Baffled by the Benko

Jun 19, 2011, 9:45 AM |

Because I play 1.d4  with the White pieces, I am constantly challenged to recall a dozen or so different responses like QGD, QGA, Nimzo-Indian, King’s Indian, Grufeld, Benoni, Dutch, Pirc, etc… I try to find a “system” for my insanity and steer the game towards a familiar pawn structure or position I am somewhat comfortable with.  For the most part, I have been able to steer most of the games to an advanced d5 pawn chain, a palatable IQP or a Minority attack. The big exception, has been the Benko Gambit.

At the last World Open, I was prepared for most of the above variations against 1.4 except for the Benko because I hadn’t run into all that much at the club.  I was out of my game early as I declined the gambit and tried like hell to steer it into a more familiar positional territory.  After the game, Dan Heisman spoke with me and gave me sage advice: “always accept the gambit , make them prove its merit”.

That’s all I remembered.  I never looked at it again because I haven’t run into all that often, until recently. Once again, in the lion’s den at the club, I was faced with another Master.  1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5  I thought I was getting ready for a Benoni… but then 3…b5 was played.  I took the pawn 4.cxb5 a6  and took again 5 bxa6 Bxa6  and then asked myself “now what?”

My game is too embarrassing to post here as it quickly went down hill fast from this point as I tried to avoid  Black taking my Bishop on f1 and ruining my chances of castling…only to leave me in a horribly undeveloped position with Black on the attack.

Not all is lost. I asked my opponent to go over the fine points of this wretched opening and help me come up with a better plan that suits my style.  Accepting the a6 pawn is a line but not for the faint of heart. It requires castling manual  after the Bishop exchange on f1. It  is very sharp tactically with open lines and lots of swashbuckling.  I am more of a boa constrictor than a venomous viper I asked for a different way.

When I described my Samisch pawns and the d5 advanced chain he had a great suggestion:  1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.f3! and I can play e4 next. ( diagram) It doesn’t give Black the a6-f1 diagonal so early.  Black will attempt to control the dark squares as they are weak with a Queen on b6 and B on c5. But that means playing …c4. White can grab Black’s c-pawn and hold on to two pawns  for compensation.







Black’s best response then is to go after the head of the snake and play 5…e6 6.e4 exd5 7.e5 Qe7 8.Qe2 Ng8 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Nh3 c4 11.Nf4



This is an attacking line that can be very dynamic. I am still exploring this and not sure I am comfortable with a piece exchange for initiative and two pawns:

11..Qc5 12. Nxd5! Bxd5 13. Be3 Qb4 14.a3 Qa5 15.Bd2 Be6 16 Nd5 ( discovered attack) Qd8 17. Qxc4 Ra7 18. Rc1







White has a two pawns,  lead in development, initiative and an easier position to play in exchange for the knight.

My alternate choice is 5.e3 a quieter line still under review.

In any case, if I face this at the World Open, I will enjoy playing it knowing a little more about this gambit and what to avoid.