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This month I've picked a selection of games from the Budapest, Benko, and Blumenfeld all of which come into the gambit category. I've come across a number of exciting ideas in recent high-level games, many of which I've never seen before. It's amazing how even well-established 'calm' lines can be given a new lease of life, as you'll see below.

Download PGN of June ’22 Daring Defences games

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Budapest Gambit 3...Ng4 4.e3 Nxe5 5.Nh3 g6 [A52]

In Matlakov, M - Ponkratov, P White's calm development didn't create any real problems for Black. Ponkratov deployed his forces as if he were playing a King's Indian Defence, whereas White's set-up was less threatening and there were no real 'lack of space' issues.

I can't see any reason for the Budapest to be considered inferior to the more mainstream openings if one is able to obtain positions like in the diagram each time. Matlakov's play involving 11.Na4 (to hinder ...Nc5) wasn't bad, but looks delicate to handle in a practical game, especially with limited time. So it may be that after 4.e3 Nxe5 5.Nh3 the fianchetto set-up arising from 5...g6 is a good option. Indeed, Jonathan Tisdall (already twenty years ago!) felt that it was best.

Budapest Gambit 3...Ng4 4.e3 Nxe5 5.Nh3 d5!? [A52]

A real gambit approach led to a painful experience for the higher-rated player in Wojtaszek, R - Psyk, R as he was clearly surprised by Black's fifth move.

White shows his desire for a quiet game in this line, but his serenity is shaken by 5...d5!? which throws a pawn to the wind in the quest for the initiative. Anyway, even if this feels 'too good to be true' Black was better on move ten and winning one move later! Although, in reply, 6.Qxd5 looks natural enough I have a sneaking suspicion that it's inferior to 6.cxd5, but in both cases Black gets what he wants - a gambit with a capital G to brighten up his life!

Benko Gambit 5.e3 e6 6.dxe6 fxe6 7.Nc3 [A57]

The revival of 5.e3 continues although Kukhmazov, A - Demidov, M has more in common with a Blumenfeld than what we generally think of as a Benko:

White has bagged his extra pawn and avoided any evident weaknesses and yet it's hard to demonstrate any advantage. The problem is that the natural 12.b3 is too slow because of 12...Bd6 13.Bb2 Ng4! when despite Black moving his bishop a second time the attack is dangerous. So 12.Qe2 Nc6 13.Rd1 followed by h3 was tried, which looks natural enough but doesn't resolve the issue with getting the bishop out from c1. Soon Black was pushing White's forces around and was clearly on top. So what went wrong? The notes suggest some alternatives, especially where White tries to get in b2-b3 earlier, but in any case he can't avoid getting involved in scrappy play.

Benko Gambit 5.e3 axb5 6.Bxb5 Bb7 7.Nc3 Qa5 8.Nge2 [A57]

In Kryakvin, D - Gochelashvili, D I felt that Black handled the opening quite well only to blunder in the early middlegame. The choice of 9...Nc7 is notable which is less popular than capturing on c3, but scores better:

Both sides then played the critical moves: 10.a4 e6 11.e4 and then came a novelty 11...Nxb5, and following 12.Nxb5 the pawn grab 12...Bxe4. Objectively, this feels like optimistic play from the second player (see 14.Ng3 in the notes) but he did obtain a decent position (that is, before his catastrophic nineteenth move) in the actual game. So the jury is still out on 9...Nc7 but it deserves a closer look, as the alternatives haven't fared that well.

Benko Gambit 5.e3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.a4 0-0 8.Nf3 [A57]

In Socko, B - Murdzia, P we have another case of White having the engines on his side, but not being able to navigate a complex line as well as Black. A typical scenario in many a Benko!

Here 13.axb5 is the engine recommendation retaining some advantage, but this has never been played (and such a capture always requires a good look before risking potential problems with the structure). Instead, human GMs have tried 13.Nxb5 (not that great) and here 13.Bxb5 (not bad). How much compensation can Black claim for the pawn in these lines? Perhaps your engine is unimpressed, but there are certainly practical chances, as it's so hard for White to coordinate his forces.

