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Modern Benko Gambit Accepted 6...Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.Be2 [A58]
Wang, J - Shabalov, A was a fairly depressing game from a Benko fan's point of view. However, we can learn from what went wrong.
In the diagram position, Black has to decide between three main alternatives and it seems that the one chosen by Shabalov i.e. 10...Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Qa6, might just better for White after 12.a4!, that is, on the evidence of this encounter. The best way to try and salvage this approach from the scrapheap could be to continue with 12...e6!?, but it makes sense to examine other options at move ten. Although 10...Qb4!? is unnatural looking (isn't the queen in danger of being vulnerable here?), if Black can keep his wits about him then he can steer the game towards a decent 'compensation for the pawn' scenario in the typical Benko mould. Otherwise, Black can try his luck with 10...d6 11.0-0 and only now 11...Bxe2 12.Qxe2 Qa6, the difference being that White's king is no longer in the centre to help out.
Modern Benko Gambit Accepted 6...Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.a7 Rxa7 [A58]
I remember when 8.a7 came in a few years ago, and thought that it was a decent surprise weapon, but wasn't expecting it to become the 'main line'! Six years later, the game Yakovich, Y - Smith, Ax was a good test which proved favourable for Black because he found a cunning way to activate his knight with ...Nb4 rather than settle for the solid, but not particularly flamboyant ...Nc7. We've already examined 16.Rd1 in the past, but 16.Bf4 followed by 17.Rad1, as played here, is an alternative that needed a high-level test such as here. Only now does it seem clear that the bishop on f4 can become a tactical target with Yakovich's move order, so it seems that in future 16.Rd1 will be where the main theoretical battle will be fought.
Benko Gambit Accepted 8.Kxf1 d6 9.Nf3 Bg7 10.g3 0-0 11.Kg2 [A59]
I'm a fan of 11...Qb6 which featured in Yankelevich, L - Mihok, O:
Instead of automatically placing the knight on d7, Black decides to be more cagey. The reasoning is that the queen is generally fairly reasonable on b6 anyway, whereas the knight might make its entrance via a6 from where it can go to c7 (anticipating White's desire for an outpost on b5) or b4 (if White persists with a2-a4). In general, differences between this line and the typical traditional A59 main lines are subtle, but from what I've seen so far, I can see only positives. Another advantage of this approach is that your opponent can't rattle out his moves with the same confidence! After 12.Qe2, it's possible to revert back to the traditional lines with 12...Nbd7, but 12...Qa6 of the game is more inventive, as is 12...Na6.
Dutch Leningrad 4.Nd2 [A81]
Although 4.Nd2 may look slightly offbeat, Dubov, D - Nakamura, H isn't the only elite encounter where it has featured in recent months:
Steering the game away from the opponent's pet lines (or an opponent's wider general experience) can perhaps explain why the young guns Dubov and Firouzja are quite happy to repeat this modest knight development. After this, there are all sorts of set-ups available, but in general White will react accordingly once Black lays out his store. In many cases, e2-e4 is a break that White might be seeking, except in the Stonewall/Leningrad hybrid, such as here, where Dubov opted for c2-c4 fairly early. The counter plan of the game (involving ...Ne4 and ...g5) is one that Nakamura had already played before, but he modified the move order here and obtained a good game.
Dutch Defence 3.Nh3 (v Leningrad) [A81]
Playing Nh3 on move three is much earlier than usual and gave Black the option of opting out of a Leningrad in Pultinevicius, A - Vlachos, A, but he wasn't able to solve his opening problems. The general idea of playing the knight to h3 is generally well-founded against any sort of mainstream Dutch, so maybe we'll be seeing more of 3.Nh3 in future? Naturally, in view of this catastrophe, Black needs an improvement early in the game, so accepting a Nh3-Leningrad with 3...g6 is probably not bad, but otherwise the 3...d6 4.d5 c6 5.c4 of the game is then best met with 5...e5.
Dutch, Staunton Gambit 2.e4 fxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4,Bg5 g6 [A83]
A nice game by the lower-rated player in Roque, G - Rychagov, A csepht my eye. It's not just that he bamboozled his opponent by opting for the fairly rare Staunton Gambit, but Roque has added his own touch...
The theory up to now has demonstrated that Black is fine after several White attempts, but the 8.Bb5+ c6 9.Bc4 of the game turns out to be quite promising for White. The point is that Black no longer has the c6-square for his knight! A little later, Black's development difficulties led to him facing a spectacular queen sacrifice and going down in flames.
