Test Your Benko Refutations with
Once upon a time there was an opening of great repute advocated by such English favourites as Hodgson, Hebden and Plaskett. Then along came a little-known Soviet player with the tactical flair of Adams, the optimism of Suba and the pure jam of Norwood. Suddenly this hacker with a total disregard for the value of his pieces undermined the very foundation of the gambit. Sit back and enjoy two of his emphatic victories (I’m keeping the others for my own personal repertoire).
Imagine yourself in a large hall in Russia during the Leningrad (sorry, St Petersburg) championships. On board 37 you find yourself sitting opposite someone you’ve never seen before but who’s probably not too bad as his name ends with a ‘v’. Not surprisingly, you don’t recognize the guy sharing your chair either, but it’s your task to try and guess his moves. Temporarily cast aside thoughts of how you got there and, worse still, how you are going to get home without any hard currency or Marlboros in your pocket. (At this point you are usually asked, for some inexplicable reason, to cover the page with a piece of card. If you want to read the rest of this article, we recommend that you don’t do this. Ed.)
Malinin – Andreev
1 point. Deduct 5 points for 1 e4. How the hell could we get a Benko from 1 e4?
1…Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5? 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6
2 points. Frustrating Black’s subtle attempt to regain his pawn with 5…axb5.
5…Bxa6 6 Nc3 d6 7 Nf3 g6 8 g3 Bg7
5 points. A flexible move allowing the possibility of 10 Bh3.
9…0–0 10 h5!
The point, 3 points! Lose 2 points for 10 Bh3 – sucker!
10…Nxh5 11 Rxh5!
4 points. White displays exceptional vision.
11…gxh5 12 Qc2 Nd7
2 points. Take away a point for 13 Ng5? Obviously you want to get away as soon as possible but do you really think this game could be of theoretical importance with a 14-move mate?
13…Nf6 14 Bg2
2 points and give yourself a bonus point if the word ‘cucumber’ springs to mind.
14…Rb8 15 0–0–0 Qa5 16 Rh1 Nxd5?
Desperate for a plan, Black sacrifices.
2 points, and 3 more if you can say ‘Ta very much, matey’ in Russian.
17…Rxb2 18 Nxe7+ Kh8
10 points, but only 1 if you didn’t see that 19…Kxh7 is possible now.
19…Kxh7 20 Rxh5+ Bh6 21 Rxh6+ Kg7 22 Nf5+
1 point for realizing that checks are a good idea at this stage.
2 points for this radiating bishop move.
23…Rc2+ 24 Kxc2 Qxa2+ 25 Bb2 Qc4+ 26 Bc3 f6
2 points for this, threatening 28 Ne7+ Kg7 29 Rh7#. 2 points also if you understood that far from being over, your attack is just beginning.
10 points. This move just oozes juiciness.
5 points. Phase 2 of the combination.
29…Kxh8 30 Bxf6+ Kg8
Lose 50 points for 31 Ne7+, returning to material mode.
31…Kf8 32 Nh7#
1 point. Don’t own up to any alternatives. 1–0
Now add up your score:
Less than 0 – honestly, draughts isn’t that easy, either.
0-19 – A complete rabbit
20-29 – Average club player with stone-age mentality.
30-39 – Strong player with couple of dodgy IM norms.
40-49 – Almost an IM, if only you could push your rating up.
50-59 – Real Benko-basher. You scored more than I did and I had the moves in front of me.
60 – Either you are a compulsive liar or you can’t count (possibly both)
Returning to the theoretical aspect of this article, in the second game Malinin’s opponent, noting the ‘caveman’s’ liking for rampaging with his rooks, thought twice about being a greedy guzzler and we pick up the action at move 10.
Malinin – Savinov
10 h5 Nbd7
Besides, true Benko players generally like to play out the whole game an a-pawn down!
11 hxg6 hxg6 12 Bh3 Re8 13 Qc2 Rb8 14 Be3 Nxd5
But don’t bother looking for a mate in 4.
Uh-oh, he saw it. Not to be perturbed, our Russian friend, who appears to have played in one too many Highbury Quickplays, fights on bravely. But one wonders whether even Peter Large could save White’s position.
16 Be6+ Kf8 17 Nxd5 Rxb2 18 Ng5 Nf6 19 Nf4
OK, so the material situation is a bit dodgy but our hero cannot be faulted for effort as he once again threatens mate by 20 Nxg6.
19…Qa5+ 20 Kf1 Bxe2+ 21 Kg1 Reb8 22 Bf7 Rb1+ 23 Kh2 Ng4+ 24 Kh3 Rxh1+ 25 Rxh1 Nxf2+
Apparently, 26 Kg2 was a simpler way to win but by now both players were short of time.
26…Bg4+ 27 Kxg4 Rb4 28 Kf3 Qa3+ 29 Be3 Qa8+ 30 Bd5 Qa5 31 Nfe6+ Kg8
32 Nc7+ e6 33 Bxe6+ Kf8 34 Nh7+ Ke7 35 Bg5+ Bf6 36 Bxf6#
Pretty, isn’t it? And it would seem that White had everything under control after all. Note the redundant rook on h1 sulking at not having been able to sacrifice itself for the cause!
So I trust all you 1 d4 players out there are suitably impressed. In case you are sceptical, don’t worry – I had my doubts at first but then I realized just how shallow it is to count pieces. For further reference, I suggest that Benko fans investigate Winning with the King’s Indian and How to Play the Nimzo-Indian.
first published in Kingpin 19 (Spring 1992)