The Classical Hippopotamus

by Michael Goeller

In his book American Grandmaster, GM Joel Benjamin says he was surprised to be approached at a tournament by a young chessplayer who said she was a great fan of his opening ideas in the Pirc -- especially the line he calls "the Classical Hippopotamus" beginning 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O e6!? Why he should be surprised to be associated with this line, though, is beyond me since he annotated several of his games with it for an issue of Informator and was clearly its most prominent originator. The move has since been used by such well-known Pirc aficianados as GMs Tiger Hillarp Persson, Jonathan Rowson, and Ruslan Ponomariov and, like other versions of the Hippopotamus, is currently quite fashionable.

Raset Ziatdinov - Joel Benjamin [B08]

World Open/Philadelphia (6) 1999


1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. Be2 Nf6 5. Nc3 O-O 6. O-O e6!?










Benjamin calls this the "Classical Hippopotamus," and Black often achieves a standard Hippo set-up from this position, with the Bishops at g7 and b7 and Knights redeployed at d7 and e7. It is a very flexible system and, like the animal itself, remains mostly submerged and is not prone to unprovoked attacks, though it is able to rise up against any foe and show its true power!

 

7. Bg5?!

An instructive mistake, which hands Black either the Bishop pair or a tempo. White has a number of better moves, but Black has done surprisingly well from this position:

a) 7. Re1 Nc6 8. h3

(1) 8. Be3 h6! (As we see in the main game, the best way to prevent White's plan of Qd2 and Bh6 is to play ...h6 and ...Kh7, which also helps to secure the fourth rank squares.) 9. h3 b6 10. Qd2 Kh7 11. Rad1 Ne7 12. Bf4 Bb7 13. Bd3 a6 14. Qe2 b5 15. Nb1 Nd7 (Because White did not play the restraining a4, Black has the slightly more aggressive "Tiger Hippo" set-up with ...a6 and ...b5, giving him more space on the queenside.) 16. Nbd2 e5! (16... c5!?) 17. dxe5 dxe5 18. Bg3 c6 19. c3 Qc7 20. Bc2 Nc5 21. Nb3 Na4! (The position strongly resembles a Ruy Lopez, and Black expands on the queenside in standard anti-Spanish fashion.) 22. Bb1 c5 23. Rd2 c4 24. Nc1 Rad8 25. Red1 Nc6 26. Rd5 Bc8 27. Bh4 f6 28. Bg3 Be6 29. R5d2 Qe7 30. Nh2 h5 31. Rxd8 Rxd8 32. Rxd8 Qxd8 33. Qc2 Bh6 34. Nf1 f5! (White cannot capture at f5 without losing a piece, which gives Black a chance to expand.) 35. f3 Qg5 36. Ne2 f4 37. h4 Qd8 38. Bf2 Bf8 39. b3 Nc5 40. Nc1 Nd7 41. Qd2 a5 42. Bc2 Qc7 43. Qe2 Ba3 44. Qd1 Bc5 45. Qd2 Bxf2+ 46. Qxf2 b4 47. bxc4 bxc3 48. Ne2 Bxc4 49. Nxc3 Nd4 0-1 Klundt,K-Ponomariov,R/Bad Wiessee 1999 -- Black is winning material due to the pressure on the c-file combined with the tempo-gaining Bxf1.

(2) 8. d5 exd5 9. exd5 Ne7 10. h3 Novikov,I-Benjamin,J/Toronto 1998.

8... a6 9. a4 b6 10. Be3 h6 (Black plays according to the Hippopotamus principles, and even ends up retreating his Knights to their "normal" Hippo positions on e7 and d7.) 11. Qd2 Kh7 12. Rad1 Ne7 13. Qc1 Bb7 14. Bd3 Nd7!










