Benoni Strategy - Piece Play



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In the previous articles, we have mainly focused on both sides' pawn play. While pieces were also an important part of the process, they mainly acted in accordance with the concrete requirements of the structural modifications. Time has come to talk about the optimal piece trajectories in static positions, where pawns offer only the immobile background for piece play.

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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. We witnessed a favorable situation in the game Beliavsky-Portisch from a previous article, but such operations as ...bxa4 followed by ...Nb5 are not always available.

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. And yet, in the first example, White managed to carry out this plan in pure form, without the contribution of pawns nor allowing Black any shadow of counterplay. But if we understand the game deeper, Black himself weakened his position, fearing the slow and massive kingside pawn attack.

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