The Benko Gambit

A system against the Benko Gambit

Introduction

This paper focuses on the counter pawn sacrifice line, b6, which occurs after d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6. In particular it examines ways in which white can simultaneously reduce Black's queenside counterplay and get in the effective attacking breakthrough of e4-e5.

Starting Position

This system has been popularised by leading grandmasters such as Shirov. It has been given only short coverage in books dedicated to the benko gambit such as "Benko Gambit" by Gufeld (Batsford, 1988) where the strategic point of b6 is summed up as white wanting to use c4 for his pieces. This does not do very much justice to this line.

Examining the pawn structure implications of this line reveals some interesting insight.

Black has an interesting immediate a5 with the intention of stopping white from castling kingside normally. White however can take advantage of quick piece development and there are a couple of miniatures that demonstrate this.

Black may also do an immediate recapture with the queen or, alternatively may want to take the pawn at leisure and have the option of re-capturing the b6 pawn with a different piece. The main methods of delaying include a delayed capture on b6 with the queen; black doing Nb8-d7xb6, or playing an immediate a5.

In these events, white could turn his strategy into a counterplay-destroying style strategy implemented via attempting an a4-a5 manoever. This would clamp down on the sensitive b6 square. In this strategy if Black allows a4-a5 by White, there have been some interesting white victories.

If Black plays e6 then this has led to some very wild games.

Conclusions

The surprise counter gambit b6 is an effective weapon against the benko gambit, which offers white effective strategic plans such as Nf3-d2-c4, and a4-a5 in some variations. Strong grandmasters such as Shirov are pioneering this line with success which is evidence of its soundness.

Further Reading

The Benko Gambit; Hit Back from Move 3!
Andrew Marin / Paperback / Published 1999
Play the Benko Gambit
Vaidyanathan M. Ravikumar / Paperback / Published 1991
Benko Counter-Gambit
David N. L. Levy
The Benko gambit
Pal Benko
Benko Gambit Accepted (MacMillan Chess Library)
Eduard Gufeld
The Complete Benko Gambit
John Fedorowicz
Complete Benko Gambit
John Fedorwicz
Mastering the Modern Benoni and the Benko Gambit
Robert Bellin, Pietro Ponzetto

 

Appendices

Pawn structure implications
Immediate recapture on b6 by black queen
Black plays an immediate a5
Black allows a4-a5
Black plays e6
A Delayed capture on b6 with the queen.
Black does Nb8-d7xb6 to recapture the pawn

 

Pawn structure implications

If we first examine the pawn structure implications of this line, remembering philidor's phrase "Pawns are the soul of chess"! ,we can see that after the move b6 the following pawn structure is likely to occur:

From black's perspective there is the semi-open file to play with, and white's b pawn is a nice target not just on the semi-open b file but also on the black diagonal a1-h8. The b4/b5 squares are nice for black. Manoevers such as Ne8-c7-b5 have occured in practice. This is especially effective because the central d4 square has not got white pawns protecting it on either e3 or c3.

From White's perspective: Blacks 'a' pawn is an isolated pawn. White has a space advantage and can use the vacant c4 square for a knight. This would bear on the d6 pawn and the b6 square. Black's pawn chain base to undermine is e7 which can be indirectly got at via d6. The strategic breakthrough e4-e5 would be effective therfore in exposing this.

