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Benko Gambit 5 b6 [A57]
The variation with b5-b6 has been popular for a generation. The idea is that White has certain positional pluses (more space and the c4-square) and so doesn't need to allow Black his usual 'pressure for a pawn' scenario. It's a positional line where White is mainly concerned with plans rather than precise move orders.
Kiril Georgiev recommended it in his 2010 Chess Stars book 'Squeezing the Gambits'. However the Bulgarian GM constructed his repertoire around a plan based on an early a2-a4, the idea being to threaten a4-a5 (gaining space on the queenside).
Here I'll be examining the consequences of holding back or doing without this advance in Games 1-3. In these games, White doesn't commit himself to the queenside, and may instead seek chances elsewhere, for example involving e4-e5 if the circumstances are right.
Here, in Game One, White opted for 11.Bf4 and eventually obtained an edge by playing with e4-e5. Kobalia's manoeuvre, ...N-b5-d4 is quite typical of this variation, but despite trading some pieces I didn't find Black's play to be that dynamic. I've indicated several other tries in the notes, but the one that I like best is 14...f5 which I consider to be fully adequate.
In Game Two Black opted for a defence based around countering with his f-pawn. Indeed it was also on the fourteenth move, but in a somewhat different position. It wasn't easy to see what to do with White and Kuzubov earned the full point with an impressive exchange sacrifice followed by a long grind. A model game from Black's point of view.
In Game Three White instead placed his bishop on d3 (rather then e2) but this doesn't change matters a great deal. Black hesitated and found himself to be slightly passive, again angling for ...f5 was to be preferred. Another idea for Black was to meet 16.a4 with 16...a5, a controversial push perhaps, as it weakens b5, but I don't think it matters too much here. Black's cramped minor pieces and the obligation to weaken himself led to his downfall.
Benko Accepted Fianchetto Variation with Rb1 [A58]
In Game Four White instead opts for the Fianchetto Variation with 10.Rb1:
Black's method of defence (...Bc8-b7 to provoke Nh4) has never impressed me, but a careful look at the game segments in the notes suggests that it is indeed playable. Admittedly, it does require a delicate balancing act! Look in particular at Adianto-Ghaem Maghami, and Mukhin-Giorgadze, which demonstrate that Black can successfully give up his dark-squared bishop and thrive. The featured game is a reminder to Benko fans what can happen after playing an imprecise move or two.
Dutch Defence 3 e3 [A80]
Peter Svidler's switch to the Dutch Defence has given us two examples for this month's column. Svidler himself had contrasting fortunes but the Dutch held up well in both cases.
In Game Five Kramnik avoided theory and the players were probably both out of their preparation as early as move 4:
Despite having less experience in the Dutch than his opponent, Svidler found a sound path to equality.
The early phase was fairly balanced, but after losing the thread Svidler was a shade worse in the middlegame. However, the game decider was a dreadful blunder from Kramnik.
Dutch Leningrad 7...Qe8 8 b4 [A87]
In the 7...Qe8 Leningrad in Game 6, after 8.b4 I like Black's position following 8...e5!, as played by Svidler against Mamedyarov:
It all just seems to be so comfortable for Black compared to some analogous variations, which may explain why 8.b4 has never really caught on.
The middlegame proved to be quite tense and then suddenly it was all over with White winning. Obviously Black went wrong somewhere, but maybe each of moves 22, 23, and 24 were mistakes. It's often the case: one error leads to another, but three in a row is too much at Candidates level!
On move 22, for example, the tricky 22...Qd7! would have given Black any chances that were going.
Anti-Grünfeld with 3 f3 [D70]
Larry Kaufman calls this the Neo-Grünfeld, which is somewhat bizarre as the consensus view (or so I thought) is that this label is associated with g3 systems for White (where Black plays with ...g6 and ...d5).
I have a suggested name for 3.f3 in the Grünfeld: The 'Sämisch-Like Anti-Grünfeld' which would certainly clear up any confusion, but I'm not sure that it will catch on. What do you think of my suggestion, I suppose the acronym might be a drawback?!
Kaufman has found lots of new ideas with his computer engine Komodo. Some of these are rather good, whereas others look debatable!
As a general rule, I think that 'practical chances' and a 'computer edge' are not always compatible!
In Game 7 Markus Ragger was able to obtain good play by capturing on d4 with the right piece:
Black played 13...Bxd4, which seems to be best, and equalized comfortably, whereas analysis suggests that the better known 13...Nxd4 is inadequate.
In the game, White lost time with his queen and then came under a terrible attack.
In Game 8 we see another example of 10.Rd1, which I analyzed recently (in Bologan-Cheparinov, see the archives). Kaufman is quite bullish about White's chances after this move, but Gupta's 14...f5 looks like a good novelty which should have given him a good game:
One error, however, led to Black hanging on the edge of a precipice, and Gupta was fortunate not to be pushed off.
Game 9 features my loss from Gibraltar to Vachier-Lagrave. I was able to get in my prepared novelty, but my high-ranking opponent didn't seem to be surprised. He carried on co-ordinating his forces while I ran out of ideas. My play was frankly sub-standard and the Frenchman had few problems to take home the full point.
The main point of this sorry tale is that 3...e6 is actually quite a reasonable move and nobody has found anything particularly convincing against it, so far. It has the advantage of being far less theoretical than 3...d5.
Exchange Grünfeld Defence 8 Rb1, 10...Qa5+ [D85]
The Rb1-Grünfeld can be highly theoretical, and Game 10 was a good example.
Levon Aronian managed to beat Peter Svidler after sacrificing a piece for long-term play. However, the Russian Grünfeld specialist was too optimistic about his chances, and possibly should have forced a probable draw by giving back the material on move 27.
Here Svidler introduced 21...Qa3 which may be an improvement on the previously played 21...Qa6.
Earlier, as you'll see in the notes, the lines beginning 13...Qe6 and 18...Qc7 show alternative ways of recycling the queen, and in both cases Black seems to be fine. A word of warning if you are thinking of playing like Svidler, as White has a draw by repetition, which may not fit in with your plans!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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