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It was always my intention to focus on the Modern Benoni this month, but halfway through selecting the games I noticed there was a common theme. At some point during each game, usually quite early on, Black was playing ...Nh5, whether to initiate an attack on the kingside, to prevent Bf4, to attack the bishop on f4, to attempt to exchange pieces, or in some cases a mixture of these ideas. So this month's update is more heavily based on ideas than theory, although hopefully there'll be some useful pointers there as well.

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 '09 Nimzo and Benoni games

Modern Benoni: Modern Main Line

We begin with a couple of games where Black chooses the ...Nh5 plan advocated in John Watson's Gambit Guide to the Modern Benoni. Biliskov - Zufic, Zadar 2008, begins 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 c5 3 d5 e6 4 c4 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 Bd3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Nc3 Nh5:

A slightly unusual move order, and also this is not quite what Watson had in mind. Black is playing the ...Nh5 line but with ...Re8 instead of the usual ...Nbd7. It does the trick in this game, as Black manages to transpose to a favourable line (maybe by confusing White?). But confusion value aside I'm not really convinced there are any meaningful advantages to this move order. That said, Black's ...Ne5-f3+ idea later on is definitely worth seeing.

Gagarin - Nygren, Stockholm 2008, is similar: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 c4 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 h3 a6 8 a4 Bg7 9 e4 0-0 10 Bd3 Nh5 11 0-0 Nd7:

In this game Black also goes for a sacrificial attack on the kingside, but this time it's too optimistic and fails to accurate defence by White.

Delaying or omitting....Nh5 gives White the chance to play Bf4. However, after 1 d4 e6 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 h3 g6 7 e4 Bg7 8 Nc3 0-0 9 Bd3 a6 10 a4 Re8 11 0-0 Nbd7 12 Bf4, Black can still play 12...Nh5!? despite the attack on the d6-pawn:

This has been tried by 2600+ Benoni players Jobava and Pantsulaia, so there must be something to it. In previous games White resisted the temptation with 13 Bh2. Kakkanas - Anderton, Hastings 2008, shows what could happen after 13 Bxd6.

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 h3 a6 8 a4 Qe7 9 Bf4 Nh5!? is another suggestion from John Watson, and it has since been played by Topalov, and now Volokitin (the main move is 9...Nd7):

However, White's creative play in Jorczik - Volokitin, Bundesliga 2008, seems to present Black with some problems. Volokitin manages to escape, but it will be interesting to see whether he is prepared to repeat this line.

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 c4 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 h3 a6 8 e4 b5 9 Bd3 Bg7 10 0-0 0-0:

In Bates - Emms, London League 2009, Richard Bates repeats an interesting plan which worked really well in a previous battle of ours, albeit with some help from my poor moves. I was conscious of the fact that he might try something similar here, and was determined to avoid falling into the same pitfalls. I was only partially successful, though (In this game ...Nh5 was very much a defensive idea, trying to exchange a pair of knights.)

Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation

The main reason Martyn - Rudd, Jessie Gilbert Celebration International 2008, caught my attention was because of Jack Rudd's choice at move 15, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 g3 g6 7 Bg2 Bg7 8 Nf3 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Nd2 a6 11 a4 Nbd7 12 Nc4 Ne5 13 Nxe5 Rxe5 14 e4 Rb8 15 Rb1 a5!?:

It's unusual for Black to kill off White's b2-b4 idea like this, presumably because of the hole it leaves on b5. But Black is encouraging White to play on the kingside, and furthermore he hasn't totally ruled out queenside play himself, as....Bd7 followed by....b5 remains an option. White obliged with 16 f4 Re8 17 h3, and then 17...Nh5! (here it comes!) was the prelude to a creative and ultimately successful piece sacrifice by Black.

Finally, Pursiainen - Tiitta, Jyvaskyla 2008, contains mistakes by both sides. But the notes do highlight one or two obvious attractions of the Modern Benoni, and sometimes these positions do look scarier to play for White than they actually are.

Till next time, John