Complete Modern Benoni Repertoire - Part 2
After dealing with all the Nf3-based systems, GM Mihail Marin completes his Modern Benoni with another amazing database. This time, he deals with dangerous systems like Three Pawns Attack, Saemisch System, Penrose System, as well as with some relatively rare variations.
As always, Marin divides his database into three sections - Pawn Structures, Theoretical Section, and Test Section.
In the current database, the author examines three middlegame topics which are essential for the understanding of the theoretical section - White's Central Strategy, Black's Play on the Kingside and The Importance of Black's Dark-Squared Bishop.
1) White's Central Strategy
Carrying out the central e4-e5 break is one of the most typical ideas for White in Benoni type of positions.
Here is what the author has to say about this plan:
In one of the previous articles, we have focused on Black advancing his queenside majority. When adopting this plan he frequently relies on the fact that he can keep White's majority under control by defending the e5-square against the central break e4-e5. The g7-bishop plays an important part, of course. Another aspect is that after e4-e5 the d5-pawn is likely to become vulnerable. On the other hand, if properly sustained by pieces, this pawn could become a threatening force. We will distinguish between two main situations: White breaks the center with the help of his pieces or by using the f-pawn to sustain his colleague.
In this article, the author annotates 10 games in which he explains all the subtleties related to White's central strategy. Of course, he provides the reader with Black's most powerful antidotes to this strategy.
Here is one of the examples:
2) Black's Play on the Kingside
This is a very unusual idea for Black in Modern Benoni Defense. On a number of occasions, Marin points out that Black is playing on the queenside, while White is trying to seize the initiative in the center and on the kingside. Nevertheless, the complexity of Benoni positions allows both sides to use a variety of interesting plans and ideas.
In the introduction to the article on this topic, the author makes a highly instructive comment:
In the current article, I will highlight a few typical aspects of Black's ambitions on the territory supposed to be mainly "White's". Usually, Black is entitled fighting for kingside space and initiative if White has transferred some of his pieces from this wing to the queenside, in order to prevent Black's expansion or has neglected development for the sake of pursuing other practical purposes. Since White's global plan involves in principle f2-f4 at some stage of the game, a logical black antidote is the blocking ...g6-g5. True, this weakens the f5-square but maneuvering the knight there is not always easy, while the light-squared bishop usually offers a satisfactory defense.
Of course, this conceptual framework is supported by a number of extensively annotated examples. Take a look at one of them:
3) The Importance of Black Dark-Squared Bishop
For the Benoni player, the main treasure is, of course, the g7-bishop. As mentioned before, the minor piece coordination (with the inevitable conflict caused by the lack of space) mainly refers to the knights and the queen's bishop. In this article, Marin examines a few examples in which the bishop's domination along the dark diagonals is telling. The most typical cases are when it faces the opposition of the white light-squared bishop. We have met such a situation towards the end of the game Parligras-Gashimov, in the article dedicated to piece play (see Part 1).
In the very first game from the article, Marin provides a pure example, with very little material left on board, when the difference between bishops is overwhelming.
After dealing with the most important middlegame ideas, the author starts examining concrete theoretical lines. As usual, instead of recommending long and forced computer lines, Marin provides the reader understanding-based opening variations.
The moment has come to throw some light on the theoretical lines the author deals with.
1) Three Pawns Attack - 8.e5
The database starts with the dangerous Three Pawns Attack which arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7
Traditionally, this is the most aggressive system in the Modern Benoni. The central pawns look scary, but White should also take into account the weaknesses left behind and the time spent on pawn moves.
One way in which the early activity may backfire consists of the white dark-squared bishop remaining passive if the thematic e4-e5 fails to force ...dxe5.
In Chapter 1 of the database, the author deals with White's most direct approach to the position - 8.e5
Here is how the author comments this move: "This looks threatening but White has not enough development to sustain such an early initiative. The move was popular in the past but now almost completely disappeared."
At this point, Marin suggests that Black should play 8...Nfd7! As it was pointed out in the introduction to this chapter, it is very important to keep the d-file closed because in this way White cannot activate his light-squared bishop. In his annotations to this chapter, the author proves that Black is doing more than fine in every single line.
