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The main focus of this month's update is the Exchange Variation, with the World's top three all having games with the White side. Furthermore, all of the World's twelve highest ranked players feature somewhere in the games and notes (often with both colours!), demonstrating that the Grünfeld is still attracting the elite. In some of these critical lines Black has to be very precise, otherwise White gets into grinding mode where Black suffers, whilst having minimal (if not zero) winning chances. If the main lines involve too much theory for you then you could resort to 9...e5, which makes a refreshing change, as you can see in the Firouzja, A - Anish Giri encounter.
Another, more obscure, theme that seems to be gaining ground in this 'online only' age, is combining Bf4 with an early queen sortie. Be prepared by reading on!

Download PGN of August ’20 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.Qa4+ [D82]

In Potapov, A - Shevchenko, K Black's preparation seemed to confuse his opponent, despite the fact that Alexander Potapov has great experience in this variation.

After looking at what had already transpired previously, 7...Nc6 looks quite decent from Black's point of view, but Shevchenko chose 7...Bc6. Then after 8.Qxc7 Qxc7 9.Bxc7 it turns out that 9...Na6 is a novelty. I'm not convinced by this move (maybe 9...Nd5 is better, as this makes the bishop retreat to e5 look dubious), because of a possible improvement for White on move eleven, but the resulting play was sufficiently complicated at rapid chess to enable the higher-rated player to come to the fore. In the game, White delayed his development too long and was duly punished.

Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Qb3 [D83]

The choice of 4.Bf4 combined with 6.Qb3 was employed in Mohammad, NS - Gupta, Ab. This is a reasonable surprise weapon, which might explain why quite a number of players have responded with the solid, but a shade passive, 6...c6. Although the alternative 6...c5 is more vigorous, I prefer the 6...dxc4 7.Bxc4 c5 of the game:

White then captured on c5 and held onto the pawn, obtaining an excellent position. From Black's point of view, there are a couple of possible improvements, 8...Qa5 immediately (rather than one move later) and 12...Bf5 (instead of 12...Bg4?! 13.f3 Bf5). In the latter stages, it looks like White's time trouble cost him a whole point.

Grünfeld Exchange 5.Na4 e5 [D85]

Black response in the opening, 5...e5 worked out well and led to equality in Nakamura, Hi - Nepomniachtchi, I. However, just when it looked like there was nothing doing in the position, Nepomniachtchi chose a dubious plan and got himself into a discoordinated position. After that, the American played a fine controlled rook endgame. As to the opening, although the main alternative 5...Nb6 is not bad, it might be simplest to blast things open and continue more or less like Nepomniachtchi. Well, that is for about the first twenty moves, after which you'll see my suggested improvements in the notes.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be2 Nc6 [D85]

The encounter Andreikin, D - So, W was quite theoretical with the novelty occurring as late as move nineteen. A key moment arose on move fifteen, however:

The calm 15...Bd7 returns the exchange for a safe-looking balanced middlegame. The alternative 15...Re8 (keeping the booty intact) is more ambitious, but risky. In the game, Andreikin over-pressed a little and lost control for a while, before managing to escape with a perpetual. All this goes to show that the American's 9...Bxc3+ was a good choice.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rc1 Rd8 11.d5 [D85]

In Esipenko, A - Matinian, N White's thirteenth move caught my eye.

White played the relatively rare 13.Bf4!?, after which 13...Nc6 14.Bd3 was uncomfortable for Black. As for possible improvements, although 13...exd5 has been tried at a high level, I'm pretty certain that 13...Qa4! is the way to get a good game. Later on, Esipenko sacrificed the exchange for a bind, that probably offered enough compensation, but no more.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 Qa5 9.Qd2 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qxd2+ 11.Bxd2 [D85]

If Carlsen, M - Ding Liren has a familiar feel to it, then it might be that you remember a previous game that I analyzed that reached the diagram position:

With 16.Bh3 White gives up the f3-pawn for activity. In reply, it is possible to capture right away, but Ding Liren's 16...f5 is the more reliable move reducing the bishop's influence along the h3-c8 diagonal. In this game, along with some segments in the notes, it's notable that it's so easy for Black to go astray, although I think that 'draw' was always the most likely result in this case.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rc1 Nd7 [D85]

The plan involving 10...Nd7, 11...e5, and 12...f5 of Sjugirov, S - Lobanov, S leads to a tense position:

White has a wide choice, but no easy solution. Should he meet the threat of ...f4 by moving his queen to create an escape route? Or, advance the threatened bishop into Black's territory? There isn't a consensus here, nor is there on Black's reply, as in each case ...f4 or ...fxe4 are plausible. As this line has been less well investigated than others, it seems like there is plenty of scope for individual interpretation.

In the game, the opened-up position turned out to be slightly in White's favour, but (as you'll see in the notes) 14...Qa4 and later 18...Nf4 were satisfactory improvements. As for the radical alternative 13...f4, it looks like a decent choice to me but it might not suit everyone.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Nf3 Bg4 11.d5 [D85]

A fashionable line was given a high-level test in Ding Liren - Nepomniachtchi, I. The choice of 11...b5!? has been in the public eye since Grischuk tried it against Carlsen last year. The World Champion didn't capture on c5, preferring to carry on with his development, which proved to be successful, back then, but an examination of the latest developments suggests that there is no objective advantage. Which brings us to 12.Bxc5 Rc8:

The unusual-looking 13.Bb4 shouldn't be dismissed, and led to a white win in a recent GM encounter. In our featured game, 13.Bd4 led to a white opening advantage, after 13...Bxf3 was met by the novelty 14.Bxg7. However, the problem seems to be Nepomniachtchi's 14th move, which doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Instead, 14...Bxg2 needs a close look, but seems to be just about OK.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 0-0 [D85]

There were quite a few positives that Black could take from Firouzja, A - Giri, A but unfortunately for Anish Giri, he lost the game.

Well, first of all, 9...e5 is a radical approach that might ruffle a few feathers. After this provocative move, in the diagram position, White has three options: 10.dxe5, 10.Nf3, and 10.d5. The first two haven't proven to be that impressive in practise, which brings us to the latter. Closing the centre in this way leads to a very different sort of game from most Exchange Variation scenarios, but there might be more folk willing to give it a go in future, as it seems quite a good practical choice. The manoeuvring in the game can teach us a great deal, such as the fact that Black is not without attacking chances, but the timing of ...g4 just has to be spot on. Giri got it right up to a point, but no doubt it was a lack of time that led to his ultimate demise.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 10...b6 [D87]

The slightly alarming aspect of Caruana, F - So, W from a Grünfelder's point of view is the way that the h-pawn push just left Black with difficulties. In this case 14.Bg5 (rare until now) 14...Qd7 and now 15.h4 was the beginning of this enigmatic advance. I've already discussed recently how this super-engine inspired approach is changing our appreciation of certain opening variations. Whatever the details, it's evident that Black has to be careful and in a rapid game this proved to be too difficult for Wesley So. However, as late as move 25 a significant improvement was available but, earlier on, I'm thinking along the lines that 18...Nc6 might be a better try than So's 18...Rc8.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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