative to the older 14...Nc4. Also in this game there's a brief look at Naiditsch's chosen move order: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 a6!? (instead of 6...g6).

Modern Benoni: Classical Variation [A72]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Be2 Ne8:

Previously we've looked at the plan with ...Ne8 and ...f5, as an alternative to the more popular 9...Re8 and 9...Na6 main lines. One move we didn't cover, though, is 10 h4!?. This move is very rare - I could find only one previous game with it. Yet launching the h-pawn after Black has retreated the knight does look both logical and quite appealing. See Najer - Kanovsky, Czech League 2012, for details.

Till next time, John

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