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This month I'll be taking a close look at developments in a selection of more off-beat openings.

Download PGN of February '14 Daring Defences games

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Benko Gambit Declined 4.Nf3 [A57]

There are three games in the Benko.

Game One features 4.Nf3 met by 4...bxc4, which is not my first choice for Black but seems to be playable. In the game White obtained a strong attack and then improved on previous experience on his way to victory. Here is the diagram after the winning novelty 19.Qc3+:

If one really wants to capture the c-pawn with 4...bxc4, then the follow-up with 6...Nbd7! (in order to prevent e4-e5 which has been known for a long time to be precarious for Black) is the way to continue. See the notes which seem to suggest that Black is then OK.

Benko Gambit Declined 4.Qc2 [A57]

An option that has achieved a certain following is 4.Qc2 getting ready to push e2-e4, as featured in Game Two. There are many choices for Black, but early action in the centre (to punish White for playing with his queen, rather than making a 'real' developing move) with 4...bxc4 5.e4 e6! is certainly amongst the best.

Andriasian instead prefers to simply fianchetto his king's bishop, after which there are various nuances for both players with the move orders. For me, the most notable lesson is that Black's plan involving pushing the a-pawn and ...Ba6 worked a treat.

Benko Accepted with Kxf1, 12.a4 Qa5 [A59]

In the Benko Accepted it's 12.a4 that is scoring heavily, see Game Three (Laznicka-Jianu). I recently played against 12...Qb6 and kept an edge, but this is probably a better choice than the game move 12...Qa5 which is tantamount to losing a tempo:

This is because, in this particular line, White is happy to place his bishop on d2 bearing down on Black's queen. Laznicka didn't have much pity for his opponent in the actual game!

The third main option 12...Ra6, intending ...Qa8 and ...e6, is perhaps the best practical try. White then has to slug it out in the centre in a tricky middlegame. OK, he always has an extra pawn, but isn't able to keep the same control as he does against those lines where Black just aims to press along the 'a' and 'b' files.

Nimzovich Defence (1.e4 Nc6 or 1.d4 Nc6) 2.Nf3 d6 [B00]

This opening is often under-estimated (by me for instance!), but it has the advantage of avoiding mainstream theory. It can be a tricky transpositional tool (as you'll see in my comments) to various openings which can certainly throw an unwary opponent.

Some of the dynamic ideas in these three games are brand new. These could appeal to those who like to go their own way right from the start. A good surprise weapon if you want something different, but basically sound.

In Game Four Black plays in a way that I had never thought about before, 4...e5!?:

This could be thought of as transposing to a 1.e4 e5 opening, but it hasn't been covered by my ChessPublishing colleagues in that column!

The Nimzovich-move order looks logical enough, that is, if one doesn't mind playing without queens if White chops off on e5. In the game Petrosian set new problems and obtained a decent position, whatever opening it should be classified under!

Both sides were trying their best to obtain some play in a manoeuvring middlegame, but when Black went wrong White was able to obtain winning chances in an exchange-up pseudo endgame. White took his time, as from his opponent's error on move 43 it took him 99 moves to convert his advantage!

Nimzovich Defence 2.d4 d5 [B00]

In Game Five the position became sharp very quickly after Jobava's novelty 8.Nge2:

Despite the early exchange of queens White obtained attacking chances, but Black was objectively holding until quite late on in the game. The problem for Black is that any slight error was going to be dangerous with his king going 'walkabout'. And it came to pass, see the final moves!

In Game 6 Stevic opted for a relatively closed position, but that didn't stop the tactics bursting out of the woodwork! An early blood-letting fest led to equal chances. Black did obtain some advantage later, but White defended well his pawn down endgame.

The opening in Game 6 illustrates yet another way for Black to get something near to equality, whilst forcing the opponent to start playing chess right from the beginning.

Maybe I'll be looking at the Nimzovich more often in future!

Albin Counter Gambit 5.a3 [D08]

The Albin is not particularly fashionable these days, but is far from being refuted. A few people like to give it a go occasionally, especially with faster time limits. This can make White feel uncomfortable. A good example being in Game 7, for example, where Lawrence Trent employs a new move in the following position after 8.Qa6:

It turns out that the Englishman's 8...Nge7! is quite a good move. The game was murky and not totally convincing, but one can conclude that the move created practical problems for White who couldn't cope with Black's activity.

A handy addition to Black's armoury, as previous efforts with the over-risky 8...f6 haven't worked out, as this basically weakens Black and hardly troubles White.

Albin Counter Gambit 5.g3, Morozovich's 5...Nge7 [D09]

In Game 8, from one of the modern main lines, Black varies on move 8. Usually flicking in 8...h6 is recommended, when the bishop has to drop back to a less than optimal square. I don't think that White has anything tangible after that.

However, the featured 8...Ngxe5 is a reasonable alternative, when the variations in the game and notes seem to suggest that Black is not too far from equality:

Nevertheless, it just feels right to hit the bishop early before White gets organized, so I would still recommend 8...h6.

In the game Black was outplayed somewhat and lost a pawn, but should still have held.

Blumenfeld Gambit Declined 5.Bg5 exd5 [E10]

One of the critical lines in the Blumenfeld Declined was tested in Game 9:

The three main choices are 9.Nbd2, 9.axb5 and the game move 9.Bxf6. My impression is that theoretically Black is doing fine against all three. Indeed, this could represent Black's best way of meeting 5.Bg5.

In the game Leon Hoyos is able to keep his queenside intact and then obtain dynamic play following 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.Qc2 and now the precise move 10...Qa5+!.

Blumenfeld Gambit Declined 5.Bg5 b4 [E10]

In Game 10 Savchenko had a bad day at the office. His tenth move was a howler, but even on move 9 I think he should have captured with the knight rather than the pawn. However, a little earlier his 7...Nbd7!? was quite innovative:

especially as the normal move 7...Be7 hasn't been faring well.

If you don't like all this for Black then maybe 5...b4 isn't for you. Never mind, you could always use Game 9 as a model for something more solid.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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