Chess Openings: Benoni Defense

| 2 | Opening Theory

Category – Semi Closed Game 

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

ECO CodesA43 to A44 and A56 to A79 

Benoni Defense was first documented by Aaron Reinganum in a nineteenth century manuscript called Benoni (meaning “son of sorrow” in Hebrew). It is speculated that this phrase refers to the Black pawn on d6.  

It is classed among Semi Closed Games but Modern Benoni is usually studied with Indian systems (which are a subset of Semi Closed Games) and Benoni Defense goes with other Semi Closed Games.  

Various Benoni Defense variations have the ECO codes from A43 to A44 and from A56 to A79. 

Moves and Variations

1 d4 c5

2 d5

Though this is the sequence of moves (now called Old Benoni) attributed to Benoni Defense, moves c5 for Black and d5 for White can be played later in the second or third move. The most common sequence used presently is 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 c5, 3.d5.  

From here Black has several options: 3...b5, 3...d6, 3...e6, or 3...g6.  

Gambit 3…b5 is called Benko Gambit and is studied as a separate opening, while others constitute the main variations in Benoni Defense.  

Modern Benoni

3…e6 followed by 4.Nc3 d6, 5.e4 exd5, 6.cxd5 g6, or 4.Nc3 exd5, 5.cxd5 d6, 6 .4 g6 results in the Modern Benoni Opening.   

In this opening Black allows White preponderance of pawns at the center, especially giving him a strong point at d5, in return for more dynamic play through unbalanced position. White will try to advance e5 and aim for an attack from center. Black will try to develop attacks on Queen-side and along the half open e file after fianchettoing the Bishop at f8 and castling. Black’s Bishop here is not hampered by the e5 pawn as in King’s Indian Defense but on the other hand, White gets an advantage in the center because there is no e5.    

Modern Benoni is one of the most dynamic and perilous openings for both sides. It has been adapted by many great players. Because of this, some players will try to avoid it. For example, some players will play 3.Nf3 after 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 c5.  

Modern Benoni can also be reached after playing 2…e6 and then 3…c5 as well. This also avoids some of the difficult variations for Black on the other sequence. For instance 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 c5, 3.d5 e6, 4.Nc3 exd5, 5.cxd5 d6, 6.e4 g6, 7.f4 Bg7, and 8.Bb5+ Nfd7 can be avoided by playing 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 e6, 3.Nf3 c5.  

Taimanov Variation

This variation, also called Flick-Knife Attack, results after 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 c5, 3.d5 e6, 4.Nc3 exd5, 5.cxd5 d6, 6.e4 g6, 7.f4 Bg7, 8.Bb5+.  From here Black can play safer 8...Nfd7 or risky 8…Nbd7. The strength of this variation is another reason why Black players prefer to achieve Modern Benoni through 2…e6 and then 3…c5 instead of 2…c5.  

Other Variations

Comparatively calmer Czech Benoni Variation is characterized by Black playing e5 instead of fianchettoing the Bishop to g7.  Play may continue 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 c5, 3.d5 e5.  

Old Benoni variation, as pointed out above, arises from 1.d4 c5. While this has several sub variations with separate lines of play, it can also be transformed to Modern Benoni or Czech Benoni variations as well.  

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