The Benoni Defense is a solid opening with a well-established reputation that attracts players of all classes. It can be equally suitable for positional and tactical play, and has been used by such players as Fischer, Karpov, and other leading grandmasters. From a White point of view, the Benoni Defense is a way to avoid the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit and to chicken out into closed positions. The question is, how do you stop that? How to force Black into unfamiliar territory? Sure, there is the Sicilian, 2 e4, but that has been investigated back and forth, so unless you feel like memorizing 30-odd moves worth of Grandmaster analysis, don’t bother. Taking that into consideration, what is White to do?
On 19 February 1995, while having a break between rounds at the United States Amateur Team East, I invented the Zilbermints Benoni. The very next day, I beat an old antagonist with it in a blitz match. Here is that historic first game:
Ralph Neplokh (1820)
1 d4 c5 2 b4! cb4 3 a3 Qa5 4 Qd2 Nc6 5 Bb2 e6 6 ab Bxb4+7 c3! and White won a piece and game.
Please note that the main difference between my opening and the Sicilian Defense is the e-pawn.
In the Sicilian, it is on e4; here it either stays on its original square or goes to e3, protecting f2.
This gives the line independent significance. Also, as the reader will see later on, it is possible to even gambit the e-pawn, getting piece development and pressure as compensation.
After 1 d4 c5 2 b4! Black
has three possible answers. They are:
A) 2...cxb4 3 a3, which may or may not transpose to the Sicilian Wing Gambit;
B) 2...cxd4 3 Nf3 which transposes either into the Zilbermints Benoni or the Smith-Morra Gambit (or 1 Nf3 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 b4!);
C) other moves.
A) 2...cxb4 3 a3
4 ab4 Bxb4 5 c3 Be7 6 Bf4 Nf6 7 e3 d6 8 Bd3 b6 9 Nf3 Bb7 10 00 Nbd7 11 Na3 a6 12 Qb3 00 13 Nc4 Qc7 14 Bg3 Bd5 15
e4 Nxe4 16 Bxe4 Bxe4 17 Ncd2 Bb7 18 c4 Nf6 19 Rfb1 Nd7 20 h4
Rab8 21 Qd3 Bc6? 22 Rxa6 Qb7 23 Raa1 Ra8 24 Rxa8 25 c5 dc 26 Nc4
and White eventually won, Zilbermints-Neil Cohen (1872 Quick Chess), Marshall Chess Club Blitz Tournament, 10/6/1995.
A2) 3...d5 4 ab4 Bf5 5 c3 e6 6 Bf4 Bd6 7 e3 Bxf4 8 ef4 Qc7 9 Qd2 Nf6 10 f3 Nbd7 11 Na3 00 Here White blundered with 12 g4?? Nxg4! and lost in 21 moves, Zilbermints-Ylan Schwartz (2398), U.S. Amateur Team East, 1997. However, 12 Bd3! still keeps the game alive.
A3) 3...ba3 4 g3 Sort of like a reversed Benko Gambit, with the main difference being the d-pawn. 4...e6 5 Bg2 Nf6 6 Nxa3 Qa5+ 7 Bd2 Bb4 8 Nc4 Bxd2+ 9 Nxd2 Qc3 10 e3 Nc6 11 Ne2 Qb2 12 Rb1 Qa3 13 Nc4 Qe7 14 00 d5 15 Nd2 00 16 c4 b6 17 Nc3 Rd8 18 Qb3 Na5 19 Qa2 Ba6 20 Nb5 Bxb5 21 Rxb5 Rac8 22 c5 Nc4 23 Nxc4 dc4 24 Qxc4 Nd5 25 Bxd5 exd5 26 Qb4 h5 27 cb6 Qxb4 28 Rxb4 ab6 29 Rxb6 Rc2 30 Rfb1 Kh7 31 Kg2 g5 32 Rb7 Kg6 33 R7b5 g4 34 R5b2 Rc4? 35 Ra1 Kf4 36 Rb7 f6 37 Rb6 Rc2 38 Raa6 Rf8 39 Rd6 Rb8 40 Rxf6+ Ke3 41 Ra3, Black resigns, Zilbermints-Raphael D’Lugoff, 4 Rated Games Tonight! Tournament, Marshall Chess Club, New York 11/7/1996.
A4) 3...g6 4 ab4 e5 5 c3 Bg7 6 d5 d6 7 Be3 Ne7 8 g3 Bd7 9 Bg2 a6 10 Na3 Nf5 11 Bd2 00 12 e4 Ne7 13 Nc4 Bb5 14 Na3 Bd7 15 h4 h5 16 Bh3 f5 17 f3 fxe4 18 fxe4 Qb6 19 Qe2 Bxh3 20 Nxh3 Nd7 21 Nf2 Rf7 22 00 R8f8 23 Kg2 Nf6 24 Nc4 Qc7 25 Ne3 Qd7 26 c4 Qc8 27 Rac1 b6 28 c5! bc5 29 bc5 dc5 30 Nc4 Ne8 31 Nd3 Qc7 32 Ba5 Qb8 33 Nxc5 Rxf1 34 Rxf1 Rxf1 35 Qxf1 Qb5 36 Ne6 Nxd5 37 Nxg7 Qxc4?? 35 Qxc4!, Black resigns, Zilbermints- Ernesto Labate, Westfield (NJ) Grand Prix, 12/13/1998.
