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This month I'll be examining lots of games involving gambits, some of which are sometimes frowned upon. Morozevich still seems happy to wheel out the Albin from time-to-time, Ponkratov tries the Budapest, and Ghaem Maghami features in both the Benko and Blumenfeld. Even if many of these encounters are 'Rapid' games, one shouldn't forget that such tournaments, online or face-to-face, are an important part of the modern chess world. In any case, if certain GMs are willing to give them a go, then their practical value shouldn't be underestimated.

Download PGN of February ’22 Daring Defences games

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English Defence 4.a3 Nf6 5.d5 [A40]

The move order chosen by Black in the opening of Grigoryan, K - Dominguez Nunez, R suggests that once a2-a3 has been played that Dominguez Nunez wasn't concerned about a possible transposition into the Queen's Indian Defence.

In the game, however, play stuck to English Defence territory with White playing an early d4-d5 to cramp the opponent. So, in the diagram position, by continuing with 8...c6 there is a direct attempt to erode the centre and challenge for one's fair share of space. It seems that whether White exchanges on c6 or allows Black to capture on d5, any theoretical advantage is tiny at best. In the actual game, for example, 14...Qe7 would lead to safe equality whereas Dominguez Nunez's more combative 14...Qg6 15.Nh4 Qh7 was certainly playable, but felt a little unnatural.

English Defence with a3, 4...f5 5.d5 Nf6 6.g3 Na6 7.Bg2 Nc5 8.Nh3 Bd6 [A40]

The first surprise in Jankovic, A - Berczes, D was the choice of 9.Qc2:

This wasn't just a move order quirk, as Jankovic went on to pursue development with 10.Bd2 and 11.Rad1. Placing this rook on d1 isn't so usual in practice, but leaving the f1-rook in the vicinity of the king makes perfect sense. In the game, the complications could have gone either way, but if you prefer to steer events towards 'safe' equality in such circumstances then 11...exd5 12.cxd5 Qe7 is simplest, whereas the game move of 11...Qe8 seeking a Dutch-style attack is more a case of 'going for gold'.

As to the choice of 13...e5!? - this general plan (ignoring the d5-wedge whilst getting on with kingside action) doesn't always work that well, but here it proved both playable and dynamic.

Budapest 3...Ng4 4.Bf4 g5 5.Bg3 Bg7 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Nc3 Ngxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.e3 [A52]

The game Costachi, M - Ponkratov, P illustrates White's long-term prospects when he has a grip on the f4-square.

Here White doesn't need to seek complications by capturing on b7. Instead, 16.Qc2 Qf6 17.c5 saw White grinding away with Black struggling to find meaningful counterplay. This scenario is not good news for fans of 4...g5, but what's worse is that alternative plans for Black, including long castling also seem rather risky.

Benko Gambit Accepted 5.b6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 [A57]

In Danilov, V - Tukhaev, A there are several points in the opening that will be of interest. Firstly, despite the provocative 7...0-0 becoming more and more common in analogous positions, I suspect that in this case it could be refuted by 8.e5 etc.

Later, White chose an unconvincing exchange:

The cagey 13.Ne3 is in the spirit of the opening, as it keeps pieces on the board and thus reduces the opponent's room to manoeuvre. In that case, there is a wide choice of 'reasonable' plans for Black, but I'm not sure if any of the options fully compensate for White's space pull. After the game move 13.Nxb6, I would be quite happy with Black now that he has adequate room to manoeuvre.

Benko Accepted 5.e3 axb5 6.Bxb5 Qa5+ 7.Nc3 Bb7 8.Bd2 Qb6 9.a4 [A57]

In Pultinevicius, P - Shyam, A we see another example of Black struggling against the revitalized 5.e3 line.

A few ideas have been tried here but nothing has really held its own, and the same can be said about Shyam's innovative 12...f6. In the notes, my investigations suggest that 12...e6 is the most likely to ultimately lead to equality, but I'm slightly concerned by White's big percentage after 11...e6, which is similar in many respects. If all this doesn't appeal then it might be worth examining 5...g6 which leads to a different type of struggle.

Benko Accepted 7.e4 Bxf1 8.Kxf1 d6 9.g3 Bg7 10.Kg2 0-0 11.Nf3 Na6 [A59]

I quite like the development of the knight to a6 as in Prasanna, R - Ghaem Maghami, E (here it was 11...Na6, but it can transpose). The diagram position shows a key moment that followed after 13.Nd2:

At this point, Black can choose two different futures for his a6-knight: the solid 13...Nc7, when he covers b5, or advancing to demonstrate more positive intentions with 13...Nb4.

It's still not evident which of these is best, but there weren't any serious problems with the text move. After 14.Nc4 Qa6 15.a3 there was no advantage, but White could have instead opted for 15.Bg5 with 'chances for an edge'. Still, I think that Black's whole approach is superior to the early ...Nbd7 lines where it's easier for White to keep control.

Albin Counter-Gambit 5.a3 Nge7 6.b4 Ng6 7.Bb2 a5 8.b5 Ncxe5 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.Qxd4 [D08]

Morozevich plays and wins with the Albin in Kanep, A - Morozevich, A.

The Russian has made a number of contributions to the theory of this opening over the years and 13...0-0-0 is one of them, as he was the first to play this move (in 2016). Following 14.0-0 Kb8 15.Rc1 the knight can retreat to either of b6 or d6 with an acceptable game in both cases. My only criticism of Black's play was a further retreat shortly afterwards i.e. 17...Nc8 which wasn't precise. With my suggested improvement 17...Ne4! I quite fancy Black's practical chances.

Albin with g3 Mainline 5...Be6 6.Nbd2 Qd7 7.a3 Nge7 8.Nb3 [D09]

It was quite daring of Timofeev to try out the 'old' 5...Be6 in Grebnev, A - Timofeev, A a move that I don't believe that he's played before.

The diagram position is already quite rare despite both sides playing logical moves. Here 10...Ngxe5 would be correct, when any White advantage is minimal. Instead, in the actual game, the developing move 10...Bc5 allows White to gain a significant edge after fairly straightforward simplification.

The endgame was well-defended by Black, but Grebnev must have been disappointed not to make more of his extra pawn.

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 6...a6 7.bxa6 Bxa6 8.Nc3 Nc6 [E10]

In Gukesh, D - Ghaem Maghami, E White introduces a clear improvement with a novelty in the following position after 11...d5:

Here the Indian GM continued with 12.exd5! which is superior to the previously-played 12.e5. Even so, although 'opening up play' made a great deal of sense, it may not offer any objective advantage as with 15...Ne5! instead of 15...Bd6 there would have been enough compensation. So, I have to admit that I have quite a positive opinion of 8...Nc6, against which the thematic e2-e4 advance doesn't seem that effective.

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 6...d5 7.Nc3 Nbd7 8.e4 d4 [E10]

In Laurusas, T - Kosakowski, J we have another case of White playing an early e2-e4 in the 'BlumGA'. Here play becomes quite treacherous and seems to suit Mamedyarov's style who has employed this line with both colours.

Here there have been a number of tries, but the game move of 11.Neg5 is brand new. Then after 11...Ndxe5 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 the critical try is 13.Qe2 which I would describe as 'unclear' whereas Laurusas's 13.f4 proves to be inferior.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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