The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide: Benko Gambit


The Benko Gambit is an aggressive and tactical answer to 1.d4. Black has a lot of opportunities to win games even to stronger opponents...

The computer evaluation will not help you a lot here because White controls more space but Black pieces are full of activity and they have plenty of opportunities to finish off the game with a tactical blow; as I managed to do it many times during my games.

This is a complete guide to the Benko Gambit but before diving in please let me share with you the general ideas of this opening. Even from the second move, Black offers a pawn with 2...c5. As you can see in the example below White cannot protect his extra pawn, after dxc5, and Black can regain the pawn in many ways.

In the light of that White usually plays d5 and here Black plays the second pawn sacrifice 3...b5. This is the starting position of the Benko Gambit. The main idea is to weaken White's center and to open up lines on the queenside. Black sacrifices a pawn to press on "a" and "b" files with his heavy pieces.

The First Moves On Benko Gambit 

Pal Benko

The opening got its name in honor of the Hungarian-American Grandmaster Pal Benko, who contributed a lot to the theoretical development of the Benko Gambit in the 1960s and 1970s.

Pal Benko was a Hungarian was a Hungarian-American chess player, author, and composer of endgame studies and chess problems. He was born at 1928 and passed away in 2019. He won the Hungarian championship at 1948 and was 8 times USA champion. He participated in plenty of Interzonal tournaments however he didn't made thought to the World Chess Championship final. He managed to qualify for the 1970 Interzonal tournament but gave up his spot to Bobby Fischer, who not only qualified for the World Championship in 1972 but became the 11th Champion of chess history.

The strategical trick

Usually with more material, and more pawns, you should exchange pieces to reach the endgame; this is a well-known strategical rule. However, this rule is not good at Benko Gambit! Black happily exchange knights to increase his pressure on the queens. Occasionally, Black is happy to exchange the queens as well!

White is aiming his hopes to the extra a-pawn but Black can press these pawns with heavy pieces. These pawns are split and c5 Black pawns don't allow to b2 move forward. Sometimes, Black manages to win both "a" and "b" pawns so he will remain with his connected passed pawn on c5.

The tactical disasters

Usually Black can deliver countless tactical blows against Nc3. It seems that this knight holds together White's queenside formation so Black has a lot of ways to destroy this knight. A key role in Black's initiative plays the fianchetto Bg7. The above-mentioned game is characteristic, isn't it?

The Lessons Are Suitable For

We can conclude here that the Benko Gambit, also known as the Volga Gambit, is one of the most attractive chess openings for Black against 1.d4. Easy to understand, this special gambit is suitable for club players rated below 2000. It's difficult to deal with it with White pieces. Black sacrificed the pawn for positional reasons and players with White pieces have to calculate very accurately all of the lines and avoid the poison tactical tricks. More specifically it's suitable for:

  • 1300 – 2000+ FIDE Official Rating
  • 1300 – 2200+ Online Rating (LiChess or

The Systems: Benko Sublines

Blumenfeld Countergambit

Kluss vs Krivoshey

Benko Declined 

Benko Accepted

Fianchetto Variation

How to Play like Grandmaster Ioannis Nikolaidis

General Ideas

It's a modern opening in which Black sacrifices a pawn to create pressure on the queenside. Black's setup is standard against almost all of White's setups; Ra8, Rb8, Qa5, Nf6, Id7, Bg7. Black pressure is real even at the endgame. This opening was analyzed in the USSR with the code name Volga. Pal Benko fatten this gambit with a lot of new ideas by writing a book in 1970. Chess theory didn't finally conclude if Black's compensation is enough, but in any case, it's a very popular opening.

With Benko Gambit Black would like to archive:

  1. Easy development of the pieces
  2. Positional pressure against a2 and b2 pawns. This pressure created by the Rooks and Bg7
  3. Better pawn structure for Black and superiority in the endgame
  4. The typical maneuver Ie8, Nc7, Nb5
  5. Controlling the e5-square
  6. The c4-push to land the Knight on d3
  7. These ideas make White's task of e5 very difficult
  8. White has problems developing Bc1 and Ra8. Even if Bc1 developed there are plenty of tactical tricks available for Black
  9. White cannot push forward the b-pawn. However, if this pawn passes successfully b4 then White will be better
  10. You'll learn how to play with a pawn less and how to handle the initiative
How To Master The Benko Gambit

If you want to become an expert in the Benko Gambit then you can study the lessons that I prepared for you. Inside the lesson, you can see many of my games, fully analyzed. similary, I explained to you the best ideas from the most popular games to improve your understanding of this system.

As usual, I'm analyzing all of the possible variations and lines to get a complete opening repertoire and be prepared against all possible deviations. Please follow the link below and read the detailed curriculum of the lessons. 

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