Benko Gambit is a gambit chess opening that starts with the Queen’s Pawn Opening (1.d4). After Black responds with 1…Nf6, White advances the c-pawn (2.c4), and after Black plays 2…c5, White advances the d-pawn (3.d5), and Black replies with a pawn sacrifice (3…b5) to generate a fierce attack on the Queenside along with rapid development opportunities.
Although its ancient origins are far beyond that, it was popularized in the late 1900s and took its name after a chess master named Pal Benko. It is considered a viable gambit due to the strategic aspects it possesses.
- Winning Percentage on Both Sides
- Main Ideas
- Benko Gambit Theory
- Benko Gambit Accepted: 7. e4
- Benko Gambit Accepted: 7. g3
- Benko Gambit Declined: 4.Nf3 – Main Line
- Benko Gambit Accepted: 5. b6 – Pawn Return Variation
- Common Traps
- Benko Trap
- Pros and Cons
- Why is the Benko Gambit so good?
- Is Benko Gambit refuted?
- Is the Benko Gambit sound?
Winning Percentage on Both Sides
Master Games Statistics
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
Statistics from 3 Million Amateur Games
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
The main idea of Benko Opening is to give up a pawn in the Queenside to open up a and b- files for Black. This way, Black can place their Rooks on these semi-open files and pressure White’s Queenside.
Black typically fianchettos the f8-Bishop to g8, and this scope on the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal allows them to add even more pressure. Even Black is down a pawn; due to their pawn structure, endgames are often very difficult to win as White. White usually aims to consolidate the extra pawn and press for a win at the endgame.
Benko Gambit Theory
7.e4 Variation leads to positions where Black attacks White from the Queenside by putting the Rooks onto a- and b- files. Both sides need to be wary of the tactical potential of the opening.
The Fianchetto Variation of the Benko Gambit Accepted (7.g3) often leads to similar positions to the 7.e4 line where Black tries to utilize the semi-open a and b files, and White tries to stop them.
The main line of the Benko Gambit Declined begins with 4.Nf3, and White can either enter the accepted variation by switching the move order or try to close the position and advance from the center.
Pawn Return Variation often leads to positions where White possesses a space advantage, and the game is played with strategic maneuvers.
Benko Gambit Accepted: 7. e4
This variation starts with the Banko gambit, and White accepts the offered b-pawn (4.cxb5) in the fourth move. Then, Black offers another pawn to open up the a- and b- files for their Rooks (4…a6). White accepts the a-pawn (5.bxa6) as well. Once Black captures the a6 with the Bishop (5…Bxa6), White develops the b1-Knight to c3 (6.Nc3) and aims to control the center. Black seeks to fianchetto the f8-Bishop on g7 and get castled in the short side. To do that, they play 6…g6, and White plays 7.e4 pawn push to switch the light-squared Bishops off.
By offering this trade, White accepts not being able to castle in conventional ways. They often castle manually by playing g3 and creating a safe square on g2 for the White King.
Once e4 is played, Black must capture that f1-Bishop, or White will take the a6-Bishop, push the e-pawn to e5, and kick the f6-Knight back to g8.
Once 7…Bxf1 occurs, and White captures the f1-Bishop with the King (8.Kxf1). Then, Black plays 8…d6 to stop e5-pawn pushes.
In that position, White wants to develop the g1-Knight to f3 and create a safe place for the King. Both Nf3 and g3 can be played in different move orders to achieve that. Black generally fianchettos the dark-squared Bishop and gets castled on the short side.
One sample line could be 9.g3, 9…Bg7, 10.Kg2 (putting the King into a safe spot), 10…O-O, 11.Nf3 (developing the Knight), 11…Qb6 (Getting ready to connect the Rooks and increasing the b-file pressure), 12.Re1 (Developing the Rook and intending to go for the e5-pawn push at some point), and 12…Nbd7 (finishing the development).
From here, Black can place the f8-Rook to b8-square and unleash g7-Bishop’s scope on the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal. White usually tries to stop Black from advancing and trades pieces off.
Benko Gambit Accepted: 7. g3
It begins similar to the 7.e4 variation, but instead of pushing the e-pawn to e4, White aims to fianchetto the f1-Bishop to g2 and castle in the short side. To achieve that, White plays 7.g3.
Black usually responds with 7…d6 to create a square for the b8-Knight and avoid potential d6-pawn pushes. Then, White can develop their f1-Knight to f3 (8.Nf3), and Black can develop their dark-squared Bishop (8…Bg7). White can also fianchetto their Bishop (9.Bg2), 9…Nbd7, and both sides can castle (10. O-O and 10…O-O).
Once both sides castle, Black can intend to connect the Rooks to bring the f8-Rook to b8. White can put their a1-Rook to b2 (11.Rb1) to remove that Rook from the dangerous ‘a1-h8’ diagonal. 11…Qa5 occurs, finishing the development. Black will play Rfb8 in the next move and aim to oppress the a- and b- pawns, similar to the previous 7.e4 line we analyzed.
The main difference between these two variations we analyzed in Benko Gambit Accepted is that, in the fianchetto variation, light-squared Bishops are still on the board. This gives Black more dynamic chances due to the increased number of pieces on the board. Since the g2-Bishop is not attacking anything on the ‘a8-h1’ diagonal, Black’s light-squared Bishop can be more useful in the short term.
