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Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation
Given that White's other options include both the Taimanov Attack and the Modern Main Line, I think that even the most ardent fan would struggle to convince anyone that the Fianchetto Variation is the most critical test of the Modern Benoni. Having said that, many players are attracted by its solidity and the chance of gaining a comforting '+/='. It also fits into a 'one size fits all' repertoire of d2-d4, c2-c4 and g2-g3 against virtually every defence.
Ironically, far from being 'solid', many Fianchetto lines lead to great complications, including the variation most consider to be the main line: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 a6 10 a4 Nbd7 11 Nd2 Re8 12 h3 Rb8 13 Nc4 Ne5 14 Na3
In our first game, Ten Hagen-Fedorchuk, Vlissingen 2010, Black played the interesting novelty 14...h5!?. Instead of 14...Nh5, which discourages f2-f4 for the moment but often ends up as a piece sacrifice (or 14...Bd7 which is definitely a piece sac!), Black is willing to accept a loss of time by retreating the knight back to d7 after the f4 advance. The key question then is whether Black can organise sufficient counterplay while White is consolidating his imposing pawn centre.
In Dziuba - Iordachescu, Bratto 2010, Black continues down the main line with 14...Nh5 15 e4 Bd7 16 a5, but here the Moldovan GM chooses 16...b5 (instead of 16...Qxa5, also covered in the notes). Iordachescu's choice looks speculative at first sight, and he does eventually end up on the wrong end of the result, but earlier the game entered into unfathomable complications, and Black always has practical chances in these piece sac lines.
Another key line is 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Bf4 a6 11 a4 Ne4 (this freeing idea is one of the reasons for the 9...Re8 move order) 12 Nxe4 Rxe4:
In Antic - Rajkovic, Vrnjacka Banja 2010, White played the novelty 13 Qd2!?. Instead of the usual 13 Nd2 White tries to organise action on the kingside. At first sight this plan looks quite crude but it proves to be remarkably successful in this game.
In Solys - Simacek, Wroclaw 2010, White opted for the usual 13 Nd2 Rb4:
and now 14 b3!?, offering an exchange sacrifice in return for dark-square domination. This was also Aronian's choice when faced with this position against Magnus Carlsen in 2007. Simacek accepted the offer and his subsequent play looks very convincing, but I think I've found a promising way for White to keep the initiative by sacrificing further.
Finally, while I don't think the game Alonso Rosell-Pena Gomez, Sauzal 2010, is overly important from a theoretical viewpoint, Black did come up with a neat idea to solve his problems after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Na6 10 h3 Nc7 11 a4:
If Black is aiming for ...b5, normally he would consider moves like 11...Rb8, 11...Bd7 or even first 11...b6. Here Pena Gomez demonstrated that the immediate 11...b5!? is an option that might be stronger than any of these other possibilities.
Modern Benoni: Quiet Bf4 and Bg5 Lines
There are quite a few quiet, non-theoretical lines involving Bf4 or Bg5, especially those where White plays the prophylactic h2-h3 and the restrained advance in the centre with e2-e3. Even though these lines don't really threaten the Modern Benoni's existence, they can still pose some problems for Black to solve.
A key battle is often the one over the dark squares in the centre and on the kingside, and frequently the e5-square in particular. Two recent games grabbed my attention because of the contrast in Black's fortunes in these battles.
In Barlov - Ostojic, Vrnjacka Banja 2010 (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 Bf4 a6 8 a4 Bg7 9 e3 0-0 10 h3 Qe7), for example, Black didn't seem to do too much wrong, but before he knew it some exchanges had been made, his dark-squared bishop was off the board, his queen was on e5, and (worst of all!) a white knight was heading for the key c4-square. Basically, a recipe for disaster!
In Barria Zuniga-Aroshidze, Figueres 2010 (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 h3 a6 8 a4 Qe7 9 Bg5 Nbd7) Black employs a much better dark-square strategy and manages to gain good counterplay, although the notes consider possible ways (light-square strategies!) for White to make things less comfortable.
Till next time, John