Bashing with the Benko

 

There are few d-pawn openings more exciting and dynamic than the Benko Gambit, and in the recent league match between Forest Hall Admirals and Morpeth A showed a classic example of free-flowing tactical play that arose from the Benko.

 

The player giving the masterclass was our new board one, Grandmaster Danny Gormally, and his comments on the game can be seen below (at the end of this post) in his instructive YouTube video, recorded the day after the match.

White: Roger Coathup (Morpeth A)

Black: Danny Gormally (Forest Hall Admirals)

 

I am also posting here in written form an analysis of the game, based on Danny’s YouTube comments:

 

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

The great advantage of the Benko is that there is almost no way for White to take the game down boring channels or to take an easy route to a draw. Both sides have a fight on their hands, whether or not White accepts the pawn sacrifice!

4. Qc2!?

A sideline suggested to Roger Coathup by GM Jonathan Speelman, who discussed the line in their online

coaching session. Many professional players, such as Danny Gormally and Speelman, now offer lessons by Skype.

4… bxc4 5. e4 g6 6. Bxc4 d6

Now that White is threatening e5, this move is necessary.

7. Nf3 Bg7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1

9. h3 is apparently a theoretical alternative.

9… Nfd7

An interesting manoeuvre. Even though Black does not have the open a-file (as White did not accept the pawn sac), the queenside is a key area of operations. This knight move also unleashes the Benko bishop, while the knight comes round to keep an eye on the important c4 square.}

10. Nbd2?!

This move was criticized by Danny, as at least temporarily it blocks in the c1 bishop. More natural looks 10. Bf4 Nb6 11. Nbd2 and White is always looking to see if he can get the e5 pawn break in favourable circumstances.

10… Nb6 11. Bf1

Roger protects his bishop, but Danny’s suggestion may make more sense: 11. Rb1 Na6 12. a3 Nc7 13. b3 and White is getting ready to challenge (and swap off) Black’s key Benko bishop at g7.

11… e6

Probably the right idea. Opening up the centre seems safe enough now – and remember, Black is not a pawn down as he is in many Benko lines!

Another typical Benko-style idea would be 11… Na6 12. a3 c4 $5 saccing the c-pawn in the usual style, when Danny felt Black would have reasonable compensation.

On the other hand, 11… f5 might be a little risky, and Danny pointed out that White can reply with a dangerous central pawn sacrifice of his own: 12. e5! Nxd5 13. exd6 exd6 14. Bc4 and White ‘is probably going to win material’ – Danny.

12. dxe6 Bxe6 13. Nc4 Nc6

Now Black has free piece play and only the slight weakness at d6 to worry about. And he’s ready to jump in with Nd4 or Nb4, while the b2-pawn is coming under pressure.}

14. Bf4

If 14. Bg5 Nd4! 15. Nxd4 (if 15. Bxd8 Nxc2 is good for Black) 15… Qxg5 16. Nxe6 fxe6 17. Nxd6 Bd4

Instead, Danny said he had looked at the wild sacrifice 17… Rxf2? but concluded it didn’t work after: 18. Kxf2 Bd4+ 19. Ke2

18. Re2 Rxf2! Now this sacrifice secures Black a more or less equal game after:}19. Rxf2 Rf8 20. Nf5 exf5 21. e5 f4 22. e6 f3 23. Kh1 Bxf2 24. Qxf2 fxg2+ 25. Qxg2 Qe3.

14… Nb4

An alternative for Black would be 14… Bxc4 15. Bxc4 Qf6 16. Bc1 Nb4 17. Qb3 Nxc4 18. Qxc4 Rfe8.

15. Qc1 d5!

The correct pawn break. It was not a good idea to go pawn grabbing on the queenside:

15… Bxc4 16. Bxc4 Qf6 (16… Nxc4 17. Qxc4 Bxb2 18. Rad1, or 16… Bxb2 17. Qxb2 Nxc4 18. Qc3) 17. e5.

16. exd5 Qxd5

In his YouTube analysis, Danny suggested 16… Bxd5 as a better alternative. To me, both

moves look fine for Black.

17. Rd1 ?!

Now Black gets a strong initiative.

Danny said he was worried by the possibility of 17. Nfe5 blunting the g7 bishop, but after Rad8 18. Nxb6 axb6 19. Bc4 Qb7 20. Bxe6 fxe6 and Black has the strong idea of taking the knight at e5 and playing Nd3.

