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The Benko is finding a new generation of followers, as can be seen in its popularity at all levels. A number of key lines have been tested at GM level recently, so I decided to take a closer look at how these games have been affecting the theory.
One aspect of this opening is that in most of the accepted lines, Black often has easier development. Cert, at the price of a pawn, but that is rarely the decisive factor. However, for some folk, being a pawn down for much of the game can be difficult to accept lightly, especially when the best plan may be simply to temporize. The judgement of analysis engines is often skewed by the material imbalance so, particularly in the Benko, 'gut feeling' is often a better way of assessing the resulting middlegames.
Benko Declined 4 Qc2, 4 Nd2, 5 e3 & 5 b6 [A57]
In the first two games White refuses the pawn offer, whereas in Game 3 Bruzon captures on b5 and then immediately returns the pawn with b5-b6. One could argue that this is technically a type of 'Benko Accepted', but in practise the resulting pawn structure is akin to many Benko Declined variations. In particular, note that Black retains his a-pawn and White doesn't drop behind in development.
The modest 4.Qc2 in Game One is actually one of the most awkward for Black to meet:
Practical efforts with an early ...Ba6 don't look fully equal, although Black was quite solid in the game. In Leitao-Leon Hoyos, White may have missed a chance or two to maintain an edge deep into the encounter.
As for alternatives, the suggestion of Pedersen (in Play the Benko Gambit) involving ...Qa5+ is frankly hard to believe, and another plan with ...Na6 is sometimes played, but I prefer the d7-square for this piece.
On a more positive note, Victor Bologan opted for an early ...e6 against Erdos and equalized, a game I analyzed last year, see the archives. This could be the way to neutralize 4.Qc2.
In Game Two Danii Dubov found a satisfactory way of handling the black position after 4.Nd2 against no less an opponent than Alexei Dreev. I like the idea of playing ...e6 and then ...e5, obtaining a closed centre.
An alternative that I haven't covered this time is 5...e6, hitting the centre early.
It may be an idea to research and compare methods of playing against 4.Qc2 and 4.Nd2 together, as there are a number of similarities.
In Game Three White tried a new idea in a standard position, by throwing-in the disruptive 11.b7!?:
Leon Hoyos reacted by hitting back at the centre and thus obtained a good game. So I suspect that 11.b7 will be a one-off - Bruzon's move has surprise value, but isn't frankly that good.
See the notes where I think that Black missed a win on move 34. Do you agree?
Benko Accepted [A58-59]
In Game 4 the wrong player won! Milanovic had a big advantage until near the end, but Markus somehow swindled him.
The opening in this game brought back some memories to me:
Here the critical path involves 9...e6, a move that was played against me to great effect 23 years ago! This is true of several analogous positions where ...e6 before ...d6 is the most dynamic way of counter-attacking.
The game continuation wasn't bad, but didn't test the player of the white pieces quite as much.
In Game 5 White places his king on h2 in one of the main lines:
Black started to go wrong at this point, and indeed his later problems can be put down to his poor choice of plan at move 16.
Here 16...Na6 proved to be inadequate, whereas 16...Nb5!, trading White's defensive knight, would have given Black decent Benko compensation.
In Game Six Black played the ...Nfd7-b6 manoeuvre against the fianchetto variation, which Pedersen recommends. The Danish IM then suggests that Black follow-up with ...Nbd7, whereas here Moskalenko (another one, not the famous author!) opts to play with ...Na6:
In the actual game White obtained an edge (which suggests that Black's knight hopping wasn't quite good enough), but later on (no doubt due, at least partially, to time trouble) Black outplayed his opponent to win.
My feeling is that Pedersen's method makes more sense (with ...Nfd7-b6 and then ...Nbd7), see the archives for further analysis and games.
In Game 7 although Timofeev won, his plan of pushing the h-pawn wasn't that convincing. However looking at note 22, my feeling is that a careful white player may be able to keep a pull, as Malakhatko demonstrated (after learning about this line on the black side).
In any case, it's probably true that the main line of the fianchetto for White stops Black getting too dynamic if White is really precise.
Benko players dream about getting the type of queenless middlegame that occurred in Game Eight:
Andreikin duly won in the end, but his opponent didn't give up without a fight. Black's opening choice seems to be not only a logical way, but actually the most effective method of meeting White's system.
Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 [D70]
In games 9 and 10 I investigate a couple of variations that can arise from 3.f3.
The line in Game nine involves a transpositional possibility that could throw an unprepared player, but Adrien Demuth knew what he was doing against Sebastien Cossin and demonstrated a sensible way to equalize. This line is however sharp and can be quite theoretical, so could do with learning properly.
Later on Demuth seems to have missed a win.
Game 10 features the main line of what I call the Anti-Grünfeld. Ivanisevic likes to attack and indeed this is how he won after sacrificing a piece for durable kingside pressure.
A move that helped him on his way was 13.Ng5 in this position, a novelty with some bite.
See the notes for the instructive Mamedyarov-Negi encounter, where Black bolstered an alternative system (9...Qd6) in innovative style.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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