Basic Ideas & Strategy : The Benko Gambit

I’m not a big fan of gambits in general but the Benko Gambit is one of a few that I do like. Black is not aiming for an immediate attack for his sacrificed pawn but rather long term positional pressure against White’s queen side. Here are some brief guidelines on how to play Black:

1. Black gets long term initiative on “a” & “b” files by placing rooks on those files, especially against pawn on b2.

2. Black’s bishop on g7 adds more pressure to the queenside by striking down the h8-a1 diagonal.

3. At the same time Black’s kingside pawn structure is very solid.

Here is a typical Benko Gambit game in which the mighty Mikhail Gurevich is beaten by Sang Cao:

4. One other plan to note is that when the light square bishops are exchanged a Black knight can reach d3 or c4 via g4-e5-d3 (c4) or d7-e5-d3, which is a typical plan in Benko gambit.

Here is the game featuring this theme between Evgeny Bareev and Garry Kasparov at Linares in 1994. As with the previous game it featured a classical time control:

5. Black has two important levers in …f7-f5 & …e7-e6, which can help break up White’s centre and even lead to an attack on White’s king.

Here is an example of this from a game played between Gelfand and Carlsen in 2011, this time with a rapid time control:

One word of warning: If White can achieve the e4-e5 lever, he would be having nice prospects in the center & the kingside, so always be vigilant.

The Benko Gambit is relatively easy to play for beginners & intermediate players because of the limited number of plans, and even help you to understand the positional play. So I heartily recommend it.

Ashvin Chauhan