The first game from this month's update should act as a warning to those who like to indulge in sidelines without sufficient preparation. Here Gawain Jones soon regrets the maverick 5...a5:
and even feels compelled to resign only ten moves later, see Game one. As it seems clear that White's 7 f4 is just too strong, I recommend that you don't waste time with your a-pawn!
Tregubov is one of the strongest players who regularly plays the Benko. In Game 2 he is able to gradually equalize in one of the main lines. The game and notes suggest that White doesn't seem to have much of a pull against the method chosen by Black.
In Game 3 Vallejo Pons gives 3 f3 an outing and even has a novelty up his sleeve:
Here the Spanish GM tried 14 Nxe4 but was rocked back on his heels by Navara's strong sequence: 14...e5 15 d5 Nd4 16 Nc3 c6 17 dxc6 Qc7 and Black seized the initiative and (soon afterwards) the advantage. Evidence is mounting that 3 f3 is riskier for White than it is for Black.
I've picked out three interesting struggles from the last few months.
In the first of these, in Game 4, Danielian plays the opening quite aggressively but Lahno makes a clear improvement giving Black interesting chances:
In the diagram position the move 15...Nd7 led to an unclear position which eventually turned in Black's favour. With only limited examples available, reaching a definitive conclusion about 12 d6 is probably not possible, however this game seems to be a critical test.
In Game Five, the opening moves soon left the beaten track and led to a pleasant draw after involving a number of tactical themes. White's pawn sacrifice led to him obtaining sufficient compensation, but no more. Ivanchuk playing Black organized his defences rather well and Bu had no option but to induce mass exchanges and a drawn endgame.
In Game 6 Agdestein played a rare move which he had already employed 27 years ago! The opening was reasonably balanced but Van Wely sought to complicate the middlegame as much as possible. However he rather over-played his hand and should have lost. There were many errors in the endgame which suggests that the latter half of this game was played with virtually no time remaining on the clocks. A shame perhaps, but that is a feature of modern chess!
In Game 7 Dominguez used a surprising sideline, 15...a5!?:
He seemed to get away with his experiment (I couldn't see anything particularly interesting for White) but he did have to defend the arduous ending of Rook and 3 versus Knight and 4 on the same side. Not much fun but Dominguez was up to the task.
Gupta-Howell in Game Eight was a real roller-coaster ride. The opening was fairly complex, but then White sacrificed the exchange to gain an advantage. However with the time control still some way away he let it slip, and it was Black's turn to be better, only in turn to go astray just before move 40. Then White's safer king was a more important factor than the exchange in the latter part of the middlegame. From a theoretical point of view, we can note that the opening phase threw up a whole host of rich possibilities, the outcome of many remaining unclear. See last month's update for another Indian win with 8 Be2, in Harikrishna-Svidler.
In Game 9 Gupta wins in the Grünfeld, but this time with Black. My impression was that Hillarp Persson was inducing complications, as he felt that he would be better, but once he got there everything seemed to lead to equality. Unfortunately he became confused and, undoubtedly pressed for time, he simply blundered. It seems to me that 8...c6 makes a refreshing change from 8...Qd7 which has been too much in the news these past few months:
In Game 10 Van Wely had the Black pieces and it was his turn to surprise his opponent with 8...c5 (instead of the standard 8...b5) 9 dxc5 Qc7!? (instead of 9...Nbd7). Morozevich wasn't ruffled and just exchanged queens to keep the smallest of advantages.
Van Wely should probably have defended better, but allowing White's destabilizing pawn wedge was his undoing. There is a clear improvement for him on move 26, with which Black could expect to hold, but the Dutchman was to some extent handicapped by not obtaining the type of position he enjoys. Indeed after Morozevich's 10 Qb6 the whole line looks rather 'undynamic' for Black.
Till next month, Glenn Flear