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Benko Gambit Accepted with Kxf1, 12.a4! [A59]
First of all however, I've had a request to look at one of the key lines in the Benko Gambit. In particular to look again at the games from last summer when Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura both beat Viktor Bologan with the line where White places his king on g2 and doesn't bother with h2-h3:
As White saves a tempo on the kingside, he can use this to better consolidate the other wing. In these games, Qe2 and a4 was successful for White, as you'll see in the notes to Game one. So much so that I haven't found any Bologan games in the Benko since then. Has he given the gambit up?
Even more recent examples have shown that some black players have managed to muddy the picture somewhat, but the feeling persists that Black doesn't really get enough compensation. This is perhaps the biggest test of all for the Benko at present.
Grünfeld Defence - Exchange 8 Be3 [D85]
In Game 2 Sipke Ernst tried 9.Bd2, which may surprise some folk:
White spends a tempo to line up the bishop against Black's queen. After 9...0-0 10.Be2 Bg4 11.0-0 Black has to make a decision. He has several options, and after taking a close look I have concluded that the main line with 11...Rd8 and Krasenkow's 11...Nd7 are the best pair from the bunch.
In the game, the experienced Polish GM seems to have missed a strong continuation and a possible win on move 20.
Exchange 8 Rb1, 10...Qa5+ [D85]
Anna Ushenina took on Peter Svidler in a highly-theoretical variation in Game 3. It was interesting to see what Svidler had prepared. Although he was just about OK in the game the Women's World Champion created a few practical problems with her novelty on move 21:
Nevertheless, Black's losing blunder comes as a shock. I suspect that Black could give himself an easier time (and equality!) with my suggested improvement 21...Qa5.
Exchange 5 Bd2 [D85]
Wesley So meets the fairly new 7.f4 line with a quick ...c5 in Game 4:
It's too early to state if this is any good, as the game continuation turned out to be far from clear. Alternatively, Black can develop first before playing for ...c5, whilst Grischuk even equalized with 8...a5, so there is plenty of choice.
In the game, Ipatov held onto the pawn in the first instance before switching to attacking mode. He won the exchange, but missed his way in the technical phase. I believe that he missed a win on move forty, see my analysis.
The slow 5 e2-e3 [D80]
In Game 5 Dominguez had no problems equalizing against the slow plan with e3 and a double capture on d5. It looks like an early ...c5 is the way to an easy game and then it comes down to a matter of taste between 12...b6 and 12...Qb6. Black obtains full equality in either case.
El Ghindy took some risks to create attacking chances, and confused his higher-ranked opponent. He later missed a win and then a better way to give up his queen. The Cuban made no errors in the latter phase when he converted his advantage.
Exchange 7 Bc4 [D87]
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave likes to play the Grünfeld dynamically and is not afraid of sacrificing a pawn for active play. The opening in his game against his compatriot Etienne Bacrot in Game 6 worked well and he obtained comfortable equality. So it looks like the early ...b6 system is here to stay.
The rook endgame was interesting, but I am personally surprised that Black failed to win. Nerves? Time trouble? or, just an analytical oversight?
There was another surprise in Game 7. Not just the novelty on move 12 but also how the tables were turned.
Alexander Morozevich reacted cautiously to White's show of muscle on the kingside, and settled for equality. The open h-file didn't really favour White, but certainly creates novel problems. A later exchange sacrifice by the less-well known Sambuev wasn't correct, but produced a minefield for Black to navigate. Despite playing well for most of the encounter a blunder (on move 40!) cost Morozevich a full point.
The Russian System 7...Na6 [D97]
Games 8 and 9 feature wins by Morozevich in the Russian System.
In the Prins variation, Morozevich plays an ambitious idea involving delaying castling which isn't easy to meet if one isn't prepared. Gelfand was just about able to cope in Game 8, but things started to go wrong around move 19. Morozevich conjured up an inspired piece offer that led to a king hunt and victory for the Russian. From Black's point of view, critical was accepting the offer, which doesn't seem at all clear to me, but also avoiding it altogether with a more careful 20th move.
In Game 9 Kamsky opts for a quick ...c5, but this didn't work out well:
He suffered all game as Morozevich kept the pawn and control of events. Earlier games also suggest that this rare idea is dubious, so I suggest that Black players seek an alternative path. I propose a couple of lines in the notes (see Black's 9th move) which seem fine for the second player. Note that neither of these involve ...c5, piece play being more to the point here.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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