Benjamin Plays the Nimzovich

By Michael Goeller

Continuing my series on GM Joel Benjamin's unorthodox openings, I consider his games with the Nimzovich Defense, focusing on Christiansen - Benjamin, Seattle 2000 from the U.S. Championship. Benjamin seems to follow in a long line of New York players not afraid to open with Black's "right Knight" and to typically follow it up with ...e5 rather than ...d5 (as Nimzovich himself favored). After writing about 1...Nc6 intending ...e5 in previous articles, I have come to see this as practically a native opening tradition which I like to call "The New York System." I hope my article helps to add Benjamin to the family tree of New York System innovators.

Larry Christiansen (2563) - Joel Benjamin (2577) [A40]

US Championship/Seattle USA (3) 2000


1. e4 Nc6

In his book with Eric Schiller, Unorthodox Openings (1987), Benjamin wrote of the Nimzovich Defense that it is "not particularly unorthodox in its approach to the opening." After all, Black usually fights for the center immediately with either 2...d5 or 2...e5.

 

2. d4

2. Nf3 is probably the main reason why the Nimzovich is not more popular. That move has also given Benjamin the most trouble. Personally, I am not fully satisfied with any of Black's alternatives to 2...e5 at this point, though one move has normally been played by Benjamin here:

2... d6 (popularized by Tony Miles) 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Bg4 5. d5 (5. Be3! is also lots of trouble for Black, as documented by Khalifman) 5... Nb8 (this retreat was Benjamin's preference in a number of games, when Black has compensation for his loss of time in White's weakened dark squares in positions which can also arise from the Modern Defense. Other moves are problematic: 5... Ne5?! 6. Nxe5 Bxd1 7. Bb5+ c6 8. dxc6 has always struck me as untenable for Black, and 5... Bxf3 6. gxf3! gives White a powerful bind.) 6. Be2 (6. h3! causes Black more problems) 6... g6 7. Bg5 Bg7 8. Qd2 O-O 9. h3 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 c6 (10... Nbd7 11. h4 h5! was probably better according to Benjamin) 11. h4! Nbd7 12. h5 Ne5 13. Be2 cxd5 14. Bxf6!? (14. exd5 Qa5 15. hxg6 fxg6 16. O-O-O Rfc8) 14... Bxf6 15. hxg6 hxg6 16. Qh6 Re8 17. f4 Nd7 18. f5 Bg7 19. Qh7+ Kf8 20. fxg6 (20. Nxd5!? gxf5 (20... e6!?) 21. Rh3 Nf6? (21... f4!) 22. Nxf6 Bxf6 23. Rg3 e6 24. Bh5) 20... Nf6 21. Qh4 Qb6 22. O-O-O Rec8 23. Rh3! dxe4 24. g4 e3 25. g5 Rxc3! 26. bxc3?! (26. gxf6!? Bxf6 27. Qh6+ Bg7 (or 27... Ke8 28. gxf7+ Kd7 29. Bg4+ Kc7) 28. Qf4 Rxc2+ 29. Kxc2 Qxb2+ 30. Kd3) 26... Nd7? ( According to Benjamin in Unorthodox Openings, three days after the game London pointed out what appeared to be a spectacular save: 26... Ne4!! 27. Qxe4 (27. Qf4?? Qb1+!! Shamkovich) 27... Bxc3 but Fritz sees a cook in 28. Bb5!! (28. g7+ Kxg7 29. Qh7+ Kf8 30. Qh8+ Bxh8 31. Rxh8+ Kg7 32. Rxa8 Qa5 Benjamin) 28... Qxb5 29. Rdh1 and White may still have hopes of advantage!) 27. Rf1 Bxc3 28. Rxf7+ Ke8 29. Qh8+ Bxh8 30. Rxh8+ Nf8










31. Rhxf8+?? (31. Bg4!! Kd8 32. Rfxf8+ Kc7 33. Rc8+ Rxc8 34. Rxc8# and 31. g7 also wins) 31... Kd7 32. g7 Qd4! 33. Kb1 Qb4+= with a lucky draw by perpetual check in 1/2-1/2 London,D-Benjamin,J, New York 1985. Obviously, the Nimzovich is no picnic after 2.Nf3!

 

2... e5

Some call this the Kevitz Variation after the New York master who popularized it in the 1950s, but "The New York Variation" might acknowledge the large number of regional players, including Benjamin, who have chosen it over the more traditional Nimzovich approach with 2... d5.

