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Those lines in the Benko with ...e6 often play like a Blumenfeld, so it's worth studying the two openings in parallel. Here we have the best of all three worlds(!), some Benkos, a Blumenfeld, and then a Benko that gravitates towards and even transposes to a Blumenfeld. With Dubov playing like this, and even winning with it, don't be surprised if this starts a trend!
I've also looked at some recent Leningrad Dutch encounters, including one where even the World Champion is willing to give it a go. So with top GMs playing some of the highly Daring Defences don't forget to renew your subscription to this column!

Download PGN of December ’21 Daring Defences games

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Benko Gambit 4.Nf3 g6 5.cxb5 a6 6.b6 [A57]

The sequence 4.Nf3 g6 5.cxb5 a6 6.b6 occurred in Suleymanli, A - Perunovic, M. Unfortunately, this line is missing from Perunovic's Thinkers' Publishing work. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's an oversight by the author or editorial staff, it can mean in the context of the Modernized series that the author has nothing special to add to earlier texts. A shame, especially with Kiril Georgiev recommending this approach for White as far back as 2010. So avid readers will have to turn to the Daring Defences column for their info!

Now where to place the queen? Six different moves have been tried with Perunovic choosing the cautious d8 which keeps out of the way of the typical manoeuvre ...Nf6-e8-c7. Later, once matters had clarified somewhat, he continued with ...Qc8-b7 from where the royal lady was poised to participate once any opportunities arose. White's advance with e4-e5, when it came, didn't yield any advantage.

Benko Gambit without Kxf1, 5...e6 6.dxe6 fxe6 [A58/E10]

I was slightly mystified by the premature 0-1 in Perez Ponsa, F - Dubov, D as I was interested to see how Black intended to break down the white fortress. As to the opening, this demonstrates some typical Dubov bravado in his choice of 5...e6 with features of both the Benko and Blumenfeld gambits.

White took the pawn, but seemed rather destabilized by this turn of events and soon went wrong. A lesson for us all in that, in the diagram position, the white b1-knight is not well placed on d2, and you'll no doubt agree that 11.Nbd2 led to all sorts of (self induced?) problems! Instead, 11.Nc3 and 11.b3 are the best alternatives but, even in the latter case, the knight should still be developed to c3 rather than elsewhere!

Benko Gambit without Kxf1, 8.a7 [A58]

In Gukesh, D - Iniyan, P the higher-rated of these Indian GMs was able to introduce an improvement.

White's 14.Bf4 looks better than the previously played 14.Bd2 and in fact there didn't seem to be an easy solution for Black after this. Maybe Gukesh has found a bust? So rather than 12...Na6, a number of recent games have involved 12...Ba6 (see the notes) where the trade of light-squared bishops seems to yield more chances of generating counterplay. For the modern move order in the Benko, 8.a7 remains one of the biggest tests.

Benko Gambit without Kxf1, 7.g3 Mainline with 16...Qc7 [A58]

In Harika, D - Muzychuk, M the endgame should really have been won by White, but time rather reduced the quality of the play by both sides towards the end.

The opening, however, was a noteworthy theoretical struggle involving the key move 16.a4 which I would suggest is the most challenging. Muzychuk then wriggled a little with her major pieces, but didn't find a fully satisfactory solution, which became evident after 21.b4 followed by advancing a knight to the influential c6-square. Somehow, it feels that Black needs to avoid all this (or at least get a better version) by jiggling the move order at an early stage, so perhaps 9...Nfd7 to hinder White's desired b2-b3 plan.

Benko Gambit with Kxf1, 12.a4 Ra6 13.Qe2 Qa8 14.Ra3 [A59]

Even if it's 'only' a rapid game, Le Quang Liem is willing to play the main line of the 'traditional' Benko against a high-level opponent. So it was interesting to see the dynamics of the struggle in So, W - Le Quang Liem:

White has a number of major piece moves here that seem to present Black with certain theoretical problems. In the notes, I examine 13.Re1, but it has similarities with the chosen move from the game (13.Qe2) where in both cases, if White can keep control, he can limit the chances of Black obtaining enough counterplay. The key plan often involves making use of the b5-square, but 16.Nb5? when it came was an error. This perhaps demonstrates that even if the engine insists on a white advantage in the Benko Gambit one can so easily go astray, as humans are not always able to cope impeccably with the black pressure. In fact, it's 15.b3 (rather than 15.Rd1) that needs a closer look for anyone wnating to go into this line.

