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17 Mar

Bible-bashing

There was no decisive games in round five of the Candidates’ Tournament, so that left the chess-loving, patriotic Moscow crowd going home happy with Sergey Karjakin still in the sole lead in the event, as the Russian holds a half point lead over nearest rival Levon Aronian of Armenia. But despite a round full of draws, there were many exciting games to watch - and especially one that involved a bit of “bible-bashing” to it.

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Aronian’s clash with the normally mild-mannered Fabiano Caruana, saw the American No.1 going into beast-mode by upping the ante and risking the Benoni, something of a rarity at world championship-level. Mikhail Tal was the first world champion to play the Benoni; though he more-or-less gave it up after a sensational defeat at the hands of England’s Jonathan Penrose at the Leipzig 1960 Olympiad, not long after he won the title. And, of course, who could forget Bobby Fischer famously deploying it to bamboozle Boris Spassky during their epic world title match in Reykjavik 1972, as the American recorded his first-ever win over his Soviet foe? From that one Benoni, the rest is history.

So what the Good Book have to do with the Benoni, I hear you all asking? Its connection is that the unusual name actually derives from the Old Testament. In Genesis 35:18, Ben-Oni is the name Rachel gives her son as she lays dying in childbirth, and means “child of my sorrow” in Hebrew. Its entry into the chess lexicon comes, according to my ever-reliable Oxford Companion to Chess - itself regarded as the “Chess Journalist’s Bible” - from the title of an 1825 German manuscript by Rabbi Aaron Reinganum.

Reinganum’s book of opening research included analysis of 1 d4 c5 - but the name “Ben-Oni" in no way refers to any of the lines contained in his tome. The reason for the name was that the author only worked on his chess when he was depressed, hence the title of his book, which more referred to it being “child of my sorrow”.

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But never has an opening in chess been more aptly associated with sorrow than the Benoni - especially nowadays, with the aggressive Taimanov variation (or the so-called ‘Flick-Knife Attack', as English GM Dave Norwood graphically describes it in his 1994 book, The Modern Benoni) almost proving to be the death knell for the Benoni with the White attack virtually playing itself.  Most players circumvent these more aggressive lines by cunningly playing it via the Nimzo-Indian - and this is just the surprise Caruana had in mind when he sat down to play Aronian.

Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament

Round 5
Aronian draw Caruana
Giri draw Svidler
Anand draw Nakamura
Topalov draw Karjakin

Standings: 1. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 3.5/5; 2. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 3; 3-6. Viswanathan Anand (India), Peter Svidler (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 2.5; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2; 8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 1.5.