 

3. d5

Christiansen elects to close the position. White has two main alternatives, which Benjamin has also faced:

a) 3. Nf3 (This is probably the best move if you play the Scotch...) 3... exd4 4. Bc4!? (...or the Scotch Gambit! After 4. Nxd4 Bc5 has been Benjamin's preference, though I rather like Miles's idea 4... Bb4+ 5. c3 Bc5) 4... Nf6 5. e5 d5 6. Bb5 Ne4 7. Nxd4 Bc5! (7... Bd7 8. Bxc6 bxc6 9. O-O Bc5 10. f3 Ng5 11. f4 Ne4 12. Be3) 8. Be3 Bd7!? ( the old gambit line with 8... O-O?! 9. Nxc6 bxc6 10. Bxc5 Nxc5 11. Bxc6 Ba6 seems convincingly refuted by 12. Nc3! as shown by Dzindzichashvili) 9. Bxc6 bxc6 10. Nd2 Nxd2 11. Qxd2 Bb6!? (11... O-O 12. O-O Bb6 13. Nb3 xc5) 12. O-O (12. Bg5!? f6! 13. exf6 gxf6 14. Qe2+ Qe7 15. Bxf6 Qxe2+ 16. Nxe2 Bxf2+! 17. Kxf2 O-O=) 12... c5! (mobilizing Black's central pawn majority and denying White his traditional control over c5) 13. Bg5 Qc8 14. Ne2 (14. Nb3 c4 15. Nd4 O-O 16. c3 c5 17. Nf3 Bc6) 14... Bc6 15. Rfe1 h6 16. Bh4 O-O 17. c3 Qf5 18. Nf4 d4! (18... g5? 19. Nh5! gxh4?? 20. Qxh6) 19. c4 Rfe8 20. Bg3!? (20. Nd3 a5!) 20... Rxe5!? (I do not think this was an oversight on Benjamin's part, but a calculated risk which paid off. If instead 20... a5 21. e6! White gains the e5 square.) 21. Rxe5 Qxe5 22. Nd5 Qe6 23. Re1 Bxd5! (A gutsy decision! The alternative 23... Qd7 allows practically a forced draw by 24. Ne7+ Kh7! (better than 24... Kf8 25. Qd3 or 24... Kh8 25. Be5!) 25. Qd3+ Kh8 26. Be5 Re8 27. Qd2 Kh7 28. Qd3+ Kh8 29. Qd2 etc.) 24. Rxe6 Bxe6 25. b3 Re8 26. f3 Bf5 27. Bf2 Bb1 28. Qc1 Bg6 29. Be1 Re2! (suddenly Black's passer has sufficient support to make threats!) 30. Bd2 c6! (the dark-squared Bishop re-emerges!) 31. a3 d3 32. Kf1 Bc7 33. h3 Be5 34. b4? (34. Kg1) 34... Bd4! 35. Be1










35... d2! 0-1 Valvo,M-Benjamin,J/Philadelphia 1990 -- Black wins big after 36.Bxd2 Bd3!

 

b) 3. dxe5 Nxe5 4. Bf4!? (4. f4 Nc6! followed by Bc5 or 5.Be3 Bb4a5-b6 =) (4. Nf3! Qf6 (4... Bb4+!? 5. c3 Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Bc5 7. Bc4 Qf6 8. Bf4 d6 9. Nd2 Be6 is an interesting alternative) 5. Nxe5 (5. Be2 Bb4+ 6. Nbd2 Nxf3+ 7. Bxf3 Ne7 8. O-O O-O 9. Nc4 d6 10. c3 Bc5 11. Be3 Bxe3 12. Nxe3 Be6= 1/2-1/2 Kudrin,S-Benjamin,J (29)) 5... Qxe5 6. Bd3 Bc5 (6... Bb4+ 7. Nd2) 7. Qe2 d6 8. Nc3 Nf6 9. h3 is offered by Benjamin and Schiller, quoting ECO, as slightly advantageous for White) 4... Ng6 5. Bg3 Nf6 (5... Bb4+! 6. c3 Bc5 looks easier) 6. Bd3 (6. Nc3 Bb4 7. Qd4 c5) 6... d5 7. e5 Ne4!? 8. Bxe4 dxe4 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Nc3 Bf5 11. O-O-O+ Kc8 12. Nge2 h5 13. h4 Bc5 14. Nd4 Bg4 15. Rd2 Re8!? (15... Rd8=) 16. e6! Bxe6 17. Nxe6 Rxe6 18. Rhd1 b6 19. Nb5 Re7 20. Nxc7 Rxc7 21. Rd8+ Kb7 22. Bxc7? (22. Rxa8 Kxa8 23. Bxc7 Bxf2 24. Rd7) 22... Rxd8 23. Bxd8 Bxf2 24. Rd7+ (24. Rd5 e3 25. Kd1 Nf4 26. Re5 f6! 27. Re4 e2+! 28. Rxe2 Nxe2 29. Kxe2 Bc5! (29... Bxh4) ) 24... Kc8 25. Rxf7 e3!? (25... Be3+ 26. Kd1 Kxd8) 26. Bg5? (26. Be7! e2 27. Bb4) 26... e2! 27. Bd2










27... Be3! 0-1 Shabalov,A-Benjamin,J/Seattle USA 2000.

