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This month I'll be investigating some recent developments in the Grünfeld Defence.

Download PGN of April '12 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld Defence 4.e3 [D80]

White's 4.e3 is not exactly known as a hot theoretical battlefield, but maybe this is changing! The plan of capturing twice on d5 and then playing N-e2-c3 has become popular at a high level in the last couple of years. In Game One, Mastrovasilis-Zhigalko, White places his bishop on c4, which is less well documented that the more modest deployment to e2.

Although the surprise value has gone, and Black has more or less diffused White's attempts to claim an opening edge elsewhere, the Greek GM aggressively pushed his d-pawn to d6 in order to cramp the black camp, a fairly unusual plan in analogous lines (as the d-pawn can thus become weak):

In the game, this was partially successful as Zhigalko gave up the exchange for the pawn, but Black then had enough defensive resources.

4.Bg5 'gambit' [D91]

Sharp and still topical after all these years, the 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bh4 gambit still attracts many top players. Why? Perhaps it's because there is more scope for individual interpretation here, than in other lines. In Game Two, for example, Alexander Riazantsev plays a novelty on move 13 in one of the most intriguing variations of all. Curiously enough, he had already had this position previously as White!

Here (after 13.Rfb1) Black played 13...Qd7, which worked well in the game. Best play has yet to crystallize for either side from the diagram position, but Riazantsev has perhaps enhanced Black's resources with this novelty. Later on, after outplaying his opponent, if Black could have avoided, or at least delayed exchanging queens, he would have had better winning chances with White's king looking so shaky.

Exchange with Bc4 [D87]

In Game Three Black plays with an early ...Qa5, an unusual move that I can't remember seeing before. There haven't been many games, and Black hasn't done too badly with this move, but I somehow don't trust the lack of pressure on White's centre:

Timofeev kept an edge as White (nevertheless there was a possible improvement for Black on move 13), until he lost control with the unfortunate sacrifice of his a-pawn. Bosiocic then defended accurately at first, but made the mistake of 'playing for a win' instead of taking a repetition. Analysis seems to show that White's active pieces and pawn centre were fully worth the pawn deficit.

5.Bf4 [D92]

Three games with this move that has become the height of fashion.

In Game 4 Golod demonstrates an almost effortless model win against Gupta. Here is an instructive position:

The Indian played one slack move (16...c6) and then was unable to cope with White's superior pieces. As an improvement (from Black's point of view) to this, see the notes to Black's sixteenth move for how Boris Avrukh was able to keep matters solid against Ivan Sokolov. So I prefer 16...a6!, see the notes for why!

The subtleties in these lines aren't easy to grasp, so carefully looking at slight differences in piece deployment will help. I have also looked at some analogous lines in the note to Black's 8th move in Game 5. These two games should be looked at together in order to try to better fathom the significance of the move orders.

In Game 5, early on, Riazantsev plays an unusual move order for White, which Grigorov decides to exploit by playing a fairly original manoeuvre. He was certainly justified as he obtained a good position, improving on previous practise along the way. The middlegame was saddled with errors, where Black missed a win, but White won a nice endgame.

In Game Six Black played 7...c5, whereas games 4 and 5 featured 7...Bg4. Golod again had White in Game 6, however this time he was on the defensive for most of the battle. His novelty on move 9 to trade queens didn't impress Krishnan Sasikiran who obtained a good game quite early on.

My conclusion after these three games with 4/5.Bf4 is that 7...c5 is dynamic and less theoretical than 7...Bg4, and probably not an inferior option.

The Russian System 7...Nc6 [D97]

Irina Krush had white against Fabiano Caruana in Game 7.

Here, in the diagram position after 10.Qc5, Caruana punted 10...f5.

The computer really doesn't like Black's resulting ugly pawns, but the Italian no.1 covered his weaknesses and eventually obtained the initiative helped by his bishop pair. Theoretically, I somehow don't quite trust Black, but maybe it isn't easy for White to exploit Black's soft spots.

In the notes to White's tenth move, I again concentrate my research on the ...f5 counter-attacking idea, which is Black's 'plan b' compared to the better-known ...Bg4 option. In principle ...f5 destabilizes the position more, but usually entails greater risk.

The Russian System - Hungarian Variation 7...a6 8.Be2 [D97]

In Game Eight a key line in the Hungarian Variation of the Russian System was tested. Various recent games have shown that Black is OK despite his doubled e-pawns, but here White managed to obtain some winning chances. The rook endgame was perhaps the most interesting phase, where Areshchenko had to be careful.

I'm not sure that Black's line would fit into the 'dynamic' category, but seems to be an effective way to play for half a point.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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