GM Levon Aronian - GM Fabiano Caruana
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (5)
Modern Benoni
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 This is one of the better ways of playing the Benoni, via the Nimzo-Indian, as many players will opt- as here -  for 3.Nf3 hoping for a Queen's Indian/QGD/Catalan. And this Benoni route is better, as after 3.Nf3 Black has cut out all the very aggressive and dangerous lines, such as the Taimanov Variation with e4 and f4 and Bb5+. 4.d5 d6 5.Nc3 exd5 6.cxd5 g6 7.e4 Bg7 8.Be2 0-0 9.0-0 Re8 10.Nd2 Another popular manoeuvre for White in the Benoni: the knight drops back to d2 to defend e4, and can reinforce e4 with f3, and then look at perhaps posting his knight on c4 to hit d6. However Aronian keeps all his options open, especially the possibility of "going for it" with a delayed sort of Taimanov Variation with f4. 10...Nbd7 11.Qc2 Ne5 12.b3 Bg4 Timed! Caruana rightly seeks to exchange off the white-squared bishops to lesson the potential of Aronian's attack. should he go for the f4-push. 13.Bxg4 If 13.f3 Bd7 and Caruana will have gained a tempo developing his bishop to support his queenside counterplay with ...b5. And if White continues as he does in the game, with 14.Bb2, then 14...Nh5!  forces a further weakening of 15.g3 Bh3 16.Rf2 Qe7 and Black stands well here. 13...Nfxg4 14.Bb2 a6 In the Benoni, Black always seeks active counterplay on the queenside with ..b5 etc. 15.h3 Nf6 16.f4 And now Aronian has indeed engineered a sort of Taimanov variation pawn-storm - but crucially without the support of his white-squared bishop to help push home the attack. 16...Ned7 17.Nc4 "I got carried away. I thought it was time to mate my opponent," commented Aronian in the very entertaining, must-watch post-game press conference video with the two players. 17...Nb6 A critical moment in the game. Caruana said he looked at the alternative of 17...Qc7!? 18.a4 Rab8 19.a5 b5 20.axb6 Nxb6 21.Rxa6 Nxc4 22.bxc4 but didn't spot that he had the typical Benoni/King's Indian tactic here of 22...Nxe4! 23.Nb5 Qb7 and Black's doing more than OK. I have no doubt had Caruana spotted 22...Nxe4!, then he would have gone for 17...Qc7 here rather than what he played. 18.Rae1 White has to be careful not to prematurely attack with the pawn push: 18.e5 dxe5 19.fxe5 Nxc4! (Not 19...Nfxd5? 20.Nxd5 Nxd5 21.Rad1 and White does have a very dangerous attack brewing.) 20.bxc4 Nd7 21.e6 fxe6 22.dxe6 Bd4+ 23.Kh1 Nf6, and suddenly e6 is vulnerable and Black has active pieces. 18...Nxc4 19.bxc4 Nd7 If you think this is stopping White from playing e5, then think again! 20.e5 In such positions in the Benoni, White is "pot committed" by going for the pawn storm to open all lines. If White just sits on the position, Black will have all his pieces best-placed to then set about advancing his queenside pawns. 20...dxe5 21.f5!? In the Benoni, when you see White playing the e5 pawn-push, 9 times out of 10 it is invariably followed by the immediate f5 - the idea is to open all the lines against Black's king, and use the vacant e4 square as a launching pad for the knight coming into the attack. 21...b5! The Benoni is not for the faint-hearted - Black has to commit himself quickly to an active counterattack rather than trying to defend his weaknesses. Activity is, after all, the best form of defence. 22.Ne4 Also double-edged was 22.cxb5 axb5 23.Nxb5 Rxa2 24.d6 c4! 25.Nc7 Rf8 26.Qb1 Ra4 and Black has dynamic chances, as White has to be careful that his unsupported d-pawn isn't picked off with the simple knight-hop of ...Nc5-d3. 22...Nb6 (See Diagram) 23.Bc1?! Originally Aronian intended 23.f6!? Bf8 24.h4 Nxc4 25.h5 Qxd5 26.hxg6 hxg6 but didn't trust it - but with the help of a playing engine during the post-game press conference, he discovered that his first instincts may well have been the way forward, as both players didn't spot what the computer easily found here: 27.Qb3! Pinning the knight to the queen, and now suddenly the queen finds the time to dramatically switch over to the h-file to launch a brutal mating attack. Firstly, Black now has to stop Qh3. 27...Qd7 28.Qg3! Nxb2 29.Qh2 Qg4 30.Re3! "You see? I mated you my friend!" ruefully commented Aronian to Caruana. "I rejected it because I didn't believe in it; but maybe I should have." 23...Nxc4 24.d6 gxf5 25.Rxf5 Nxd6 26.Bg5 Qa5 27.Bd2 Qd8 28.Bg5 Qa5 Caruana decides the repetition is the best way forward, as trying to play for more with 28...Qd7 could well be dangerous for him after 29.Nf6+ Bxf6 30.Rxf6 Re6 31.Qd3! and White has a promising position with many weaknesses around the Black king position. Caruana doubtlessly made the right call here; and indeed, both players thought White was winning this. 29.Bd2 Qd8 30.Bg5 ½-½ 

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