3... Nce7 4. Nf3

4. Be3 f5! (4... Ng6 5. f3 Bb4+ 6. c3 Ba5 7. Nd2 Bb6 8. Bxb6 axb6 9. d6!) 5. f3 Nf6 6. Nc3 d6 7. Qd2 g6 8. O-O-O Bg7 9. h3?! f4! Campora - Miles, Seville 1993.

 

4... Ng6

4... Nf6?! 5. Nxe5 Nxe4 6. Qf3 Nd6 (6... Nf6 7. d6 cxd6 8. Nc4) 7. Nc3 Ng6 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. Bd3 Qf6 10. Bf4 Be7 11. Qe3 Hort - Miles, London 1983.

 

5. h4 h5

Black must stop the advance of White's pawn even at the cost of surrendering the g5 square.

 

6. Bg5 Nf6

6... Be7 7. d6!?

 

7. Nc3 Bb4!

a) Much better than 7... Bc5?! 8. Na4! Bb4+ (8... Nxe4? 9. Nxc5!) 9. c3 Be7 (9... Ba5?! 10. d6!) 10. Bxf6! Bxf6 (10... gxf6 11. g3 d6 12. Qc2) 11. d6! cxd6 12. g3 (12. Qxd6 Qa5) 12... d5 (12... Qa5 13. Bc4!?) 13. Qxd5 d6 14. Bb5+ Kf8 15. O-O-O Bg4 16. Be2 Be7 17. c4?! Rc8 18. Kb1 Rc6 19. Qd2 f6 20. Ne1 Be6 21. Nc2 Kg8 22. Ne3 Nf8 23. c5 Qc8 24. Nd5 Bd8 25. cxd6 Kf7 26. Rc1 Qd7 27. Nc5 Rxc5 28. Rxc5 Qxd6 29. Rc2 Nd7 30. Bc4 a6 31. Ne3 Qxd2 32. Rxd2 Nc5 33. f3 Ba5 34. Bxe6+ Nxe6 35. Rd7+ Kg6 36. Nf5 1-0 Ivanov,A-Benjamin,J/Parsippany ch-USA 1996.

 

b) 7... Be7?! 8. Bxf6! Bxf6 9. d6! is also bad news.

8. a3?!

White has a number of better alternatives, including 8. g3!? or 8. Nd2 but Black has decent play.

 

8... Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 c6!?

Safer was 9... d6 10. Bb5+ Bd7 11. Bxd7+ Qxd7 12. Bxf6 gxf6 and Black will play O-O-O and f5.

 

10. c4?!

10. d6! Qa5 11. Bxf6 Qxc3+ 12. Nd2 gxf6 13. Rh3! and it looks hard for Black to win the d-pawn, which can be defended by Rd3 or Nc4.

 

10... d6 11. Nd2 Qa5 12. Bd3?!

12. Bxf6! gxf6 13. Qf3 Ke7!?

 

12... Ng4! 13. Qe2

13. f3 f6! 14. fxg4 Bxg4 15. Be2 (15. Qb1 fxg5 16. Qxb7 O-O) 15... Bxe2 16. Qxe2 fxg5 17. hxg5 Nf4 18. Qf3 cxd5 19. exd5 O-O John Henderson for TWIC.

 

13... f6! 14. Be3 Nf4!?










14... Qc3 Henderson 15. Ra2!? (15. O-O Nxh4) (15. Rd1 Qxa3) 15... Nxe3 16. Qxe3 Bd7.

 

15. Bxf4

15. Qf3 Qc3

 

15... exf4 16. O-O

16. Qf3 g5! Henderson

 

16... c5 17. Nf3 Ne5 18. Rfb1 Qc3 19. Nxe5 Qxe5 20. a4 g5! 21. hxg5 fxg5 22. Ra3 g4 23. Qd2 Rh7 24. Qc3 Qxc3 25. Rxc3 Re7 26. g3 f3 27. a5 Kf7 28. Kf1 Rb8 29. Ke1?










29. Rcb3 Kf6 30. Kg1 Kg5 31. Re1 Re5 32. Kh2 h4 33. gxh4+ Kf4 34. Rh1 Rh5 35. Kg1 g3 36. fxg3+ Kxg3 37. Rh2 Bg4 Henderson.

 

29... Bf5! 30. Kd2 Bxe4 31. Bxe4 Rxe4 32. Re3 Rxe3 33. Kxe3 Kf6 34. Kf4 Kg6 35. a6 b6 36. c3 Rf8+

and Black will penetrate decisively along the e-file following 37.Ke3 Re8+ and Re2. A very nice win for Benjamin and more reason to prefer 2.Nf3 over 2.d4 as White!

0-1

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Copyright © 2008 by Michael Goeller