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Benko Gambit Declined 4.Nd2 bxc4 5.e4 e6 [A57]
The Mamedyarov, S - Xiong, J encounter turned so quickly in Black's favour that it seems that the young American has found a convincing antidote to 4.Nd2.
The possibility of leaping to the supported d4-square weighs on White's plans. Indeed, after 11.Rd1 Qc7 12.b3 Nd4 13.Nxd4 cxd4, not only had Black repaired his pawn structure, but the wedge on d4 turned out to be a useful asset in what followed. Despite Mamedyarov's attemps to generate counterplay, Jeffery Xiong's impeccable play earned him a notable scalp.
So the choice of 4...bxc4 5.e4 e6 has my approval.
Benko Gambit 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Nf3 Nbd7 8.e4 [A57]
It's been quite a while since I have examined the 5.b6 system so Wheeler, C - Gabuzyan, H is an opportunity for us all to revise these generally well-established, but half-forgotten, lines.
There are a wide choice of squares for the queen, and in fact all reasonable ones have been tried at some point. However, the chosen move in the game 10...Qb4 is the best scoring. Then after 11.Ra4 Qb7 the rook has been provoked to a square where it can be vulnerable, so it will soon need to move again. The big question is whether a later Ra4-a3-b3 is going to work for White or not. In the actual game, this turned out to be strong, but with 16...Nxd6! instead of 16...exd6?!, Black would have been fine.
Benko Accepted, Fianchetto Variation 10.0-0 Nb6 11.Re1 [A58]
The early move order choices in Maiorov, N - Xiong, J enabled Black to avoid a number of White's most promising options. So a close examination of the notes (to the early part of the opening) might help one find a way to take the sting out of the Fianchetto system.
Once the game had transposed back to standard lines, Xiong chose (in the diagram position) the almost 'auto-pilot' move 14...Rfb8, but most folk have preferred to keep the knights on with 14...Nb6. I haven't reached a conclusion about which of these is the better choice, as both of them seem reasonable enough to me. This happy situation has perhaps come about because Xiong cunningly chose the modern treatment in the opening (where Black delays capturing on a6) thus steering play into a 'not-so-challenging-from-White's-point-of-view' variation. Jeffery Xiong had the better of the latter half the game, but his big chance for a win was with the remarkable move 31...Nd1! rather than 31...Nxd5 which was only slightly in his favour.
Benko Accepted 8.e4 Bxf1 9.Kxf1 Bg7 10.h3 0-0 11.g3 Qb6 [A59]
After a fairly routine opening, the game Gharibyan, M - Gabuzyan, H really came to life when Black sacrificed his e-pawn to suck the opponent's bishop into the mire. A sharp situation arose:
Which side has seen further? White has snatched a second pawn, but his bishop is in trouble. In fact, after 19.Nb5! it seems that White is on top, but only if he had followed up a little later with the forcing 22.d6! rather than the solid but slow 22.b3. So all this seems to indicate that 17...h6?! was a mistake and that 17...Kf8 defending the e-pawn was required.
The latter phase was quite entertaining, but White again lost his way, this time in an unusual situation where his three pawns should have been able to balance out Black's rook.
Benko Accepted Mainline with Kxf1, 12.a4! Qb6 13.Ra3 [A59]
It was interesting to see how a 2700 met the main line with 12.a4. In Jacobson, B - Xiong, J 12...Qb6 was chosen and a later ...Qb4 enabled Black to obtain enough compensation. So from a theoretical point of view White should perhaps seek an improvement on move thirteen or fourteen. Later on, Xiong again missed chances for a win, but accelerated time controls challenge even elite players' endgame technique.
Dutch Leningrad 6.b3 Nc6!? [A81]
In So, W - Nakamura, H the following position arose:
Here Nakamura's reaction was surprising and perhaps rather dubious: 9...g5. The idea is known in similar positions, but it seems that Black should first begin with the central stabilizing 9...d5 before flexing his muscles on the wing. The point is that Black will often want to recapture on e4 with the d-pawn. In the game Wesley So gradually built up some pressure on the queenside, but Nakamura defended resourcefully.
Dutch 2.c4 and 3.Nc3 [A85]
In computer games, some of the individual moves come across as distinctly odd, but White's strategy in ScorpioNN - rofChade was recognizable from many a 'good knight versus bad bishop' classical game.
Here, the g-pawn advance 10...g5!? is one of those moves that your heart wants to make, but your head says it can't be any good. The further advance ...g5-g4 gave Black little joy, as it left White with two outposts to play for (e5 and f4) and a nagging positional edge that never went away. A few months back, Caruana against Giri handled this line more solidly with ...0-0, ...a5, ...Ndf6 and ...Bd7 i.e. not committing himself too early. Indeed, ...g5 was nowhere to be seen!
Dutch Leningrad 7...c6 8.d5 e5 9.dxe6 Bxe6 10.b3 [A88]
Although the opening was fine for Black in Checa, N - Moussard, J he went astray in the early middlegame.
The diagram represents a typical scenario in the 7...c6 Leningrad where both sides have developed in a satisfactory manner and now need to formulate their plan for the main struggle in the middlegame. From White's point of view there is nothing special available, so he has to be patient and keep probing away. Black, on the other hand, can seek a counter such as a timely ...d6-d5 or maybe 20...c5. In the notes to the game, you'll notice that when Moussard did play with ...c5 he could (and should) have followed up with ...b5. All-in-all, it's a dynamic system against which White is finding it hard to obtain an edge.
Dutch Leningrad 7...c6 8.b3 a5 [A88]
A fine win by Black in Peralta, F - Alonso Rossell, A came about largely due to the destabilizing effect of Black's twelfth move:
Here 12...a4! was played and the resulting complications proved to be no worse (and possibly better) for Black following 13.Nxa4, so maybe White should have settled for 13.dxc6 Bxc6 14.b4 when at least he would have kept his game nice and tidy.
So this case was a perfect illustration of the plus side of 8...a5 over the more common 8...Na6, but I should warn you that Black does have a better historical score with the immediate knight development.
Albin Counter-Gambit 3...Ne7 [D08]
Sam Shankland was undoubtedly surprised by Daniil Dubov's amazing 3...Ne7 in Shankland, S - Dubov, D:
In the game, Black obtained equality straight away, but in future White should perhaps prefer 4.cxd5 (which seems to yield an edge) instead of 4.Nf3. Still, not everyone will be aware of Black's amazing third move, so for some of our more daring readers there could be some surprise value still remaining!
Later on, it was White who was pressing, but he overplayed his hand and was unable to defend the endgame after having lost his h-pawn.
I've also taken the opportunity to examine some other weird and wonderful ideas for Black on move two. Sometimes, the look of bemusement on your opponent's face is worth a risk or two!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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