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Grünfeld 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bh4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 dxc4 7.e3 Be6 8.Qb1 [D80]
In Rasulov, V - Mchedlishvili, M the traditional gambit line was tested. White's attempt to then 'surprise' his opponent with the somewhat less common 8.Qb1 backfired:
Mchedlishvili reacted with the dynamic choice 8...c5! after which it's White who has to make a major decision as to which pawn he should snatch back (b or c-pawns). In the game, Rasulov opted for a third way, the 'neither' option, but was soon made to regret his choice as he didn't obtain anything like enough compensation.
It looks like either 9.Qxb7 or 9.Qb5+ are the critical moves, whereas 9.Nf3 just looks inferior.
Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 7.Rc1 Ne4 [D82]
Although 5...0-0 is by far the most popular fifth move for Black, it seems that 5...c5 is staging something of a revival:
An example of this being Fridman, D - Nepomniachtchi, I where a highly asymmetric pawn structure occurred. You'll perhaps notice that many of the references in the notes are from some time ago, due to the fact that the line was more popular in the Noughties. Even with the help of modern engines it's often hard to get away from an assessment of 'unclear' - so it's an ideal choice for those wanting to avoid the 'played out to dry equality' nature of some of the main lines following 5...0-0.
In the featured game, Nepomniachtchi won an instructive endgame by turning almost nothing into serious problems for his opponent.
Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 7.Rc1 dxc4 8.Bxc4 0-0 9.Nf3 [D93]
Robson's attempts to take White from the beaten path weren't very successful at first in Krush, I - Robson, R as it was his opponent who had the slightly easier game in the early stages.
So 5...c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 7.Rc1 leads to the diagram, and then back into the main lines of D93 following 7...dxc4 8.Bxc4 0-0 9.Nf3 etc. as here. Nepomniachtchi instead sought complications with 7...Ne4 as in the other featured game (see elsewhere in this update).
The ...Na6-c5 manoeuvre that Robson employed doesn't look as trustworthy as calmly developing the knight to c6. Furthermore, various other subsequent attempts by the higher-rated player to mix matters were 'provocative' and slightly suspect, but he nevertheless finally confused his opponent enough to make the difference felt.
Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Rc1 c5 7.dxc5 Be6 8.Nf3 [D83/D92]
In Sethuraman, S - Gupta, Ab after 9.Be2:
Black's ninth move 9...dxc4 was rare, and following 10.Ng5 his 10...Nd5 was previously unknown. I have noticed on previous occasions that Gupta is quite adept at finding slightly offbeat ideas in the Grünfeld, but here Stehuraman was up to the task, keeping an edge and ultimately winning a pleasant endgame.
So as all this didn't hold up that well, Black needs an improvement on move ten (perhaps 10...Bd7) or earlier, such as on move nine (9...Ne4).
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qa3 [D85]
This is a fine example which reinforces my intuition that 7...Qd7 isn't Black's easiest defence against 7.Qa4+. In the featured high-level encounter Mamedyarov, S - Vachier-Lagrave, M the Frenchman went down to the Azeri's bishop pair. Of course, when playing several games against the same opponent there is the opportunity to test possible improvements almost straight away which is what MVL did with some success. So 9...Bb7 in the main game may have been shown to be too slow, but 9...c5 worked out OK in a couple of rapids between the same opponents two days later.
Still, personally I'd stick to the more natural-looking 7...Nd7, for which you'll have to refer to the archives.
Grünfeld Exchange 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.Rb1 cxd4 [D85]
Another case of MVL struggling badly against the bishop pair was Carlsen, M - Vachier-Lagrave, M. What went wrong?
In this well-known position the most popular move is 10...a6 (to avoid Rb5 ideas) and then after 11.Rc1 Black can play 11...cxd4 (going for a queenless middlegame which is known to be pretty solid, but White can hope that the possible weakness on b6 will be significant). A more dynamic way to meet White's rook redeployment is with 11...f5 (which has been recommended by Svidler). Maybe MVL decided that this risky-looking thrust wouldn't work against the World's No.1 (and in any case the statistics are not that promising for Black here in recent games). So he instead played 10...cxd4 11.cxd4 0-0 leading to another version of the early queen exchange, but he was duly outplayed as his offside knight on a5 was not able to contribute to the defence. Despite a subscriber writing in and criticizing MVL's handling of the opening, there were possible improvements on moves thirteen or fourteen. These involve Black opting for a ...b6 with ...Bb7-style development rather than the ...Bg4 xf3 one employed in the game. So I think that 14...Bxf3?! was the beginning of Black's woes not 10...cxd4.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rb1 [D85]
In Theodorou, N - Delchev, A Black had no problem to equalize but the Bulgarian GM seemed to misjudge the consequences of inviting White to obtain a pawn wedge on e6. The simplest path early on would have been 14...Nc5 (instead of 14...Nb6) leading to a general liquidation on the queenside.
In the present case, White's 10.Rb1 is less popular (that is, when the black knight isn't already on c6) as both 10...Nd7 and 10...b6 look like reasonable replies. Perhaps White's reasoning was that it was more appropriate to play a 'half-decent sideline' than a 'well-known mainline' against such an experienced Grünfeld expert.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 0-0 8.Nf3 c5 9.Rc1 Qa5 10.Nd2 [D85]
A tough fight in Xiong, J - Jones, G ultimately ended in a draw, but showed great credit to the players. Xiong managed to create a few problems for the Englishman, but Jones defended well despite being queen for rook and knight down. The opening line with Nf3-d2 has been seen a few times before, but it's still not as common as Qd2 ideas. Move order considerations and the timing of various options (such as grabbing the a-pawn) are considered in some detail in the notes, but here play ultimately transposed to another sequence which has been covered on ChessPub before.
The line with 12...f5 is a lot of fun where the final word hasn't yet been said, but there was a hint in this game that White might retain a small pull.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Nf3 Bg4 [D85]
You have to know what you are doing if you play a potentially loosening move like 11...b5, but a few GMs have been punting it recently:
White has various options including capturing on c5, but in Shankland, S - Jones, G the American GM Sam Shankland reacted in careful style. However, after completing development he then went for more active play with a combination of pushing his h and f-pawns, just like Magnus Carlsen had done earlier in the same month.
Here it didn't work out very well and Jones seized the initiative. Despite this relative set-back (White did manage to hold the game) there are some indications in the notes that suggest that Black hasn't solved all his problems (that is, at my level, whereas these 2700s may have already analyzed it out to equality) so I expect to see further tests soon if anyone dares risk repeating the enterprising b-pawn thrust.
Russian System, MVL Gambit 7...Nc6 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4 [D97]
Moiseenko, A - Mikhalevski, V involved the highly theoretical MVL Gambit 7...Nc6 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4 which has already been covered on several occasions by me in the past. Basically, if Black can remember everything perfectly then he should be fine (easier written than done!)
In this case, 20.Bf3 is less well-known than the alternatives which may have thrown Mikhalevski, who soon went wrong. After 20...Rxb2 21.Rab1 the beginning of his downfall was 21...Be5?! (showing that you can't always get away with natural moves if your memory fails!) whereas the correct 21...Rxa2 has already been played. The moral of this tale is that it's not a variation for anyone who isn't confident in their memory!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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