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Benko Gambit Declined 4.Nf3 d6 5.Qc2 [A57]
The calm Qc2, when played early, prepares e2-e4, and was employed on move five in Agopov, M - Sammalvuo, T but it soon transposed to the theory that usually occurs via 4.Qc2. I have a feeling the inclusion of ...bxc4, as in the actual game, is probably a good idea as the b-file can be a source of counterplay for Black. White's decision to play with 10.a4 and 14.Ra3 didn't really work as Black should have hit back with 14...f5! with White still rather disorganized. Later, the advantage went back into White's hands and he didn't let go. The opposite-coloured bishop endgame turned out to be surprisingly (too) difficult to defend.
Benko Gambit 5.e3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 [A57]
In Nogueiras Santiago, J - Martinez Duany, L, after 9...e6:
White's 10.Bg5!? (the fourth most common bishop move) was an interesting surprise, but Black reacted well and a tense struggle occurred in the middlegame. I think that Black's compensation for his pawn was more or less adequate, and his ambitious play eventually paid off, as White went astray. The endgame seems to have been winning even if the veteran Nogueiras hadn't blundered. I think that the more natural 10.Be2 (or the similar 10.Bc4) is more challenging, but that's another story.
Benko Gambit Accepted with Kxf1, 12.a4 [A59]
After a period when the traditional Benko has been suffering against 12.a4:
Black is gradually learning to better handle the resulting positions. In Espinosa Veloz, E - Gallego Alcaraz, A White's 13.Re1 was successfully met with ...Ng4-e5-d3 and a timely ...f5. Instead, as you'll see in the notes, against both of 13.Qe2 and 13.Qc2 the tricky idea 13...Qb4 seems to be critical. I'm not sure that Black can obtain 'full equality', but so far his practical results have been encouraging.
Dutch Defence, London versus Leningrad 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.Bf4 [A85]
Although Stocek, J - Michalik, P was only a thirty-move draw, there is quite a lot to comment about. Stocek tried a 'London system inspired' response to the Leningrad and then perhaps surprised his opponent on move eight...
...with 8.c5!?, attempting to get things moving quickly. Black's reaction with 8...Ne4 is a clear improvement on the only previous game that reached this position. However, it's a natural one as it's also been considered as adequate for Black against 8.Be2 since an encounter between Aronian and Carlsen. Furthermore, even against 8.Bh2 (which is supposed to more or less stop 8...Ne4) it seems that it's still playable, and maybe quite good!
There is a feeling that Michalik may have had the better of the opening, but was rather outplayed once it became complicated and was perhaps fortunate to draw. The queen and rook pseudo-endgame at the end should offer some winning chances for White, so the draw at move thirty was premature.
Dutch 3.Nc3 e6 4.Qc2 [A85]
In Harsha, B - Sandipan, C the duel was fought out to the bitter end. The opening struggle turned in White's favour, but Black did miss a chance for decent counterplay with a pawn sacrifice. In the latter part of the middlegame, Harsha lost his way by erroneously trading the last pair of rooks and then his opponent had a draw whenever he wanted. Sandipan, the higher-rated of the two, tried so hard to win but, as so often happens, he overcooked it and went on to lose.
The plan with Qc2, e3 and f3 is a challenging system which Black needs to be prepared for, but a careful look at the notes to this game should see one right.
Leningrad Dutch early b3 [A87]
In the game Bluebaum, M - Laznicka, V Black decided on a plan involving ...c5 to counter White's double-fianchetto set-up:
Bluebaum's reaction was to seek a quiet game where Black's light-squared bishop was blocked by it's own pawns for quite some time, thus offering White hopes of generating some pressure. I liked White's sixteenth move, but it's probably not offering more than a nominal edge if Black had been more careful. As it happened, by the time Black achieved some longed for activity on the d-file, he was already structurally in trouble. So Laznicka's decision to allow his pawns to be shattered on the queenside has to questioned. Even so, bringing home the full point required precise play on the young German's part.
In the encounter Laurusas, T - Neiksans, A Black countered White's b2-b3 with the relatively sharp idea of ...e5.
In the diagram position, most players have continued with 9...Ng4, but in the featured game the rarer 9...Ne4 was employed. After 10.Nc3 Nxc3 11.Bxc3 there is a choice, but I think that against both of Black's principal moves a sequence involving Qd5+ offers White a slight pull. The way that Black won with a direct attack was noteworthy and reminded me of the classic game Vidmar, M - Nimzovich, A, New York 1927. In both examples, White has the d-file, but was unable to do much with it and Black gradually expanded his kingside pawns and thus generated an attack.
Leningrad Dutch 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.d5 Ne5 [A89]
White played a novelty in Yu Yangyi - Xu Xiangyu, and one that seems to lead to a position that is easier to play for White. This in turn suggests that the simplifying sequence that leads up to the diagram position isn't as straightforward for Black as the consensus had thought until now:
The rook would seem to be quite well placed on the c-file, especially as it is about to open up. After the game did indeed become quite lively, White gave up the bishop pair to emerge with an extra pawn. Now, I found it hard to imagine that this should have been good enough for a significant advantage, but somehow Yu Yangyi managed to win a long struggle.
Leningrad Dutch 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.d5 Na5 [A89]
There were a few significant moments in the game Neiksans, A - Stremavicius, T. In the late opening, the choice of 12.Ba3!? was unusual (but it makes the typical idea of ...c6 less achievable) after which Stremavicius's set-up involving ...Bg8 turned out to be too passive. Neiksans obtained a smooth positional advantage and topped this off with a dinky exchange sacrifice. Sure, it might not have been the best plan in the position, but I still like 25.Rc3 all the same.
Anti-Grünfeld 8...e5 [D70]
Here in Mozharov, M - Khusenkhojaev, M I've examined a few developments and can perhaps make some tentative conclusions.
After 10.h4 (in the notes) my latest examination of the theory suggests that Black is not totally comfortable. However, there is better news for him after 10.Rd1 in the main game where Khusenkhojaev diffuses White's opening pull with a good novelty i.e. 18...Rc8. It was soon Black who gained the advantage and he was able to snatch a pawn. His technique in the rook endgame let him down, otherwise he would perhaps have won. So the onus is on White to make 10.Rd1 dangerous again, otherwise I expect there to be renewed interest in 10.h4.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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