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It's the New Year and I thought that I would start with a number of the more daring opening ideas in my sphere of influence. So all the games in January feature gambits.

Download PGN of January ’17 Daring Defences games

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English Defence 3.e4 Bb7 4.Bd3 f5 5.exf5 Bb4+ 6.Kf1 [A40]

The lines where Black plays 4...f5 can become quite sharp, but are probably dubious if he then captures on g2 on move five. So the standard way these days is to throw in 5...Bb4+. White moves out of the check and defends g2 with 6.Kf1, when his awkwardly-placed king may become a handicap, but he has an extra pawn to keep him happy. Play then typically leads to the following position:

As gambits go it's not a bad practical try because it can get quite messy. One could reason that even when things go wrong, White's king gets in the way thus giving Black some hope (as in the featured game, Rubio Mejia, L - Del Rio de Angeles, S). However, my feeling is that White is objectively better. I played 10.c5 recently and was successful, and here 10.Bxf5 Qe8 11.Bg5 Qh5 12.h4 was also promising.

So I'm not a great fan of 4...f5.

Budapest Gambit 3...Ng4 4.Bf4 Bb4+ 5.Nd2 [A52]

This can be thought of the main line of the 4.Bf4 Budapest. White typically obtains the bishop pair but has to be patient to get open lines that will help them get going. The standard pawn break is c4-c5, but there is no consensus about the ideal timing. He can usually count on a small but stable advantage from this approach hence the continuing popularity of 4.Bf4. In the game Flores, Di - Abarca Gonzalez, N White employed an unusual plan with c5-c6, but he was still slightly better.

Budapest Gambit 3...Ng4 4.Bf4 g5 5.Bg3 [A52]

The ...g5-thrust is almost a statement of intent. Black isn't going to play for a solid but prospectless middlegame, he instead wants a mess! Previously, I had recommended a reaction by White involving h2-h4 when Black is forced to cede control of the f4-square. In Krejci, J - Zwardon, V White was able to get his knights to d5 and f4 and could look forward to a long-term pull:

Indeed, Black should have been denied the counterplay he was angling for (with his ...g5 idea) and, in addition, his king is the most vulnerable. However, in the game, Black seized the advantage before letting it slip, showing at least that White has to be careful how he aims to nurture his edge.

As for the theory: The note starting 6.Nf3 Bg7 7.h4 is perhaps the critical line where there are many resources still waiting to be discovered. The complications are probably no easier for White to play even if the engines give him as favourite.

Benko Gambit 4.cxb5 a6 5.e3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.a4 0-0 8.e4 [A57]

The 5.e3 line, where White (in a nutshell) 'takes on b5, but delays or avoids capturing on a6', has undergone a revival of late. Gonda, L - Perunovic, Mil was a highly theoretical tussle.

Black improved on a previous game by playing 19...Bf6 here to bolster the defences around his f7-square. Even so, I still prefer White slightly, so Black will have to seek an earlier deviation in his quest for 'equality'. White was winning in the middlegame, but the longer the game continued the more Black took over.

Benko Gambit 4.cxb5 a6 5.e3 axb5 6.Bxb5 Qa5 7.Nc3 Bb7 8.Bd2 Qb6 [A57]

In Andersen, Mad - Sebastian, D we examine a different way of meeting 5.e3, but again it doesn't seem quite sufficient to negate White's opening pull.

Black is perhaps not under too much pressure, but his centre isn't quite 'full compensation' for White's bishop pair and his a-pawn. However, you might want to note that in the rough and tumble of the middlegame Black held his own, only to get confused later.

Benko Gambit 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 Bg7 [A58]

The Ragger, M - Hertneck, G struggle was played in a rapid tournament, but features a quick e4-e5 advance by White against the 'Modern Benko':

After 10...Ne8 11.Nf3 d6 12.e6 Black has to make a difficult decision and I'm still not sure which is his best way forward, see the notes for some of my tentative conclusions. This matter could well be settled soon, as I'm expecting other practical tests in this line as the 'delayed ...d6-Benko' is still so popular. In the game Hertneck demonstrated some interesting resources including a surprising retreat (13...Bc8, which might be good) and an exchange sacrifice (which however wasn't quite sound).

Dutch Defence Staunton Gambit 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nc6 [A83]

One of the main lines of the Staunton Gambit is featured here. In Plat, V - Kociscak, J Black obtained a good opening, but lost the thread in the middlegame (including overlooking White's gross blunder) and rather tamely went into a bad endgame.

In the notes, you will notice that 9...Nxd6 leads to a calm queenless position where Black can equalize but winning chances are slim. In the game, Kociscak played the more complex 9...Qe6 which is equally good, but has the advantage of retaining more tension.

Blumenfeld Gambit Declined 5.Bg5 exd5 6.cxd5 h6 [E10]

In a number of these declined lines White aims to challenge the b5-pawn, usually by a2-a4. Once the b-pawn has moved, White can gain access to the c4-square offering him fair chances of maintaining an edge into the middlegame. In the featured game, Vorobiov, E - Druska, J, Black was able to place his minor pieces on active-looking squares which compensated for White's staging post on c4:

Indeed, it was hard to see how Vorobiov was going to make any headway on either wing until Black played the imprudent ...h5, whereupon White generated a strong attack.

As for the opening, 8...Be7 looks like a robust line and is worth investigating further.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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