Attack of the Youngsters: Benjamin Bok
For today’s article, I wanted to “introduce” a new grandmaster to chess^summit – which is something I haven’t done for a while. For those of you who have followed this blog since its conception back in 2014, you probably remember my posts on Mikhail Tal, Fabiano Caruana, Sam Shankland, and more recently, Pavel Eljanov. Today, I wanted to introduce a much less well-known Grandmaster from the Netherlands, Benjamin Bok.
At just 20 years old, Benjamin Bok is a 2600 level Grandmaster and the 8th best player in the Netherlands.
Bok earned his GM title back in 2014 and boasts wins against players like Yu Yangyi, Loek van Wely, and Robin van Kampen. While he hasn’t cracked the elite level of play yet, he’s shown a lot of progress, and in doing so earned an invite to the Challenger section of the Tata Steel this week. Let’s take a look at his Round 2 win.
Bok v L’Ami (Tata Steel Challengers, 2016)
The first surprise from Bok this round. Predominantly a 1 e4 player, Bok shows his versatility in opening play by choosing a more strategic set-up.
1…f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. d4 O-O 6. c4 d6 7. Nc3 c6 8. b3
With the pawn on d4, White’s weaknesses on the long diagonal are temporary. Here we have a Dutch where Black has yet to commit the e-pawn to e6 or e5. Since Black has already played …c7-c6, …e7-e6 is less appealing since it wouldn’t transpose to a true Classical Dutch. As you will see, Black’s inability to play …e7-e5 and contest the center will play a big factor in Bok’s win.
An odd-looking move, but perfectly principled. From a6, the knight can go to c7 and help control the center, or like later in the game, b4 and then c6. While “knights on the rim are grim”, the position here is slow enough thatBlack can afford to spend the extra tempo maneuvering this knight.
With this move, Bok makes his intentions clear. If he can play e2-e4 and bust open the position, he can punish Black’s slow play. This idea is a great example of a well-known development principle: when your opponent is behind in development (or it’s inferior to your’s), sometimes the best option is to change the dynamic of the position by making the position more open. In doing so, you test the general optimization of your opponent’s army.
9…Ne4 10. Bb2 d5?!
Black would have loved to push 10…e7-e5, but tactically this won’t work with the knight on e4. For example 10… e5 11. dxe5 Qb6 (attacking f2) 12. Rf1 dxe5 13. Nxe4 fxe4 14. Nd2 += and now the position sours as Black’s central doubled pawns make L’ami’s position nearly untenable.
Going back to the game, 10… d5 is a very committal move. While L’ami is increasing his control over the e4 square, the move …e7-e5 is no longer an option, and he’s now boxed in the bishop on c8. More interesting was 10… Nac5, using the pin along the long diagonal.
11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Ne5
Highlighting the other problem with 10… d5 – Black’s ceded control over the e5 square. While the knights on e4 and e5 look equal, White still can attack the e4 square with f2-f3, while Black as no pawn push to attack the knight on e5.
12…Nb4 13. Rc1 Be6 14. a3 Nc6 15. Nxc6
Why the knight trade? Already controlling the c-file, a backward pawn on c6 would make a nice target. Furthermore, after a move like f2-f3, the c5 square could make for a nice outpost.
15…bxc6 16. Na4 f4 17. f3 Nd6 18. Nc5
Bok has achieved positional domination, thanks to Black’s move 10… d5. With no effective way to kick the knight from c5, Black’s army will be subdued, While White can aim for an e2-e4 push once again.
18…Bd7 19. e4 g5
Desperate to find some source of counterplay, Black shoves his g-pawn down the board, unfortunately, he missed the strength of White’s plan.
20. exd5 cxd5 21. Re5!!
A powerful blow to Black’s position, as White attacks both the d- and g-pawns. Unfortunately, there’s little L’ami can do, as 21… Bxe5 loses to 22. dxe5 and 22… Nf5 23. Qxd5+ e6 24. Qxd7.
21…e6 22. Nxd7 Qxd7 23. Rxg5 Nf5 24. Qd3 Rab8 25. Bh3
With no threats from Black, White can take his time optimizing his pieces and preparing for an attack.
25…Kh8 26. Rh5 Qf7 27. Bg4 h6 28. gxf4
Eliminating all sources of …fxg3 counterplay. Though Bok opens his king, Black can not seriously hope to exploit this.
28…Ne7 29. Re1 Ng6 30. Bc1 Nxf4 31. Bxf4 Qxf4
Though it may not seem like White has improved the position that much, he’s managed to trade his most inactive piece, the bishop on b2, for one of Black’s best defenders.
32. Kg2 Rbc8 33. Bxe6 Rce8 34. Re2 Bxd4 35. Bg4 Rd8??
Black’s last chance to stay in the game was 35… Rxe2+ where White stands slightly better. However, in this brief moment of Black’s lack of coordination, Bok blows L’ami off the board.
36. Re7 Bg7 37. Qg6 Qd2+ 38. Kh3 1-0
With no checks left in the position, L’ami resigned. The bishop on g7 is not only attacked, but pinned to the h7 square, and should Black protect the rook, Bg4-f5 is coming, and there’s no way to stop mate without giving up too much material.
A great win from the Dutch Grandmaster against his fellow countryman, as after 10… d5, his play flowed and there was a clear-cut plan throughout the whole game. While this game showed us the importance of fluidity at the highest level, it also showed the importance of having a broad opening repertoire. Bok rarely deviates from 1. e4, but here likely threw away hours of Erwin L’ami’s preparation. Good win!
Bok currently sits at 2/5 in the Challengers Section, with tough games against Grandmasters Sam Sevian and Nijat Abasov left. We’ll see if there’s more to come this year from the Dutch youngster – with play like this win, he just might reach 2700!