Anyway, in this rapid encounter, White became tangled and his a1-rook could only find a succession of insecure squares before it was finally trapped and lost.

Modern Benko Gambit Accepted 6...Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.Bc4 [A58]

In Andersen, M - Sebastian, D White's eighth move pricked my attention:

There have been a few wins for White with this development, including this and another game involving Mads Andersen. It's less well known than some of the alternatives, which might partially explain this fact, but is it any good?

I think first of all that the 'modern approach' with 8...Qa5 9.a7 can be diffused by 9...Qxa7! whereas, in the game, 8...d6 9.Nf3 Bxa6 can easily transpose to other lines where Black waits for Be2 or Bd3 before recapturing on a6. These come down to a question of taste with White being for preference (certainly from an engine's point of view) in that he has been able to smoothly castle, but Black has plenty of typical Benko options up his sleeve. In the actual game, White lost control of events before landing a decisive tactic.

Modern Benko Gambit Accepted 6...Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.a7 Rxa7 [A58]

In Budisavljevic, L - Golubka, P Black tried an unusual plan involving 10...Bg4 which I find hard to believe.

Here several moves have been tried, but the most successful has been 10...e6, aiming to erode the centre and give the a7-rook more scope. I've examined this in the past and not found it to be a particularly easy ride for Black. Hence, I understand that there is a natural desire of many to try other ideas. This brings us back to 10...Bg4 but the problem is that after 11.0-0 Nbd7 12.a4 White stakes a claim on lots of light squares which was a long-term issue in the actual game.

Benko Accepted Mainline with Kxf1, 12.h3 Ra6 [A59]

In Gukesh, D - Iniyan, P a traditional line of the Benko Accepted was given an outing.

White's sensible development was well met by 16...c4! when the exchange of a pair of pawns suited Black fine. As he had greater mobility he was able to exploit this fact to render White's extra a-pawn nigh on unusable and equality followed.

In the old days, 12.h3 was a popular choice, but this comes at the cost of a precious tempo. The modern main lines involving 12.a4 or 12.Qe2 prefer to put greater emphasis on getting the queenside sorted as quickly as possible and often don't bother with h2-h3 at all.

Blumenfeld Counter Gambit Declined 5 Bg5 exd5 6 cxd5 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Qc2 [E10]

In Postny, E - Beerdsen, T I must admit I quite like Black's eighth move 8...c4:

One point is that Black can bring his bishop to b4, but the handy space gain on the queenside is also worthy of note. Of course, the idea is only worth considering if the queenside doesn't collapse too easily, so Postny's 9.a4 feels like a good test. In reply, Beerdsen chose 9...Na6, but I prefer 9...Bb4+ which was the choice of Nisipeanu (against Postny!) sixteen years ago (I reckon it leads to full equality). There aren't many games, so the theory of 8...c4 is still a little vague, despite it having been first played as far back as fifty years ago by Ljubojevic.

Blumenfeld Counter Gambit Declined 5 Bg5 exd5 6 cxd5 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Nc3 b4 [E10]

In Nesterov, A - Remizov, Y White's eighth move is fairly unusual, as just about everyone plays 8.Qc2 these days. Instead, after 8.Nc3 b4 he has to decide where to place his knight:

Here 9.Nb5 is bad, 9.Ne4 is speculative (as it gambits the b-pawn) and 9.Na4 was played by Nesterov. The knight isn't great here, but it does defend b2 and a little later the knight was able to come back into the game via c3 once the b4-pawn had been exchanged. The middlegame that arose would have been balanced (if Black had played the precise move 14...Rb8!) with chances for both sides. White has the more robust structure, but Black has the bishop pair. Later on, in the complications that arose, Black was the closest of the protagonists to winning.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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