Benko Gambit [A57−59]
Written by GM Glenn Flear & GM Jon Tisdall
For an opening that really loses a pawn, the Benko Gambit has a terrific reputation.
It is just as feared as it is respected, and many prefer not to take the offer, thanks just the
same. One can understand why − taking the pawn gives Black a very easy life in many
At minimal cost, Black gets two open files to aim down, a compact and ultra−solid
pawn structure, and a packaged gift−box of clear−cut strategical plans and manoeuvres.
One superficial move by White often results in oppressive threats followed by a flurry of
tactical blows. Losing (or for optimists, "returning") a pawn later doesn't tend to blunt the
black initiative, and often means the same kind of pressure for free.
White players have three basic things to look forward to: Attacking Black's king
while most of his team is rummaging around on the other side of the board
Causing central damage with a properly timed advance of his e−pawn to e5. And,
most satisfying of all: QUEENING HIS a−PAWN. Yes, it does happen.
I think that pretty much covers the basic pros and cons.
In its modern form, (in very early days the move order was often a prelude to a kind
of Blumenfeld) players like Vaitonis and Lundin can lay claim to being the pioneers, and
Bronstein played an impressive early game on the Benko theme. Incidentally, the Russians
like to call the gambit the Volga. One of my favourite anecdotes centres around the theme
of the name of this opening. I was playing in a telephone match in New York when Pal
Benko himself, playing Black, was given the opportunity to play the gambit. From the
enthusiastic way he hammered out the move 3...b5 on the board, you could tell that it was a
rare pleasure — doubtless most of his opponents didn't allow it too often. John Fedorowicz,
another expert on the opening, was