2) Three Pawns Attack - 8.Bb5+ followed by 9.Nf3
This is by far White's main continuation in this position. The main idea is to make prevent Black from flawlessly developing his queenside pieces. For instance, 8...Nbd7 and 8...Bd7 are well met by 9.e5. That is why Black's best move is the counter-developing 8...Nfd7
We reached a very important crossroad. Despite the fact that Black was forced to obstruct the development of his queenside by means of 8...Nfd7, White's b5-bishop is also somewhat exposed in this position. If allowed, Black can gain a lot of space on the queenside by means of a7-a6 followed by b7-b5. That is why White's most popular choice in the position is 9.a4 which is dealt with in Chapter 3.
Chapter 2 features White's approach to develop quickly and start playing on the kingside. The main position of the chapter arises after the moves: 9.Nf3 a6 10.Bd3 b5 11.0-0 0-0
On the diagram, we have a very complex position. Usually, White starts active actions on the kingside by means of f4-f5, followed by transferring the queen to the kingside. Nevertheless, Black has a decent counterplay since White should always pay attention to the vulnerable e4-pawn (and e5-square after the advance f4-f5). Black can continue gaining space on the queenside by playing c5-c4 followed by Nc5 and Re8. Further analysis show that Black holds his own in the arising complicated positions.
3) Three Pawns Attack - 8.Bb5+ followed by 9.a4
This move prevents Black from gaining space on the queenside but weakens the b4-square. Logically, the main line goes 9...0-0 10.Nf3 Na6 11.0-0 Nb4
The bishop's retreat to d3 has been avoided and White has to permanently defend c2 in order to avoid the maneuver ...Nc2-d4. Additionally, Black is ready to gain some time by making use of the restricted mobility of the b5-bishop. For example, one of his main ideas is to play ...a7-a6 and answer White's Bc4 by means of Nb6 followed by ....Bg4. If White wastes to much time, ...Nf6 followed by Bg4 is also an option. At this point, White has a number of moves. None of them, however, manages to prevent Black from creating counterplay.
4) Three Pawns Attack - 8.Nf3
This is the classical treatment of the Three Pawns Attack. White develops naturally, relying on his space advantage. After developing his pieces, White is planning to go for the e4-e5 advance. According to Marin, the safest continuation for Black is 8...0-0 9.Be2 Nbd7. With this move, Black takes measures against the central break. The point is that after 10.e5 Ne8, White doesn't have favourable ways to keep the tension in the center.
The main line goes 10.0-0 Re8 11.Nd2 when the author suggests the creative 11...Nb6
A very original plan, which enjoyed some popularity lately. Black solves the conflict between his minor pieces at the cost of weakening his queenside structure (see the next move). From b6, the knight sustains ...c5-c4 leaving the diagonal and the d7-square available for the bishop.
After 12.a4, Black should play 12...a5
Here is how Marin explains Black's last move: This is smaller concession than it may seem. With his knights tied up to the defense of the central pawn, White cannot establish a firm blockade on c4 and b5.
Black can prepare ...Ng4 with ...h7-h5 (sometimes the knight jump could follow even after h2-h3 or else play ...c5-c4).
Further examinations prove that Black has a decent play in the arising positions.
5) Saemisch System - 8.Bg5 a6 9.a4 h6 10.Be3 0-0 11.Nge2
In Chapter 5, Marin starts dealing with the always dangerous Saemisch System which is being reached after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f3 Bg7
The same as in the King's Indian, the Saemisch System looks very imposing. White builds up a strong center as if asking Black to prove a constructive plan. But there is a hidden drawback of this setup. As the KI exert Eduard Gufeld used to joke, one should ask for the white king's knight's opinion about the whole thing! Indeed, finding a good square for this piece requires time, as the most natural move, Nf3, is denied.
Optimally, the knight should land on f2, which is the reason why Black should delay ...Nbd7 until the white knight has moved to e2, so as to prevent Nh3.
