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Hi Everyone,
We're back with the Modern Benoni this month. As far as I can see, it still seems to be in fairly good health, and it's very encouraging for Benoni supporters to see some of the World's elite (Topalov, Polgar, Ivanchuk) playing it. Added to this, quite a few of today's young stars (Alekseev, Cheparinov, Volokitin, Navara etc) have been happy to play the Benoni regularly, and this surely bodes well for the future of the opening.

Feel free to share your ideas and opinions on the Forum (the link above on the right), while subscribers with any questions can email me at

Download PGN of August '08 Nimzo and Benoni games

Modern Main Line and Other Classical Lines

We kick off the action this month with Onischuk - Bacrot, Biel 2008, which reached one of the key positions of the Modern Main Line (albeit via an unusual move order), 1 d4 e6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 exd5 4 cxd5 d6 5 e4 g6 6 Nc3 Bg7 7 Bd3 a6 8 h3 b5 9 Nf3 Nf6 10 0-0 0-0 11 Re1 Re8 12 a3 Ra7 13 Bf4 Rae7 14 Rc1 Qb6 15 b4 Nbd7 16 Qd2 Bb7:

Practice has shown that Black's position is very solid, although if White is unambitious it's quite difficult for Black to do anything constructive. In fact, often Black's best strategy is just to 'do nothing' and simply react to White's positional threats. There tends to be quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from both sides, and much patience is required. In this game, Bacrot plays it to perfection, and possibly out of frustration Onischuk is lured into a dodgy tactic which backfires badly.

Another key line is 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 e4 a6 8 a4 Bg4 9 Be2:

These days Black virtually always trades on f3 straight away, but it's a reasonable question to ask why he does this at the first possible moment; why not delay this capture for a move or two and simply develop with 9...Nbd7 or 9...Bg7? After all, in certain situations it might be better not to capture on f3 at all, or White might 'waste' a tempo on h2-h3 to force us to do what we intended to do all along. It's certainly a fair question, but it's one that was answered most emphatically in the important theoretical game Benjamin-De Firmian, New York 1993, where Benjamin convincingly demonstrated a flaw in Black's idea. Since that time, however, not everyone has got the message, and many players - strong grandmasters included - have been tricked in this line. The latest case of this was Istratescu - Bluvshtein, Montreal 2008, in which you can find a refutation of Black's opening play.

Turunen - Nyback, Jyvaskyla 2008, is a pretty easy win for Black, with White going wrong very early on in an equal position. In general Black's position is fairly comfortable in the line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Bd3 a6! 9 a4 Bg4!:

White causes more problems by either delaying Bd3 in favour of h2-h3 or playing 9 h3 instead of 9 a4.

After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6, White sometimes employs the refined move order 7 h3 a6 8 a4, intending after 8...Bg7 to reach the Modern Main Line with 9 e4. 8...Qe7 preventing e2-e4 is more common in this position:

White usually replies with 9 Bg5 or 9 Bf4, but in Jakovenko - Volokitin, Poikovsky 2008, he instead went for 9 g3!?. This move is quite rare but it looks pretty decent, as long as White is happy to transpose to the Fianchetto Benoni. Comparing the two lines, White has played an early h2-h3 which is useful but not always necessary. On the other hand Black has committed his queen to e7, which rules out some possibilities - maybe early....Re8 lines are no longer so effective. Even so, a direct transposition could easily occur. Volokitin instead chooses an independent line with an early ...Ne4, but Jakovenko's response looks pretty convincing to me.

Taimanov Variation

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 f4 Bg7 8 Bb5+ Nfd7 9 Be2 0-0 10 Nf3 Na6 11 0-0 Nc7:

This is a fairy typical position, and in practice White has normally played 12 a4 or 12 Nd2, but in Tikkanen - Hedman, Vaxjo 2008, White opted for the aggressive 12 f5!?.

I was quite surprised when I couldn't find any previous examples of this move because to me 12 f5 looks pretty logical, and a direct and dangerous way to play the attack on the kingside. It certainly proves to be successful in this game, albeit with a little help from Black's shaky response. I guess this underlines how careful Black has to be in this variation: White has many promising possibilities that may not be so wonderful but are often not that easy to meet over the board.

Fianchetto Variation

Finally this month, a couple of nice wins for Black in the Fianchetto Variation.

In Hoffman - Manolache, Ourense 2008, Black comes up with an interesting idea: 1 d4 Nf6 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 c5 4 d5 d6 5 c4 Bg7 6 Nc3 0-0 7 Nf3 e6 8 0-0 exd5 9 cxd5 Re8 10 h3 Bd7!?

This move is very rare - I can find only two previous examples of it. But if this game is anything to go by, I wouldn't be surprised if it's seen more often in future. (Black normally prepares ...b5 with 10...a6 and now 11 a4 Ne4!? 12 Nxe4 Rxe4 13 Nd2 Rb4 is typical - see the annotations to Martyn-Gordon, Scarborough 2004.)

Andreev - Srbis, Cetinje 2008, is not overly important from a theoretical viewpoint (although maybe I'm being too harsh - Black does improve on a Gelfand game to unleash a winning novelty!). I thought it was worth including, though, because it's the sort of game that encourages players to give the Modern Benoni a try. Crushing attacks on the kingside like this one certainly do wonders for the Benoni's appeal.

Till next time, John