Old Benoni

The Old Benoni (or Schmid Benoni) is “1.d4 c5” where Black immediately starts the Benoni pawn formation. Black does not wait for White to play “2.c4” and indeed, White could well play “2.Nf3” instead. This line forces White into a Benoni-like line that is hard to avoid.

Diagram: Old Benoni (1. d4 c5)

White will usually play “2.d5” leading to Benoni style positions, although there are alternatives for White.

Problems with the Old Benoni

The downside for Black is two-fold:

  • White can play good Benoni-like setups, but without c4, which is actually advantageous for White (less static pawn structures). The independent lines of the Old Benoni without c4 are regarded as slightly better for White than the main lines of the Benoni!
  • White can transpose to the main lines of the Benoni (via c4) and then play the most attacking variations: the Four Pawns Attack Benoni (f4) and the Taimanov Benoni (Bb5+).

Old Benoni Lines without c4

Old Benoni Lines: The first problem with the Old Benoni versus the Classical Benoni is that White hasn’t played “c4”. Some of the lines where White avoids playing “c4” give White more options and a less static pawn formation. Such lines are regarded as inferior for Black compared to the normal Benoni lines. Hence, White may not seek to “avoid” this type of Benoni at all.

White’s usual response is “2.d5” which establishes the Benoni type of pawn formations. These are the main lines of the Old Benoni.

Transposition to Taimanov/Mikenas/Four Pawns Benoni

Transposition to Classical Benoni (Four Pawns Attack): Rather than playing the independent lines of the Old Benoni, White can easily transpose to the classical Benoni lines at some point, simply by playing “c4”. The transposition to the main lines of the Benoni sounds harmless, but it’s not! This is actually problematic for Black because White can play the most feared lines against the Benoni: the Four Pawns Attack Benoni (with f4), and the dangerous “Taimanov Benoni” (with f4 and Bb5+). These White lines are so good that grandmasters will often avoid them as Black by using the “Delayed Benoni”. But you can’t play the Delayed Benoni if you’ve played an Accelerated Benoni!

Old Benoni Sideline with b5 and Qb6

One interesting sideline in the Old Benoni, that may avoid some of the main problems in the line, is where Black plays ..c5, ..b5 and ..Qb6. This line looks attacking and also has surprise value.

Czech Benoni

Black may change the setup from an “Old Benoni” to a “Czech Benoni” by playing “..e5” instead of “..e6”. The Czech Benoni is solid and inflexible, and not particularly good for Black. But it is a playable alternative, and may have some surprise value.

Transposition to Smith-Morra Gambit

Transposition to Morra Gambit: An important transposition option is that White can play “2.e4!?” which turns it into a Sicilian Defence where White is venturing the Smith-Morra Gambit (with the usual move order: “1.e4 c5, 2.d4!?”). Black may then accept the gambit (with “2..cxd4 3.c3 dxc3”), or else Black can also decline the gambit by further transposing into a “c3 Sicilian” by playing “2...cxd4” and “3…d5”. However, Queen pawn players are often disinterested in making this transposition as White and the Smith-Morra Gambit has a poor reputation at master level, although playable at club level.


References: BCO 2, page 65, has a whole page with several columns on the Old Benoni.

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