Mihail Marin: Tactic Toolbox Benoni

by Sebastian Fell
2/27/2015 – The better your tools, the easier the work - no matter whether you work at the computer or if you pursue a trade. If you study chess openings the typical motifs of that opening are your tools. The better you know them, the better your results. For the Benoni player Romanian grandmaster Mihail Marin has a large box of very useful tools.

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Mihail Marin:  Tactic Toolbox Benoni - A review

I’m not a Benoni player. I’m a very occasional d4 player (I played it when I was in a sort of chess-crisis about two years ago; fortunately those horrible days are gone). But with Black I do play the King’s Indian, Spanish, some rare Moderns, and some other openings that can lead to a Benoni-type pawn structure. And I am the type of player (and the type of person) who thinks that one should “try to learn something about everything and everything about something” (a quote attributed to Huxley). So I tried to see what Marin’s DVD “Tactic Toolbox Benoni” has to offer. I was really surprised.

The Benoni is not an easy defence. It’s strategically and tactically complex, has lots of nuances, and requires precise move-orders. You need to know a lot before you can be called a Benoni Player.

But what is the best way to know a lot about this opening? Studying all the theory? The answer is an emphatic “NO!”. It’s a complex world out there and when the opening is over and the theoretical lines have come to an end the position remains complex! That’s so beautiful about the Benoni. If you want something easy, learn the Colle (no offense intended, I’ve played it…), but if your intention is to LEARN chess, then this defence is a good choice. And if you want to be a Benoni-expert, the best way is to look at tons of games, with typical tactical and strategic manoeuvres, typical combinations, sacrifices, etc. I recommed to buy this DVD.

Very good examples with very good commentary from GM Marin

The DVD offers a whole series of lessons with a lot of test positions from Benoni-expert and award-winning writer GM Mihail Marin. However, the name “Tactic Toolbox” can be misunderstood. The test positions Marin presents are not of the “Black to play and win” type, but you are asked to find the best move. As the Benoni is a complex opening this requires accurate calculation and a good intuition (something you will definitely get when working through the videos).

"Ben oni" (בֶּן אוֹנִי) is a Hebrew term meaning "son of my sorrow", and was the original name of the biblical character Benjamin (the last-born of Jacob's thirteen children). According to the Oxford Companion to Chess by D. Hooper and K. Whyld the name goes back to Aaron Reinganum who used to analyse chess openings to fight off periods of sadness and depression. In 1825 he published a book of his findings and gave it the title Ben-Oni oder die Verteidigungen gegen die Gambitzüge im Schach ("Ben-Oni or Defenses against the Gambit Moves in Chess").

The positions are divided according to various strategic motifs, e.g. “Black advances his pawns on the queenside (…b5/…c4)”, “The central pawn-break e5”), or “Options of the black-squared bishop Bg7”, which makes it easier to understand typical concepts and patterns. The selected themes highlight the most important aspects of the Benoni, the essential plans and ideas of the defence. Thus, Marin’s toolbox contains tactical and strategic motifs of the Benoni.

The examples are well selected and are often from the games of top players. There are classics of former World Champion Mihail Tal (the first and perhaps the best exponent of this structure), of the Yugoslavian Grandmasters Milan Matulovic and Dragoljub Velimirovic, and also more recent games from modern specialists like John Nunn, Vladimir Akopian, Vugar Gashimov and (of course) Marin himself.

Mihail Tal played many brilliant games in the Benoni.

If Marin shows a test position we first get a little introduction and then are asked to find the correct move. If our solution is correct, the clip continues, if it is not, Marin explains why it is not correct (with variations or with verbal explanations) or gives us a hint about the correct more. Then we can try again or look up the solution. Almost a lesson with a GM!

Marin’s explanations are clear, easy to understand, and in most cases he shows all relevant variations. However, that does not mean that everything is easy because the DVD is intended for players with, at least, 1800 Elo.

