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Hi everyone, Happy New Year and all the best for 2008.
This month I'm going to concentrate fully on the Modern Benoni, and on recent games in two variations: the Modern Main Line (MML) and the Fianchetto Variation. There's no doubt that the Modern Main Line continues to be a critical choice against the Benoni, but my impression is that over the last couple of years some developments have been made on Black's side (hopefully one or two have been pointed out here!).
The Fianchetto Variation is still an important line, despite not being one of the most fearsome - although in the right hands (Nikolic, Gleizerov etc.) it can certainly be a powerful weapon. It could soon gain more exposure (in fact it's already happening), and that isn't necessarily anything to do with its strength. Given that Kramnik is beginning to make the Catalan look like a forced win for White (albeit one that takes 80 moves!), as a result there could be an increase in Fianchetto Benoni games just because some players might begin answering 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 with 3...c5 rather than 3...d5.

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 January '08 Nimzo and Benoni games

Modern Main Line: Black plays ...a6 and ...b5

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

We begin with the game Flear - Chatalbashev, Hastings 2007/08, which is a good demonstration of how well things can go for Black in a best-case scenario.

I also had to include the game Malaniuk - Oleksienko, Kharkiv 2007, if only because Black comes up with a remarkable concept which, if workable (and it's a considerable 'if'), could force a major reassessment of this line.

Modern Main Line: Black plays 9...Bd7

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 h3 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Bd3 Bd7:

Black's idea is to accelerate his queenside play with moves such as ...b5, ...c4 and ...Na6-c5. If White plays passively he may wind up in an inferior version of the ...a6, ...b5 lines (for example, Black hasn't spent a move on ...a6). Fortunately for White, there are ways to take advantage of Black's somewhat artificial-looking move. Even so, Black players should consider 9...Bd7 as a surprise weapon because it's rare and White must play accurately to exploit its defects. And plausible moves allow Black to gain very good counterplay. See Chatalbashev - Satyapragyan, Hastings 2008, for my thoughts.

Modern Main Line: Black plays 9...b5

One of the most critical lines after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 h3 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Bd3 b5 is 10 Nxb5 Re8 11 Nd2!? and now the crazy sacrificial line 11...Nxe4!? 12 Bxe4 Ba6 13 a4 Qa5 14 Nxd6 Nd7, which has been analysed in quite a few places on this website (most recently in Wells-Gormally, Portsmouth 2006). In Shishkin - Kononenko, Kharkov 2007, Black makes a very strong case for the alternative 11...Nxd5!?:

After 12 Nc4 Black unleashed the clever novelty 12...Re6!?, which does seem to solve most of Black's problems. Judging from this game, 11...Nxd5 looks like a good practical move to me.

Fianchetto Variation: Main Line

We begin with a variation which has been considered to be the main line of the Fianchetto. Avrukh - Kamsky, World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk 2007, began 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Bg2 Bg7 8 Nf3 0-0 9 0-0 a6 10 a4 Re8 11 Nd2 Nbd7 12 h3 Rb8 13 Nc4 Ne5 14 Na3 Nh5 15 e4 Bd7 16 a5:

I've always thought 16 a5 was White's strongest move here, but Kamsky's convincing play is making me think twice about this.

In Bareev - Alekseev, World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk 2007, Black chooses 9...Nbd7 10 a4 a6 11 Nd2 Nh5 (instead of 11...Re8).

This is a worthwhile alternative, which seems to take the sting out of Nc4 ideas for White. Bareev replied 12 Nce4!, which I suspect is White's best try for an advantage.

A third Fianchetto game from the same tournament was Belov - Khalifman, World Cup Khanty-Mansiysk 2007 (in all three Black steered clear of the Catalan!). After 9...Re8 White avoided the 10 Nd2 a6 11 a4 Nbd7 main line and instead opted for 10 Bf4:

Khalifman replied with the principled 10...Ne4!? 11 Nxe4 Rxe4 12 Nd2 and now the exchange for a pawn sac 12...Rxf4 13 gxf4 Bxb2 14 Rb1 Bg7. Previously I was suspicious of the objective merits of this sacrifice, and I'm still not entirely convinced. But if such a theoretician as Khalifman plays it, you have to sit up and take notice!

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