Hippo achieved! Like its spiritual cousin the Hedgehog, the Hippo is above all a flexible formation that waits to respond to White's aggressive advances by seizing whatever squares or lines the attacker surrenders. You might thus see it as a type of jujitsu stance, ready to absorb whatever blows White might throw while striking back at whatever weaknesses his attack exposes. Black can also consider striking some blows in the center himself with any of the center pawns, though most typically by ...c5 or ...f5. 15. h4 Ng8 ('Best to wait for the attack rather than to attack oneself' is the Hippo philosophy. Therefore 15... f5!? 16. h5 Qe8 17. d5 Nf6 18. hxg6+ Qxg6 is too directly aggressive for the Hippo style.e.g.: 19. exf5 exf5 20. Bxh6 Bxh6 21. Rxe7+ Kh8 22. Qa1! Nxd5 23. Nxd5 Bxd5 24. b3+ Kg8 25. Be2 Rae8!? 26. Nh4 Qg5 27. Rxe8 Rxe8 28. Rxd5!) 16. h5 Ngf6 17. hxg6+ fxg6 18. Bg5!? Qe8 (18... hxg5 19. Nxg5+ Kg8 20. Nxe6 Qe7 21. Nxf8 Rxf8 22. Bc4+) 19. e5 Bxf3! Black has waited for his shot and now takes it, though the ensuing complications require precise play that balances attack with defense. 20. exf6 Bxf6! 21. Bxh6 (21. Bxf6 Bxd1) 21... Bxd1! 22. Bxf8 Bh5 (22... Nxf8?! 23. Qxd1 Bxd4 24. Bxg6+!) 23. Bh6?! (23. Qh6+? Kg8) (23. g4! Qxf8 (23... Nxf8? 24. Qf4) 24. gxh5 Bxd4 25. Qd2 Be5 26. hxg6+ Kg8) 23... Bxd4 24. Qg5?! Nc5! 25. g4 Qf7 (or 25... Bxc3 26. bxc3 Bxg4) 26. Re3 Bxe3 27. fxe3 and White resigned since Black is winning after simply 27...Bxg4, 0-1 Weemaes,R-Horvath,C/Val Thorens 1999.

 

b) 7. h3 Nc6 (7... b6 8. Re1 Bb7 9. Bf1 Nbd7 10. a4 e5= Jirovsky,P-Ivanov,A/USA 2000 (37)) 8. Bg5?! h6 9. Be3 b6 10. Qd2 Kh7 11. Rad1 Ne7 12. Nh2 Bb7 13. f3 Nh5 14. Qe1 f5 15. g4 Nf6 (15... f4!?) 16. Bd3 (16. g5 hxg5 17. Bxg5 Rh8!) 16... a6 17. Qh4 Qd7 18. a4 (18. Bxh6 Bxh6 19. g5 Nh5 20. gxh6 Kxh6 21. Ng4+ Kg7 22. Ne3) 18... Rf7 19. Rde1 Raf8 20. gxf5 gxf5 21. e5? Ng6! 22. Qf2 (22. Qg3 dxe5 23. dxe5 Nh5) 22... dxe5 23. Rd1 exd4 24. Bxd4










24... Ng4! 25. Nxg4 Bxd4 26. Ne3 Qe7 27. Kh2 Qc5 28. Rde1 Rg7 29. Rg1 Rfg8 30. Ncd1 Ne5 0-1 Garbett,P-Benjamin,J/Hawaii 1998.

 

c) 7. Bf4 Nc6 8. Qd2

8. Re1 h6 9. h3 Kh7 10. Qd2 a6 11. Rad1 Ne7 12. Bd3 b5 13. Bh2 Bb7 14. e5! Nd7!? (14... b4 15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Bxe4 Bxe4 17. Rxe4 Rb8 18. Qd3 Vigus) 15. exd6 cxd6 16. Bxd6 Bxf3 17. gxf3 Nb6 1/2-1/2 Azarov,S-Hillarp Persson,T/Kusadasi TUR 2006 (68).

8... b6 (8... e5!? 9. dxe5 dxe5 10. Qxd8 Rxd8 11. Nxe5 Nd4 12. Bd1 Re8= Vigus) 9. Rad1 Bb7 10. Bh6 e5 11. Bxg7 Kxg7 12. dxe5 (12. d5! Ne7 13. Ne1 Vigus) 12... Nxe5 13. Nxe5 dxe5 14. Qg5 Qe7 15. Rd3 h6! 16. Qh4 Rad8 17. Rfd1 c5 18. f3 (18. Nd5? Bxd5 19. exd5 Rxd5!) 18... Rd4! 19. Qf2 a6 20. Nb1 b5 21. Rxd4 exd4 22. b4 cxb4 23. Qxd4 Rc8 24. Bd3 Rd8 25. Qb6 Bc8 26. Nd2 Nd7 27. Qc7 Qc5+ 28. Qxc5 Nxc5 29. Nb3 Na4! 30. Kf2 Be6 31. Ra1 f5 32. Ke3 Kf6 33. g3 g5!? Allowing some exchanges. 34. exf5 Bxf5 35. Bxf5 Kxf5 36. Nd4+ Kf6 37. Rb1 (37. Nc6 Rc8 38. Nxb4 a5 39. Nd5+? Ke6) 37... Nc3! 38. Ra1 (38. Rxb4?? Nd5+) 38... a5 39. a3 a4?! (39... bxa3! 40. Rxa3 Nd1+! 41. Kd3 b4 42. Ra1 (42. Rxa5 Nb2+) 42... Nb2+ 43. Ke4 Re8+ 44. Kd5 Re5+ 45. Kc6 a4) 40. axb4 Nd5+ 41. Ke4?? (41. Kf2) 41... Nxb4 42. Rb1 (42. Ke3 Rxd4! 43. Kxd4 Nxc2+) 42... Re8+ 43. Ne6 Rxe6+ 44. Kd4 Nxc2+ 0-1 Houska,J-Rowson,J/West Bromwich 2003.

