>> Previous Update >>
Grünfeld Exchange 5.g3 [D71]
The game Bai Jinshi - Zhao Jun features a hybrid variation where White combines the delights of the Exchange Variation with those of the Neo-Grünfeld. Apart from being a crafty move order ploy, this approach also poses the question quite early to the knight on d5, a nuisance for Black:
Transposition to the mainstream Neo-Grünfeld is a distinct possibility but, in the actual game, the delayed castling led to some possibilities that are more likely to occur from 4.cxd5. The game followed a line that Li Chao and a few other Chinese players seem to favour. The sought after advantages of the resulting positions are not that evident, but it creates practical problems for an unprepared opponent. Towards the end of our featured game an exciting king chase led to perpetual check.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Qa4+ Nd7 [D85]
In Sakaev, K - Paravyan, D White's 7.Qa4+ was met with the natural 7...Nd7 which clearly constitutes the main line these days. It's hard to believe that the early queen check should offer an objective pull, but it does take Black out of auto-pilot mode as further queenside development for Black requires some thought. Paravyan seemed to know what he was doing because his novelty on move eleven (11...Qxb4!) is evidently a clear improvement on previous experience.
Equality resulted from the queen trade, after which I think that Sakaev lost his way due to being in two minds about settling for a draw or playing for more. As it turned out, he got less! The 'Rook and opposite bishop' pseudo-endgame was quite instructive with Paravyan having to show great patience.
Grünfeld Exchange 7...c5 8.Bb5+ Nd7 [D85]
In Ovetchkin, R - Ponkratov, P White tried 8.Bb5+, but I'm not sure it's that disruptive. Black's 8...Nd7 keeps the tension at the cost of placing the knight on an ostensibly 'less active' square than c6:
However, a few moves later Black was able to leap to c5 with an attitude, so maybe the knight is actually quite well placed on d7 after all! It seems that there are many possible ways to handle the opening for White, but 9.a4 is perhaps less convincing than 9.Bg5 (a double bishop pin!) which has a tendency to induce Black to take a risk and advance his kingside pawns. This slightly offbeat opening actually led to a common Grünfeld structure where both sides had things to be happy about, until that is White was thoroughly outplayed.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 [D87]
A theoretically important game as the Russian (but formerly Ukrainian) Karjakin innovated and then went on to win against MVL!
So the new move in Karjakin, S - Vachier-Lagrave, M occurred in the following position:
Here Karjakin unleashed 16.Na3 Qc7 17.f4 and gave his opponent quite a few things to work out. The French star actually coped well (how much of this was already anticipated in his home preparation, I wonder?) until he erroneously sacrificed the exchange on move 24. Instead of 24...f4?! I dare to suggest 24...Re8! as a satisfactory improvement. Of course, 2800+ players will understand these positions better than yours truly, but it will be interesting to see how MVL reacts the next time this variation is 'proposed' by one of his opponents.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...Na5 11.Bd3 b6 [D87]
Another elite game and here again a top player is able to squeeze something out of a line where previous experiences haven't been that promising. So the Armenian No.1 in Aronian, L - Mamedyarov, S innovated in the following position:
Although 19.h3! doesn't look that spectacular I think it's actually quite strong. It's one of these 'fairly useful waiting moves' that invite the opponent to commit himself. I'm at a loss to suggest a convincing way for Black to continue, despite the engines judging the pawn-down middlegame as equal (hint: don't always believe them!). In the game, the compensation ran out and Aronian won a smooth game, but where did Mamedyarov go wrong? If one of the readers wants to test this line as Black I suggest that he finds an answer to this question first!
Grünfeld Exchange 6.Na4 [D85]
The early N-a4, as in Antipov, M - Sviridov, Va, makes ...c5 difficult if not impossible to play. So Black has to seek other ways to obtain counterplay. Against the slow 9.h3 of the game I like Sviridov's 9...f5!? which equalizes in my opinion. Against 9.Be2 and 9.Nc5 a different approach is required: the key reply being 9...Bg4 in each case. Note in particular how the critical continuation 9.Nc5 Bg4 10.Nxb7 has become quite theoretical in recent years but, if you read the notes properly, you'll be ready!
In the main game, White went for an over-optimistic attack and was soon in trouble, but Black still had to be careful at the end to avoid being swindled.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.h3 [D85]
Both of the GMs in Bluebaum, M - Ragger, M had had some recent experiences in the quiet h3-Exchange Variation, so were well-prepared. Ragger employed a plan which hasn't been particularly successful in the past with ...b6 and ...Bb7, and (once the white queen has defended the e4-pawn with Qd3) then ...Ba6. This looked like a solid way of handling Black's position and is a theme known from various other White set -ups (one example being the Exchange Variation with Nf3 and Rb1).
The resulting middlegame must have been very close to equal until White embarrassingly managed to get his rook trapped in the very centre of the board and had to shed a pawn. This unusual circumstance is worth a diagram:
Black has the powerful threat of ...f6 and ..Kg8-f7-e6 which was bad news for Bluebaum!
Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Be2 c5 [D94]
In Morovic, I - Xiong, J White decided on playing a calm 'non-theoretical' line with e3 and Be2, but quite rightly Black reacted with the principled move 6...c5!:
In the actual game, a fairly balanced situation gradually tipped in Black's favour. A key moment was when the Chilean veteran failed to play the challenging 12.Ng5 (rather than the dodgy 12.e5?!) when, in reply, I think that Black should sacrifice a pawn in order to obtain reasonable chances.
As a rule, most of the notes are showing various ideas rather than critical lines, as it's the nature of the variation. A big choice for Black arises after 7.dxc5 when, although Black has various 'satisfactory' continuations, as they are rather different in nature, a person's preference comes down to a question of 'taste' more than anything else.
Grünfeld Russian System with ...c6 [D96]
In Vidit, S - Artemiev, V White made a bit of a hash of the opening and then spent the rest of the game in a rearguard action to save the half-point. A shame to be on the defensive after the opponent has played the passive-looking 5...c6, which is one of those 'I just want to be solid even if I'm a bit worse' lines. In order for White to 'punish' his opponent by obtaining a theoretical edge, then 9.Ba3!? was probably better than 9.Be3 which didn't stop the ...c5 counter.
Despite the seeming loss of a tempo with his c-pawn, Artemiev was able to obtain a good game, following 9...c5 10.d5 Nd7 11.Bd3?! with the fine move 11...b5!.
Grünfeld Russian, Hungarian System 8.Be2 [D97]
It was an interesting choice by Svidler to play the rare 10...Nbd7 (rather than the usual development of the light-squared bishop) which led to an interesting struggle in Ivanchuk, V - Svidler, P. I looked at these lines recently and felt that White can keep an edge with the 11.e5 employed by Ivanchuk, so this was an acid test. My sentiment is that although the engines offer White a small edge in a number of these lines, Svidler knows these types of position so well he is able to find resources and probably didn't feel in that much danger at the time. Indeed, he managed to obtain an advantage but Ivanchuk's experience saved the day for him. It will be interesting to see if any strong player opts for the critical 13.0-0 (rather than Ivanchuk's 13.Be3) soon, as then perhaps we'll have a better idea if 10...Nbd7 is fully acceptable or not.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
>> Previous Update >>