The Brooklyn Defense

By Michael Goeller

The following is the first in a series of opening articles inspired by GM Joel Benjamin's American Grandmaster: Four Decades of Chess Adventures. While I enjoyed the book very much and recommend it, I was disappointed not to find more analysis of the numerous unorthodox opening systems that Benjamin has helped to popularize--and by which he has probably had the most lasting influence on other chess players. These articles are my own attempt to fill in the blanks, and I hope they bring home the important contributions that Benjamin has made to opening theory.

It's only fit that I begin with the line that may immortalize the Brooklyn-born GM. It was Benjamin, after all, who renamed the Alekhine Defense, Retreat Variation (1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8) after his home town, and because he was one of the only people talking about or playing it, the name stuck. IMs Andrew Martin and Carlo Rossi have since played it on occasion, but Benjamin clearly did the most to convince people that this seemingly preposterous opening might actually be playable.

As Benjamin and Eric Schiller note in Unorthodox Openings (1987), "This opening is not nearly as dumb as it looks" and can even be "psychologically devastating." Most opponents will be insulted by such a cheeky retreat and will expect to obtain a big edge, which may lead them to over-reach. Yet Black's position remains fundamentally sound (he has introduced no weaknesses, after all!) and so any premature attack is bound to fail. In fact, it may be White who is most in danger since his center pawns have ventured forward and can be attacked or exchanged in typical hypermodern fashion. It could even be argued that the Retreat Variation has certain advantages over the standard treatment of the Alekhine Defense (with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 etc) which practically loses more tempi and leaves the King Knight potentially misplaced on b6. The Brooklyn Defense makes you rethink a lot of things, including the very notion of "time" in chess. Maybe the opening position is a sort of zugzwang, and returning the Knight to home base is like triangulation in the ending? You never know....

No doubt you'll have to see the opening in action to believe it. But classicists be warned: if you examine the Brooklyn Defense with any care, your beliefs are likely to be shaken to the very core!

Benjamin was only 15-years-old at the time the following game was played (in February 1980). Robert Gruchacz (1953-2006) was a strong master and soon-to-be IM. The victory helped Benjamin secure his first IM norm.

Robert S. Gruchacz - Joel Benjamin [B02]

Philidor International/New York, NY USA 1980


1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Ng8 3. d4










3... d6

Also possible is 3... d5!? which is less dynamic but safer than 3...d6, since Black's loss of time becomes less apparent in a closed position. Interestingly, this position could also arise by 1.e4 Nc6 2. d4 d5 3.e5 Nb8!? -- which is not a move you are likely to find discussed in the theory of the Nimzovich Defense!

4. Bd3

This might be best -- w ith the idea of making it difficult for Black to develop his light-squared Bishop. Alternatives are not as promising:

(a) 4. exd6 cxd6

The most unbalanced choice, and more logical than 4... Qxd6!? 5. Nc3 transposing to a line of the Scandinavian that, if Black wanted to play it, could readily be had by 1...d5 etc. instead.

5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Be2 Bg4 7. h3 Bh5 8. O-O e6 9. c4

(9. Nc3?! Be7 10. Be3 O-O= Genfan - Benjamin, Albany 1979)

9... Be7 10. Nc3 O-O 11. Qb3!

(11. Be3 d5 12. c5 Nc6 13. b4 a6 14. a3 Ne4 15. Qb3 f5= Rohde - Benjamin, Manhattan Rapids 1985)

11... b6!

(11... Qc7 12. Be3 Nc6 13. Rac1 b6 14. a3 Rac8 15. Qa2 Nb8!? 16. Nb5 Qd7 17. Rfd1 Bxf3 18. Bxf3 d5 19. b3 Nc6 20. Nc3 Rfd8 21. cxd5 Nxd5 22. Nxd5 exd5 23. b4 b5 24. Rc2 a5 25. bxa5 b4 26. a4 b3 27. Qxb3 Rb8 28. Qxd5! Qxd5 29. Bxd5 Nb4 30. Be4 Nxc2 31. Bxc2 and White's passed pawns were better than the Exchange and should have won, 0-1 Emms,J-Martin,A/Eastbourne 1991 (60))

12. Be3 Nbd7 13. Rfd1 a6 14. a4 Qc7 15. Rac1 Rab8 16. Qa2 Qb7 17. Bf4 Ne4 18. g4 Bg6 19. Ne1 f5 20. c5 Bf7 21. Bc4 d5?

Black should have the stronger attack and can improve in many ways, e.g.: 21... fxg4 or 21... bxc5 -- now things start to go downhill.

