Complete Modern Benoni Repertoire - Part 1
In our computer-driven time, the level of preparation is drastically increasing. Sometimes, even top players face difficulties to outplay regular 2300+ rated players. This problem is even bigger when it comes to playing for a win with Black. In most of the openings Black struggles to obtain a playable position. Nevertheless, exceptions exist.
If you need an opening which is dynamic, strategically sound and offers plenty of possibilities to outplay your opponent, the Modern Benoni is your bread and butter. In his latest database for Modern Chess, one of the best Benoni experts in the world, GM Mihail Marin provides you with a complete Benoni repertoire.
Structure of the database
As it was the case with his work on the Gruenfeld Defense, Mihail Marin goes from the knowledge of the typical pawn structures to the subtleties of the theoretical lines. After studying the theory, you have the possibility to test yourself in an interactive way. The database contains three sections:
- Pawn structures
- Theoretical section
- Test section
In this part, the author deals with the structural ideas which are essential for your understanding of the subsequent theoretical section. Before start discussing them, let's take a look at the basic Modern Benoni structure:
In the introduction to this structure, Marin writes:
"Unlike in the Gruenfeld, there is not such a wide variety of structures in the Benoni. It mainly depends on such issues as whether White consolidates his e4-pawn with f2-f3, or prepares to launch it forward with f2-f4 etc. But the main issue is the same: White has a mobile majority in the center, while Black has the same on the queenside.
Obviously, White's most daring dream is carrying out a queenside expansion, involving ...b7-b5 followed, according to the circumstances, by ...c5-c4 or ...b5-b4."
In his first structure article, the author deals with Black's queenside play. The article consists of 10 extensively annotated games which explain Black's most common ways to play on the queenside as well as White's possible antidotes. Here is an example:
After dealing with the typical plans of both sides, the author starts examining the subtleties of the piece play in Benoni type of positions. Here is what he has to say about the typical piece arrangements in this structure:
Time has come to talk about the optimal piece trajectories in static positions, where pawns offer only the immobile background for piece play. In the initial phase of the game, Black has an almost chronic lack of space, meaning that he needs acting with care when developing. The main conflict is between the minor pieces (with the exception of the fianchetto bishop, which has its independent "life"). As in other openings with a white pawn on d5 and a black one on d6 the key square is d7. In principle the most solid development involves ...Nbd7 but this leaves the c8-bishop at least temporarily passive. Alternatively Black can play ...Na6, leaving the h3-c8 diagonal open, but after a later ...Nc7 the knight does not always have an easy life.
The conclusion is that for Black it would be best to exchange one of his minor pieces, most typically with ...Bg4xf3 or ...Ng4 and Ne5 (any of them). But as we will see below, sometimes it is possible to use concrete details of the position to open horizons for all pieces. In principle White has it simpler as he enjoys considerable space advantage. But a closer look reveals some conflict between his minor pieces, too. The e4-pawn is one of Black's main targets, needing permanent defense. An early f2-f3 implies developing with Nge2, but this causes some problems with thef1-bishop. If Bd3 and Nge2, ...Ne5 may be molesting for instance. Optimally, White would play Nh3-f2, but if Black is accurate enough he would keep the h3-c8 diagonal open until White commits his knight to e2.
Defending e4 with f2-f3 is not the only solution, of course. White frequently plays Nf3-d2, but this I likely to delay the queenside development by obstructing the c1-bishop. The dream scenario would be Bf4 followed by Nd2, but Black can usually organize his pressure on e4 by one move earlier than White develops his bishop. After clarifying all these abstract aspects we will start examining things more concretely. Since we have mentioned Nd2, it is worth saying that White's dream is stabilizing the knight on c4 (usually with a4-a5). This would paralyze Black's queenside and keep d6 under permanent pressure. As a general observation, piece pressure usually is good enough for helping one of the players stabilizing the position to his favor, but after obtaining an advantage he will most likely have to resort to pawn breaks to make progress.
In the first example from the article, White managed to carry out this plan in pure form, without the contribution of pawns nor allowing Black any shadow of counterplay.
After explaining the basic structural ideas in Modern Benoni, GM Mihail Marin dives into the complex theoretical lines. In Part 1 of two-part Benoni series, Marin deals with all the system in which White develops his knight on f3 (without playing f2-f4). This makes the current database suitable for Nimzo-Indian players who can answer 3.Nf3 with 3...c5.
The moment has come to present the content of the different chapters.
