Online blitz games are not constituting the most reliable sample, but from my own experience, I have a strong impression that Benko (or Volga) Gambit is definitely a scarecrow for White 1.d4 players! In many cases, my opponents either avoided accepting the gambit or sidestepped the opening altogether.
Those that do dive into the main lines with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 are most likely to be influenced by the recent theoretical manuals that claim small advantage to White or at least “Black is experiencing some problems” in the fianchetto variation – specifically with Epishin continuation 6. Nc3 Bxa6 7. g3 Bg7 8. Bg2 d6 9. Nf3 Nbd7 10. Rb1. While this can be a powerful weapon at the IM and higher level, I am not sure whether club players are armed with enough of patience to continue beyond the theoretical lines. Black should accurately follow recommended solutions, probably best summarised by Grandmaster Gawain Jones in Everyman book Dangerous Weapons: The Benoni and Benko: Dazzle your opponents!.
I was surprised by the low frequency of two, in my opinion, challenging lines – 5. b6 and 5. e3. Perhaps those are still popular and I simply didn’t meet their practitioners. I will repeat that I didn’t perform database survey, this is based solely on my experience.
The Zaitsev Variation, 5. Nc3, was considered to be tamed and many articles/books will draw this conclusion based on the game Arencibia – Ivanchuk. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to take all the poison out of this line in a blitz or rapid game. Be prepared to figure out how to meet White’s various tricky attempts.
By far most common were the games where White included Nf3, meaning 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. Nf3 or immediate 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 and then 2…c5 3. d5 b5 4. Bg5 (4. c4 transposes). Neither of these I see as dangerous, but the latter was used by Grandmasters Keith Arkell and Eugenio Torre, and they both beat me.
I do not know much of theory in this opening and yet I find it extremely easy to play. So which variations are critical? If you play Benko/Volga Gambit, feel free to share your games and/or opinions. Views from the White’s perspective will be also appreciated.