The Benko Gambit is a sound, refreshing alternative for all Black players who are tired to play the absolute main lines like the Slav Defense or the Grunfeld Defense against 1.d4.
It’s a strategically and dynamically complex opening full of tactical possibilities. It begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5.
Black sacrifices a pawn very early in the opening to obtain active piece play and long-lasting positional compensation in the form of the half-open a- and b-files. From a practical point of view, White’s position is extremely difficult to play. For the White player, it requires a huge amount of deep opening preparation and positional understanding to prove anything against the Benko Gambit.
The opening got its name in honor of the Hungarian-American Grandmaster Pal Benko, who contributed a lot to the theoretical development of the gambit in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Benko Gambit has stood the test of time and is still widely employed in the 21st century by Grandmasters and club players alike.
The Benko Gambit is one of the most attractive chess openings for Black against 1.d4 because it’s a special kind of gambit that most club players rated below 2100 Elo are unable to deal with.
In the Benko Gambit, Black does not sacrifice a pawn for tactical counter-chances and a lead in development, but for positional reasons.
This video is a free preview of IM Robert Ris’ new 6.5 hour course on chess tactics in the Benko Gambit.
Chess Tactics in the Benko Gambit
The Benko Gambit is one of those openings that does not get the attention it deserves, mainly because engines favor White with his extra pawn. However, diving deeper into the opening, even
the strongest engines can’t show a clear way for White to gain an advantage.
Many great players of the past and present have used the Benko Gambit with great success. If you choose to play the Benko Gambit, you have several opening experts to follow. You can check the games of GM Alejandro Ramirez, GM Sam Shankland, GM Viktor Bologan, GM Milos Perunovic, and GM Daniil Dubov.
Even World Champion Magnus Carlsen loves to play the Benko Gambit with Black. Yet, according to rumors, his trainer GM Peter Heine-Nielsen only allows Magnus to play the Benko Gambit in games with short time controls!
The Sacrifice on d5
Let’s take a look at one tactical idea in the Benko Gambit – the Sacrifice on d5.
It’s a common occurrence in the Benko Gambit that Black sacrifices a piece on d5 in order to open the position and to free his dark-squared bishop on g7.
A frequently occurring opening trap (into which GM Boris Gelfand (2761) fell for against Magnus Carlsen) arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Bd3? (see the diagram on the left).
The move 9.Bd3 looks logical at first glance to protect the pawn on e4. Yet, it fails to the tactical shot 9…Nxd5! 10.exd5 Bxc3+! (diagram on the right).
No matter what White plays, Black regains the sacrificed piece with dividends!
80/20 Tactics Multiplier – Benko Gambit
If you want to know an opening, you should be familiar with its typical positional ideas and remember the most important theoretical lines. But this is not enough.
Every opening has its own stock of tactical motifs. Therefore, you also have to know the typical tactical patterns which frequently occur in your opening. IM Robert Ris’ course on the essential tactics and strategic ideas in the Benko Gambit gives you a complete understanding of typical tactical and strategic patterns for both sides.