Benko Gambit Declined: 4.Nf3 – Main Line
The main line of the Benko Gambit Declined starts after White refuses to take the b-pawn and plays 4.Nf3 (developing the Knight) instead.
In this position, Black has two main moves: they can either fianchetto the c8-Bishop to b7 (4…Bb7) or fianchetto the f8-Bishop to g7 by playing 4…g6.
Since we already covered cxb5 lines, we will focus on Declined Variations in this part.
If Black plays Bb7, White can try to shut down the Queenside and control the center with the e4-pawn push later on.
One sample lane can be 4…Bb7, 5.a4 (If black takes the a4-pawn, Black’s a-pawn will be weak for the rest of the game), 5…b4, 6.Nbd2 (improving the Knight), 6…d6, 7.e4 (controlling the center), 7…g6 (Preparing to fianchetto the dark-squared Bishop), 8.Bd3 (preparing to castle in the short side), 8…Bg7 and both sides can castle (9. O-O and 9…O-O).
In a position like this, White would try to launch a pawn storm in the middle and try to suffocate Black.
If Black plays 4…g6 instead, White can try to force the Queens off or weaken Black’s pawn structure in the Queenside.
One sample line could be 4…g6, 5.Nbd2, 5…b4 and 6.a3 would attack the b4-pawn. If Black takes the a3-pawn, the a-pawn for Black would be a constant weakness. After 6.a3, Black can continue their development and fianchetto the Bishop to g7 (6…Bg7). White can play 7.e4, and Black can respond with 7…d6 (stopping e5-pawn push ideas). Then, 8.axb4, 8…cxb4, 9.Qa4+ can occur to put pressure on Black. Black can block this check with 9…Nfd7 (Opening up the scope of the g7-Bishop), and White can take the b4-pawn (10.Qxb4). White would be up a pawn, and they could force the Queen to trade in the next move by going Qa5. These games are not easy to win for White in the endgame due to Black’s solid pawn structure and strong Bishops, even though they are up one extra pawn.
Benko Gambit Accepted: 5. b6 – Pawn Return Variation
This variation transitions to Benko Gambit Accepted after 4.cxb4 occurs. However, White gives up the pawn (5.b6) after Black plays a6-pawn push (4…a6). This way, Black cannot strike from both a- and b-files.
After 5.b6 is chosen, Black has three viable candidate moves. 5…Qxb6, 5…g6, or 5…d6 can be played in different move orders. White usually improves the b1-Knight to c3 (6.Nc3), pushes the 7.e4 pawn, and gets ready to castle by improving the pieces in the Kingside (8.Nf3 and 9.Be2). By that time, Black often takes the b6-pawn (5…Qxb6), plays 6…d6, creates a fianchetto square by playing 7…g6, fianchettos the f8-Bishop (8…Bg7) and castles in the short side.
These positions require a high understanding of positional chess and maneuvering capabilities. Both sides maneuver their minor pieces to their ideal locations and try to conquer squares and limit their opponent’s options.
It occurs with Benko Gambit Accepted (4.cxb5), and after Black plays 4…a6, White develops the b1-Knight (5.Nc3). Then, Black captures the b5-pawn (5…axb5). White plays 6.e4, and Black kicks the c3-Knight by playing 6…b4. Once 7.Nb5 is played, the trap is set. If Black captures the e4-pawn (7…Nxe4), they lose the Knight or get checkmated after 8.Qe2. A move like 8…Nf6 would finalize the game with 9.Nd6#.
Pros and Cons
|If White can consolidate, they can enter an endgame with a pawn advantage.
|Benko Gambit for Black often puts extreme pressure along the a- and b-files on the enemy.
|This opening gives a great example of the coordination of the Bishops and Rooks.
|Certain variations require deep positional understanding.
|Once Queen’s off the board, Black cannot claim too much in a stable position.
|It can be hard to win the endgames as White, even though they would be up one pawn.
|White often always possesses a sound central control.
|Both sides need to make long maneuvers in certain variations.
The Benko Gambit is a gambit opening that starts with 1.d4. It allows Black to sacrifice a pawn to put extreme pressure on the a- and b- files with Rooks. The Bishop and Rook usually work in harmony in these openings. Little nuances can change a lot, requiring move-by-move review. Even if it is a risky opening, the top players in the world still utilize this opening.
Why is the Benko Gambit so good?
The Benko Gambit is highly regarded for its ability to offer Black dynamic play and open lines, especially on the queenside. It often leads to imbalanced positions and active piece play, making it a favorite among players who enjoy tactical and strategic battles.
Is Benko Gambit refuted?
The Benko Gambit has not been conclusively refuted. While there are strong lines for White that can challenge the gambit, it remains a viable option in Black’s repertoire, especially at club and intermediate levels.
Is the Benko Gambit sound?
The Benko Gambit is considered sound, though somewhat risky. It involves sacrificing a pawn for long-term positional play. While it may not always guarantee an advantage against perfect play, it provides practical chances and has been employed successfully at all levels of play, including grandmaster tournaments.