22. Bxb8 (22. c6!) 22... Qxb8?! (22... dxc4!) 23. Nxe4 fxe4 24. c6! e3 25. Kg2 exf2?! (25... dxc4 or 25... Bg6 26. f3 Bh4) 26. Nf3 Bg6? (26... dxc4) 27. Bxd5! exd5 28. Qxd5+ Kh8 29. cxd7 Qf4 30. Rc8 Be4 31. Rxf8+ Bxf8 32. Qxe4! obviously Black could improve on 1-0 Stables,G-Boyle,D/London 1993 (39)

 

(b) 4. c3 c5! 5. dxc5 e6

(5... Qc7!? 6. Qxd5 e6 7. Qe4 Bxc5 8. Nf3 Bd7 9. Qg4 Ne7!? 0-1 Bednarski,J-Westerinen,H/Amsterdam 1970 (41) looked risky, even if successful.)

6. Be3 Qc7 7. f4

(7. Nf3! Bxc5 8. Bxc5 Qxc5 9. Bd3 is probably White's best line, with a comfortable game and a slight edge.)

7... Bxc5 8. Bxc5 Qxc5 9. Bd3 Ne7 10. Na3 Nbc6 11. Nc2 g5!? 12. Nf3 gxf4 13. Qd2 Ng6 14. Bxg6 fxg6 15. Qxf4 Bd7 16. Qg5 Qe7 17. Qe3 O-O 18. O-O-O b5 and Black obtained excellent counterplay in a French-like position: 19. h4 b4 20. h5 Be8 21. Ncd4 Nxd4 22. cxd4 gxh5 23. Qg5+? (23. Kb1) 23... Qxg5+ 24. Nxg5 Rc8+ 25. Kb1 Rc6 26. Rc1 Bg6+ 27. Ka1 Rfc8 28. Rc5 Bf5 29. Rhc1 Rxc5 30. Rxc5 Rxc5 31. dxc5 Kf8 32. b3 Ke7 33. a3 a5 34. Nf3 Be4 35. Nd4 Bxg2 36. axb4 axb4 37. Nc6+ Kd7 38. Nxb4 h4 39. Nc2 h3 0-1 Norris,D-Depasquale,C/Adelaide 1990 (39)

 

(c) 4. c4 dxc4! 5. Bxc4 e6 6. Nf3 Ne7 7. O-O Nd5 Black's development is now focused around securing a piece on d5 so that White's d-pawn remains backward. 8. Nbd2 (8. Nc3) 8... Be7 9. Ne4 h6 10. Bd2 Bd7 11. Ng3 Bc6 12. Rc1 Nd7 13. Bd3 N7b6 14. a3 Qd7 15. Qe2 a6 16. Ne4 Bb5 17. Nc5 Bxc5 18. Rxc5 Bxd3 19. Qxd3 Nc8 20. Qe4 Nce7 21. Rfc1 O-O 22. h3 Ng6 23. Qg4 c6 24. R5c2 Qe8 25. Re1 f5!? Black has a solid position, but if he wants active play he has to make concessions. 26. exf6 Rxf6 27. Bc1 Qf7 28. Rce2 Re8 29. Re4 Rf5 30. Qg3 Nf6 31. R4e3 Nh5 32. Qg4 Nhf4 33. Ne5? (33. Rb3) 33... Nxe5 34. Rxe5 Nd3 35. Rxf5 exf5 36. Rxe8+ Qxe8 37. Qd1 Qe4! 38. Be3 f4 39. Bd2 Qxd4 0-1 Rogic,D-Loncar,R/Slavonski Brod 1995 (57))

4... c5 5. c3

(5. dxc5 Nc6 (5... e6 6. Qg4 1-0 Gazic,J-Siebe,T/Werther 1998 (40)) 6. Bf4 Qa5+ 7. c3 Qxc5 8. Nf3 Bg4 9. Nbd2 e6 10. O-O Nge7 11. Re1 Ng6 12. Bg3 Be7 13. Rc1 Qb6 14. b4 O-O 15. h3 Bh5 (15... Bf5! 16. Bxf5 exf5 17. Nb3 f4 18. Bh2 Rad8) 16. Qc2 Rac8 17. Qb1 f6?! (17... Rfd8 or Rfe8 followed by Nf8 and Bg6 looks best) 18. exf6 Rxf6 19. Re3 a6 20. a3 (20. Rce1!) 20... e5 21. c4! e4 22. cxd5 exf3 23. dxc6 fxg2 24. c7 Nf4? 25. Bf5 Rxc7 26. Bxf4 Rxc1+ 27. Qxc1 Rxf5 28. Qc4+ Bf7 29. Qc8+ Qd8 30. Qxf5 Qxd2 31. Qxf7+ 1-0 Bellini,F-Rossi,C/Saint-Vincent ITA 1999)

