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Benko Gambit 5.e3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.a4 [A57]
One of the longest games that has featured on ChessPublishing was Igel - Scorpio, but the final two-thirds are not very interesting, as White stubbornly tried to win a 'pawn up but highly drawish' endgame.
Computer matches come with set openings in two legs and both encounters involved the diagram position. Scorpio playing White chose the prudent 12.Nf3 and maintained an edge and went on to win. Igel, in the featured game, played 12.Qxc5 Rc7 13.Qa3 but after 13...d5!? Black was able to obtain a reasonable game even if 'it' didn't quite equalize.
On the eighth move, the choice between 8...d6, 8...Bb7 and 8...e6 often comes down to a question of style: 8...d6 is calm, solid, but a little passive; 8...e6 is frantic and murky, whereas the best-scoring 8...Bb7 prepares ...e6 under more auspicious circumstances.
Benko Gambit 5.e3 axb5 6.Bxb5 Qa5+ 7.Nc3 Bb7 [A57]
I think that Adly's plan of fianchettoing his king's bishop in Barrish, D - Adly, A is a better practical choice than the lines involving ...e6, where Black has theoretically been struggling.
Here 10...e6 has already featured recently in this column, but I prefer the 10...Nb4 11.0-0 g6 of the present game. Then Barrish's active-looking 12.e4 Bg7 13.Bg5 was met by the novel 13...Ba6, which, like previous alternatives, may not fully equalize but still gives a playable game.
Benko Gambit Accepted, 5...g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.g3 0-0 8.Nf3 [A58]
In Nakamura, H - Firouzja, A it was surprising to see the American star go so badly astray.
Firouzja's 8...Qa5 is definitely in the spirit of the 'Modern Benko' (i.e. where Black delays capturing on a6). Here the threat of ...Ne4 induces White to place a minor piece on d2, which is all very well, but may not enable White to get one of the more dangerous versions of the Fianchetto Variation. It could be that 9.Bd2, as played, led to a sort of position not anticipated in Nakamura's preparation. I'm guessing, of course, but when Black played ...Nd7-b6-c4 it was hitting the bishop and enabled Black to obtain a good game. I personally didn't like the idea of then allowing the knight to capture the bishop, but it was perhaps on the sixteenth (with 16.a4?) and not the fourteenth move where the most serious error was played.
Dutch 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.Qc2 g6 6.h4 [A85]
A crazy piece sacrifice in the opening in Arvola, B - Laznicka, V is criticized quite severely by the engines, but in a 'human limited-time' game it turned out to be difficult for a high-ranking GM playing Black to navigate the complications.
Arvola's 8.0-0-0 was actually a novelty, but doesn't offer any objective advantage following Laznicka's 8...h6! After that, the wild and woolly 9.dxe5 hxg5 10.hxg5 is unsound, but turned out to be lots of fun. Going backwards a little, I think that the flexible 7.e3 presents better chances of keeping an edge than 7.Nh3, but my opinion is based on only a few games and there is certainly plenty of scope for possible improvements here.
Dutch Leningrad 7.Nc3 c6 8.Qc2 Qe8 [A88]
The opening sequence in Scorpio - Ethereal is slightly odd, but I don't know how the pre-selected openings in these matches came about.
Here 9...fxe4 10.Nxe4 Bf5 enables Black to aspire to comfortable equality without too much fuss. Instead, the 9...e5?! of the game is basically dubious, and there seems to be more than one way to demonstrate this fact. Scorpio grabbed a pawn, wriggled it's way through the complex stuff, and then went on to win a nice endgame. Maybe not every human could play this well, but why give White the chance to do so when simply 9...fxe4 equalizes easily?
Dutch Leningrad 7...c6 8.d5 e5 9.dxe6 Bxe6 10.b3 Ne4 [A88]
Maxime Lagarde likes to play his daring defence openings in a particularly daring manner as witnessed in Agdestein, S - Lagarde, M .
This knight leap 10...Ne4 doesn't have a good reputation because it used to be played to grab the exchange, which has been shown to be dubious for Black. The young Frenchman however met 11.Nxe4 with 11...fxe4, when after 12.Nd4 he played 12...Qd7 (he had previously played 12...Bf7) a rare move that has been tried in some e-mail games. The idea is to gain play in the centre quickly i.e. if White grabs the pawn then Black gets good piece play, if he doesn't (like in the game where Agdestein opted for 13.Bb2) then consolidating the centre with ...d5 turns out to be fine.
Dutch Leningrad 7...c6 8.Re1 Na6 9.a3 [A88]
The encounter Studer, N - Sochacki, C turned out to be an epic fight! There were plenty of great tactics, as well as a few mistakes along the way, but both players should be congratulated for going at it 'hammer and tongs' to produce an amazing game. So prepare to be entertained!
In the diagram position, Sochacki is already demonstrating a desire to attack on the kingside which he kept up throughout the game. Here the 'natural' advance 14.b5 of the game turns out to be OK, but doesn't yield any advantage. Instead, the engine suggestion 14.d5! is an astonishing pawn sacrifice to wrench the initiative away from the opponent. I can't remember seeing this idea before, but it's an instructive theme that could perhaps be applied to analogous positions.
As to the theory in the opening, I suspect that there are better moves than 9...h6, but I can't make up my mind to which is the best choice! See the notes to help formulate your own opinion.
Dutch Leningrad 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.d5 Ne5 9.Nxe5 dxe5 10.e4 f4 [A89]
Yes, they are at it again! A second Agdestein, S - Lagarde, M meeting this month and one in which Black had all the luck at the end.
In this case, played one day later than their other meeting (see above), Lagarde chose to vary from 7...c6 with 7...Nc6 and they followed theory for a while before he introduced a neat new idea.
In more than 50 previous games no one had played Lagarde's 16...b5! which turns out to be actually rather good (in my opinion, at least!). Black is then able to further expand and generate counterplay on the queenside. I like Black's idea despite the engines still preferring White. It certainly worked in the game, as Black soon obtained some advantage (that is, for a while) before blundering. Dramatically, however, Agdestein blundered back and got his king into trouble.
Classical Dutch Fluid Centre 7...a5 8.b3 Qe8 9.Bb2 Qg6 [A96]
In Kozul, Z - Harvey, M the veteran Croatian campaigner produced a nicely controlled game including a neat combination to break through.
Kozul's 14.Nd5 seems to be the required move to keep an edge. After that, despite Black not seeming to do that much wrong White's advantage seemed to grow and grow, before his flashy 27th put the result beyond doubt.
I can't really suggest any major improvements for Black, but I do see why this approach has dropped out of favour, as White seems to be better in all lines. So instead of 7...a5 (a tempo that could perhaps be better spent elsewhere?), maybe Black should prefer 7...Qe8 (as favoured by Bassem Amin in recent times) or Simon Williams's favourite 7...Ne4.
Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 6...a6 7.bxa6 Bxa6 8.Nc3 [E10]
The quick crush for White in Heberla, B - Zwardon, V might worry a few Blumenfeld practitioners.
White's 9.e4! is almost new, but highly dangerous, as Zwardon will no doubt confirm if you ask him!
So if Black's centre gets shaken by this vigorous move then perhaps it's better to opt for 8...Nc6 (rather than 8...d5) holding the pawns back until he has better development. In an earlier game, Zwardon had played 8...Be7, another restrained and less risky move that deserves attention.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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