1) Classical System - 11.Nd2
The main position of the first two chapters arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Be2 0-0 9.0-0 a6 10.a4 Bg4
With the given move order this is the most reliable system. In the Benoni, there is a conflict between Black's minor pieces (with the exception of the g7-bishop, which has its own play). Mainly there are competing for the d7-square, causing some problems of coordination and development. This issue is also typical for the Breyer Ruy Lopez or the lines with a blocked center in the King's Indian. Therefore, if Black can exchange his bishop he should not refrain from it, as this greatly solves his problems of space.
As a consequence of the exchange, Black's dream plan is ...c5-c4 followed by the invasion of the d3-square with a knight.
On the diagram position, White has a variety of moves at his disposal. Black's main source of worries is the continuation 11.Bf4 which is dealt with in Chapter 2. In Chapter 1, Marin's main line is 11.Nd2 (Also, the author deals with the moves 11.h3 and 11.Bg5 which are not challenging).
In response to 11.Nd2, Black should follow with 11...Bxe2 12.Qxe2 Nbd7
As the author explains in the section dedicated to the pawn structure, in Benoni type of positions, the move Nd2 is almost always well met by ...Nbd7. The idea is simple - Black wants to counter 13.Nc4 with 13...Nb6. Subsequent analysis prove that Black is in a very good shape in the arising positions.
2) Classical System - 11.Bf4
Beyond any doubts, White's best continuation in response to 10...Bg4 is 11.Bf4
With his last move, White intends to put an annoying pressure on the d6-pawn by means of the maneuver Nf3-d2-c4. Black should play very precisely in order not to find himself in a passive position without any counterplay. At this point, Marin recommends 11...Bxf3 12.Bxf3 Qe7
The idea behind Black's last move is to complete the development by playing ...Nbd7 on the next move. It goes without saying that the diagram position is of a huge importance for the theory of Modern Benoni Defense. In his analysis, Marin deals with a variety of moves for White. According to the author, in every single line, Black's queenside counterplay turns out to be sufficient.
3) The Pirouette of Nimzowitsch
The maneuver Nf3-d2-c4 in Benoni is often associated with the name of great master from the past Aron Nimzowitsch. In Chapter 3, this idea is dealt with in its pure form. After the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6, the original idea of Nimzowitsch was to put an immediate pressure on d6 by playing 7.Nd2 Bg7 8.Bf4
The most active move, immediately attacking d6. There are many possible plans, Black frequently sacrifices the pawn in order to get an advance in development, but we will examine a solid and hardly refutable plan.
Apart from the maneuver Nb8-d7-b6, Black has another way to fight against the c4-knight - ...b7-b6 followed by Ba6. As Marin points out on many occasions, Black should find a way to get rid of his light-squared bishop. What could be better than exchanging this bishop for White's powerful c4-knight.
Before going for the abovementioned plan, however, Black should take care of the d6-pawn. That is why Marin suggests 8...Ne8 followed by b7-b6 and Ba6. Note that in many situations Black's f8-rook can be useful since the move e2-e4 countered with f7-f5.
In his annotations to Chapter 3, the author looks at a number of alternatives for White on move 8. None of them, however, is particularly challenging.
4) White Plays 7.Nd2 Followed by 8.e4
Nowadays, the move 7.Nd2 is most often combined with 8.e4. The critical position arises after the moves 8...0-0 9.Be2 Ne8
This relatively rare move is somewhat underestimated by the theoreticians. Nevertheless, Black's approach is positionally sound. With his last move, he overprotects the d6-pawn and prepares to attack White's center by means of ...f7-f5. In his analysis, Marin demonstrates that Black has an adequate counterplay in all the variations.
5) The System with 7.Bf4 - Part 1
Time has come to deal with one of White's most dangerous weapons against Modern Benoni. Our position of interest arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.Bf4
The systems based on Bf4 tend to force matters at an early stage, due to the pressure on d6. This can lead to a wide range of different systems, some of which were fashionable over the past years.
At this point Black's most precise reaction is 7...a6
Nowadays, this is the most popular continuation. The point is that after 7...Bg7 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qb3, we reach a position which is favorable for White.
The diagram position is a very important crossroad for White. He should decide whether to allow b7-b5 or not. In Chapter 5, Marin deals with White's attempts to overtake the initiative by allowing b5-b5. This chapter features the moves 8.Nd2, 8.Ne4, and 8.e4. Even though Black should play precisely, these options do not create problems.
