Classic Pawn Structure, Part 4a
Is the Sicilian Wing Gambit and the French Defense a version of the Benko Gambit!?
I used to play the Wing Gambit against the Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.b4 cxb4 3.a3. I must say I played it due to my laziness (avoiding the Sicilian theoretic labyrinth!). Have you ever played the Wing Gambit?”
Is this man Sicilian, French, or Hungarian?
Initially after reading this question, I intended to say, “no, I never played it since it’s a terrible opening.” Then I intended to give the following two games:
The other game isn't particularly long:
And, finally (in the interests of fairness), I was going to show how in some lines White can actually end up seeking compensation by going for a partial Benko Gambit pawn structure (see my article, Classic Pawn Structure, Part 2). This might seem very surprising since the Benko Gambit is a d-pawn opening, while the Sicilian starts with 1.e4. Yet, in some lines the similarities are crystal clear:
After the moves above, you can clearly see that White not only has kingside chances thanks to his central and kingside space advantage (the e5-pawn exerts a serious cramping effect on Black's army), but also the Benko-ish double-barreled open files on the queenside (the a- and b-files). Imagine White sticking his rooks on a1 and b1 and you will understand the kind of pressure White might exert.
Now let's take a look at a line in the French Defense:
Incredibly, we have the exact same position as the line we just looked at in the Sicilian (ending in 8.Nf3)! And though I raved about the “Benko Gambit implications,” the position has scored quite well for Black (he often plays 8...f6 and tries to crack the center, or 8...Bd7 intending ...Rc8 taking aim at c3, or 8...Nh6 heading for the tasty f5-square).
1.e4 c5 2.b4 cxb4 3.a3 d5 4.e5 e6 5.axb4 Bxb4 6.c3 Be7 7.d4 Nc6 8.Nf3 and 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4 cxb4 5.a3 Nc6 6.axb4 Bxb4 7.c3 Be7 8.d4 both reach identical positions!
Here’s an example of this French/Sicilian position being played at a high level in 2012:
I was going to offer all that, but suddenly I decided to take a look at the database and see if any reasonably high-rated player was playing the Wing Gambit. And I was shocked!
It turns out that some very strong players use this opening with some regularity, while others use it to surprise higher-rated opponents. It’s not my place to offer an in-depth theoretical analysis and breakdown of all possible lines. What I will do is give quite a few games in the following categories:
- Lower-rated uses it as a surprise vs. higher-rated (and fail)
- Lower-rated uses it vs. higher-rated (success!)
- Higher-rated players use it to wipe out fish competition
- Avoiding the main lines by just playing chess 2...b6 or 2...e5
- Repeat users
LOWER-RATED USES IT AS A SURPRISE VS. HIGHER-RATED (AND FAIL):
One can understand the mentality: you’re playing against a world-beater who knows all the secrets of mainstream openings and you think, “to hell with that! I’m going for a quick knockout by using an aggressive line that my opponent most likely won’t be familiar with!”
By the way, please don’t think that “lower-rated player” is a beginner. Most of the guys that are playing White here are titled players or masters!
Hug gives it a whirl
Christian Bauer tries both sides of the equation
The dangerous 3.a3 e5
Something a little different
LOWER-RATED USES IT VS. HIGHER-RATED (SUCCESS!)
Here you’ll revel in games where players that are supposed to eat their opponent alive (the hunter) end up getting swallowed and digested (thus turning into prey). Note that our biggest upset is a 2280 holding a draw against a 2596! And no, this doesn’t mean that 2.b4 is a drawish opening!
Chop, chop, chopping at a3’s door
The critical 3...d5
The uninspiring 3...e6
HIGHER-RATED PLAYERS USE IT TO WIPE OUT FISH COMPETITION
Note the “fish” in our examples are in the high-2100 to mid-2300 range. You can view them as “big fish,” but even huge fish are the main course when a starving shark swims by. Of course, this approach isn’t very logical (why risk anything?) but I guess one can’t sneer at success.
I am cute! Don't wipe me out!
The excellent 2...e5 falls on its face
The rather odd 3.Bb2
Main line 3.a3 d5/bxa3 lines
Mork & Mindy
I’ll finish this article in Classic Pawn Structure, Part 4b, in which I will show you why Mork and Mindy (starring the late Robin Williams) and the Sicilian Wing Gambit are connected at the hip.
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read IM Silman's previous article: Parting with the Lady.
- Watch GM Ben Finegold's videos on how to crush the anti-Sicilian openings.
- Take a course on the Sicilian in the Chess Mentor.
- Sharpen your tactics with the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.