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Spring is here and it's time for some 'daring' defences. In recent practice, especially in shorter time limits, the three gambits (the Benko, Albin and Blumenfeld) all seem to be generating practical chances for Black even if the engines stubbornly prefer White! As to the Dutch, there are so many interpretations, as you can see with the varied selection below. I've picked out some lines that don't occur that often and could easily have been half forgotten by the reader (come on, be honest!), so it's high time to 'spring clean' the offbeat part of your Dutch repertoire!

Download PGN of March ’23 Daring Defences games

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Benko 5.e3 e6 6.Nc3 exd5 7.Nxd5 Be7 [A57]

In Smirnov, P - Christiansen, J Black chose a sort of Benko/Blumenfeld hybrid where his seventh move was notable:

Here Christiansen chose 7...Be7 which seems to be something of a pet line for him, rather than the most popular move 7...Bb7. In the game, White soon chopped off on e7 and obtained the bishop pair, but Black's centre with ...d5 gave him the sort of long-term compensation for the pawn that we usually associate with the Blumenfeld. Anyway, he regained his pawn soon enough and was even pushing for the win in the middlegame, suggesting that his seventh move has a bright future!

Modern Benko Gambit Accepted 6...Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.a7 Rxa7, 13.Nd2 [A58]

In Svane, R - Gorodetzky, D I've highlighted another example of the high-scoring 8.a7 which seems to be one of the biggest tests for the 'Modern' Benko (i.e. where Black quickly completes his kingside development, but delays capturing the loose a-pawn).

A key moment occurred a few moves later:

Here, I've previously examined placing the bishop on d7 (14...Bg4 15.f3 Bd7 was Demuth, A - Giri, A from 2015, one of the stem games in the whole line), but here 14...Ree7 was tried. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful, Gorodetzky's move can perhaps be made palatable if Black were to meet 15.Nc4 with 15...Ne4 rather than 15...Nc7. Black was not without resources later on, but it proved to be easier to handle from White's side of the table.

Dutch Defence 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 [A80]

In Stocek, J - Antal, G Black's opening went to plan.

This looks like an ideal set-up against an early B-g5 when White has just deployed his pieces and hasn't sought any challenging action involving h2-h4. Stocek firstly tried to play on the queenside, but when that failed threw in h2-h4 anyway, but I quite liked Black's chances in this cagey draw.

So I don't see the game move 4.e3 replacing the more flexible 4.Nbd2 in the popularity stakes.

Dutch Defence 2.Bg5 h6 3.Bh4 g5 4.e3 Bg7 [A80]

In Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son - Kosteniuk, A Black's fourth move deserves a diagram:

I've considered other options here, but not this bishop development. Clearly 4...Bg7 is not just another mate-avoiding move, as Black has a whole dark-squared strategy in mind (if pawn grabbing can be considered as a 'strategy') involving ...c5 and ...Qb6. After 5.Bg3 c5 6.c3 Qb6 there are several options for White and it's not clear which is best. He can sacrifice the b-pawn or not. Here 7.Bd3!? is one of several gambit moves with unclear consequences, just like many of the others! It worked rather well here (perhaps as the first player gains several tempi for the pawn and Black's game is not easy to handle). White was basically winning for much of the encounter but, to her credit, Kosteniuk did fight back and was close to drawing.

Leningrad Dutch 4.Nd2 Nc6 5.d5 [A81]

In Brunello, S - Najer, E play soon veered away from the beaten track:

Already there are very few games after 5.d5, but they usually reply with 5...Ne5 as in a couple of recent Firouzja encounters. Najer preferred 5...Nb4, but the knight was eventually pushed back to a6 and moves such as a3, b4 and c4 gave White a space edge on the queenside, nothing dramatic but an edge is an edge. So I prefer 5...Ne5 as played by Nepomniachtchi and Ivanchuk.

In the game, the advantage ebbed and flowed, but White was the only one with any real winning chances.

Dutch: Fluid Centre 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Qc2 Nxc3 9.bxc3 [A96]

In Vasquez Shroeder, R - Grigoryan, K Black had to make a decision about his knight after 11.d5:

After 11...Na5, there is pressure on c4, but if this doesn't inconvenience the opponent then the knight might simply be a long way from the main arena. So this double-edged move has its pluses and minuses and indeed this seems to be the burning issue in a number of the games that have reached this position, especially after the critical reply 12.c5 with complex play. In the game, White had his moments, but he was basically outplayed.

Simon Williams recently chose the more conservative 11...Nb8, which is a decent alternative.

Dutch: Fluid Centre 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Nxe4 fxe4 9.Nd2 d5 10.f3 Nc6 11.e3 [A96]

White did all the hard work in Schekachev, A - Vlachos, A only to blunder when the opponent was teetering on the edge.

Vlachos chose the normal 12...b6, but in the notes I've discussed a different bishop deployment with 12...Bd7 which seems to be just about playable. In the game, the further moves 13.Bd2 Qd6 14.Rc1 Ba6 proved to be a good test (for both colours) with Black obtaining a reasonable game, but there is always a feeling that it's easier for White. As an earlier 'alternative approach' for Black, I quite like the option of throwing in ...a7-a5, as you'll see in the notes.

Albin Counter-Gambit, Morozevich's 5...Nge7, 6.g3 Ng6 7.a3 [D08]

In Secheres, A - Beerdsen, T we are witness to one of the main lines in the Albin where Black seems to have no real problems.

White has opted for solidity and ease of development, but along the way hasn't sought a refutation. Black has effortlessly regained his pawn and now has several reasonable-looking options. Beerdsen chose 11...Be6 and was soon better following 12.Qc2 d3! 13.exd3 Qxd3. Instead, White could try 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Nf3 and avoid being worse but, as you can see in the notes, I didn't find too many problems for Black here either.

So White should try something else if he wants to really challenge the Albin.

Blumenfeld Gambit 4...exd5 5.cxd5 b5 [E10]

In Nihal, S -Njili, K White had a quick win. The primary reason being that Black's move order is slightly suspicious. The normal way to play the gambit is with 4...b5, but Njili tried 4...exd5 5.cxd5 b5. Here one can transpose to one of the main lines with 6.Bg5, but 6.e4! is stronger, leading to the diagram after 6...Nxe4:

Here White has good results with the natural-looking 7.Bd3, but Nihal's eyebrow-raising 7.Bxb5 is actually quite strong. Firstly, a quick calculation shows that White isn't dropping anything and then we realize that his lead in development offers him some advantage. I found an improvement in the subsequent play (9...Be7 instead of 9...Ba6?! is playable but still somewhat disadvantageous) but didn't find anything that makes me warm to this alternative move order.

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 6...a6 7.bxa6 Bxa6 8.g3 d5 9.Bg2 Bd6 [E10]

The complications in Nguyen Thai Dai Van - Zwardon, V eventually panned out in Black's favour.

Nguyen's 11.Re1 is one of several options that seem plausible, but nothing seems to stick out as that promising for White, that is, if you believe the statistics. After 11...Nc6 12.Nc3 I quite liked 12...Qc7 with a flexible position where he is ready to bring his rooks into whichever zone that makes the most sense in future.

White was soon able to play the thematic e2-e4 and obtain a 'computer endorsed edge', but I reckon that Black had enough practical chances in any human encounter. If you don't agree then you could also meet White's 13.Bg5 with 13...Ng4!? instead of 13...Rae8.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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