6) The System with 7.Bf4 - Part 2
Since allowing the b7-b5 advance doesn't give an advantage, White started almost exclusively playing 8.a4 to which Black plays 8...Bg7
At this point, White should take a very important decision. Basically, he should decide whether to put his pawn on e3 or e4. The move 9.Nd2 does not work quite well since Black has 9...Nh5 at his disposal. The immediate 9.e3 allows 9...Bg4 when Black gets rid of his problematic bishop and the maneuver Nf3-d2-c4 becomes impossible. So, White has two decent options at his disposal - 9.e4 and 9.h3.
After 9.e4 Bg4 10.Be2 Bxf3 11.Bxf3 0-0 12.0-0 Qe7, we have a transposition to Chapter 2. Additionally, Marin deals with 10.Qb3 instead of 10.Be2. As it becomes clear from the analysis, however, this move gives Black a powerful counterplay.
Nowadays, the biggest challenge for Benoni players is the position which arises after 9.h3 0-0 10.e3
Keeping the pawn on e3 takes out of Black's hands one of his main ideas in the Benoni: the pressure on e4. But if Black later plays ...f7-f5, the d5-pawn may turn weak. At the same time, White can proceed with his typical maneuvers. His main idea is to follow with Be2, 0-0, and Nf3-d2-c4. Later on, he can play on the queenside by means of Rb1 and b2-b4.
Here, Marin suggests 10...Ne8 11.Be2 Nd7 12.0-0 Ne5
According to the author, only this continuation allows Black to equalize. The knight stands well on e5 and after an eventual exchange, the other knight will happily jump to d6, achieving a perfect blockade.
Of course, White has a number of interesting options in this position. For example, he can avoid the exchange of the e5-knight and go for 13.Nd2. In this case, however, Black can start playing on both wings. For example, he can gain space on the kingside by means of 13...f5. After this move, White must reckon with the idea of g6-g5 followed by f5-f4. At the same time, Black is also ready to start playing on the queenside. For example, moves like ...b7-b6, Nc7, and Bd7 are always possible. Note that in a number of lines, the d5-pawn becomes a target.
7) Fianchetto Variation - Part 1
The main position of the Fianchetto Variation arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.g3 Bg7 8.Bg2 0-0 9.0-0
Despite looking completely inoffensive, the Fianchetto System is not without venom. Like in the chapter (6) White refrains from the early occupation of the center with e2-e4, thus avoiding Black's usual counterplay in the center. White has two main plans. One of them consists of thoroughly preparing e2-e4-e5. If he succeeds, the bishop would stand perfectly on g2, overprotecting the d5-pawn. Alternatively, he can prepare b2-b4. And of course, the piece pressure on d6 is always an issue.
In this position, Marin advocates the natural 9...Re8
Here is how the author justifies his choice:
I have almost always played this move, considering it the most flexible. Usually, the knight goes to d7, but in some cases, it is better to keep the possibility of ...Na6. Besides, ...Ne4 is something White should count with.
In this position, White has two major options - 10.Bf4 and 10.Nd2. These moves are dealt with in Chapters 8, 9, and 10.
In his annotations to Chapter 7, the author explains why some minor moves like 10.h3, Re1, 10.a4, and 10.e4 do not create problems for Black.
8) Fianchetto Variation - Part 2
This chapter features one of White's most principled ways to fight for an opening advantage - 10.Bf4
This is more active than 10.h3. In principle, White may play h2-h3 later anyway, preventing ...Ng4, but for the time being it looks like a good idea to put pressure on the d6-pawn.
Here, Black's most flexible continuation seems to be 10...Na6. In this way, Black keeps all the options open. Depending on the concrete circumstances, he can play ...Nc7, Bg4 or Ne4. In Chapter 8, Marin proves that Black holds his own in every single line.
9) Fianchetto Variation - Part 3
This chapter starts dealing with White's most popular move 10.Nd2
This is the classical main move. White hopes to consolidate his knight on c4, of course, but things are not that simple. As we already know, Black has a good antidote against this knight pirouette. The main line goes 10...a6 11.a4 Nbd7
Black's idea is simple - he wants to counter 12.Nc4 with 12...Nb6. Normally, in such positions, White avoids the exchange of the knights by playing 13.Na3
The white knight goes to the edge of the board but this is usually a temporary situation. After kicking the black knight away from the center by means of h2-h3 followed by f2-f4, White will play again Nc4. This idea is much more effective when the move h2-h3 had already been played. In this position, Black can overtake the initiative by means of 13...Nh5 14.h3 f5.
Of course, in this chapter, the author deals with a number of secondary options for White on move 12. None of them, however, manages to put pressure on Black.
