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A Quick Guide to the Benoni Defense

  • #1



    The Benoni Defense

    The Old Benoni
    1. d4 c5

    The Old Benoni, also known as the Benoni Gambit, is good for challenging white’s control of the center. Of all the main variations of the Benoni, this one is the least sound, but it is easier to pick up for less skilled players and is a good introduction to the Benoni Defense. Typically, white responds to 1…c5 with 2. d5, allowing white to keep control of the center. From here, black should try to transpose to the main position of the Czech Benoni. However, in lower level play, white will often accept the pawn, playing 2. dxc5?! This takes tension away from the center and loses a tempo, and is not a strong move for white. However, if you encounter this 2…e6 is the strongest response, gaining some control of the center, threatening the c5 pawn, and keeping with the general passive nature of the Benoni. White players eager to keep their material advantage will typically play 3. b4, which can be challenged by 3…a4. More often than not, this is met with 4. c3??. This leaves white’s queenside vulnerable to 4…Qf6!, winning the a1 rook.





    The Benko Gambit

    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5

    The Benko Gambit is the most popular form of the Benoni, as it leads to strong development and control for black, and puts white in an awkward, difficult to play position. It is typically continued with 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 Bxa6, pinning the e pawn to white’s bishop. If white chooses to release the pin by fianchettoing the bishop, it is only to gain control of the center through e4, as the bishop on g2 would be blocked by the d5 pawn. If white ignores the pin and plays e4 without fianchettoing, black captures the bishop and white has to recapture with the king, losing the ability to castle. Either way, black should fianchetto the kingside bishop to strengthen control of the board. It is ideal to tempt a queen for queen exchange because the queen is white’s best chance at equalizing after the opening.





    The Czech Benoni

    1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e5

    The Czech Benoni is the most solid line, but is often criticized for being too passive. It follows classical chess strategy, with white building a strong pawn center and focusing on development over long term position. The main line continues 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Be7 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O Ne8! 9. Qc2 g6 10. Bh6 Ng7 11. Nd2 a6 12. a3 f5!? 13. exf5! gxf5 14. f4. After this sequence, white has a slight advantage, but black is ready to continue a powerful kingside attack that white will have to devote everything to in order to defend successfully. If white ignores black’s powerful position and strays too greatly from this line, he is unlikely to be able to defend against black’s f7-f5 push. If white’s kingside is built up powerfully, a b7-b5 push should suffice to launch a queenside attack. If white doesn’t set up a counter to f7-f5 early enough, it can be pushed early, however it is crucial that you have a pawn on g6 and a knight on g7 to defend the pawn and strengthen the push. One fatal weakness of this defense is that if white plays Ne6!, the entire defense can fall apart. Capturing the knight with the bishop is recommended if this happens. When launching the attack on the kingside, a pawnstorm can put white in a tricky position, often forcing material sacrifices or destroying white’s pawn structure. This opening has much more information than I can reasonably cover so if you’re interested you should study it in more depth independently.



    The Modern Czech Benoni

    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e5 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Be7

    This is the response that a player who is more familiar with the Benoni will likely play. Right off the bat, white sets himself up to counter the crucial f5-f7 push. This is very difficult to play for black, because white has many options and it is difficult to be prepared for them all. However, because Nf3 and Bd3 are almost always played by white, I will assume that white plays this for turns 6 and 7, respectively. Black should play 6…O-O, but 6…Nbd7 is also playable, especially if white plans to play g2-g4. 7…Nbd7 8. h3 Ne8?! 9. g4 will lead to the main position of this opening, however moves are often played in different orders or played with slightly different moves by white. If white chooses to play 9. O-O, it will lead to a slight variation of the Classical Czech Benoni. Black needs to be extremely careful when white plays the modern line, and needs to be creative to counter white’s setup. Black needs to play with caution. Any player who wants to play the Benoni needs to study master games to see how it can be countered and played against. Personally I find 9…Kh8!? a good trap to lure white’s bishop away from d3, but the more experienced white player will likely not fall for this.


