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4.Bg5 Ne4 5.h4 [D80]
Jobava's surprising h2-h4 didn't really lead to very much from the opening in Game One, but he was still able to maintain a slightly easier position:
The exchange of queens helped him to keep a certain grip on the centre and he eventually won towards the time control.
In the notes, I suggest an alternative defence 5...Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 Nc6 with a resolve to concentrate Black's energy on countering in the centre.
Ideas such as 5.h4 can catch one off-guard, so it's better to be prepared and ready (now, rather than putting it off for later!), anticipating that one of your future opponents will give it a go!
In Game Two, Jean-Pierre Le Roux demonstrates how Black can equalize against the 'e3 combined with Rc1'-system. White's early 7.Qb3 can then be well met with either of 7...b6, or 7...c5, but after the latter Nepomniachtchi recently went badly astray against Aronian. So being careful about the move order, as was Le Roux, is the way to avoid any serious problems.
The game must be the longest I've ever included in an update, but despite all his efforts, the experienced Kiril Georgiev never looked like he was going to win.
Exchange with 7.Bg5 [D85]
This offbeat line has become popular over the last few years, but Black's defences have now been improved and it doesn't look particularly dangerous anymore. I particularly like Kovchan's handling in Game Three as he made Tomi Nyback's pet-line look decidedly ordinary. So I would recommend 10...Qd6! rather than the fishy 10...f5?!, which I find hard to believe.
Exchange with 7.Be3 [D85]
A sharp theoretical idea received a testing in Game Four where the outcome seems to confirm that Black is holding his own. Matthieu Cornette playing Black didn't seem to have any problems. The only downside seems to be that the moves are so logical (and forced) that it's only around move 20 where the players start to think for themselves.
Ian Nepomniachtchi tries an ambitious idea in Game 5, but despite the attraction of retaining queens it didn't work at all. White's bishop pair gave him the best chances and Black's problems increased when he dropped a pawn. There were chances to improve though (on moves 10-13), generally by heading back into mainstream-type positions.
Exchange with 7.Bc4 [D85]
Despite a significant drop in popularity, the line with 10...Bd7 is still generating some new ideas.
In Game Six after 11.Rb1 Qc7 the players reached the following position:
Werle opted for 12.Bf4, a move he has employed before, but this doesn't seem to be dangerous, as Le Quang Liem (in Game 6), and other examples (in the notes) suggest. However the alternative 12.Bd3 Rad8 13.Qc1, does indeed seem to pack a punch as the queen is flexible here: it can go to a3 to pressurize the c5-pawn, it's off the vulnerable d-file, and is handily placed on the c1-h6 diagonal.
In Game 7 Korobov manages to squeeze a win out of a variation which had been virtually abandoned by White players as lacking bite. The consensus being that Black gets enough for his pawn, or so everyone (except Korobov!) thought. This game may give White players something to work on. My sentiment is that Kovchan (playing Black) should have drawn, but he still had to find some precise moves to do so.
4.Nf3 and 5.Qa4+ [D90]
In Game Eight Anish Giri develops his pieces in an unusual manner to counter White's early Qa4+. The ...Nc6-a7 manoeuvre looks artificial to me, although Alexander Grischuk (surprisingly) didn't try to cross this plan with the critical a2-a4 in this position:
Nevertheless, the game gives the over-riding impression that Black never equalized, and I personally wouldn't recommend such a slow laborious method. However, my impression from both of games 8 and 9 is that 5.Qa4+ is an awkward system to meet, and so it isn't a surprise that Grünfeld players are still experimenting with different ways of meeting it.
The main line is featured in Game 9, a game where Feller's bishops dominated Jansa's knights. See also Zhukova-Mikhalevski in the notes, which also demonstrates that the thematic ...c5 doesn't quite give Black the easy-time he is seeking.
So what should Black do? My recommendation is to play without ...c5! Let me explain...
If I was to suggest some areas for investigation, first of all, David Navara was recently successful with 5...Nc6!? (see the archives). Another point (after 5...Bd7 etc) is that after the standard 8...Na6 followed by 9...c5 (in game 9) Black's game isn't really to my liking, so plans where this move is delayed or forgotten may be better. So all-in-all Giri's attempt in Game 8 becomes more understandable!
I would however recommend having a look at the notes to move 8 (in both of games 8 and 9), where 8...Bc6 and 8...c6 receive some attention. See what you think!
4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Bf4 [D93]
In Game 10, an unusual move order leads to one of the main lines of the 5.Bf4 variation. Evgeny Postny had done his homework and introduced a novelty, 19.Rg5!, that seems to give him a pull:
Caruana however managed to stay on the board and probably should have taken the opportunity to win back the pawn (move 29) when I think he would have been more or less OK. In any case it looks like 17...Qa3 is more trustworthy than 17...Qb6.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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