Andrew Martin – Black is OK in the Benko

2/22/2011 – "The running time of six hours can seem a little daunting when you think about how to find that kind of time to devote to watching a DVD. However, the video files mostly run twenty minutes (more or less), so it is easy enough to watch one or two segments per day; and, once you begin, each segment leaves you looking forward to the next." Review in Chess Cafe.

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Black is OK in the Benko

By Michael McGuerty

The ABC of the Benko Gambit (DVD) by Andrew Martin,
ChessBase, Playing time: 6 hours $34.95 (ChessCafe Price: $28.95)

In this second edition of the ABC of the Benko Gambit, Martin examines both the gambit accepted and declined, and tries to present a solid grounding of the ideas and themes that underpin the opening. He uses illustrative games to allow the viewer to play the opening with confidence by knowing how to organize their pieces and what to play for.

The main four hours of content was geared to be relevant for 2005; the two hour update includes many recent games and a portrait of how the gambit stands today. The material is divided as follows:

* Introduction
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 e4 b5: Van Scheltinga-Opocensky
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 g6 4 Nc3 d6 5 e4 b5: Taimanov-Bronstein
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 Bxa6 6 Nc3 d6: Aspler-Benko
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 Bxa6 6 Nc3 d6: Parr-Browne
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 b6: Cheparinov-Ivanchuk
* Benko Gambit Accepted
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 Bxa6 6 Nc3 d6 7 g3: Gurevich-Cao Sang
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 Bxa6 6 Nc3 d6: Radziewicz-Pinski
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 g6 6 Nc3 Bxa6 7 Nf3: Wright-Fedorowicz
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 g6 6 g3: Marquez Molina-Bellon Lopez
* Pawn Structure
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 g6 6 Nc3 Bxa6 7 g3: Aseev-Ponomariov
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 g6 6 Nc3 Bxa6 7 f4: Bangiev-Devcic
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 Bxa6 6 Nc3 g6: Knaak-Vaganian
* Summary Benko Gambit Declined [sic]
* Benko Gambit Declined
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 e3: Georgiev-Rogers
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 b6: Elson-Mannion
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 b6: Aubry-Goulenok
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 Nc3: Breutigam-Fedorowicz
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 f3: Dzagnidze-Kostiuk
* 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 Nf3: Sokolov-Bareev
* d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 a4: Gheorghiu-Norris
* Summary Benko Gambit Declined and farewell
* 2010 Update
* Van Wely-Carlsen
* Atalik-Milanovic
* Mohota-Turov
* Yermolinsky-Ehlvest
* Sargissian-Caruana
* Shestoperov-Bogorads
* Nyback-Kivipelto
* Muheim-Eames
* Vitiugov-Nepomniachtchi and Outro

The running time of six hours can seem a little daunting when you think about how to find that kind of time to devote to watching a DVD. However, the video files mostly run twenty minutes (more or less), so it is easy enough to watch one or two segments per day; and, once you begin, each segment leaves you looking forward to the next.

The introduction mostly consists of a series of games in which things go very well for black. In the game Parr-Browne, Adelaide 1971, where White was decidedly the weaker player, Martin states the main reason he is showing the game is that there are few things as instructive to the average player as fairly lopsided games in an opening. Because usually the main themes are well illustrated as the loser is failing to cope with the opponent's ideas. And finally you get a nice optimistic basis for learning the opening.

Martin believes that when one is coming to learn a new opening one needs to be optimistic. We don't really want to see games where Black is getting crushed to start off with, because that makes you feel depressed about playing the opening in question. He further notes that the little details and subtle problems come with time and not from learning from a DVD. They come from experience playing the gambit and learning from books. But to begin its a good thing to know the best things that can happen to you when you use the opening. He admits it is "propaganda" for the opening to showcase where one side gets its own way, but it also creates an excitement with the viewer to try and put these plans into practice. It is only in the last game of the introduction, Cheparinov-Ivanchuk, FIDE World Cup 2005, that Martin shows what can go wrong for Black. He calls it a lesson in what Black should avoid in the Benko Gambit.

The presentation is primarily from Black's point of view, though there are plenty of pointers for White as well. In the BGA section, Martin shies away from variations and presents ideas, typical tactics, general evaluations, golden rules, and thematic endgame play. He often points out Black's advantageous structure for endgames. He deals with each of the following benefits for Black in turn:

  • First, easy development for his pieces.
  • Second, the initiative and promise of positional pressure.
  • Third, a fireproof pawn structure and the hope of a favorable endgame.

After presenting a number of games where everything goes Black's way, Martin presents some games to illustrate its not always as easy at it seems for Black. The game Knaak-Vaganian is described as an "an ideal example of virtually all the things that can happen if Black goes even slightly go wrong." Here, White's energetic play simply dominates. In the game Bangiev-Devcic, the following position is reached after 18 Bf4:

Martin proclaims it is difficult to give a definitive assessment of the position, but "Black should be OK." And here one of the features of using the Fritz Trainer within ChessBase 11 or a playing program comes in handy, because one can simply pause the video, click on the default kibitzer, and get an evaluation from the chess engine of choice. In this case, Fritz 12 offers a +- (3:09) and clearly assesses White as winning.

In the BGD section, Martin tries to present lines in the spirit of those shown in the BGA portions of the content, though he notes that Black has to be more concrete. Black has to be prepared to part from the routine and cannot get by on generalizations, as the play is more specific. Martin is unimpressed with the 5 e3 variation for White and in the Shirov 5 b6 line he recommends 5...Qxb6 as best and most straightforward.

During the 2010 update, Martin claims Black is still OK in the Benko, but the games have players such as Carlsen, Caruana, and Nepomniachtchi all getting the worse of it as black and feature more wins for White than for Black, though Martin shows where Black could have improved in these games. He describes the Benko as a challenging opening and this certainly applies to both sides. At the top level Martin calls it a sign of courage to be willing to assay the Benko, because White has all manner of ways to fight against it and Black has to walk a fine line to keep the balance, especially in the fianchetto line with 10 Rb1. His presentation will leave you itching to play the opening after only thirty minutes and will enable you to generate interesting ideas at the board.


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