In this chapter, Marin deals with the move 8.Bg5
Usually, the optimal square for White's dark-squared bishop is e3. By playing 8.Bg5, however, he wants to provoke the slightly weakening move h7-h6. Since Black usually puts his pawn on h5 in this line, in most of the cases the move 8.Be3 leads to a transposition. Sometimes, however, Black can benefit from not committing his pawn to h6.
After 8.Bg5, Black's most precise move order is 8...a6 9.a4 h6 10.Be3 0-0 11.Nge2 Nbd7
Now that Nh3 is not an issue anymore, Black can develop his knight. It turns out that White is not in time to transfer his knight to f2 via h1 since the move 12.Ng3 is well met by 12...h5 13.Be2 h4 when the knight is forced to occupy the f1-square.
On the other hand, the move 12.Nc1 fails to impress either. Since the knight goes far away from the kingside, Black can consider staring active actions there. A possible continuation would be 12...Ne5 13.Be2 Nh7 preparing f7-f5.
In the abovementioned lines, Black manages to establish a perfect coordination in his camp. He has more than sufficient counterplay in all the variations.
6) Saemisch System - 8.Bg5 a6 9.a4 h6 10.Be3 0-0 11.Qd2 Re8 12.Nge2 Nbd7 13.Ng3
Instead of 11.Nge2 which is discussed in Chapter 5, much more precise is 11.Qd2
This is the main move and rightly so. The latent pressure on h6 slightly restricts Black's possibilities. The critical position arises after the moves 11...Re8 12.Nge2 Nbd7
At this point, White should decide how to arrange his knights. Before start discussing White's different possibilities, it is important to point out that after 13.Bxh6 Nxe4 14.Nxe4 Qh4+ 15.g3 Qxh6 16.Qxh6 Bxh6 17.Nxd7 Re3, Black has more than sufficient compensation for the pawn.
Basically, White should decide between 13.Ng3 and 13.Nc1. Creative approach to the position is 13.Nd1 followed by Nec3 and Nf2. This idea, however, is rather time-consuming. In this case, Black is just in time to start out a kingside play after 13...Ne5 14.Nec3 g5
Later on, Black can follow with natural moves like Nf6-h5-f4, and Qf6. In his annotations, Marin shows that Black's kingside initiative can be very dangerous.
In Chapter 6, however, the author is mainly focused on the move 13.Ng3 when Black reacts in a typical fashion - 13...h5 14.Be2 h4 15.Nf1 Nh7
Black starts preparing his usual counterplay with ...f7-f5. White must waste a lot of time to complete the development. Meanwhile, Black manages to activate his pieces and to create concrete threats on the kingside.
7) Saemisch System - 8.Bg5 a6 9.a4 h6 10.Be3 0-0 11.Qd2 Re8 12.Nge2 Nbd7 13.Nc1
Since the move 13.Ng3 fails to solve the problem with the development of the kingside, White started going for the modest 13.Nc1.
This is more popular than 13.Ng3, but fails to impress. The knight has only one possible plan: N1a2 followed by b2-b4, but what next?
Again, Black should go for an activity on the kingside. Marin's suggestion is 13...Ne5 when 14.Bxh6 runs into the typical 14...Nxe4. It turns out that after 15.Nxe4 Qh4+ 16.g3 Qxh6 17.Qxh6 Bxh6 White cannot take the d6-pawn because of the pin along e-file.
White's most natural move is 14.Be2 renewing the threat of 15.Bxh6. That is why Black should go for 14...h5
Black is ready to play ...Nh7 followed by ...f7-f5 against more or less everything. White b2-b4 advance is usually well answered with ...c5-c4. In the arising position, White fails to coordinate his pieces because of his misplaced c1-knight.
8) Saemisch System - 8.Nge2 0-0 9.Ng3
Some Saemich players blame the early development of the c1-bishop for not being able to transfer the king's knight to f2. That is why they go for 8.Nge2 0-0 9.Ng3
In order not to find himself in a passive position, Black should immediately play 9...h5.
