The Benoni Defense has strategic flaws, but in practice it is not easy to beat and offers Black counter chances. In the following game, however, Black, one of the world’s top players, cannot make it work for him.

I don’t like the Benoni Defense, so there’s not much in life that brings me greater joy than watching a player lose who plays it. In the following game, Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia plays an interesting idea against Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine, the former FIDE World Champion, to take down the Benoni. 

Sargissian, G. vs. Ponomariov, R.
PRO League Group Stage | INT | Round 5 | 11 Feb 2017 | ECO: A61 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 c5 4. d5 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. Nc3 g6 7. Bf4 a6
7... Bg7 Nowadays, this move is more commonly played.
8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Qb3 b5!? 10. Bxd6 Qb6 With a complicated position.  )
8. Nd2!? This is a very unusual move, but an interesting one. White usually prevents Black's queenside expansion with a4, but in this game he allows Black to do what he wants.
8... b5 9. a4! The point. The pawn on b5 is unstable.
9... b4
9... Nh5 This looks like a more accurate move order because it avoids the problems associated with White playing Bg5.  )
10. Nce4 Nh5! Black needs to drive the bishop away.
10... Nxd5 Tempting but poor:
11. Bg3! And after White plays Nc4, defending the pawn on d6 is a problem for Black.  )
11. Be3
11. Bg5!? There is no reason for Black to allow this move.  )
11... f5 Did White blunder a piece?
12. g4! Nope! White's energetic play justifies the unusual arrangement of his pieces.
12... Nf6
12... Ng7!? This looks more natural. The knight could then move to f5, where it would be excellently positioned.  )
13. gxf5 Nxe4! Of course, Black takes the opportunity to exchange pieces, which alleviates his cramped position.
13... Bxf5 14. Ng3 This position would be much worse for Black. The knight on d2 would be ready to jump to the weakened outpost on c4.  )
14. Nxe4 Bxf5 15. Ng3 Qf6 16. Qd2 Bg7 Black seems to have gotten everything he could want from a Benoni Defense: His pieces are active, he achieved b5-b4, d6 is not weak, and a pair of knights has been traded. Indeed, he has an edge.
17. Nxf5 gxf5?
17... Qxf5 I see no reason to compromise the pawn structure and open the g-file. Black would still have been better if he had continued this way.  )
18. O-O-O Nd7 19. Bg5 Qe5 20. Rg1 Now White has dangerous counterplay. Black's king has no happy home, the g-file is open, and sooner or later the pawn on f5 might become a target.
20... Qe4 21. Qe3 Be5 22. Qxe4 fxe4 23. Bh3! White is not concerned about the pawn on h2; he is the one with the more active pieces.
23... b3
23... Bxh2? 24. Rg4! And White wins the e-pawn, which should be enough of an advantage to win the game  )
24. f4! Energetic and strong
24... Bd4?
24... exf3 25. exf3 Black is in big trouble. White is threatening f4 and then Black will be unable to close the open e-file.  )
24... h6 In hindsight this move may have been best, though White would still have a significant edge after:
25. Bxd7+! Kxd7 26. fxe5 hxg5 27. Rxg5  )
25. Rg3! Another good move. Now White threatens e3.
25... e3 This stops both Rxb3 and e3, but leaves Black with another problem:
26. Rd3! White is ready to give up an exchange and the Black king will be trapped in the center. There is absolutely nothing Black can do about it.
26... Nb6 27. Rdxe3+!
27. Rxb3 I'd be tempted to find a simpler move, but the move played is brutal and convincing.  )
27... Bxe3+ 28. Rxe3+ Kf8 29. Be7+ Kg7 30. Be6 One look at the White bishops is enough to know how hopeless Black's position is.
30... Rhe8 31. Rg3+ Kh6 32. Bg5+ Kg7
32... Kh5 33. Bf7#  )
33. Bd8+ Kh6 34. Bxb6


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.