Chess Openings: Benko Gambit

| 1 | Opening Theory

Category – Semi Closed Game 

Opening Move Sequence – 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5

ECO CodesA57 to A59 

Also called the Volga Gambit, especially in Russia, Benko Gambit is named after Huagarain Grandmaster Pal Benko who endorsed it and tried to popularize it. However, it is a very old opening. The main idea behind it, with gambits at b5 and then a6, was used by many players in early twentieth century especially in King’s Indian openings. The first “true” Benko Gambit game was only played in a tournament in 1948. Benko Gambit, though not very popular, can be seen at master level tournaments.  

In earlier times, the term Volga Gambit was used when the 3…b5 variation (with continuation …e6) was used and Benko Gambit was used for the line continuing up to 3...b5, 4.cxb5 a6. However, this differentiation is no longer valid and the terms are used as synonyms now.  

Benko Gambit is classed among Semi Closed Games and with Indian systems (which are a subset of Semi Closed Games). Benko Gambit has the ECO codes A57 to A59. 

Moves and Variations

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 c5

3 d5 b5 

This is followed in the main variation by the moves,

4.cxb5 a6

5.bxa6 Bxa6 

After that, Black will fianchetto his King-side Bishop to g7. If the Black player intends to avoid the situation where White fianchettos both his Bishops, he can play 5…g5, 6.b3 Bg7, 7.Bb2 Nxa6!. White will then find it hard to counter Black’s Nb4 and Nfxd5 due to the possible pin.  

In the main line, in return for the loss of pawn, Black has blocked the White’s King-side Bishop. If 6.Nc3 d6, 7.e4, Black will move 7…Bxf1. Then after, 8.Kxf1. White will be forced to lose time in artificial castling. Play will continue; 8.Kxf1 g6, 9.g3 Bg7, 10.Kg2. Even after the fianchetto, the Bishop will have its own pawn at d5 in its line of sight. 

Apart from hampering the Bishop, Black’s gains in return for gambit pawn are control of a1-h8 diagonal and semi open files a and b. It must be remembered that this type of positional advantages will last throughout the game. As a result of these advantages, Black will agree to a Queen exchange here to stop White’s ability to attack in King-side, even though exchanges after a gambit usually favor the side with material advantage.  

Benko Gambit is playable and sound for White, though players sometimes select alternative variations to avoid some of the evils. Main alternatives for White are 4.Nf3 or 4.a4. Recently, the variation 4.cxb5 a6 5.b6, which returns the pawn, has also gained ground at tournament level.

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