Magic in the Benoni Defense

Magic in the Benoni Defense

Benoni Defense and Its Magic. Continuing our series of articles related to Grandmasters from the past, in this article we want to present to you Vladimir Savon.

He is a Soviet player who showed great results back in the 70s when he was in his prime. Savon played in 11 Soviet championships and managed to win it in 1971 with 1.5 points ahead of players like Mikhail Tal or Vasily Smyslov.

He was only an International Master at that time.

The next year Savon finished 3rd-5th; he wasn’t the best but he showed fighting chess and scored a good result.  Certainly, Savon was a great talent with an aggressive style, fun to watch.

A quick glance at his games and one can easily fall in love with his uncompromised style and ambitious approach to the game.

He was a pure fighting spirit and his games serve as great inspiration for younger generations aspiring to be as good.

Benoni Defense: The Magic

For this article, we have our attention on Savon’s success with the popular Benoni defense. The Benoni was just developing in the 70s and it was employed by several top players including Tal and Fischer. Although he used several other openings like King’s Indian or Grunfeld, the Benoni offered the necessary unbalance to fight with the black for the full point. Savon had a positive rate of success with it.

Without any more introduction, let us now start looking at these memorable games from Savon’s chess career. As usual in our articles, you can use the diagrams as training positions by analyzing what you would play before seeing the move.

magic Benoni 1

Reshevsky, S – Savon, V, Petropolis Interzonal 1973
Black to move

White has just answered 15…h6 with 16.Bf4 (?) Can you spot why this move is a serious mistake?

Black has a way to take advantage of white’s discoordination and Savon did not miss his chance; he replied with 16…Nxa4!! A rather simple but brutal combination that destroys white’s position without recovery.

You can see the full game here.

Game 1:

Our second example is one of the best Savon’s games, a game of some theoretical value at the time. See the diagram below:

magic Benoni 2

Platonov,I – Savon,V, Riga 1970
Black to move

A critical position in the opening. Black has a few ideas like f5, Ba6, Nd7, but Savon employed the very interesting 15…Rb8, a semi waiting for move that passes the turn to white and provokes the move f4.

The idea can be seen in the line played in the game with 16.f4 Nd7 17.Nc4 Nf6! With the start of some beautiful complications. The game is worthy of deeper analysis [this is how]. You can see it here.

Benoni Defense – Game 2:

Our third and last example was against the legendary Grandmaster Yury Balashov. In the following diagram, white has just played 20.Bh6 (?!):

magic Benoni 3

Balashov,Y – Savon, Y, Leningrad 1971
Black to move

It seems that black is doomed to a bad position after having the rook on f8 trapped, but there is a possibility to create reasonable counterplay. Can you spot what is black’s best chance?

Savon played 20…Nc7! Improving the knight on the rim with an attack against the white bishop on b5. After 21.Bxf8 Nxb5 black’s superb coordination proved to be sufficient compensation for the exchange and after further mistakes white ended up losing the game. Certainly not a perfect game, but one that every Benoni player should enjoy.

See it here.

Game 3:

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about this amazing player. Needless to add that we encourage you to search more about his career games to be greatly surprised. Thank you for reading and as usual, don’t forget to share your thoughts and comments with us.

Looking for more on this opening? Look at This Opening for Black with GM Marian Petrov [TCW Academy] and The Complete Guide.

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Updated 12.21.2023


In the first game White missed Mate in 3 moves at the end, probably in time crisis. 40.Qxg6+?? was a terrible blunder. Instead 40. g5+! Kxg5 (40.... Bxg5 41. Rh8 #) 41. h4+ Kxh4 (41... Kh6 42. Rh8#) 42. Qf4#
Yury Markushin:
Hello, Fernando! Savon is indeed a great talent and we can learn a great deal from him :)
Fernando Gonzalez:
As always great article! and thanks for reminding us for Savon, a player that may have fell under the radar for me.