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In this month’s update we focus on some recent developments and new ideas in the Benoni, including an amazing positional sacrifice for Black in the Modern Classical and some rough super-engine treatment of the Snake Benoni.

Download PGN of November ’20 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Modern Benoni: Modern Classical: 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 Bd3 Re8 10 0-0 Nbd7 [A70]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 Bd3 Re8 10 0-0 Nbd7 11 Re1:

In recent times, we’ve seen quite a few Modern Benoni experts delaying or avoiding ...a6 in the Modern Classical, as the absence of ...a6 and a2-a4 favours Black in certain positions. 11...Nh5 is a typical idea here, but recently there have been some games with 11...Ne5!? 12 Nxe5 Rxe5 13 Bf4. Retreating the rook, allowing Nb5 and defending with ...Bf8 isn’t anyone’s idea of fun in the Benoni, so why are players choosing 11...Ne5 ?

The answer is the remarkable idea 13...Nh5!:

Black sacrifices the exchange in return for long-term dark-square control and attacking chances on the kingside. According to my database, it was first played by the Serbian GM Milos Perunovic in 2016. Although a positional rook for dark-squared bishop sacrifice is a well-known idea in general (consider, for instance, several cases in the Sicilian Dragon), off the top of my head I can’t remember too many examples in the Modern Benoni.

After 14 Bxe5 Bxe5 we study two games:

a) In Molina, R - Gabrielian, A White’s queen rushed to help defend the kingside with 15 Qf3. Look out for some amazing attacking ideas in the notes to this game!

b) In Jojua, D - Gabrielian, A White played the sensible 15 Bf1, covering h3 and preparing g2-g3.

The exchange sacrifice with 13... Nh5 looks at the very least a decent practical option for Black. Objectively you would expect there to be at least one way for White to keep the advantage, but Black has quite a few ideas that need to be taken seriously, and the dark-square imbalance keeps things interesting.

Modern Benoni: Modern Classical: 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Bd3 [A70]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Bd3 a6 9 a4 Bg4:

8 h3 0-0 9 Bd3 is the move-order White should employ if he wishes to play the Modern Classical without allowing ...a6 with ...b5 or ...Bg4. The move order here allows Black to get in ...Bg4, an opportunity most Benoni players will seize. The bishop-for-knight exchange normally helps Black in the Modern Benoni. The resulting positions are considered to be slightly easier for Black to play than those in the Modern Classical after 9...0-0 10 h3, and Black has tended to score well. A typical position is reached after 10 0-0 0-0 11 h3 Bxf3 12 Qxf3 Nbd7:

Black’s opportunities to create activity in this line are well demonstrated in the recent miniature Adamia, J - Pantsulaia, L. Look out for a lovely finish to the game.

Modern Benoni: Modern Classical: 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 Bd3 b5 [A70]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 Bd3 b5 10 Nxb5 Re8:

The 9...b5 pawn sacrifice remains the theoretically approved way of meeting the Modern Classical. White has many options but is apparently struggling to demonstrate any meaningful advantage. A couple of recent games are of interest, for different reasons.

In the first game White chooses 11 Nc3!?. This move is hardly ever played and known to be ‘bad’ because of the game continuation, which leads to a quick win for Black. However, analysis of an improvement down the line suggests that 11 Nc3 is actually a playable option for White, and it has even been used to successfully to catch out a grandmaster and Benoni expert - providing a reminder that studying and playing seemingly discredited opening lines may lead to great rewards. See Vogel, R - Fromm, M for analysis.

In the second game Anish Giri was playing with the white pieces. It’s not often we get to see one of the World’s elite facing the Modern Benoni, so it’s usually of interest when they do. Even in blitz games, top players are often willing to reveal their detailed preparation.

After 11 0-0 Nxe4 Giri chooses one of the less common moves, 12 Bxe4 Rxe4:

White’s e4-pawn is gone and Black has the long-term advantage of the bishop pair. However, White’s goal is to exploit his advantage in activity before Black has a chance to consolidate. In the game, Black was able to equalise quite easily. However, there are improvements for White which certainly complicate Black’s task - check out the analysis of this line in Giri, A - Fier, A.

Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation: 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 [A62]

6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Re1:

10 Nd2 and 10 Bf4 remain the most popular choices. However, 10 Re1 is also an important option and one which Ding Liren has used, including a convincing win we saw against Vachier Lagrave.

The most common continuation here is 10...a6 11 a4 Nbd7 12 e4 c4 (or 12...Ng4), which we’ve covered before, but the alternative development 10...Na6 is another playable option for Black. In a recent game, White gained a significant advantage after 11 Nd2 Nc7 12 Nc4 Rb8 13 Bf4 Bf8 14 a4 and Black was reduced to passive defence. However, in this sequence of moves, the players bypassed a crucial improvement for Black which, aided with a key novelty a few moves later, completely overturns the assessment of the position! See the analysis in Shuvalova, P - Alekseev, E.

Snake Benoni: 5...Bd6 [A60]

5...Bd6 6 Nf3:

It’s intriguing to see how an opening like the Snake Benoni stands up to super-engine scrutiny, and sometimes the results are quite surprising. A few months ago we covered a 125-move epic draw between Stockfish and Leela Zero in the Snake Benoni, in the critical line 6 e4 0-0 7 f4 Nxe4!. More recently, however, the two contested the position after 6 Nf3 and this time it led to two crushing wins for White.

The game where Leela Zero had the white pieces was of most theoretical interest. After 6...Bc7 (it’s noticeable that both engines avoided the obvious and most popular 6...0-0) 7 d6 Ba5, all previous interest has stemmed from 8 Bg5 Qb6. However, Leela Zero unleashed the virtually new move 8 e4!:

If it does anything at all, surely Black’s ...Bc7-a5 should be preventing this move, but it comes anyway! The game continued 8...Nxe4 9 Qe2 f5 10 Bg5 Qb6, and after the novelty 11 g4! it was already clear that Black is experiencing enormous difficulties here.

Judging by the evidence of LCZero - Stockfish, 8 e4! may even be a refutation of 6...Bc7.

Till next time, John

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