Immediate a5 by black with the idea of Ba6

mpein.gif (6488 bytes)

This move tries to stop white from castling naturally. International Malcom Pein has kindly pointed out this variation. Example games:-

Bacrot Etienne - Koch Jean_Rene [A57/13]
It, Cannes (France), 1995

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 a5 6.Nc3 Ba6 7.b7 Ra7 8.Bg5 Rxb7 9.Bxf6 exf6 10.Rb1 f5 11.e3 Bxf1 12.Kxf1 g6 13.Nge2 Bg7 14.g3 0-0 15.Kg2 Qb6 16.h4 c4 17.h5 Na6 18.hxg6 hxg6 19.Rh4 Rc8 20.Qh1 Qf6 21.Qh2 d6 22.Nd4 Nc5 23.Nc6 Ne4 24.Rh1 Ng5 25.Rxc4 Re8 26.b3 Ne4 27.Qh7+ Kf8 28.Na4 Rb5 29.Rd1 g5 30.Nd4 Rxd5 31.Nb6 Qe7 32.Nxd5 Qb7 33.Nc6 Nc5 34.Nxa5 Qa8 35.Rxc5 dxc5 36.Nc4 Qxa2 37.Qxf5 Qxb3 38.Nd6 f6 39.Rd3 Qc2 40.Nxe8 1-0

Zueger Beat - Polgar Judit [A57/13]
It, Biel (Switzerland), 1987

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 a5 6.Nc3 Ba6 7.f4 d6 8.Nf3 Qxb6 9.e4 Bxf1 10.Rxf1 g6 11.e5 Nfd7 12.e6 fxe6 13.dxe6 Nf6 14.f5 gxf5 15.Ng5 h6 16.Nf7 Rg8 17.Rxf5 Rxg2 18.Rxf6 exf6 19.Qh5 Rg1+ 20.Kd2 Qb4 21.Kc2 Qg4 22.Nxd6+ Ke7 23.Qxc5 Rg2+ 24.Bd2 Rxd2+ 25.Kxd2 Qf4+ 26.Kc2 Qxh2+ 27.Kb3 Qxd6 28.Nd5+ Kd8 29.Qxd6+ Bxd6 30.Rg1 Nd7 31.exd7 Rb8+ 32.Kc4 Kxd7 33.Nxf6+ Ke6 34.Ne4 Bf4 35.Nc5+ Kf5 36.Nd3 Be3 37.Rf1+ Ke4 38.Nc5+ Bxc5 39.Kxc5 Rxb2 40.Rh1 Rxa2 41.Rxh6 -

A couple of quick ones, which show it is not all bad, if white cannot castle kingside naturally...

Brenninkmeijer Joris - De Vreugt Dennis [A57/13]
It (open), Leeuwarden (Netherlands) (2), 1995

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 a5 6.Nc3 Ba6 7.f4 d6 8.Nf3 Qxb6 9.e4 Bxf1 10.Rxf1 e6 11.dxe6 fxe6 12.Ng5 Qc6 13.Qe2 Qd7 14.e5 Nd5 15.exd6 Nxc3 16.bxc3 Bxd6 17.f5 0-0 18.fxe6 Rxf1+ 19.Kxf1 Qb7 20.Bf4 Be7 21.Qh5 Qb5+ 22.Kg1 1-0

Norri Joose - Maeki Veijo [A57/13]
It (1), 1993

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 a5 6.Nc3 Ba6 7.f4 d6 8.Nf3 Nbd7 9.b7 Rb8 10.e4 Bxf1 11.Rxf1 Nb6 12.e5 dxe5 13.fxe5 Nfxd5 14.Ng5 f6 15.Ne6 Qd7 16.Nxd5 Rxb7 17.Nxf8 Rxf8 18.Nxb6 1-0

N.B. It is statistically interesting that there was not one instance of black winning with the quick a5 out of the 31 games of this variation in a database of 4554 games dedicated to the benko gambit which was obtained from the University of Pittsburgh.

Immediate capture on b6 by Black's queen

In lines where black captures on b6, white has two prompted plans:

The black queen is a target for two strategic manoevers as shown above. Gettting a knight to c4 may play a significant role in undermining black's pawn structure. (see Concept section). It may also assist lessening the pressure on the b file.

Shirov,A - Sorensen,J [A57]
Tunja, 1989

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 Qxb6 6.Nc3 d6 7.e4 g6 8.a4 a5

Black does not allow the cramping move a5.

