The Benko Gambit is a Queen’s Pawn Opening which begins with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5
Originating from a Benoni Defense, black sacrifices a pawn on move 3 to strike back against the white center.
Unlike many other opening gambits, the Benko Gambit is unique in that black’s pawn sacrifice is not intended to generate an attack. Instead, black intends to generate long-term positional pressure against the white queenside.
Let’s take a look at how the game can progress after white accepts the Benko Gambit.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bxa6
This is one of the main lines of the Benko Gambit. Black’s semi-open a-and-b files will find themselves home to the major pieces, and the g7 bishop will also influence the queenside.
White can play 7. e4 here to take more central space, but white won’t be able to castle after 7…Bxf1 8. Kxf1. After 8…d6 9. Nf3 Bg7 10. h3 0-0 11. Kg1 Nbd7 12. Kh2 Qa5:
White finally gets the King out of the way of their pieces, but black has used the meantime to finish development. Black is ready to bring their major pieces to the queenside.
White sometimes plays g3-Kg2 instead of h3-Kg1-Kh2, which gets their King out of the way one move sooner. But the pawn on h3 has the added benefit of preventing black from playing …Nf6-Ng4-Ne5, furthering black’s control of the dark squares.
One game continued 13. Re1 Rfb8 14. Qc2 Nb6 (adding pressure to the d5-pawn discourages white from playing e5 for the time being!) 15. Re2 Nfd7 16. Rb1 c4
This is a good illustration of black’s goals in the Benko Gambit. All six(!) black pieces combine to pressure the white queenside. White remains up a pawn, but is rather tied up because of all the pressure.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bxa6 7. g3 d6 8. Bg2 Bg7 9. Nf3 Nbd7
This is another popular way for white to handle the Benko Gambit. White doesn’t expand in the center as early, but delaying the move e2-e4 prevents their king from ending up on f1.
White will try to achieve a setup to minimize black’s pressure on their queenside. One common white plan is to play 10. Rb1, followed by a later a4 and b3, making the backwards b-pawn the only target.
For example, a few games have continued 10…0-0 11. 0-0 Qa5 12. Bd2 Rfb8 13. b3 Ne8 (unleashing the bishop!) 14. Qc2 Nc7 15. a4
Black’s pressure on the white queenside is minimal, and white remains up a pawn.
The video above contains two more good examples of the Benko Gambit Accepted – one where black emerged on top, and one where white mitigated black’s pressure!
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. b6
White returns the pawn, rather than trying to hold onto it.
One of white’s key ideas in this line is to secure the c4 outpost for their pieces – particularly a knight. A possible continuation might be 5…d6 6. Nc3 g6 7. e4 Bg7 8. Nf3 0-0 9. Be2 Qxb6 10. Nd2 Nbd7 11. Nc4
The c4 knight is a powerful piece, but black could later aim for pressure down the b-file.
White can also decline the Benko Gambit by not taking the b5 pawn in the first place, for example with 4. Nf3. This line is covered in the video above!
The Benko Gambit is an interesting positional pawn sacrifice that black can play in the opening. White’s central space advantage is at odds with black’s enduring positional pressure on the white queenside, and both sides will have a chance for victory!
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