5... Nc6 6. Ne2 (6. Be3?! Qb6!=) 6... Bg4! 7. f3

(7. O-O e6 8. f3 Bh5 9. Nf4 Bg6 10. Nxg6 hxg6 11. Be3 Rc8 12. Bb5 a6 13. Bxc6+ Rxc6 14. Nd2 Ne7 15. Bg5 cxd4 16. cxd4 Qb6 17. Nb3 Rc4 18. Be3 Nc6 (18... Nf5) 19. Re1 Be7 20. Re2 O-O 21. Rc1 Rc8 22. Rb1 Qb5 23. a3 Bd8 24. Rd2 Bb6 25. Bf2 Qa4 26. Rd3 Na5 27. Nxa5 Qxd1+ 28. Rdxd1 Bxa5 1-0 Arts,E-Bouton,C/ICCF Email 2001 (99))

7... Bd7 8. O-O

(8. Be3 cxd4 9. Bxd4 f6 10. Qc2 Nh6 (10... Qc7!? 11. Bxh7 O-O-O) 11. exf6 gxf6 12. Bxh7 e5 13. Bg6+ Nf7 14. Bf2 Ne7 15. Bd3 f5 16. Qd2 Bh6 17. Be3 f4 18. Bf2 e4 19. fxe4 f3 20. Nf4 fxg2 21. Rg1 Ng6 22. Be3 Nxf4 23. Bxf4 Qh4+ 24. Qf2 Qxf2+ 25. Kxf2 Bxf4 26. exd5 Ne5 27. Be2 Bh3 28. Na3 Bxh2 29. Rxg2 Rf8+ 0-1 Ricci,M-Rossi,C/Arco 1998)

8... Qb6 9. Kh1 (9. Bc2?! cxd4 10. Nxd4 (10. cxd4 Nxe5) 10... Nxe5 0-1 Suchin,D-Schmidt,C/Berlin 1998 (50)) 9... e6 10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. b4 Be7 12. Bf4? (12. f4 Nh6 13. a4) 12... Qc7! 13. Re1 Nxe5 14. Na3 Nxd3! 15. Qxd3 (15. Bxc7 Nf2+ 16. Kg1 Nxd1) 15... Qb6 16. Nd4 Nf6 17. Nab5 Rc8 18. Rad1 a6 19. Na3 O-O 20. Nac2 Rfe8 21. Be5 Ba4 22. Rd2 Nd7 23. Bg3 Bd6 24. Bxd6 Qxd6 25. Rde2 Qc7 26. Re3 Nf6 27. Qd2 e5 28. Ne2 d4 29. Ncxd4 exd4 30. Nxd4 Rxe3 31. Rxe3 Ne4 0-1 Fox,A-Rossi,C/Cork IRL 2005.

 

4. Nf3

White has two chief alternatives, which alter the character of the game:

a) 4. f4 Nh6! (4... c5!? 5. dxc5 Qa5+ 6. Nc3 dxe5 7. Nf3 Nc6 8. Bb5 Bd7 9. O-O O-O-O!? 1-0 Wilder,M-Bricard,E/France 1989 (25)) (4... dxe5 5. fxe5 c5 6. c3 cxd4 7. cxd4 Nc6 8. Be3 Bf5 9. Nf3 e6 10. Nc3 Nge7 11. Bb5 a6 12. Bd3 Bxd3 13. Qxd3 Nf5= 1/2-1/2 May,D-Flohr,S/Sliac 1932 (24)) 5. Nf3 g6 6. Bd3 Bg7 (6... Bg4 7. h3! Bxf3 8. Qxf3 d5 9. g4 1-0 Nunn,J-Bohm,H/London 1973 (34)) 7. O-O O-O Benjamin and Schiller

 

b) 4. exd6 cxd6 is treated above under 3...d5 4.exd6 en passant and can also arise via the insipid line 1.d4 c5 2.e3 cxd4 3.exd4 d6 =.

4... Bg4 5. h3

5. Be2 e6 6. O-O d5= gives Black good play.

 

5... Bh5 6. g4

This is probably White's best.

a) 6. e6 fxe6 7. g4 transposes to the game unless Black tries 7... Bf7!? 8. Ng5 Nh6 9. Nc3 (9. Bc4!) 9... Qd7 10. Be3 Nc6 11. Bg2 Bg8 12. Qf3 d5 13. O-O-O Nf7 14. Nxf7 Bxf7 15. Rhe1 g6 16. h4 Bg7 17. h5 g5 18. Bxg5 Nxd4 19. Qe3! h6 20. Bf4 c5 21. Ne2 Qa4 22. Nxd4 Bxd4 23. Rxd4 Qxd4 24. Qxd4 cxd4 25. Be5 Rg8 26. Bh3 1-0 Galego,L-Cordovil,J/Bobadela 2002 (45).