17… Qh5 18. a3 Nc6 19. Ne3 Nd4!

The weakness on b3 starts to tell.

20. Nxd4

If 20. Nd2 Rad8 (20… Ne2+ is also interesting 21. Bxe2 Qxe2)

20… cxd4 21. Nc2

Not} 21. Nc4 Rac8.

21… Rac8

Now Black is well in control, with very active pieces and an annoying passed pawn on d4.

22. Qd2

Not 22. Ba6 Bf5 23. Bxc8 Rxc8 24. Rd2 d3 and Black wins.

22… Nd5

23. Bg3

Taking on d4 would be a blunder: 23. Nxd4 Nxf4 24. Qxf4 Be5! and wins.

23… Bh6 24. f4

A horrible weakening, but there was nothing else. White is already lost.

24…Nxf4! 25. Bxf4

What is the best move now to break through?

25…Rxc2!

A lovely exchange sacrifice, which leads to a massive attack on White’s king.

26. Qxd4

If Roger accepts the sacrifice with 26. Qxc2 Bxf4 27. h3 (or 27. g3 then 27…Be3+ 28. Kh1 Rc8 29. Qd3 Bf5)

Then Danny showed the beautiful variation, found – alas – by the computer after the game: 27… Be3+ (27… Qg5 is also good}) 28. Kh1 Bd5 29. Kh2

And now the brilliant move:

29…Kg7!!

An amazing idea that most humans apart from super-Grandmasters would struggle to find. The far-from-obvious point is that Black is threatening to bring his rook to c8. Then White would not get a check in taking it, and the White queen would crucially be diverted away from defending the kingside.

For example: 30. Rd3 Qe5+ 31. g3 Rc8!! 32. Qxc8 Qe4 and mate is unstoppable!

26… Bg7

Danny explained that he could have played 26…Bxf4 27. Qxf4 Rxb2 and won ‘more slowly.’ But he added: ‘That’s how Keith Arkell would have played, but that’s not my style. I want to finish my opponent off as quickly as possible.’

27. Qxa7 Bxb2 28. Bd3

If 28. Rab1 Ba2. Now comes a brilliant dismembering of the White king position.

28… Rxg2+!

Black’s queen and two bishops will take White’s king apart. With best play now, he will practically be hung, drawn and quartered in a very public execution.

29. Kxg2 Bxa1

Here Danny says he regretted not finding the immediate win. The way to do it was: 29… Bd5+! 30. Kg1 (if 30. Kf1 Qh3+ wins) 30… Qg4+!

This is the intermediate move (before Qf3) that Danny says he didn’t see in his calculations during the game.

31. Bg3 Bd4+ and the queen is lost.

30.Rxa1 Bd5+

This is also very good for Black, but it takes a bit longer.

31.Kf1

“A tricky move by Roger.” – Danny.

If 31. Kg1 Qf3 32. Bf1 Qxf4 33. Qf2 Qg4+ 34. Bg2 Bxg2 35. Qxg2 Qd4+) 31… Qf3+ (31… Qh3+ 32. Ke1 Re8+ is messier. And therefore unnecessary.)

32. Qf2 Qxd3+ 33. Kg1

(33. Qe2 falls for the John Nunn LPDO principle, or ‘Loose Pieces Drop Off’ : 33…Bg2+ 34. Kf2 Qd4+.

33… Qe4 34. Kf1 Re8

As we can see, White has virtually no chance to defend his light squares around the king. ‘Opposite colour bishops can make an ending more drawish, but not the middlegame’ – Danny}

35. Rc1 Qh1+ 36. Qg1 Bc4+ 37. Kf2 Re2+ 38. Kg3 Qe4 39. Rd1

39. Qh1 would be the last chance, but Black has a swift execution at hand here: 39…Re3+ 40. Bxe3 Qxe3+ and one picturesque finish would be: 41. Kg4 Be6+ 42. Kh4 Qf4#)

39… Bd5 40. Rd4 Rg2+ White resigns 0-1

A fine example of attacking play in the Benko by Danny Gormally. While the game was perhaps a little messy in places, that seems to be how he likes it. Black’s play in all parts of the board – queenside, centre and kingside – in the end was quite formidable.