    The Modern Czech Benoni Fianchetto Variation

     1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e5 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Be7

    This is more or less the same as the regular variation, but white plays 9.g3 and fianchettos the bishop. This lets white play a pawn break of f2-f4. White will likely tear through black’s position like this and black should take white out of book, best done with Na6 and switching over to a queenside attack, eventually playing a b7-b5 pawn break. h5 has also proven to be a sound counter by challenging white’s kingside control. Players who tend to use this variation usually will fianchetto earlier than turn 9, playing 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 Nbd7. Unlike in the normal modern Benoni, black must castle before playing Nbd7 because white can play h2-h4 and support a bishop on g5 and with support from the queen this attack can be fatal for black. Black should play passively if white is able to set up too much control over the center, and hope to counter with f2-f4, but unlike the classical variation, black intends for white to take this pawn with exf4 and relinquish some control over the center.





    The Snake Benoni

    1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 Bd6?!

    The idea in the Snake Benoni is to play 6…Bc7 7…Ba5 pinning the knight to the king. This is not the best opening; it defies basic opening principles by not developing pieces and by moving the same piece three times in the opening. 6…O-O 7…Re8 8…Bf8 9…g6 10…Bg7 is typically considered the most sound continuation of this opening, however the same position can be reached with 5…g6 6…Bg7 7…O-O 8…Re8. However, all of this does not mean the Snake Benoni is not playable. 6. Nf3 Bc7 7. d6 Ba5 8. Bg5 Qb6 9. Bxf6 Qxb2 is the best way to play the Snake Benoni that I’ve seen. This variation contrasts greatly from other Benoni lines because it ignores positional play and becomes a very tactical game early on.



    The Modern Benoni

    1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6

    The idea here is to play exd5 cxd5 d6, which gives a semi open e-file. Because e5 isn’t occupied, the a1-h8 diagonal is clear, making a fianchetto possible. 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4! is the Taimanov Attack, and has actually made the Modern Benoni unsound. For this reason, a better way to play this opening is 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5. 2…e6 threatens a transposition to the Nimzo-Indian defense if white plays Nc3. If white plays 3.g3 the game can transpose into a Catalan, but this is much less common. Unlike most Benoni lines, the modern focuses on queenside counterplay, because the pieces are supported by the bishop on g7. The b7-b5 pawn push is essential for this reason. This is easily supportable by a5-a6 and the pawn on c5 should be supported by a knight on d7. The rooks should be placed on c8 and e8, the rook on e8 controlling the kingside, and the rook on c8 supporting the advance of the c pawn. This opening is incredibly sharp and tactics usually involve sacrifices, often to create passed pawns on the queenside.


    The Blumenfeld Gambit

    1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nf3 b5

    This is pretty much a “Modern Benko Gambit” and usually transposes into one or the other if declined. In the Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted, the bishops belong on b7 and d6, and the intent is to place a pawn on d5 by removing the c4 pawn as a defender and supporting the capture of the pawn on d5 with the knight and bishop, giving black a powerful center.


    The English Opening, Anti-Benoni Formation

    1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4


    3…e6 or 3…g6 will transpose into a Modern if white plays d5, but there is a much better move available to black. 3…cxd4. If this is your intent, I recommend 2…g6 and 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5.e4, transposing into the hyper-accelerated dragon.



    A good Benoni player should be familiar with the Tarrasch Defense, as the Benoni can often transpose to a slight variation of this if white plays 2. e4. Knowing the Sicilian Dragon, especially the accelerated variations, can also be useful because transpositions are often possible and can lead to strong positions for black when white isn’t ready for this sudden change in position. The Benoni is a response to 1.d4, so you can’t play it if white plays 1.e4. But luckily for us Benoni players, the French defense is typically met with 2.d4, and responding with 2…c5 leads to the Franco-Sicilian, which is almost always transposable to the Modern Benoni. The Nimzo-Indian defense is a common transposition in the Modern Benoni (occurring in nearly half of all games played with that opening), and is essential for any Modern Benoni player to know well. The King’s Indian Defense shares many characteristics with the Benoni and transpositions between lines are common.