9.f4 Bg7 10.Bb5+ Nfd7 11.Nf3 0-0 12.0-0 Ba6 13.Qe2 Bxb5 14.axb5 Qb7 15.e5

White has built up a promising attacking position. The b file is not particularly useful to black anymore because of the pawn on b5. The pawn chain e7-d6-c5 is being undermined.

Nb6 16.Rd1 dxe5 17.Nxe5 Re8 18.Nxf7 Kxf7 19.Qe6+ Kf8 20.Ne4 Qd7 21.Qxb6 Bd4+ 22.Rxd4 cxd4 23.Qxd4 Kg8 24.b3 1-0

Black does Nb8-d7xb6 to recapture the pawn

This "slow" pawn recapture avoids the black queen becoming a target, but introduces other issues.

Shirov,A - Hauchard,A [A57]
Paris, 1990

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.a4 Qxb6 8.a5 Qc7 9.e4 g6 10.f4 Bg7 11.Bc4 0-0 12.Nf3 Re8 13.0-0 e5 14.dxe6 fxe6 15.Ng5 Nf8 16.f5

h6 17.e5 dxe5 18.fxg6 hxg5 19.Bxg5 N8d7 20.Qf3 Ra7 21.Rad1 Qb7 22.Qh3 Qc6 23.Nd5

exd5 24.Rxd5 Kf8 25.Qh7 Re6 26.Bh6 Ke8 27.Qxg7 Nxd5 28.Qh8+ Ke7 29.g7 Rxh6 30.Rf7+ Kxf7 31.g8Q+ Ke7 32.Qd8+

1-0

Dreev,A - Andrianov,N [A57]
New, 1990

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.e4 Nxb6 8.a4 g6 9.a5 Nbd7 10.f4 Bg7 11.Nf3 0-0 12.Bc4 Ne8 13.0-0 Nc7 14.Qd3 Nb5 15.Be3 Nxc3 16.bxc3 Nf6 17.Bf2 Ne8 18.Rfb1 Nc7 19.Rb6 Bd7 20.Bh4 Bb5 21.e5 Qd7 22.Bxb5 axb5 23.Bxe7 c4 24.Qd2 Qxe7 25.exd6 Qf6 26.dxc7 Qxc3 27.Qxc3 Bxc3 28.Ra2 b4 29.d6 b3 30.Ra4 Bxa5 31.Rxa5 Rxa5 32.d7 Raa8 33.Ne5 c3 34.Rxb3 c2 35.Nd3 Kg7 36.Rc3 Ra1+ 37.Kf2 Ra2 1-0

Black plays an immediate a5

The following game is interesting in this respect:

Tukmakov,V - Nedobora,M [A57]
Santa, 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 d6 8.a4 a5 9.Bb5+ Nfd7 10.Nf3 0-0 11.0-0 Nxb6 12.h3 Na6 13.Bf4 Nb4 14.Qd2 Ba6 15.Rfd1 Bxb5 16.axb5 Re8 17.Qe2 Qd7 18.e5 Qb7 19.e6 f5 20.Ng5 Ra7 21.Nf7 N6xd5 22.Nxd5 Nxd5 23.Bxd6 exd6 24.Nxd6 Nf4 25.Qf1 Qb8 26.Nxe8 Qxe8 27.Qc4 Nxe6 28.Rd6 Kf7 29.Re1 Re7 30.b6 Bxb2 31.Rdxe6 Rxe6 32.b7 Bd4 33.Qxe6+ 1-0

Black allows a4-a5

First a personal loss, by the author against GM Adams. This instructively shows black's strategic knight manoever possibility:-

Gavriel Tryfon - Adams Michael [A57]
It (open), London (England), 1993

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 Qxb6 6.Nc3 g6 7.e4 d6 8.Be2 Bg7 9.Nf3 0-0 10.0-0 Bg4 11.Nd2 Bxe2 12.Qxe2 Nbd7 13.Nc4 Qc7 14.f4 Nb6 15.Nxb6 Qxb6 16.e5 Ne8 17.Be3 Nc7 18.Qf2

I think I have a reasonable position here, but this does not last for long!.....