All videos combined have a runtime of 4 hours and 45 minutes but can you really learn an opening in that time with only 36 game fragments? Not really. But Marin thought of that and the DVD also includes a database with 120 illustrative games: the 36 games in the videos and 84 more games, most of them annotated by Marin (who is famous for his detailed annotations and comments). Another database which contains 24 games with training questions (this time without video) allows you to test your understanding of the Benoni.

A lot of training material but hardly any theory, which can be dangerous when playing such a complicated defence. Therefore, the DVD also contains three theoretical articles about the Benoni Marin wrote for the ChessBase Magazine, two about the Old Main Line (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Be2) and one on the Modern Main Line (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.h3 0-0 9.Bd3).

For me, not only the chess content is important, but also the presentation of the material and the interface. But, as we are accustomed to with ChessBase products, it’s impeccable. The only minor defect I have found is that quiz number 12 (Mihalevsky-Marin) should be in part 2, not in part 3. But of course this doesn’t spoil anything.

So, for whom is this DVD? I would suggest that if you have between 1800 and 2000 Elo the videos and the databases will be more than enough to start playing the Benoni. If you have more than 2000 Elo and you want to become even better you should not only study the videos and the games in the databases on this DVD but you should also study some opening theory. You have the ChessBase Magazine articles on the DVD, but you should be prepared for lines such as the Four Pawns Attack, or find a way to avoid it. And if you have more than 2200 Elo and you already play the Benoni, you will find a lot of practical training material and advice to broaden your understanding of this fascinating opening.

Returning to the first lines of the review, I have to repeat that I’m not a Benoni player. However, I think I have learnt a lot, not only about the Benoni-structure, but also about strategic sacrifices, about how to maintain the initiative after sacrificing, and about defending positions in which the opponent sacrifices. In my next tournament I will practice all these. And maybe Marin has convinced me to try the Benoni. Perhaps…

Sample video


Mihail Marin: Tactic Toolbox Benoni

• Video running time: 4 hours 45 min.
• With interactive training including video feedback
• Exclusive training database with more than 50 essential games and 24 training questions
• 3 ChessBase Magazine articles on the Benoni
• Including CB 12 Reader

€25.13 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$28.17 (without VAT)

This DVD can be purchased as a hard copy or it can be downloaded directly from the Internet.

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Sebastián Fell is a 25-year-old argentinian chess player with more than seven years of experience teaching and coaching players from all ages. At the moment he is trying to reach the last 21 Elo points to get the FM-title. He entertains a chess blog which you can find under estudiandoajedrez.blogspot.com.
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Sebastian Fell Sebastian Fell 2/28/2015 02:22
Hi Miguel,

1.In the Spanish there are some lines when Black plays ...exd4 and ...c5 and White responds with d5, creating a Benoni-type center (although there isn't a Bg7, the pawn structure is the same so some tactics and strategies are similar)

Just to mention one example (there are others, like the Graf Variation in the Chigorin), the next line of the Zaitsev was played in the 1986 and the 1990 World Championship Matchs between Kasparov and Karpov:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Bb7 10. d4 Re8 11. Nbd2 Bf8 12. a4 h6 13. Bc2 exd4 14. cxd4 Nb4 15.Bb1 c5 16. d5

2.In my d4-period I encountered two or three Benkos, one against a MI. I can say based in my own experience that there are a lot of similarities. Two exampes of the DVD remind me that game against the MI, when at some moment he played ...Cg4 and I realised that I had to start fighting for a draw. After an intense struggle I managed to obtain equality (and later a winning position). But, definitely, if I had seen this DVD earlier I would have obtained a better position after the opening. At the same time, is easy to see that the MI was very familiar with this type of position (or more familiar that I was), so this DVD would very likely improved your Benko understanding.

Good Luck!
Miguel Ararat Miguel Ararat 2/27/2015 11:10
Thank you Sebastian for your review.

I have a couple of questions for you.

1.Can you please elaborate on what lines in the Spanish are related to the Benoni?
2. I know that you are not a Benoni player, but can a Benko player benefit from this DVD? Just your opinion.

Thanks again.