When White Avoids the Benoni: The Vaganian Gambit

When White Avoids the Benoni: The Vaganian Gambit

| 24 | Opening Theory

After the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5, not every player of the white pieces agrees to take up the baton and confront the Benoni Defense or the Benko Gambit by playing 3.d5. Some may prefer to send the game toward the quieter English Opening by playing 3.Nf3.

So, if you like the complicated, unbalanced play of openings like the Benoni or the Benko Gambit, you might not feel comfortable in the type of positions after 3...cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.g3 or 5.Nc3.

Fortunately for those players, there is an interesting positional gambit available: 3...cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5!? 5.Nb5 d5! 6.cxd5 Bc5

Naturally, Black could not recapture on d5 by 6...Nxd5?? because of 7.Qxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc7+. So the white d-pawn will be allowed to live on, as an extra, central, passed pawn.

What compensation does Black get for this?

First of all his kingside development is more rapid. It is not hard to imagine the white king being caught in the center while Black is ready to open the rest of the board -- and it happens often.

The pressure on f2 creates some immediate problems for White, usually necessitating the move e2-e3. This, however, blocks in the dark-squared bishop. 7.Bg5 first is already met  by 7...Ne4!, forcing 8.Be3 Bxe3 9.fxe3, which is unacceptable for White.

Once e2-e3 is played, Black will be able to play ...e5-e4, severely cramping the white kingside. This, later, can form the basis for an attack on the white kingside.

Finally, the d5-pawn is not necessarily secure. After castling and playing ...e5-e4, Black can often prepare pressure on d5 by playing ...Qe7 and ...Rd8. Sometimes, he simply wins back the pawn, remaining with a large space advantage.

Naturally, White has his trumps. One particular plan involves, after playing e2-e3 and Black's ...e5-e4, leaving the king in the center and advancing g2-g4, h2-h4, etc. Additionally, a critical line is 7.N5c3 0-0 8.g3, which gives White his chances to absorb Black's pressure.

Now let us see a very interesting tactical battle where Garry Kasparov shows Black's chances:

White responded to the gambit in a kind of critical way; rather than playing the typical kind of positions with Black having space and threats on the kingside due to the e4-pawn, he made a positionally desirable trade of that pawn for the white d-pawn. In the meantime, however, White was left with his king in the center and basically no development.

Given the chance to develop the Bf1 and castle, White will be winning due to his extra pawn and two bishops. But now he faces an important decision -- to restrict himself to the quiet 16.Be2, which does not allow 16...Nd4 but also does not gain time attacking h7 (and thus allows 16...Qg5); or play the more active 16.Bd3, hitting h7 while developing but allowing 16...Nd4.

The choice is a matter of precise calculation, and somewhere in his calculations of 16.Bd3 White went wrong. This led by force to a particular kind of ending.

After the complications, Black was clearly pressing for the win. White had three pawns for the piece, but they were not easy to advance while his rook and king were passive. White faced a choice of how to deal with the threats to the queenside pawns. A fascinating ending resulted.

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