At this point, the author pays a special attention to the possible inclusion of the moves a7-a6 and a2-a4 before playing 9...h5. Benoni experts always debate on the advantages and drawbacks of such an inclusion. According to Marin, in this position, Black should refrain from playing an early a7-a6. The justification is that after the most principled 10.Bg5 stopping ...h5-h4, Black should play 10...Qb6
Unpinning the knight with a gain of time. With ...a7-a6 and a2-a4 on board, the queen could experience some temporary problems. For instance, 12.Qd2 Nh7 13.a5! forces Black to release the pressure on b2.
After the text move, 12.Qd2 is well answered with 12...Nh7 when Black can play on both wings since White is underdeveloped. In this arising complications, Black holds his own.
9) The Penrose System
The Penrose System gradually became a popular way to fight against the Modern Benoni. This system can be reached after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.Nge2
This (then still rare) line came into the limelight after Penrose defeated Tal with it (see the strategic article The Central Break). White's idea is fairly simple - by putting his knight to e2, White leaves open the way of the f-pawn. After completing the development, White intends to follow with f2-f4-f5 or f2-f4 and then e4-e5 followed by f4-f5. This system has two main drawbacks - White doesn't control the e5-square and the e2-knight is rather problematic.
Even though many options on virtually every move are dealt with in the database, Marin's main line follows 8...0-0 9.0-0 a6 10.a4 Nbd7 11.h3 Nbd7 12.Ng3 Qc7
We have reached a strategically important position. Now, the plans of both sides are clear. White intends to start playing on the kingside by means of f2-f4 while Black is ready to create a queenside activity by playing c5-c4 followed by Rb8, Nc5, and b7-b5. In a long-term, Black will gradually start weakening the e4-pawn. Practice shows that Black's queenside play is much easier than White's attempts to create an attack on the kingside. These conclusions are also confirmed by the analysis of Marin.
10) White Plays 7.Nge2 Bg7 8.Ng3
Sometimes, White plays in the spirit of Saemisch system, without playing f2-f3. For example, an interesting line is 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Nge2 Bg7 8.Ng3
This variation may arise via the King's Indian move order. White intends developing in the spirit of the Samisch attack, but delays f2-f3 so as to gain a tempo in the early stage. Concretely, White hopes being in time to answer ...h5-h4 with the most desirable regrouping Nh1-f2. Black has to start his plan at once in order to prevent the aforementioned plan.
At this point, Marin suggests 8...a6 9.a4 h5 10.Be2 Qe7
Another important move, attacking e4 and aiming at inducing f2-f3 in a moment when White cannot cover the dark squares too well. It is important to know that the move 10.Bg5 is well met by 10...Qe5. If White goes for 10.f3 than Black enjoys a favorable version of the Saemisch System. Of course, there are other moves as well. None of them, however, is particularly challenging.
11) White Plays 6.Nf3 Followed by 7.Bg5
In the last chapter of the database, the author deals with some systems based on Bg5 and Nf3. Nowadays, these systems are less topical than they used to be before. That is why the author deals with them in a lesser detail.
The 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.Bg5 Bg7
At this point, White has two main continuations - 8.e3 and 8.e4. In a case of 8.e3, Marin suggests obtaining the bishop pair by means of 8...h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.Bg3 Nh5
After taking exchanging the g3-bishop for his knight, Black would enjoy a bishop pair in an open position. Also, it is important to point out that the g7-bishop has no opponent on the long diagonal. In the middlegame article dedicated to Black's dark-squared bishop, Marin explains how dangerous for White this situation could be.
After 8.e4, the author suggests 8...a6 9.Nd2 (9.a4 transposes to the Classical System) 9...h6 10.Bh4 b5
Here is how Marin comments on this position: "Black has gained queenside space and the only open question remains whether White will find a way of stabilizing on light squares after a later a2-a4."
Concrete analysis show that White cannot stabilize on the light-squares since he is rather underdeveloped. Black can be full of confidence about his future prospects.
As always, at the end of the database, GM Mihail Marin provides the reader with a test section where the reader can test his understanding of the studied material.
This section consists of 20 interactive tests. Here are 5 of them: