Game Eleven is one sent in by a subscriber, Florian Biermann. Although he was apparently fairly pleased with his opening his opponent could have grabbed a pawn at an early stage. So it seems that this possibility casts a shadow across the plan starting with 13 Qa4. However, in the notes I have scratched the surface of some alternatives that may promise White a pull; I personally prefer 13 Rb1, for example. So even if 8 Bb5+ Bd7 can be considered a solid line for Black, it's not without promise for White.
In the key line where White builds his three-pawn centre and then defends his e-pawn with Bd3, Black's best approach is controversial. Should he just get on with development (accepting a space disadvantage) or put the question to White's centre (with an early ...f5), and if so, at what point?
Bauer in Game 1 tries a very risky approach, but the fact that he is willing to employ this theoretically suspicious line against such a strong and well-prepared opponent suggests that he believes in Black. Computers consistently prefer White on material grounds, but White's king is misplaced and so it's hard for him to harmonize his forces, so I suggest trying these lines out on a real board or in friendly games (rather than relying on your prejudiced analysis engine!). There are serious practical difficulties for White, even if Black's set-up doesn't necessarily inspire confidence (especially if you are a real materialist!).
Bauer prefers 10...Ne4 here, but 10...Nd5 is also interesting.:
In Game 2 Miezes preferred to delay ...f5 a while and Khenkin reacted in a solid way angling to keep a small edge. After an inaccuracy the complications turned out to be much better for White, but a closer look reveals that Black was fine. Miezes almost got his counterplay right, but should have made one more developing move before pushing with the tempting ...d4.
In Game 3 Miezes again flies the flag of another off-beat system with Black, this time in the Budapest. Here the opening sequence needs a closer look but capturing on e5 so early seems to give White attacking chances involving f2-f4.
In the next phase of the game Miezes defended solidly, but later on spurned a repetition, although that would have been the prudent course. The experienced Estremera Panos, a well-known time-trouble merchant, missed a couple of strong continuations towards the end, so Black escaped with half the spoils.
Hard times for the Benko this month with specialists Tregubov and Jones both losing convincingly. It just seems to me that recently White is the one coming up with the good ideas in this opening!
In Game 4 Mamedyarov settles for the modest 4 Qc2, a move that has been fairly popular recently:
He maintained a small pull due to his space advantage and was able to break Tregubov's blockade of the passed d-pawn before crashing through.
Game Five was further bad news for Benko lovers as Gawain Jones bites the dust. Beliavsky chose the rather unfashionable 5 e3 variation and followed a game where Zhukova had re-introduced 11 e4 earlier this year. Old theory books may tell you that Black has adequate play in this line but take a closer look. My conclusion is that things are not that simple for the second player and indeed Jones never really got close to equality despite lasting 60-odd moves.
If Black can revive his chances in this line he'll need to investigate 17...Na6! rather than the unsatisfactory 17...h6?!.
Aleksandrov played a model game in Game 6. He cashed in on Black's attempt at counterplay (as ...c4 weakened the d4-square) by placing a knight on c6. Then Black was unable to put up much resistance.
So in this line Black must play 14...g5 if he is really going to challenge White's comfort zone.?
Game 7 is another depressing one for Benko enthusiasts, but could have important repercussions. It again features the 'main line' of the Benko with 10 Rb1, followed by 10...Nb6 11 b3 Bc8. Van Wely however shows that 12 Nd2 (rather than 12 Nh4) is another promising idea. White allows the threatened ...Bf5, but so what?! Can Black really justify spending so much time to invoke e2-e4? Berg couldn't and maybe there isn't a way! It could be time to look for alternatives at move 10.
Albin Counter Gambit
In Game Eight Black tried 6...Bg4?! rather than the now-standard 6...Ng6, (where in the notes you'll see that there have been developments):
Black won this encounter and, in the only other fairly recent outing (Babula-Halkias from 2006), Black soon stood well. However Rogozenko (note, the usual spelling is with a 'k' not a 'c'!) playing White was much better, and only lost due to an oversight. The early part of this game clearly raises a question mark over the viability of 6...Bg4. So 6...Ng6 remains the critical option.
Ivanisevic refuted Black's opening in Game 9 and cashed in on the fruits of his enterprise (7 Nb3 and 9 Qc2!). A smooth performance where Black had no chance. It may be that this game will put ...Be6 out of commission, and therefore the popular 5...Nge7 (followed by either ...Ng6 or ...Nf5) will become even more dominant.
Game 10 was a competitive tussle that ended with honours even. I liked the way both players created active play for their pieces and there doesn't seem to be any obvious errors, so all-in-all a correct game. White's 8 Rc1 was unusual and his plan with Bxf6, e2-e4-e5 offered him chances of obtaining the better structure, but Black's counter-activity couldn't be calmed and Malakhatko never seemed to be in any danger.
So 7...Na6 seems like a reasonable alternative to 7...bxc4 (and can transpose).
Till next month, Glenn Flear