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Benko Gambit Accepted 5.Nc3 axb5 6.Nxb5 Qa5+ [A57]
You may already be aware of 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.Nc3!? axb5 and now 6.Nxb5!? (6.e4 is the Zaitsev variation, a counter-gambit that gives the game a very different character). The actual move order in Babula, V - Budisavljevic, L requires some explanation: 2...a6!? (staying non-committal) 3.Nc3 (logical) 3...c5 4.d5 (the principled move) 4...b5 (so it's a Benko after all!) 5.cxb5 axb5 6.Nxb5:
Whatever route steers the game towards the diagram position, many of you will be aware that 6...Ba6 7.Nc3 then takes play back to a standard 'main line' Benko. Erwin L'Ami, in his recent Chessbase DVD, doesn't discuss this possibility so (not playing the Benko himself as Black) he may simply have overlooked this simple solution. Alternatives on move six: 6...e6 (with the possibility of a transposition to a Blumenfeld in view) and 6...Qa5 (as here) are attempts by Black to seek something less well-mapped out than the intricacies of A59.
In response, Babula's attempt to attack is tricky and trappy, but not that convincing when examined with the help of an engine. Still, his approach looks critical (until move fourteen when there are better options for White). All along, Black has to play accurately to avoid falling for something, but my suggested improvement on move thirteen (13...Ne3!) might help solve his problems.
Benko Gambit 5.e3 axb5 6.Bxb5 Qa5+ 7.Nc3 Bb7 8.Ne2 [A57]
As 5.e3 has recently been recommended in a white repertoire (see the June 2020 update for more examples) it's high time to re-examine some possible lines. Although White overpressed and lost the pseudo-endgame in Debashis, D - Swapnil, SD his opening was highly advantageous for him.
The diagram position has largely been forgotten by the modern generation of Benko practitioners, but was better known a couple of decades ago. In the game, Black played 13...d6?! but after 14.Bxd6! Rd8 15.Bxe7! he was faced with serious problems in the 'Rook, Bishop and two pawns versus Queen' middlegame. A better way involves 13...Qd8! which has already featured on ChessPublishing (in a game played in 2001 and analyzed by Jonathan Tisdall) where Black regroups whilst holding onto his d-pawn. Sometimes, finding the solution to an opening problem involves delving into the past!
Benko Gambit Declined 4.Nd2 bxc4 5.e4 e6 [A57]
The line with 4.Nd2 is not recognized as one of the most challenging options, but at least it avoids one's opponent's pet lines. In Motuz, K - Marcos, J Black's reaction 4...bxc4 5.e4 e6 look's logical (the knight on d2 slows down White's development) after which the game continuation with 6.dxe6 doesn't look that promising. I think that 6.Bxc4 is the only hope of an opening pull (even if it's only +=/=), as White then retains more space and the other knight can come over from g1 to c3 to bolster the centre.
So, although 5...e6 looks fine, I still personally prefer 5...c3! 6.bxc3 g6.
The endgame was instructive, but there were many inaccuracies which suggests that time was short.
Dutch 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 d5 4.Bxf6 [A80]
White found himself outplayed in Mchedlishvili, M - Lagarde, M. Black's approach of leaving his king in the centre whilst pushing up his kingside pawns looks quite attractive, especially for quicker time limits. The engines propose a counter-plan based for White on advancing with c4-c5 (gaining space) and then advancing on the queenside (whilst avoiding an accident on the other wing). Can the machines be trusted in such a closed position? Would a human feel confident about being able to hold out indefinitely against a kingside assault? We need more tests before I can answer these questions.
Dutch 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 d5 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 [A80]
The game Giri, A - Caruana, F was eventually won by White, but time was probably the decisive factor at the death. It's on move nine in the opening where the scene gets set for the middlegame:
Caruana keeps the game relatively closed with 9...Nd7, but I think that the resulting middlegame was objectively easier for White. Sure, not everybody enjoys facing a Stonewall set-up, but without dark-squared bishops it's easier for Black to go astray. As to alternatives, I think that 9...Nd6 and 9...b6 are playable, but it seems that a fourth possibility 9...c5!, with a more open game, leads to an easier life. My notes (following Adrien Demuth who wrote The Modernized Dutch Defence last year) do suggest that this could be the route to 'full equality'.
Leningrad 7.Nc3 c6 8.b3 Na6 9.Bb2 Qc7 10.Rc1 [A88]
The game and notes to Debashis, D - Sadhwani, R are theoretically quite cutting-edge.
I had previously examined 13.Ba3 in 2016 but, despite it remaining treacherous for the unwary, the line has since been shown to be playable for Black. Here Debashis plays 13.Nxe5!? (only it's second outing) after which Sadhwani was unable to solve the problems over the board (or should I say at home with only limited time?). Still, I've suggested a couple of possible improvements, and I feel confident to conclude that the ...Qc7 with ...e5 'provocative' approach is still playable.
Leningrad 7.Nc3 c6 8.d5 e5 9.dxe6 Bxe6 10.b3 [A88]
In Sarana, A - Pogosyan, S. White's early 'extended fianchetto' with 11.Ba3 didn't have the desired effect, with Black removing his pieces from the a3-f8 diagonal and soon countering with ...d5. Black's opening went so well that he became rather ambitious early in the middlegame. Unfortunately he then ruined all his good work with a serious oversight.
Despite White not being able to demonstrate anything here, it might be simpler to stick to 10...Na6 (rather than the game move 10...Qe7) as then 11.Ba3 is easily negated with 11...Nc5.
The leading French GM was able to obtain a comfortable opening in Caruana, F - Vachier-Lagrave, M. After plenty of manoeuvring, the following position occurred:
Here MVL has several ways to seek a breakthrough involving a combination, but he just prudently withdrew his knight and Caruana was able to equalize. I suppose it comes down to having to make a pragmatic decision quickly, but maybe he should have 'gone for it' somehow. See what you think! A good position to test one's analytic ability.
Later, Caruana was able to create plenty of problems and squeezed out a win in a superior, but objectively drawn, endgame.
Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 Qd6 [D70]
In Ding Liren - Nepomniachtchi, I a critical moment occurred on move sixteen:
Nepomniachtchi hits back at the centre with 16...e6 and now the question is whether or not White can find a way to an advantage. Although 17.Nxb5 and 17.Bg5 have both been tested, I think that Ding Liren's 17.h5 is the most dangerous. In this whole line, both players need steely nerves and good preparation, but on move 23 both of these qualities came into play. Ding Liren innovated and then Nepomniachtchi blundered!
Symmetrical Neo-Grünfeld 5...c6 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Ne5 e6 [D79]
Black unfortunately got his queen trapped in Ding Liren - Caruana, F but, to the American's credit, this resulted from his ambitious play that was OK in principle, but not easy to navigate in a practical situation.
Here the Chinese GM tried 15.Rad1, thus varying from one of his earlier games that involved 15.f4 b6 16.Nb5 where he obtained some advantage, but he probably expected Caruana to be prepared for that.
Then following 15...b6 16.f4 Ba6! 17.Rf3 Rc8 18.g4!? I get the impression that Caruana wanted to punish his opponent immediately for making a risky pawn advance.
In the actual game, Black was doing quite well, but the queen sortie to h4 (18...Qh4!?) is the sort of move that requires bags of time on the clock to get right. Instead 18...b5! was perhaps more appropriate in the context of a rapid game.
As to the theory, Black has to be careful after both 10.Be3 and 10.Bf4 which suggests that 9.Bg5 has some bite.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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