Rab8 19.Rab1 Qb4 20.Rfd1 Rb7 21.Qc2 Nb5 22.Ne4 Nd4 23.Bxd4 cxd4 24.exd6 exd6 25.Nf2 Qa5 26.Qc4 Rc7 27.Qb3 Rc5 28.Qf3 Qxa2 29.Nd3 Rcc8 30.Nb4 Qc4 31.Nc6 Rce8 32.Rd3 f5 33.h4 Re4 34.Ra1 Rfe8 35.Kh2 Bh6 36.g3 Re3 37.Rxe3 Rxe3 38.Qh1 Qc2+ 39.Kh3 Bxf4 0-1

This is not to say the variation is unsound. In the hands of some stronger players such as Shirov, this system has proven to be effective. Here are some white wins in this variation:-

Shirov,A - Adams,M [A57]
Hastings (13), 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 Qxb6 7.a4 g6 8.a5 Qb7 9.e4 Bg7 10.Bc4 0-0 11.Nge2

This is an effective way of avoiding the Bg4 pin.

Ne8 12.0-0 Nc7 13.h3 Nd7 14.f4 Nf6 15.Ra2 Nb5 16.Be3 Bd7 17.Qd3 e6 18.dxe6 Bxe6 19.Bxe6 fxe6 20.f5 exf5 21.exf5 gxf5 22.Rxf5 Nxc3 23.Nxc3 Nd7 24.Rg5 Rae8 25.Ra4 Ne5 26.Qxd6 Kh8 27.Qxc5 Qxb2 28.Rxg7 Kxg7 29.Re4 Rf5 30.Bd4 Qc1+ 31.Kh2 Kg6 32.Qd6+ Rf6 33.Qd5 Rf5 34.Bxe5 Rfxe5 35.Rg4+ Rg5 36.Qd3+ Kf7 37.Qxh7+ Kf6 38.Nd5+ Rxd5 39.Qg6+ 1-0

Shirov A - Bellon Lopez J M [A57]
It, Klooster, 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.a4 a5 8.Nb5 0-0 9.Nc7 Ra6 10.Qb3 c4 11.Qb5 c3 12.bxc3 Ne4 13.Bb2 d6 14.Nxa6 Nxa6 15.Nf3 Nac5 16.Nd4 e6 17.g3 Ba6 18.Qxa5 Qg5 19.Nf3 Qxd5 20.Qb4 Rb8 21.a5 Rc8 22.Rc1 Qb3 23.Qxb3 Nxb3 24.Rb1 Nxa5 25.Bg2 Nc4 26.Nd4 d5 27.Bxe4 dxe4 28.Bc1 Rb8 29.Be3 Rxb6 30.0-0 Be5 31.Bh6 f6 32.Rxb6 Nxb6 33.Ra1 Bc4 34.Ra7 f5 35.Nc6 Bf6 36.Rb7 Nd5 37.Rb8+ 1-0

Flear,C - Karim,F [A57]
Novi (3), 1990

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 Qxb6 6.Nc3 d6 7.e4 Nbd7 8.a4 g6 9.a5 Qc7 10.f4

Bg7 11.Bc4 0-0 12.Nf3 Nb8 13.h3 Nh5 14.0-0 Kh8 15.Qe1

e5 16.fxe5 dxe5 17.Qh4 Qd6 18.Ne2 Ra7 19.g4 Nf6 20.Nc3 Nbd7 21.Be3 Rb7 22.Rf2 h5 23.Ng5 Kg8 24.Raf1 Bh8 25.gxh5 gxh5 26.Rg2 Bg7 27.Nf3 Kh7 28.Rxg7+ Kxg7 29.Qg5+ Kh8 30.Qh6+ Kg8 31.Kh1 1-0

