Malcolm Pein on… The Brilliant Benko

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Brilliant Benko Position 2
Table of Contents

The Benko Gambit is one of the most significant inventions in the chess opening theory of the 20th century. Conceived by the Hungarian-born American GM Pal Benko, the pawn sacrifice terrorized players of the white pieces, myself included, for the best part of 40 years, until some of its teeth were drawn by the advent of computers, who like to take pawns and find ways of hanging on to them.

In more recent times, a new variation of the Benko has become popular involving an early development of the black queen. This sets White some tricky tactical problems and I am going to name it the Benko Accelerated.

In this game from the Goldmoney Asian Rapid on Chess 24, White was evidently unprepared. The standard Benko Gambit goes 6…Bxa6 and if 7.e4 Bfx1 8.Kxf1 d6 followed by Bg7, O-O, Nbd7, queen moves, and Rfb8 with queenside pressure. Lines with 7.Nf3 and 8.g3 are also popular counters.

Brilliant Benko Position 1
D. Gukesh – A. Firouzja
Benko Accelerated 15+10

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 O-O 8.Nf3 (Another critical line must be 8.e5 Ne8 9.Nf3 or 9.h4!? which looks much more fun) 8…Qa5 (For today’s puzzle, see board above – how does Black answer 9.Bd3? – the answer is at the bottom of the article) 9.a7? (After 9.Bd2 Bxa6 10.Be2 d6 11.O-O Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Qa6 is reasonable or here 9.Bd2 Bxa6 10.Be2 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Qa6 12.h3 e6 illustrates another strategic idea also favored by Benko back in the day. Black wants to isolate the d5 pawn and attack it with knights or secure a central pawn mass. He prospered after 13.dxe6 fxe6 14.Qxa6 Nxa6 15.O-O Rfb8 in Rychagov-Christiansen, Moscow 2019).

9….Nxe4! 10.axb8Q Rxb8 11.Bd3 (11.Bd2 Nxd2 12.Qxd2 Rxb2; 11.Bd2 Nxd2 12.Nxd2 Rxb2 13.Nce4 f5 14.Ng3 Bc3; 11.Qc2 Nxc3 12.Bd2 Qa4 13.b3 Qe4+ are all equally hopeless) 11…Nxc3 12.Qd2 Ra8! (An amusing way to unpin)

Brilliant Benko Position 2

13.O-O Nxd5 14.Qg5 e6 15.Rd1 Bb7 16.Qg3 Qa4 17.Re1 Nb4 18.Bb1 Bxf3 19.Qxf3 Nc2 20.Re4 (20.Bxc2 Qxc2 gives Black superb Benko Gambit type compensation but with two more pawns than usual) 20….Nd4 21.Qd3 d5 22.Rg4 c4 23.Qf1 Nc2 0-1

For the answer to the puzzle, highlight the space below.

Answer: 9.Bd3 Nxd5 10.exd5 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qxc3+ wins bishop on d3 or rook on a1 and White is busted.

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