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Grünfeld Defence 4.Bg5 Ne4 [D80 & D91]
Now that the theory of the 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bh4 gambit, as played in Game One, has crystallized to some extent, it's becoming easier to make some general conclusions. A few years ago each game in this murky variation seemed to throw up more questions than answers!
This is one of the main lines, and in a number of games, the insertion of 11.a4 a5 has led to White obtaining latent pressure down the b-file. A counter-plan involving threats against the a-pawn (...Bd7 and ...Qe8 etc) has however demonstrated a way for Black to get a decent position.
Harikrishna therefore varied with the intention of delaying or even doing without a2-a4. However it didn't impress, and Alexander Grischuk dominated the encounter, so-much-so that this game will probably leave 11.Nd2 under a cloud.
If ...Nd7-b6 leaves you cold, then an alternative involving ...c5 is playable, see the notes for recent developments including a couple of Gata Kamsky games.
Alexander Morozevich, who likes to go his own way early on, surprised everyone with 5.Nxe4 in Game Two. This extremely rare variation can't have been expected by Magnus Carlsen, who nevertheless found a route to a good middlegame position. The way that the Norwegian made progress on the queenside made me feel that he was better, but Morozevich had resources and may not actually have been in serious danger. A good fighting game.
Exchange with Qa4+ [D85]
Boris Grachev introduced a novelty in a line which had been largely abandoned by White in Game Three. The value of 10.Bb5 is that Black has to make a decision immediately: move the queen (again) or block the long diagonal with ...c6:
Romain Edouard chose the latter, and wasn't far from equalizing in the late opening and again in the pseudo-endgame. However, my impression was that all this was somewhat more comfortable for White, with Black having practical problems to solve. ChessPublishing subscribers, with the benefit of hindsight, should be able to improve (see moves 11 and 19 in the notes) and find a clearer way to full equality.
Exchange with 8.Rb1 [D85]
Yannick Pelletier was unsuccessful with 8.Rb1 in both games in this section. I still remember that a quarter of a century ago this variation was considered so strong for White, that many gave up the Grünfeld altogether. Nowadays, as Black has solved his problems in many variations, it's 8.Rb1 that is lacking enthusiastic supporters these days.
Black has had excellent results with 16...Rb8:
Yannick Pelletier innovated with 17.Bb2, in Game 4, but Fabiano Caruana reacted with 17...b5, then just completed development and obtained a good game. In fact ...Rb8 followed by ...b5 seems to be the right formula against most of White's development plans.
It was revealing to see what Magnus Carlsen had intended against the tricky gambit line played by the Franco-Swiss GM in Game 5. Indeed the World No.1 was up to the task and introduced a new plan and soon obtained the advantage.
My analysis suggests that White had a route to equality, but Carlsen's idea seems to take the sting out of White's whole approach.
Exchange with Be3 [D85]
Vladimir Kramnik seems to like these queenless middlegames, especially against young tactically-orientated players. In Game Six, his novel idea with h4-h5 confused Anish Giri who didn't find a satisfactory way to cope with White's plans:
Then Kramnik was in his element and demonstrated how to turn the screw (for White) in such positions.
I suggest that Black react to e4-e5 with a timely ...f6, despite a general loosening of his pawn shield, as this will leave White with either a weak 'd' or e-pawn. Alternatively, if 12...e6 doesn't suit your style, then recent experience suggests that the alternative plan with 12...Bg4 is OK.
In Game 7, Emil Sutovsky reacted to Levon Aronian's rare idea with a novel queen sacrifice. The computer will tell you that Black hasn't enough compensation, but playing with the white pieces, you may need to have good defensive capabilities to avoid falling for something. So, in the game, Aronian was able to demonstrate that Sutovsky's idea isn't totally sound, but it could be worth a try in Rapidplay or Blitz. I suggest that you read through the game (and notes) thoroughly to avoid being confused by 9.Nd2!?:
Game Eight is a curious game where Khalifman showed the downside of the early ...Bg4 line. in fact Evdokimov didn't obtain anything much for his pawn and was clearly worse, but got lucky when former World champion Alexander Khalifman blundered.
Having reviewed a spate of recent games, my opinion now is that if Black is going to play 8...Bg4 he should follow-up with 9...Bxf3 breaking-up White's pawns.
Exchange with 7.Bc4 [D87]
In Game 9 Alexander Morozevich defends with 10...Qc7 and 11...b6!?:
daringly playing it against someone who has even tried it himself as Black! Black's results with this move has been more consistent with those in the main line (11...Rd8), so this could be a way for many to obtain a decent game, without having to learn too much theory.
The actual game was a bruising struggle with Morozevich finding a clever way of refuting Vachier-Lagrave's attacking intentions. At the moment, the Russian has been playing well in weird and wonderful complications in a number of games and is getting back the form of his best years.
Game 10 features a new move from Ruslan Ponomariov which I'm sure has since been dissected by many a Grünfeld specialist.
Here (after 16...Re8) the Ukrainian champion came up with 17.Bf2 and was able to win a nice game where his pieces proved to be superior to Black's. This surprising, and seemingly unnatural way of returning the pawn could do with further tests, but I personally couldn't find anything water-tight for the second player. Is Ponomariov's idea going to revive White's fortunes in the 12.Rc1 line? Watch this space!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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