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Modern Benoni, Classical Variation
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Be2 Re8 10 0-0 Nbd7 11 a4 Ne5 12 Qc2 Bg4!?:
This rare move caught my attention when I saw the recent game Kozul - Chatalbashev, Zagreb 2010. In fact, when I checked I discovered it was introduced by Andrei Volokitin a couple of years ago, but this was the first time Volokitin's idea had been repeated.
At first it looks like White simply pushes the bishop back and gains time with the useful f2-f3, and indeed White did exactly this in Evdokimov - Volokitin, Moscow 2008. But how "useful" is f3?
Kozul instead chose 13 Bxg4. The exchange of bishops should normally favour Black, as it eases his usual congestion problem, but White does at least gain some time pushing back Black's knights. Then the big question is: will White's pawn centre be strong or weak?
Another question is: can Black play 12...Bg4 against 12 Ra3, as well as against 12 Qc2? This is important question, as 12 Ra3 often transposes to 12 Qc2 if Black plays the usual move 12...g5 (for example, with 12...g5 13 Qc2). Hopefully the notes to Langeweg - Van der Vliet, Leeuwarden 1977, the only game I could find where Black tried this, provides some answers.
The Fianchetto Variation continues to see a considerable amount of action, not least because of the popularity of the Catalan and the move order 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 c5.
One line that has been providing a stiff challenge for Black recently is 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Bf4 (instead of the main line, 10 Nd2) 10...Na6 11 Re1 Bg4:
In Thorfinnsson - Romanishin, Reykjavik 2010, White chooses 12 h3, and two moves later I think he improves on an older game involving the Ukrainian GM.
In Grischuk - Gashimov, Linares 2010, White plays 12 Qb3!?, which doesn't look like a particularly fearsome novelty. Nevertheless, it caused Gashimov some problems which he couldn't solve over the board and he was soon in trouble.
Finally in the Fianchetto, the game Zhao Xue-Tomilova, Moscow 2010, caught my eye, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 Nd2 Bg7 8 g3!? 0-0 9 Bg2:
Zhao Xue attempted to confuse her opponent my delaying castling and using the "spare" tempo elsewhere. She certainly succeeded in doing so, and by the time she eventually castled she had a winning position! With a bit of care, though, Black should be okay.
Modern Main Line
Finally this month, another look at 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 e4 g6 7 h3 Bg7 8 Nf3 a6 9 a4 Nbd7 10 Bd3 Nh5:
This tricky move, played frequently by GM Wojtaszek and recommended by Chris Ward in Dangerous Weapons: The Benoni and Benko, continues to score pretty well for Black, even though it's certainly risky. Savage - Cernousek, 4NCL 2010, turns out to be another success for Black, but White's play can definitely be improved upon.
Till next time, John