    The Benoni is an advanced opening that requires players to constantly be aware of the potential of all pieces, especially the threat of pawn breaks. Players who don’t have a strong knowledge of positional setups that rely heavily on pawn structure should avoid this opening until they have more experience. However, the Old Benoni should be playable by less skilled players. Also, don’t complain about the lack of detail, because this is a basic guide that is only meant to familiarize players with the absolute basics of the opening.

  • #2

    You should add diagrams for the positions, and your missing the standard modern benoni, which is what you should expect most of the time, also snake benoni

  • #3
    Pixenix wrote:

    You should add diagrams for the positions, and your missing the standard modern benoni, which is what you should expect most of the time, also snake benoni

    I'm not familiar enough with the standard modern yet. I'll add diagrams and the snake soon.

  • #4

    The most important thing to say about trying to reach a Czech Benoni by the Old Benoni move order is White doesn't have to play c4, and can later play Nc4.

    There's another Modern way to play Black in the Czech Benoni which I play myself. Nd7-f8-g6 before castling. This can also be combined with h5-h4 and Nf6-h5-f4. Anand and Nisipeanu have played this way as well as Finegold who has some videos on it on youtube. I can find liks if you're intrested. It doesn't have to be a one-dimensional opening all about f5.

  • #5

    Alright I added the snake and some diagrams.

  • #6

    Thank you, I found your introduction interesting and worth the read.

  • #7

    I finally added the Modern and several more transpositions

  • #8

    Great job, tnks!

  • #9
    Please invert the tables as the opening black perspective..
  • #10

    How about 2.e4. Do we have to know the Sicilian as well?

  • #11

    pestebalcanica wrote:

    How about 2.e4. Do we have to know the Sicilian as well?

    Depends on your first move, I always play e6 as my first move so 2e4 would transpose into a French.
  • #12
    eaguiraud wrote:


    pestebalcanica wrote:


    How about 2.e4. Do we have to know the Sicilian as well?

    Depends on your first move, I always play e6 as my first move so 2e4 would transpose into a French.

    It's not the same. 1...e6 allows a change in move order from White, he can play 2.Bf4 first, following with e3 instead of Nf3.

  • #13
    Rob3rtJamesFischer escreveu:

    Why did you write this? It is what Wikipedia has to say about the Benoni. 

    And even if for some reason you wanted to say exactly what Wikipedia has to say about it I would suggest using blogs instead.


    I disagree, the wiki page has much less material than this post. He also included some of the more common transpositions that Benoni players have to face (semi-tarrasch, accelerated dragon) and so on..

  • #14

    When ever I play the Benoni I play:

    The Snake Benoni because it sounds so sneaky & evil.

  • #15

    Excellent illustrations. Back to this thread again. I just can't see black going to a benoni and playing for a win in comparison to other lines. Love the opening but at my best find its very tough for black. After looking in depth at all the super Gms anaysis on you tube, books, online it seems they really like white in the benoni. I tend to agree. The flick knife is just too strong for white. (My opinion)

  • #16

    Great article.

    I'm just surprised by the complete lack of 2. ..., c6, which seems to be a common variant of the old Benoni

  • #17

    Nice job.

    A small typo:

    More often than not, this is met with 4. c3??. This leaves white’s queenside vulnerable to 4…Qf6!, winning the a1 rook.

    This should read as:

    More often than not, this is met with 4. c3??. This leaves white’s queenside vulnerable to 4…axb4 5. cxb4 Qf6!, winning the a1 rook.

  • #18

    I like the Modern Benoni because in real life at otb, I get a good percentage of wins because the complications are often too much for white.

  • #19

    Just played an interesting benoni trap, good for mid to low level players  https://www.chess.com/live/game/2165604744#

  • #20

    Good over view of the Benoni, you did excellent in article.


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