Leningrad with 7.Nc3 a5 [A87]

The World Champion tries an offbeat idea in the Leningrad in Vidit, S - Carlsen, M:

A typical move in many a mainstream Leningrad, perhaps, but this generally comes somewhat later. So some 'cat and mouse' move order play can easily follow with both sides trying to make their set-up 'make more sense' than that of the opponent's. After Vidit's choice of 8.d5 the simplest for Black is probably 8...Qe8 with one of the main lines that usually arises from 7...Qe8 8.d5 a5. Carlsen however decided to do without this queen slide, and continued with 8...Na6 and followed up with ...Bd7, ...c5 and ...Nc7, but by closing down the wing with 12.a4 White retained a small plus due to his extra space. Throughout the encounter it was only White who had winning chances, but this doesn't mean that 7...a5 isn't worth investigating, as it could throw someone who 'memorizes' lines rather than seeks to understand them.

Leningrad with b2-b4, 7...Qe8 [A81]

In Socko, B - Klekowski, M Black's attempt to avoid being troubled by the queenside pawn phalanx with 8...Nbd7 didn't impress:

Essentially, the knight gets in the way which was particularly evident in some of the lines resulting from 9.Nc3 a6. Such experimentation can sometimes put the opponent off their stride, but I can't see how this move can be superior to the natural 9...c6, as 10.b5 could then be met by 10...Nb6 11.Nd2 Be6 when Black should be fine. In the game, the calm 10.Qc2 did lead to a small edge for White, but the more direct 10.Ng5! looks highly awkward for Black. In the later phases, the advantage went the other way and White's win was only because of a terrible blunder.

As to Black's best move on move eight, a good question! White has generally scored well against most moves, so it might be that the student of the Leningrad would do well to follow Adrien Demuth's suggested move order of 5...0-0 (instead of 5...d6), one important point being 6.b4 Nc6!? with the serious option of a quick ...d7-d5.

Leningrad 7.Nc3 c6 8.Rb1 a5 9.b3 [A88]

The veterans in Novikov, I - Shabalov, A stuck to their respective styles. Novikov kept to a standard positionally-sound path whereas Shabalov tried to mix things up.

Shablov tried an early rook move with 10...Rb8 but this didn't stop Novikov building up in the usual manner. Once the diagram was reached it felt like Black had the wrong rook on d8, and furthermore with 16.Na4 White could probe away at the weak squares a5 and b6. So Black's opening play hadn't really worked very well and 10...Qc7 or perhaps 10...Bd7 should be preferred in future.

In the game, 16.Ba3 didn't put Black under enough pressure and it was only rather later that the game ultimately tipped in White's favour.

Leningrad 7.Nc3 c6 8.Re1 [A88]

The Studer, N - Kamsky, G encounter was quite amazing in how the American managed to bamboozle his opponent.

The opening phase was fine for Black after 12.bxc3 e5! but then with 13.Bg5 life became quite complex following 13...Qe8 14.e4. In my opinion, Black should have preferred 13...Qd7!? to stay off the e-file. In the ensuing play, Studer sacrificed a piece for a big central dominance, and the diagram position arose:

Kamsky reacted with 'move of the month' 19...Nc5!! just giving back the piece for seemingly nothing tangible, and yet it is an excellent idea! Following 20.dxc5 Be5 White has three extra pawns and yet is unable to generate any consequent play of any worth. It seems that he has nothing better than simply defending everything and accepting 'equality'. Curious.

Blumenfeld Gambit Declined, 5.e4 Counter-Gambit [E10]

The Anti-Blumenfeld Counter-Gambit with 5.e4 (the ABCG) has now generated some interest at strong GM level and was employed in Gelfand, B - Bartel, M.

On move seven, there are two main ideas: 7...Be7, as in the game, and 7...bxc4 which is more popular and has scored relatively better for Black. Once 8.Nc3 0-0 has been played (Bartel opting for rapid development) Gelfand correctly reacted with 9.Nxb5 re-establishing material equality. The further moves 9...d6 10.dxe6 fxe6 lead us to the Diagram position.

Here Gelfand innovated with 11.Bf4 which I believe is rather good, but he should then have met 11...Kh8 with 12.Ng5! in order to obtain some advantage. The game quickly swung in Black's favour and Bartel's attack was rather strong and he missed at least one win.

As to the opening, it looks like 7...bxc4 is the better option, that is, if you can put credence in the statistics.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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