 

b) 6. Nc3?! dxe5 7. dxe5 Qxd1+ 8. Nxd1 e6 (8... Bxf3!) 9. Bb5+ c6 10. Bd3 Nd7 11. g4 Bg6 12. Bxg6 hxg6= Blumenfeld - Benjamin, New York 1979.

6... Bg6 7. e6

7. Nc3 e6 8. Bf4 d5 9. Qd2 c5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. Bg2 Nc6 12. O-O h5 13. Bg3 hxg4 14. hxg4 Nh6 15. Qf4 Be7 16. Rac1 Qb6 17. Nd1 O-O-O 0-1 Bryson,D-Martin,A/Scotland ch 1991 (40).

 

7... fxe6 8. Bd3

White may be able to improve:

a) 8. Bc4! "is worth a try" according to Benjamin and Schiller, and it appears promising, though I could find no practical examples. I would not like to be Black here and searched for some offbeat solution. The best idea I could find was 8... c6!? (8... Qd7? 9. Qe2) (8... Qc8 9. Ng5 d5 10. Bd3) (8... d5 9. Bd3! Bxd3 10. Qxd3 is clearly an improved version of the game line for White, but perhaps playable ) 9. Ng5! (9. Bxe6 Na6! 10. Qe2 Nc7) (9. Qe2 Na6! 10. Bxe6 Nc7) 9... e5 10. Ne6! (10. Qf3!? Nh6! (10... d5? 11. Ne6!) 11. dxe5 Nd7!?) 10... Qc8! 11. Nxf8 (11. dxe5? Bf7!) 11... Kxf8 12. dxe5 dxe5 13. O-O! followed by f4 seems strong for White. This is probably the main reason I prefer 3...d5 over 3...d6.

 

b) 8. Ng5!? Qd7 9. Qe2 e5 (9... Nf6? 10. Bg2! Nc6 11. Nxe6 Nb4 12. Na3 1-0 Valentin Pascual,C-Leon Ortiz,J/Aragon 1997 (31)) 10. dxe5 dxe5

8... Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Nc6!

9... Nf6?! 10. Ng5 Qd7 11. Qb3 Nc6 12. Nxe6 Nd8 13. Nxd8 Rxd8 14. Qxb7 LaRota - Benjamin, New York 1979.

 

10. Qb3

10. Ng5 Qd7 11. Nxh7 O-O-O!

(Castling improves on Benjamin's line 11... Nxd4!? when he overlooks 12. Ng5! (not 12. Qg6+? Kd8 13. Be3? (13. Nxf8 Qc6! Benjamin) 13... Qc6 14. Bxd4 Qxh1+ Kaner - Benjamin, Philadelphia 1980) 12... Qc6 13. O-O! Nxc2 14. Qg6+ Kd7 15. Qxe6+ Ke8 16. Be3!)

12. Nc3 (12. Ng5 Nh6) 12... Nb4! 13. Qg6 Nf6! 14. Nxf8 (14. Ng5?? Rh6) 14... Rdxf8 Black's lead in development puts him in control: 15. Be3 Qc6 16. O-O-O Nfd5 17. Qxe6+ Kb8 18. a3 Nxc3 19. bxc3 Nd5 20. Qe4 b5 21. f4 Qc4 22. Qd3 Qa4 0-1 Coelho,L-Limp,E/Santos 2000 (38).

 

10... Qd7 11. Qxb7 Rb8 12. Qa6 Nf6 13. Qe2 g6 14. O-O Bg7 15. c3 O-O










Though Black may have to surrender the pawn on e6, he gets plenty of counterplay on the b- and f-files as compensation.

 

16. Ng5 Nd8 17. Re1

17. f4 Benjamin

 

17... Nd5 18. Nxe6 Nxe6 19. Qxe6+ Qxe6 20. Rxe6 Rf3 21. Kg2 Rd3!

Black must play aggressively to keep his short-term initiative or else he will simply be down a pawn.

21... Rbf8 22. Re2 Rd3 23. Na3.

 

22. Re1

22. Re2 Rd1

 

22... e5 23. dxe5 Bxe5










Black's tremendous piece activity more than compensates for the missing pawn. White is completely tied down and must surrender material in order to develop.

 

24. Na3 Bf4!

Securing the f4 square for the Knight, after which Black gets a winning kingside initiative.

 

25. Nc4 Bxc1 26. Raxc1 Nf4+ 27. Kg1 Nxh3+ 28. Kf1 Rf8 29. Rc2 Rg3! 30. Re7 Rg1+ 31. Ke2 Rxf2+ 32. Kd3 Nf4+ 33. Ke3 Rxc2 34. Kxf4 Rf1+ 0-1

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Copyright © 2008 Michael Goeller