Crouch,C - Palatnik,S [A57]
Hastings, 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b50 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 Qxb6 7.e4 g6 8.a4 Bg7 9.a5 Qb7 10.Bc4 0-0 11.f4 Ne8 12.Nf3 Bg4 13.0-0 Nc7 14.Qe1 Qb4 15.Nd2 Bd7 16.Ra3 e6 17.Qh4 exd5 18.Rb3 Qxa5 19.Nxd5 Nxd5 20.Bxd5 Nc6 21.Rb7 Be8 22.f5 Rb8 23.fxg6 hxg6 24.Nf3 Qd8 25.Bg5 Qc8 26.Be7 Bd4+ 27.Kh1 Kg7 28.Rxb8 Qxb8 29.Bxf8+ Kxf8 30.Bxc6 Qxb2 31.Qd8 1-0

Lalic B - Zamora J [A57]
It (open), Sevilla, 1992

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 Qxb6 6.Nc3 g6 7.a4 d6 8.a5 Qb7 9.e4 Bg7 10.Be2 0-0 11.Nf3 Nbd7 12.0-0 Rb8 13.Nd2 Ne8 14.Nc4 Nc7 15.Na4 Nb5 16.Nab6 Nd4 17.Bd3 Nf6 18.Rb1 Nb5 19.Bd2 e6 20.Nxc8 Qxc8 21.dxe6 Qxe6 22.Nb6 Nd7 23.Bc4 Qe8 24.Nxd7 Qxd7 25.Be3 Qc7 26.Qd2 Nd4 27.b4 Nc6 28.bxc5 dxc5 29.Bxc5 Rfd8 30.Bd5 Nxa5 31.Rxb8 Rxb8 32.Bd6 Qd8 33.Bxb8 1-0

Black plays e6

This can lead to completely mad games such as the following:-

Shirov A - Neverov V [A57]
Ch SSSR (Men), Moskva (5), 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 e6 6.Nc3 Nxd5 7.Nxd5 exd5 8.Qxd5 Nc6 9.Nf3 Rb8 10.e4 Be7 11.Bc4 0-0 12.Ng5 Qe8 13.0-0 Nd4 14.b4 d6 15.bxc5 dxc5 16.Be3 Rxb6 17.Bxd4 cxd4 18.Nf3 Rb4 19.Bd3 Be6 20.Qa5 Ra4 21.Qb6 Qd8 22.Qa7 Ba3 23.Bc2 Rb4 24.Bb3 Rb6 25.Bxe6 fxe6 26.Rab1 Bb2 27.Ne5 Qb8 28.Qxb8 1-0

Sokolov,A - Oniscuk,A [A57]
Jurmala, 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 e6 6.Nc3 Nxd5 7.Nxd5 exd5 8.Qxd5 Nc6 9.Nf3 Bb7 10.Ne5 Qe7 11.Bf4 Nd8 12.Qd2 d5 13.Qc2 Qe6 14.Qa4+ Ke7 15.e4 g5 16.exd5 Bxd5 17.0-0-0 gxf4 18.Re1 Bg7 19.Nf3 Rb8 20.Bc4 Bxc4 21.Qxc4 Rxb6 22.Kd2 1-0


Benjamin Joel - Waitzkin J [A57]
It (open), New York, 1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 e6 6.Nc3 exd5 7.Nxd5 Nxd5 8.Qxd5 Nc6 9.e4 Be7 10.Bc4 0-0 11.Nf3 Qxb6 12.0-0 Bb7 13.Qf5 Rae8 14.Bf4 Bc8 15.Rfd1 Qxb2 16.Rab1 Qf6 17.Qxf6 Bxf6 18.Nd2 Be7 19.f3 d6 20.Rb6 Ne5 21.Bd5 Rd8 22.Bxe5 dxe5 23.Nc4 Bf6 24.Kf2 Be6 25.Rxa6 Bxd5 26.exd5 Ra8 27.Rxa8 Rxa8 28.a3 Ra4 29.Rc1 Kf8 30.Ke2 Ke8 31.Kd3 Bd8 32.Re1 f6 33.f4 e4+ 34.Rxe4+ Kf8 35.Re1 Ra7 36.Rb1 Rd7 37.d6 Kf7 38.Ke4 1-0

A Delayed capture on b6 with the queen.

