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This month I will be focusing my attention on the ever-popular Grünfeld Defence. I did receive a request from Michael to investigate developments in a certain variation which I've integrated into the main games (see Turov-Yandemirov, Game 8).

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Grünfeld Defence 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bh4 [D91]

I chose this game because it's quite rare to see a strong player get outplayed as White after sacrificing the c-pawn. Moiseenko ran up against a solid and determined Socko who was able to defend carefully on the kingside and eventually get his queenside majority going. There was one moment where Socko could have let half-a-point slip in the complications towards the end (check it out!), where all sorts of weird and wonderful variations must have kept the players occupied.

As to the opening in Game One: The plan of a quick ...0-0 and ...Nd7 leaving the b-pawn to its fate seems to be holding up to scrutiny.

For those interested in studying these positions it's useful to look at all sorts of move orders because transpositional possibilities abound. The definitions of D80 and D91 are always slightly awkward, but basically if White plays these positions with the knight on f3 (even if this move occurs quite late, as here!) then it becomes D91.

Exchange Variation with Be3 and Nf3 [D85]

Games 2-4 feature various responses to this fashionable way of handling the Exchange Variation.

In the Polish Championship encounter, Swiercz - Dragun, Black played in quite a dynamic way. Whether or not this line is good enough for full equality is debatable, but it certainly created a few practical problems for White. A lot of questions remain unanswered and I'll think there will be other GM examples on their way.

It's worth noting that the top echelon are also generally preferring the flexible 11...Nd7 to the solid-but-not-so-testing 11...Bxf3 which is often preferred at a lower level.

Swiercz eventually emerged with an extra pawn, but facing two excellent bishops made it impossible for him to win.

In Game Three play varied from standard lines quite early. There have been very few games that have reached the diagram position:

My impression is that 8...Bg4!? is quite a good move to throw the opponent. The evidence of this game and the notes suggest that White can't exploit the early bishop move with action along the a4-e8 diagonal, so Black isn't taking any undo risks (and in particular I can't find anything exciting for White after 9.Qa4+ Nd7 reaching the diagram position). White should probably seek mainstream play with 9.Rc1, but that is another story.

The 'two bishops facing knight, bishop, and better structure' scenario that resulted wasn't disadvantageous to Black because of his lead in development.

In the game, White let things slip into a pawn-down endgame, but one where there were drawing chances. The final position on my database is objectively drawn but the result was 0-1, which means that I can only guess what happened at the end.

In Game Four Shishkin repeated a move that he has played before (14...e6!?) to reach the following position:

Jianu may have been prepared, but in any case his reaction makes a lot of sense: 15.g4!

The idea is that opening the g-file should give White more chances of creating problems for Black. I think this is true, even if in the game (after a few imprecisions) Black achieved a fully satisfactory position with chances for both sides. Just as it was getting exciting, Black blundered and quickly went down.

Exchange Variation with 8 h3 [D85]

In Game Five White was successful with the slow-but-not-bad-at-all 8.h3, avoiding any ...Bg4 ideas which are all the rage in the Be3 systems:

If White spends a tempo in this way, then Black is perhaps justified in reacting with the destabilizing ...f5. This looks like a reasonable practical approach, but there are various subtleties that need working out in one's preparation. In the notes you'll notice that Sutovsky went for this pawn break before castling, whereas Vachier-Lagrave placed his king into safety first.

In the actual game, Popilski's approach was probably OK, but after a few imprecise moves he was outplayed by Troff.

A case that emphasizes a home truth: 'preparation for Black is not just seeking book (or engine!) equality, it's about obtaining positions that are comfortable to play'.

Exchange Variation with 7 Bc4, various tenth moves [D87]

Games 6-8 deal with what I term the 'traditional' Exchange Variation.

In Game Six Black won one of those 'classical' queenside majority games which you find in the old books. A better defence by White in the double minor piece endgame should have enabled him to draw, but Black was certainly never worse after the queens came off.

The most significant aspect of the opening was the choice of 10...e6, one of those 'pragmatic and not very theoretical ideas' that are worth knowing about. English GM and author Nigel Davies was a fan of this move at the beginning of the century. White didn't create enough problems for his opponent here, but I can't see anything that really inspires me. Capturing on c5 may win a pawn, but Black obtains enough activity to keep the balance.

The opening in Game Seven was quite a lively affair. The use of 10...b6 and 11...Bb7 provoked White to play d4-d5 and then the fun began. I found something similar to the present game in Polugaevsky-Miles from 1979, and in both cases Black was able to draw.

The knight is annoying on d3 so 17.Bxd3 occurred in the featured game against which I would recommend 17...cxd4! with good chances for Black. Instead of this, in the notes you'll notice that Korobov played 17.f3, but does White really have chances of an advantage with the exchange sacrifice? The jury is out on this one.

A curious subscriber (Michael) asked me about the line after 10...Na5 in Game Eight, where Black pushes back the bishop with a quick ...b6 and ...e5 in mind. At the beginning of the decade it was all the rage, but now the top guys have lost interest, as greener fields have beckoned. The game Turov-Yandemirov led to a solid draw for Black showing that it's still not easy for White to punish Black's daring 12...e5:

It looks as if 13.Bg5 Qd7 14.Bh6 and the immediate 13.Bh6 are White's most promising areas. In the actual game, the latter of these ideas was met by the novel 13...Bxh6!? and Black was able to successfully defend the kingside from White's attacking ambitions. There is a possible improvement on move 17 however, where the engines unanimously go for 17.Ng3 and to follow this up with either 18.Rael or 18.Rac1 depending on circumstances, when White's initiative still packs a punch.

Grünfeld Defence 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Nf3 [D93]

A sharp fight in Game Nine tested the cutting-edge 10.Be2 idea which hopes to create more problems than the established 10.Nd4. In the game, the final result was more a result of White cracking-up completely than anything else and it certainly smacks of time trouble.

There were several key moments in the middlegame, for example Wei Yi made a serious error with 21...Nxd5 and was then basically dead lost.

The engines assure me that 16...hxg6 was the better recapture, a move of theoretical importance because up to then both players seem to have played well.

Russian System, Prins Variation 7.e4 Na6 8.Be2 [D97]

Morozevich unleashed a new idea in the Prins Variation in Game Ten after 13.h3:

With this move, White recognizes that there is no rush to defend the b-pawn and he can instead aim to make progress elsewhere. In the notes I also investigate other ideas such as 13.Nh4 which also seeks to push back the bishop on f5.

Gelfand was able to nullify White's early initiative and earn a draw, but there is a suspicion that White might have been able to keep a pull, see for example move 22. If this is so, then Morozevich's idea might be worth some further tests.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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