The No-theory Defence, or how to meet 1 d4 if you are over 35

4/29/2007 – The Czech Benoni (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e5 4 Nc3 d6 5 e4 Nbd7 or Be7) has been successfully applied by several strong GMs like Nisipeanu, Aronian, Sokolov, and others in the last few years. On his new DVD Andrew Martin shows that this little system not only attracts the elder club player, it should make it to the top-level of chess sooner or later. Buy it now or read this review with sampler.

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Andrew Martin: The Czech Benoni

Review by Steve Giddins

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel opening theory is a dreadful thing. I often dream that every chess player in the world is sitting out there in front of his computer, trainer at his side, analysing opening lines down to move 70 and beyond. And all of it is aimed specifically against ME! Of course, it may be that I am just getting paranoid in my old age, although, as a wise man once pointed out, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t plotting against you…. But nonetheless, I do often think how nice it would be to be able to avoid all this preparation. Wouldn’t it be great to have some openings - sound ones - that I could play, against which opponents could not really prepare anything too specific, even if they wanted to?

Well, as it happens, there are one or two of these out there, and one of the best of them is the Czech Benoni, characterised by the moves 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e5 4 Nc3 d6 5 e4

5...Nbd7. By closing the position in this way, Black brings about a structure where specific sequences of moves are much less important than general plans and ideas. What is important here is to understand the nature of the position, which pieces are weak and which strong, what are the possible pawn levers, and when they are good or bad, etc. Patience is a key virtue in such positions, as the player manoeuvres carefully, awaiting the best moment to open the position to his advantage.

It is this system that is the subject of Andrew Martin’s latest openings DVD for Chessbase. On “The ABC of the Czech Benoni”, the English IM gives some four hours of instruction in the subtleties of the Czech, thereby equipping the viewer with a defence to 1 d4, which will last him the rest of his playing career. The various games examined on the DVD feature such players as Yasser Seirawan, Ivan Sokolov and Levon Aronian on the black side, proving that even world-class GMs are prepared to put their faith in the Czech.

If you look in most opening books, especially the typical “Winning with 1 d4 in 20 moves against any defence” repertoire book, you will find the Czech Benoni given short shrift. In all likelihood, the book will devote only a couple of pages to the line, telling you that nobody trusts this opening any more, and that White gains a clear advantage, probably by playing an early h3 and g4, followed by mate on the kingside. Don’t you believe it! It is true that the Czech has had a long period in the doldrums, but over the past couple of years, it has been revived with great success, most notably by Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu.

The last time I checked my database, he had an overall score of about 70% with Black, and had never lost a game with the opening. And if you want further proof of the line’s recent revival, here is a brilliant win from the Gibraltar tournament, earlier this year. The game was played too recently to make it onto Andrew’s DVD, otherwise he would surely have quoted this classic Black victory:

(2463) - Ehlvest,J (2610) [A56]
Gibtelecom Masters 2007

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e5 4 Nc3 d6 5 e4 Be7 6 Nge2 a6 7 Ng3 g6 8 Be2 h5 9 0–0 Nbd7 10 f3 h4 11 Nh1 Nh5 12 Nf2 Bg5 13 a3 Bxc1 14 Qxc1 Nf4 15 Nd3 Qg5 16 Nxf4 exf4 17 b4 Qe5 18 Rf2 h3 19 Bd1 hxg2 20 Ba4 Kf8 21 Ne2>

21…b5 22 cxb5 cxb4 23 Nxf4 g5 24 Nxg2 Qxh2+ 25 Kf1 Qe5 26 Ke2 axb5 27 Bxb5 Nc5 28 Ra2 b3 29 Rb2 Rxa3 30 Ne3 Rh1 31 Qd2 g4 32 f4 Qxb2 33 Qxb2 Ra2 0–1

To my mind, this game exemplifies many of the advantages of the Czech Benoni, in the right hands. The Black player here, Jaan Ehlvest, was a world class GM in the late 1980s. Nowadays, aged 45, he is no longer active in super GM events, but his super-GM understanding of chess has not gone away. What he has lost is the energy of youth, and the willingness to spend 12 hours a day, wired up to his computer, analysing sharp opening lines with Fritz. When, as in the above game, he plays an opponent less than half his age, he wants to get them into a position where their computer analysis is going to be of little use, and his depth of positional understanding will prove more important. The Czech Benoni is perfect for such situations, and the results are shown in the above game.

As I said at the outset, the Czech is an opening where specific opening theory is thin on the ground. White has various ways to develop his pieces, but the main features of the position remain largely unchanged, whichever line he chooses. The two most serious challenges to the Czech are the so-called Spassky System, with Nf3, Bd3, h3 and g4, and the fianchetto lines, starting with 6 g3. On this DVD, Andrew studies both systems in detail, equipping the Black player with a fully adequate response to both lines, based largely on some subtle use of move-orders. In addition to these most important lines, a variety of other White set-ups are examined on the DVD, including lines with Nf3 and Be2, Samisch-KID type lines, with Nge2, etc. None of these seem to pose any great problems to Black, who can pursue his typical middlegame plans from a sound positional basis.

Click here to view a sampler from Zhao Xue - Aronian (in reduced quality).

So, if you prefer to avoid well-analysed complications, and enjoy a patient, slower, manoeuvering type of game, this is an opening you would do well to check out. You don’t have to be over 35 to play the Czech Benoni, although it helps, but if you wear cardigans, believe that mobile phones should be banned on public transport, and think that the Arctic Monkeys are something you would expect to see at the zoo, than I feel sure that this is the opening for you. It will certainly be my defence to 1 d4, for what remains of my playing career.

More DVDs by Andrew Martin:
The ABC of the Modern Slav.

The ABC of the Caro Kann.
The ABC of the Benko Gambit.
The Trompowsky – The easy way.
The Scandinavian - The easy way.
ABC of Chess Openings.
The ABC of the King‘s Indian.
The ABC of the Ruy Lopez.
The basics of winning chess.


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