The recent Drury Lane Grandmasters saw the following game

Parker,J (2495) - Kumaran,D (2500) [A57]
Drury Lane Grandmasters (3), 1997

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 g6 4.c4 b5 5.cxb5 a6 6.b6 d6 7.Nc3 Nbd7 8.a4 Qxb6 9.e4 Bg7 10.Be2 0-0 11.Nd2 Qc7 12.a5 Rb8 13.Nc4 Rb4 14.0-0 Ne8 15.Qc2 Qa7 16.Bg5 f6 17.Bd2 Nc7 18.Na4 Rb8 19.Nab6 Na8 20.Nxc8 Rfxc8 21.Bg4 Rd8 22.h4 Nf8 23.h5 Nc7 24.Qd3 Nb5 25.Qh3 Nd4 26.Nb6 gxh5 27.Bxh5 e5 28.dxe6 Nfxe6 29.f4 Rf8 30.Bc3 f5 31.Rae1 Bh6 32.exf5 Nxf4 33.Rxf4 Bxf4 34.Qg4+ Qg7 35.Qxf4 Rxf5 36.Qxf5 Nxf5 37.Bxg7 Kxg7 38.Bg4 Nd4 39.Re7+ Kg6 40.Rd7 1-0

Black does Nb8-d7xb6

This "slow" pawn recapture avoids the black queen becoming a target, but introduces other issues.

Shirov,A - Hauchard,A [A57]
Paris, 1990

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.a4 Qxb6 8.a5 Qc7 9.e4 g6 10.f4 Bg7 11.Bc4 0-0 12.Nf3 Re8 13.0-0 e5 14.dxe6 fxe6 15.Ng5 Nf8 16.f5

h6 17.e5 dxe5 18.fxg6 hxg5 19.Bxg5 N8d7 20.Qf3 Ra7 21.Rad1 Qb7 22.Qh3 Qc6 23.Nd5

exd5 24.Rxd5 Kf8 25.Qh7 Re6 26.Bh6 Ke8 27.Qxg7 Nxd5 28.Qh8+ Ke7 29.g7 Rxh6 30.Rf7+ Kxf7 31.g8Q+ Ke7 32.Qd8+

1-0

Dreev,A - Andrianov,N [A57]
New, 1990

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6 d6 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.e4 Nxb6 8.a4 g6 9.a5 Nbd7 10.f4 Bg7 11.Nf3 0-0 12.Bc4 Ne8 13.0-0 Nc7 14.Qd3 Nb5 15.Be3 Nxc3 16.bxc3 Nf6 17.Bf2 Ne8 18.Rfb1 Nc7 19.Rb6 Bd7 20.Bh4 Bb5 21.e5 Qd7 22.Bxb5 axb5 23.Bxe7 c4 24.Qd2 Qxe7 25.exd6 Qf6 26.dxc7 Qxc3 27.Qxc3 Bxc3 28.Ra2 b4 29.d6 b3 30.Ra4 Bxa5 31.Rxa5 Rxa5 32.d7 Raa8 33.Ne5 c3 34.Rxb3 c2 35.Nd3 Kg7 36.Rc3 Ra1+ 37.Kf2 Ra2 1-0

Revisions to this paper
18/12/97- Inclusion of quick a5 and Ba6 line by black, highlighted by IM Malcolm Pein.

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