Dutch Leningrad 4.e3 Bg7 5.b4 [A84]
We've already examined an early e3 combined with b4 recently (it's trendy), but in Nesterov, A - Pogosyan,S Black reacted with ...c6 and ...d5 à la Stonewall. This feels like a reasonable practical try (OK, it's a question of taste!), as the alternatives often lead to a middlegame where White has been allowed to grab some queenside space for free. In the game, the ...a7-a5-a4 advance led to tense play with chances for both sides (although the engines always prefer White). A big issue is what is going to happen with the respective queen's bishops? Nesterov's dark-squared bishop could have gone to the a3-f8 diagonal, as on a1 it wasn't great, whereas Black often has to be patient to get his light-squared 'problem piece' going. The difference in their effectiveness early on might explain why such positions are arguably 'not fully equal'.
Dutch Defence 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 b6 5.Bd3 Bb7 6.f3 [A85]
The early part of Rakhmanov, A - Mammadova, G sees Black obtain 'rapid straightforward development', but I'm still preferring White. If Black is happy placing the dark-squared bishop on b4 and then giving it up for a knight then fair enough but, objectively, White's bishop pair should be worth an edge (that is, if there are no concessions to the structure and the e4-square is covered). I think this approach suits quickplay or Blitz, as subsequently expanding in the centre and getting the bishops going might require some thought on White's behalf. It's a sort of Nimzo where White has kept control. If I was playing a 'long-play over-the-board' game (remember them?) I would instead opt for an alternative on move six. The tricky 6...Nh5 has it's points, but I think that 6...c5 is objectively best.
Dutch Leningrad 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Nh3 d6 7.d5 Na6 [A86]
In Ding Liren - Nepomniachtchi, I the h-pawn advance was an attempt to ruffle Black's feathers, but it backfired.
I suppose that we can already pose the question about which king is going to be the most in danger if the kingside opens up. I'm not sure of the answer, however!
In the game, the Russian star reacted correctly to 9.h4 with the vigorous 9...e5! and then met 10.dxe6 with a pawn sacrifice 10...Nxe6! which I also think is a good choice, as it gives White plenty of opportunities to go astray (as Ding Liren could no doubt tell you if asked!). The game continuation after that suggests that Nepomniachtchi was either better prepared or more inspired (or both), which brings me back to the fact that 9.0-0 looks more trustworthy.
Dutch Nh3 with c2-c4 versus Leningrad [A86]
The long struggle Postny, E - Zubritskiy, A tested Black's defensive powers but was 'only' a draw, despite White winning a pawn early on. As to the opening, the early ...c5-advance led to the following tabiya:
There isn't a consensus about how White should continue from here and Postny's 10.Re1 is one of a handful of 'semi-useful' building up moves that can easily transpose, as the plan with a2-a4 and then a5 seems standard in these sorts of positions. Black's reaction with ...b5 leads to a middlegame where White retains more space, but where making progress can be hard work, for example following the robust 19...Rbb8 rather than 19...Rb7 which was dubious.
Dutch Stonewall 5.c4 Bd6 6.Nbd2 [A90]
Black obtained lively play in Kuzubov, Y - Hakobyan, A and was able to go on and win. It seemed to flow so well, although there were a few improvements along the way (not so surprising in such a complicated struggle at rapid chess). As to the opening, which side would you prefer after 10...Qf6?
I would take Black here as I'm not sure what the knight on d2 is doing against the ...Nc6-Stonewall. So this means that when Nd2 is played before ...c7-c6, then Black could consider placing his knight there instead of the pawn. You might notice in the notes that Grischuk also played like this (and obtained a good game with Black) in a similar position. Not wanting to be too harsh, but maybe 6.Nbd2 deserves ?! rather than !?.
Dutch Stonewall Mainline with b2-b3 [A90]
A main line Stonewall at elite level in (Giri, A - Radjabov, T ) confirmed my sentiment that the trade of dark-squared bishops doesn't seem to be a problem for Black when his remaining pieces can deploy with ease.
It might be that Giri's early release of the central tension was seeking a 'safe but workable structure' where White's manoeuvring is somewhat easier to organize, but it didn't seem to worry Radjabov. There were many similarities to the so-called 'Carlsbad structure', which is unusual from the Dutch Defence. Major decisions were made on move eighteen: 18.b4 (hoping to press on the queenside) being met by 18...b5 (fighting for space and the c4-square). So, for me, this wasn't theoretically that critical, but instead more of an instructive middlegame strategy battle.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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