by Steve Lopez

As we get older, our tastes change. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we agreed that as we're getting older, we're becoming less concerned with our chess results and more concerned with playing interesting, fun chess. I don't know -- maybe it's because I just turned 40. Perhaps I'm subconsciously thinking that I'd better play my interesting games now -- after all, how much time do I have left?

Consequently, I'm discovering that I really hate defending. When I was younger, I never had problems with grinding out a long win in a closed position. But I want to play something a bit more dynamic these days. When I have the Black pieces, I lose patience with players who prefer 1.d4, keep the position closed, and take for-freaking-ever to make a move. It makes me want to pour lighter fluid all over the board, toss in a match, and have a weenie roast. I want to have some fun, for crying out loud!

So I'm sitting here recently, flipping through chess books, looking for something to play against 1.d4 besides my preferred Budapest Defense (I've played it for so long now that most of my friends have finally caught on), when a new CD arrives in the mail: Modern Benoni by Jean Hebert. Like an idiot I toss it on the pile while singing, "I've got a gal named Modern Benoni" (playing with words, as usual), and manage to forget all about it.

The other day I heard a major crash when a pile of CDs toppled to the floor (a near-daily event in this rat's nest of an office) and I rediscovered the Modern Benoni disk. I popped it into the drive and had a look. The opening paragraph instantly caught my eye:

"The Modern Benoni (MB) is a fighting defence that will suit players aiming for active play rather than patient defence. It is also truly "modern" in the sense that Black is looking for unbalanced positions with few occasions to simplify the game into drawish patterns that we so often find in the so-called "classical" openings. Black is willing to take risks (and those risks have to be shared...) in order to force his opponent into a complicated fight, both strategically and tactically."

"ooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooo!!!!" exclaimed yours truly and I dived right in. IM Hebert wasn't kidding; razor-sharp, double-edged, risky, plus you sometimes get to offer a pawn right away (all my friends will tell you that the only way to keep me from sacrificing a pawn in the opening is to epoxy all eight of 'em to the board). This thing looks to be right up my alley.

The Modern Benoni, a new CD from ChessBase, is Canadian IM Hebert's treatment of this old (but still vital) opening. Unlike a lot of opening treatises, Hebert tries to be impartial. No matter which side of the board you're sitting behind (I was going to say "sitting on", but that conjured up some truly hideous imagery), you'll find a lot of valuable information on this CD. It opens with an introductory text with a ton of good suggestions, including this one:

"...I believe that a player should make its own opinion about what is playable for him, according to his tastes, playing style and needs in particular situations. That is not to say that no care has been given to theoretical accuracy. As far as I can tell, all lines suggested as 'recommendations' should lead to positions at least 'satisfactory' which in my vocabulary means 'near or slightly beyond equality'."

In other words: "pay attention to the evaluations, but think for yourself". I like this guy already.

After the introduction, there's another text concerning the opening tree included on the CD. There's some more good advice here, too, this time regarding ways to use the tree and with a brief admonition about the unreliability of raw statistical data. Again, we must think for ourselves. Better and better...

Next we're introduced to "Typical Modern Benoni patterns and ideas", which include:

Not only does this section list the themes, but it explains them too, with diagrams and links to key games included. Once we know what themes to look for when we're playing through some games, we move on to the specifc variations covered on the CD:

Early Bg5 with e2-e3 (A61) or e2-e4 (A71)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.Bg5 (A61)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.Bf4 (A61)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.e4 Bg7 8.Bg5 (A71)

"Nimzovich Pirouette" Nf3-d2-c4 (A61)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Nd2 Bg7 8.Nc4

Fianchetto Systems (A62-A64)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.g3 Bg7 8.Bg2 0-0 9.0-0

The Bd3, Nge2 Variation (A65)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.Nge2 0-0 9.0-0

Mikenas Attack (A66)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.e5

Four Pawns Attack (A68)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Nf3

Taimanov Variation 8.Bb5+ (A67)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Bb5+

Modern Line with Nf3 and h2-h3 (A70)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.h3 0-0 9.Nf3

Classical (A75)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.e4 a6 8.a4 Bg4!

Classical (A79)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Nd2 Bg7 8.e4

Each of these variations is explained and amplified in a text section of its own, with diagrams and links to annotated games. The whole point is not to make you memorize move orders, but to understand the ideas behind the variations (which will take you a lot farther than rote memorization).

Once the ideas are understood, it's on to the games: over 13,000 of them. The database contains an extensive opening key to quickly take you to a specific variation. Of course, you can also search for games by all the usual criteria possible in the search mask of Fritz, ChessBase 7, or Chessbase Reader (and the Reader is included on the disk, making the CD self-contained -- no additional software is needed).

Over 800 of the games contain annotations, so there's plenty of explanatory material on the CD. Modern Benoni also contains a special database of 28 training games selected by IM Hebert for you to test your knowledge of this opening in timed training positions. And, as mentioned before, there's also an opening tree which you can use for statistical analysis in ChessBase or as an opening book in Fritz (and our other playing programs).

I'll confess, I'm not terribly familiar with the Modern Benoni, but this opening looks very interesting to me now that I've started to explore it a bit. Take a gander at this little beauty: Miguel Najdorf's opponent tries to keep the center closed, but Najdorf cracks it open anyway and gives White a nasty-looking central pawn pair. But before White can put the pair into motion, Najdorf launches his own Queenside pawnstorm and finally smacks White down hard with a game-ending tactical shot:

Hounie Fleurquin,C - Najdorf,M [A68]
Mar del Plata it-8 (2), 1945

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 c5 6.d5 0-0 7.Nf3 e6 8.Bd3 exd5 9.cxd5 b5 10.e5 dxe5 11.fxe5 Ng4 12.Bg5 Qb6 13.Qe2 c4 14.Be4 b4 15.Na4 Qb5 16.d6 Nc6 17.h3 Ngxe5 18.Nxe5 Bxe5 19.0-0-0 Bd7 20.Bd5 Rae8 21.Qc2 Nd4 22.Bxc4 Qxa4 23.Qf2 Rc8 24.b3 Nxb3+ 0-1

Sweet! Not at all like what I've been seeing in my own games as Black against 1.d4 -- this one was interesting, dynamic, and scary as all get out. And all of that drama took place in just 24 moves. I don't know how you stand on the Modern Benoni, but I'm in!

I'm still working my way through the disk, so I've not yet had a chance to try this opening out in practice. But I'm really looking forward to it! I really like the c5 pawn push and the central pawn swap -- this opens things up right away and immediately injects some excitement into the game. As I said at the start, I'm not necessarily looking to win games anymore -- just make them interesting. But with the wealth of information on Jean Hebert's Modern Benoni CD, I'll likely be able to do both.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes. If you love gambits and sacrificial play, stop by my Chess Kamikaze Home Page and the Yahoo Chess Kamikazes Club.