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I must admit I was going to move back to the Nimzo/Queens Indian this month, but that was before I saw that there were as many as four interesting Benoni games in the top section of the Wijk aan Zee tournament, three of which involved Veselin Topalov. It's great to see this opening back in the limelight at the very highest level and so I felt it was only right to look at each of the games, especially since they contained some interesting new ideas for both White and Black.

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 February '08 Nimzo and Benoni games

Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation

We kick off this month with the game Aronian - Radjabov, Wijk aan Zee 2008, in which Radjabov demonstrates a promising way to meet the fianchetto: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 g3 c5 5 d5 0-0 6 Bg2 d6 7 Nf3 e6 8 0-0 exd5 9 cxd5 Re8 10 Nd2 b6:

Black almost always plays 10...a6 11 a4 Nbd7; or 10...Nbd7 and then it's usually 11 a4 a6 in any case. But there is some logic behind 10...b6 in that, with its counterpart elsewhere, the a6-f1 diagonal does become an attractive proposition for the c8-bishop. White wins the game, but I saw a few things to suggest that 10...b6 could easily be a viable option for Black.

Next up it's Eljanov - Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 2008. After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Bf4 Topalov unleashed 10...Bg4!?:

According to my database this is a novelty! This did surprise me a bit because it's such a natural move and is played in similar positions (e.g. 10...Na6 11 Re1 Bg4). Topalov follows up with a piece sacrifice which is perhaps a bit too ambitious. The question is, does Black have another way to play?

Modern Benoni: MML

Topalov - Ivanchuk, Wijk aan Zee 2008, began 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 h3 Bg7 8 Nf3 a6 9 a4 Nbd7 and now 10 Be3!?

A second Benoni novelty by Topalov in the same tournament! Normally in the MML White plays 10 Bd3. With Topalov's move White clears the way for a quick Nd2 and Nc4. This can also be achieved with 10 Bf4 but possibly Topalov was keen to rule out the idea of ...Nh5 hitting the bishop.

Modern Benoni: Classical with ...Bg4

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Be2 0-0 9 0-0:

Lines involving ...Bg4 continue to be a reliable way for Black to play against the Classical Variation (and these days it normally arises - as in the game below - via the 7...a6 8 a4 Bg4 move order).

David Flude has sent a correspondence game he played in the 2007 Champions League (Beran - Flude) where he tried out an interesting idea: 9...a6 10 a4 Bg4 11 Bf4 Bxf3 12 Bxf3 Qe7 13 Re1 Nbd7 14 a5 Rfe8 15 Qd2 Rab8 (instead of ...Rac8) followed by a pawn sacrifice with 16 Be2 b5!?. Many thanks to David for allowing me to use his annotations (I've added just one or two notes and references early on, marked with 'JE').

In the game Darban - Dzhumaev, New Delhi 2008, the question is asked, is there any real difference if Black plays 9...Bg4 instead, and follows up with a later ...a6? I do think that 9...a6 10 a4 Bg4 is safer, but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the immediate 9...Bg4 and it could be used as an attempt to confuse White.

Black Plays ...Ne7

It seems that more and more Black players are beginning to experiment with lines where they play ...Ne7 instead of ...Nf6, with even Veselin Topalov trying this out at Wijk aan Zee. 1 d4 e6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 exd5 4 cxd5 d6:

Looking at games reaching this position, by far the most popular move here is 5 Nc3, but recently in one or two games it has been shown that there are some advantages to delaying this knight development, and some might even argue that 5 Nc3 is premature!

We already saw in Beliavsky-Efimov, Crete 2007, White playing 5 e4 g6 6 Bd2!? to good effect. In Van Wely-Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 2008, the Dutch GM just developed normally but chose to keep his knight on b1, later developing to d2, and again White reached a good position.

Nimzo-Indian Kasparov Variation

Back to the Nimzo-Indian properly next month, but for now here's a tricky idea for White in the Kasparov Variation.

1 d4 e6 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 c5 5 g3 cxd4 6 Nxd4 0-0 7 Bg2 d5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 Qb3 Qa5 10 Bd2 Nc6 11 Nxc6 bxc6 12 0-0 Bxc3 13 bxc3 Ba6:

White virtually always plays 14 Rfd1, and this has been analysed a few times on this website. In Socko - Wintzer, Gibraltar 2008, White tried 14 Qc2!?. I don't think it's a move to cause Black any real problems, but it does contain quite a clever trap, and in this game Black falls headlong into it!

That's it for now. Till next month, John