A5) 3...e6 4 ab Bxb4+ 5 c3 Be7 6 e4 transposes to the Sicilian Wing Gambit. This line, which is regarded as good for White by Thomas Kapitaniak in his 1985 book, Sicilian Defense: Wing Gambits can become very dangerous against an unwary opponent. The game Zilbermints-Brian McCarthy (2391), New Jersey Open 1997, 8/31/97, continued 6...d6 7 f4 Nf6 8 Bd3 a6 9 Nf3 h6 10 00 Nc6 11 h3 d5 12 e5 Ne4 13 Bxe4 dxe4 14 Nd2 Nxd4 The first of four cheapos by Black. 15 Nxe4! Nf5 16 Qxd8 Bxd8 17 g4 Nh4 18 Nd6+! Kf8 19 Ba3 Kg8 20 Kh2 Bc7 21 Nd2 Ng6 22 Nd2-e4 White has full compensation plus extra for the pawn. 22...Bd7 23 Nc5 Bc6 24 Ncb7! Bxb7 25 Nxb7 Nxf4!? The second Black cheapo. 26 Bd6! Nd5 27 c4! Ne3 28 Rf3! Nc2 29 Rd1 Bb6 30 c5! Ba7 31 Rdf1 h5 The third Black cheapo, trying to open up the file before my attack crashes through. 32 g5! Nd4 33 Rxf7 Nf5 The last cheapo, which is demolished by a sacrifice. 34 R7xf5! ef5 35 Rxf5 g6 36 Rf6 Kg7 37 e6 Bb8 38 Rf7+ Kg8 39 Rf8+ 40 Rf7+ Kg8 41 Kg2! a5 42 Rf8 Kg7 43 Rxh8! Kxh8 44 e7! Ba7 45 Nd8! h4 46 e8/Q Kh7 47 Qf7+, Black resigns.
Based on the above games, I would say that White gets good compensation in the 2...cxb4 lines. For those of you who like flank openings, the Zilbermints Benoni can transpose into variations of the Smith-Morra Gambit, the Sicilian Wing Gambit, the Orangutan/Sokolsky, the French Wing Gambit, or into independent lines. The reason why I am the only player who uses this line is because the absolute majority of players, including Sokolsky fans, do not realize the tactical dynamics of this opening. The games I present here are the only theory on this opening, which is not in most chess books. Eric Schiller in his huge Unorthodox Chess Openings (1998) calls it the Nakamura Gambit. This is incorrect. When I contacted Clyde Nakamura of Hawaii by e-mail in December 1998, he had this to say about Schiller’s placeholder (as it turned out) name:
“Sorry to disappoint you but I could not find any games with moves 1 d4 c5 2 b4. The name Nakamura Gambit is a name invented by Eric Schiller. I have not named any opening after my own name. In Schiller’s book on Unorthodox Openings (Edition 2) he has the Nakamura Gambit listed, but this is based on the game [ a Sicilian Wing Gambit— LDZ ] that I played before at the Hawaii International #4 in a round 2 game against IM Andrianov from Greece. ...
I believe your name “Zilbermints Benoni” should be the name for the opening 1 d4 c5 2 b4 since I had no part in either the invention or the development of this opening.” [emphasis mine — LDZ]
So much for Schiller’s placeholder name! His analysis is extremely superficial, to say the least. Schiller only gives 2...cxb4 3 e4 g6 3...d5; 4 e5 e6 transposes to the Wing Gambit in the French Defense (Schiller, 1998) 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Bb2 d6 and I don’t see much compensation for White” - Schiller. This is all well and good, but as Nakamura himself notes, this analysis is based on the game Nakamura-Andrianov, by a different order of moves. That’s first. Secondly, and more important, White does not have to play 3 e4 to begin with! The right move, as I convincingly showed above, is 3 a3!
Now, for some more history. On the assumption that 1 b4 c5 was very similar to my opening, I researched thousands of 1 b4 c5 games on the Internet computer database, which has two million-plus games. Sure enough, the computer came up with seven games that transposed into the Zilbermints Benoni. The two games shown below belong, by classification of analysis, to C) 2... other moves, which will be covered in the upcoming Part Three of my article. Because of their historical interest, however, I include them here, out of sequence.
1 b4 c5 2 bxc5 e6 3 d4 b6?! 4 cxb6 Qxb6 This position can also arise from 1 d4 c5 2 b4! e6 3 bc5 b6?! 4 cxb6 Qxb6 5 e4 Nf6 6 f3 Nc6 7 Be3 Qb2 8 Nd2 Nxd4 9 Bd3 Bc5 10 Kf2 00 11 Nc4 Qb5 12 Rb1 Qa4 13 c3 Qxd1 14 Rxd1 d5 15 Ne5, Black resigns, E.Olej-B.Nemeskal, Hungary 1964.
1 b4 c5 2 bc5 e5 3 d4! exd4 4 Ba3 Bxc5 Here we once again see a transposition of moves. In this case, however, the proper move order is 1 d4 c5 2 b4 e5!? 3 bxc5 exd4 4 Ba3 Bxc5. 5 Bxc5 Qa5+ 6 c3 dxc3?? Schiller, who included this game in his Unorthodox Chess Openings, notes that after 6...Qxc5 7 cxd4 Qb4+ 8 Qd2 Qxd2+ (8...Nc6!?) 9 Nxd2 Nc6 10 e3 and White is just a tiny bit better. I agree with him there. 7 Qd6 c2+ 8 Nd2! Black resigns, Ritter-Tuchtenhagen, Postal, Germany 1988.
In my next article I will cover 2...cxd4 3 Nf3 which is by far the most common move, with fourteen games played. In that line, my record stands at +10, -3, =1.
Till next time.