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 |chess.com INT |Round 5 |11 Feb 2017 |ECO: A61 |1-0
( 7... Bg7Nowadays, this move is more commonly played. 8. Qa4+Bd79. Qb3b5!?10. Bxd6Qb6With 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... b59. a4!The point. The pawn on b5 is unstable. 9... b4
( 9... Nh5This looks like a more accurate move order because it avoids the problems associated with White playing Bg5. )
10. Nce4Nh5!Black needs to drive the bishop away.
( 10... Nxd5Tempting but poor: 11. Bg3!And after White plays Nc4, defending the pawn on d6 is a problem for Black. )
( 11. Bg5!?There is no reason for Black to allow this move. )
11... f5Did 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. gxf5Nxe4!Of course, Black takes the opportunity to exchange pieces, which alleviates his cramped position.
( 13... Bxf514. Ng3This position would be much worse for Black. The knight on d2 would be ready to jump to the weakened outpost on c4. )
14. Nxe4Bxf515. Ng3Qf616. Qd2Bg7Black 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. Nxf5gxf5?
( 17... Qxf5I 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-ONd719. Bg5Qe520. Rg1Now 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... Qe421. Qe3Be522. Qxe4fxe423. 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... exf325. exf3Black is in big trouble. White is threatening f4 and then Black will be unable to close the open e-file. )
( 24... h6In hindsight this move may have been best, though White would still have a significant edge after: 25. Bxd7+!Kxd726. fxe5hxg527. Rxg5 )
25. Rg3!Another good move. Now White threatens e3. 25... e3This 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... Nb627. Rdxe3+!
( 27. Rxb3I'd be tempted to find a simpler move, but the move played is brutal and convincing. )
27... Bxe3+28. Rxe3+Kf829. Be7+Kg730. Be6One look at the White bishops is enough to know how hopeless Black's position is. 30... Rhe831. Rg3+Kh632. Bg5+Kg7
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.