 

d) 7. e5 dxe5 8. dxe5 Qxd1 9. Rxd1 Nfd7 10. Nb5? (10. Bf4 a6! 11. Re1 Nc6 12. Bf1 h6 13. h4 b5=) 10... a6! 11. Nbd4 (only now does Yermo realize that after 11. Nxc7? Ra7 and Black will eventually win the wayward Knight) 11... Nxe5 12. Bf4 Nbd7 13. c3 Nxf3+ 14. Nxf3 e5 15. Be3 Re8 and White had no compensation for the pawn, 0-1 Yermolinsky,A-Benjamin,J/Denver 1998 (72).

 

e) 7. a4 Nc6 8. a5 a6 9. h3 h6 10. Be3 Kh7 11. Re1 Bd7 12. e5 Nd5 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. Bf4 Be6 15. c3 dxe5 16. dxe5 Rc8 17. Bd3 Ne7 18. Nd4 c5 19. Nxe6 fxe6 20. Qg4 c4 21. Bc2 Nf5 22. Be3 h5 23. Qe2 Qh4 Rowson demonstrates the power of controlling squares and restraining one's opponent. 24. Qd2 Nxe3 25. Qxe3 Bh6 26. Qe2 Rf7 27. Rf1 Rcf8 28. Rad1 Bf4 29. Bb1 Qg5 30. Rde1 h4 31. Qg4? Qxg4 32. hxg4 Kg7 White must eventually lose a pawn since both the a- and e-pawns areartificially isolated. 33. Re2 Rc8 34. Bc2 Rc5 35. Ra1 Rb5 36. Ra2 Rc7 37. Kf1 Rcc5 38. Re1 Rxa5 39. Ba4 Kf7 40. Raa1 Ke7 41. Ra2 b5 42. Bb3 Rxa2 43. Bxa2 a5 44. Bb1 g5 45. Ke2? Bxe5 46. Kf3 Kd6 0-1 Friedrich,N-Rowson,J/Porto Mannu PAL 2007.

7... h6!

As you can see in many of the lines above, this move (followed eventually by Kh7) is standard in the Hippo to prevent White's plan of Qd2 and Bh6.

 

8. Bh4

a) 8. Be3 Nc6 9. h3 b6 10. Qd2 Kh7 transposes to Garbett, P-Benjamin,J/Hawaii 1998, given above where White made the same mistake.

 

b) 8. Bxf6?! Qxf6 is simply better for Black with the two Bishops in his pocket. At least in the game line, White invites concessions before giving up the two Bishops.

8... g5! 9. Bg3 Nh5 10. Bc4 Nc6 11. d5

11. h3 Nxg3 12. fxg3 h5!? 13. d5 Na5 14. Be2 g4 15. hxg4 hxg4 16. Nh4 c6!

 

11... Nxg3 12. hxg3 Ne7 13. dxe6 fxe6 14. Qd3 Nc6

Black has complete control of the dark squares, especially since he can kick away the Knight at f3 whenever he wishes.

 

15. Rae1 g4 16. Nd2 Qg5!

Black's forces move over to the kingside where he has a ready-made attack due to the lever at g3.

 

17. Bb3 Bd7 18. Nc4 b5!

Black drives back any piece that threatens his dark-square dominance.

 

19. Ne3 Ne5 20. Qd1 Kh8!

A very nice preparatory move, getting the King out of the scope of White's Bishop and allowing him greater flexibility in the future.

 

21. Ne2 Rf6 22. c4 h5! 23. Nd4 a6 24. a4 bxa4 25. Bxa4 Bxa4 26. Qxa4

 

 

26... h4!

White's attempt at queenside counterplay simply takes his forces away from defense on the kingside where the real action is.

 

27. Nc6 Rh6 28. Nxe5 Bxe5 29. Qd1 Rg8 30. f4

This loses material, but White cannot sit by passively and get mated by force along the h-file.

 

30... gxf3 31. g4!? Qf4 32. Rxf3 Qh2+ 33. Kf1 Bg3

Winning at least the Exchange.

 

34. Ke2 Bxe1 35. Qxe1 Qe5 36. Qb1 Rf6 37. Rh3 Rgf8 38. Kd3 Rf4 39. Qh1 Qxe4+ 40. Kd2 Rf2+ 41. Kc1 Kg8!?

White is practically in zugzwang and must eventually surrender more material to stave off Black's attack. A great demonstration of the Hippo's latent power!

0-1

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Copyright © 2008 by Michael Goeller