10) Fianchetto Variation - Part 4
This chapter features the absolute main line in the Fianchetto Variation. The starting point of this line is being reached after 10.Nd2 a6 11.a4 Nbd7 12.h3
In the previous chapter, there were moments when White would have preferred not allowing ...Ng4 or being ready to meet ...Nh5 with g3-g4. This is why the last move is considered the main continuation.
In this chapter, Marin analyses a lot of possibilities for White on virtually every single move. Nevertheless, now we are going to limit ourselves to the main line which follows: 12...Rb8 13.Nc4 Ne5 14.Na3 Nh5 15.e4 Bd7
It turns out that Black is just in time to prepare the advance b7-b5. In fact, this position is last important crossroad for White in the Fianchetto Variation. Besides White's main option 16.a5, Marin deals with a number of alternatives. For the time being, it seems that Black has more than sufficient counterplay in every line.
11 - 14) The Modern Main Line
In the next 4 chapters, GM Marin deals with one of the most dangerous systems for White.
The main position arises after the moves: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.h3 Bg7 8.Bd3 0-0 9.Nf3
In the introduction to this system, the author states: "Starting with 1990 this system caused Black lots of troubles for more than a decade. White's setup is very ambitious: he safely defends e4, allowing him to avoid Nd2 as in the classical system and also prevents the freeing ...Bg4. The only drawback of this variation is that the king remains in the center for one more move than usual, allowing the following move: 9…b5! - I tend to build up my repertoire (which I many times share with the readers) based on positional systems, without the need of analyzing and memorizing long forced variations. The last move is an exception, but no matter as long as I have tried, I could not find entirely viable counterplay after normal developing moves."
11) The Modern Main Line - Part 1
In this Chapter, Marin discussed the system with 10.Bxb5
The main position arises after the moves 10...Nxe4 11.Nxe4 Qa5+ 12.Nfd2 Qxb5 13.Nxd6 Qa6 14.N2c4 Nd7 15.0-0 Ne5.
Here the main hero was the late Azeri GM Vugar Gashimov. Thanks to his efforts the move 15…Ne5 gained popularity and now this position is considered as absolutely harmless for Black. The only drawback of this line is that Black has difficulties to play for a win.
12 - 13)
In these chapters, the author analyses the most popular continuation after 9…b5 – 10.Nxb5.
Unfortunately here 10…Nxe4 failed to equalize. That’s why the best move is 10…Re8!
12) The Modern Main Line - Part 2
In Chapter 12, GM Mihail Marin takes a look at all different White’s attempts to keep the pawn - 11.Nd2, 11.Bg5 and 11.Nc3. All these moves have the same drawback - White’s king is still in the center and with different kind of tactics Black manages not only to maintain the balance but also to seize the initiative.
The move 11.Nd2 is probably the most serious try, but now after 11…Nxd5! followed by 12.Nc4 Re6!
Black’s dynamic opportunities give him plenty of counterplay.
13) The Modern Main Line - Part 3
In this chapter, we are dealing with the main line 9…b5 10.Nxb5 Re8 11.0-0
Here is how the author explains the position in a few sentences: White aims completing his development as quickly as possible, to build up an initiative based on the undeveloped black queenside. But the obvious drawback of this variation is that the d5-pawn is chronically weak. If Black manages to extinguish the initiative, he might even be better. But as a rule White exchanges the d5-pawn for the d6-pawn, resulting in a position where Black's activity compensates for the isolated queenside pawns.
The main line continues with 11…Nxe4 and here White tried several different moves but failed to prove an advantage.
14) The Modern Main Line - Part 4
In this Chapter, the author is dealing with a system which arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.h3 Bg7 8.Bd3 0-0 9.Bg5
Here is what the author said about this line: This closely related to the previous system became popular a few years later. With the knight pinned, the thematic ...b7-b5 remains possible, but without ensuring the pawn retrieval by force. But developing the bishop so early delays the king's evacuation from the center, offering Black an additional tempo to organize his counterplay. Not last, the b2-pawn is hanging in certain lines.
It cost me a few painful losses until I found the right way and move order to react.
The antidote of this system according to GM Marin is 9…Re8 10.Nf3 c4! The key element in Black's counterplay. 11.Bc2 b5 12.a3 Bd7!.
This is not the most popular move, but the best one according to the author. In his further analyses, he proves that Black shouldn't be worried about this line.
At the end of the database, GM Mihail Marin provides you with 28 interactive tests which are designed to test your understanding of the Modern Benoni Defense.
Here are 5 of them: