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Grünfeld 4.h4 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Na4 [D80]
With 4.h4 the young Dutchman showed his desire to take the game away from main lines, but his opponent reacted well in Van Foreest, J - Ragger, M.
The diagram position occurs after the moves 4...c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Na4 (which Carlsen used to beat MVL not so long ago) 6...cxd4:
Was Ragger's 6...cxd4 a result of home preparation or over-the-board inspiration?
It turned out rather well in the game, but a close examination suggests that White could have improved (and obtained a shade of an edge) in what followed with 10.Bf4 (instead of 10.g3).
So although the sixth move novelty looks playable it's not exactly a refutation of White's ultra-daring opening. It might be that both of the serious alternatives 6...Nc6 and 6...Nf6 will ultimately be deemed as the best antidotes.
Grünfeld 4.Bg5 Bg7 5 Bxf6 Bxf6 6 cxd5 c5 7 dxc5 Nd7 [D80]
In Krasenkow, M - Kosakowski, J Black sacrificed two pawns in the opening:
All sorts of moves have been tried at this point but 8.Rc1, as played by Krasenkow, is quite rare and hasn't been examined by me before. I'm not sure that White has been able to show any sort of an advantage with the more common moves, hence the relevance of this 'useful-looking' surprise weapon. Here after 8...Nxc5 9.g3 we already were on virgin territory, with everything to play for. Overall, this game was such a great fight where Black found enough resources and good defensive moves to morally earn a draw, but alas he blundered near the end.
Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qa4+ Bd7 6.Qb3 dxc4 7.Qxc4 0-0 8.Bf4 [D90]
Although 5.Qa4+ has dropped out of the spotlight it's worth checking through the latest thinking, hence the featured game Jacobson, B - Antipov, M. Maybe it still has surprise value as many players can't remember much about what was at the height of fashion a decade ago!
The follow-up plan of playing 10.b4 is sufficiently noteworthy in that it deserves a diagram:
The idea is that by pushing back the queen, with a gain of tempo, White will have adequate time to bolster his centre whilst keeping enough of a grip on the queenside. Although this has no doubt surprised a few folk, White's score hasn't been good (+0=4-3) but one shouldn't underestimate the plan. In response, vigorous play on the queenside is required to get one's counterplay going before White catches up with his kingside development. In the game, for example, Black mistimed his play and started to go astray on the fifteenth move and (much later after a long defence) was perhaps fortunate to scrape a draw.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Nf3 Bg4 10.Ng5 [D85]
The opening in Andreikin, D - Paravyan, D involved a labyrinth of analogous variations and transpositions, but Black seemed to be holding his own.
Here I quite like 15...f5 for the sheer bravado! It seems to hold up to computer scrutiny too.
In the game, 15...Qc7 was instead preferred with the queen later coming into c3 (and c2) with chances being fairly balanced. So I can't see any problems for Black with this 9...Bg4 10.Ng5 line as long as Black gets on with life and desists from ...h6.
Parvayan sacrificed the exchange in the middlegame which was quite ambitious and he might even have had the better of the struggle at one point before going astray in the pseudo-endgame.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 0-0 9.Qd2 Nd7 [D85]
In Navara, D - Salem, A the Emirati player employed a rare idea that was introduced into practice by Jan Timman a third of a century ago.
Here Navara's 11.d5 seems better that Yusupov's 1989 reaction 11.Nf3 (which might even have favoured Black) but then the question of assessing the resulting pawn structure comes into the fore. White has a protected passed pawn, but Black can play around it, as well as eventually getting his knight to the ideal d6-square. The engines tend to prefer White in such cases, but my own experience isn't quite so positive about his chances. In the game, Navara won with patient play showing that for a top GM there are indeed prospects for enduring pressure. There are possible improvements for Black on moves 12, 13 and 24. The former two suggesting that slightly different handlings of the opening phase were superior, whilst the latter one might have enabled Black to hold out in the middlegame war of attrition.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bb5+ c6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bb3 a5 [D85]
We've seen a number of battles between Carlsen and MVL over the years, but in Carlsen, M - Vachier-Lagrave, M this time it was worth noting that it was the Frenchman who was better, and almost throughout.
Here the threat to the b5-pawn is not yet serious and Black has time to prepare some counterplay. So 13...Nc6 and 13...Bg4 were played by Vachier-Lagrave against the World Champion in two different encounters from the same event, both of which seem adequate. After the possible replies 14.e5 (of the game) or the cheeky 14.Rxb5 Black seems to be fine if he doesn't capture on f3 too early. So I'm concluding that 7.Bb5+ can be well met by a rapid queenside pawn rush.
In the actual game, for once, Carlsen didn't defend that well and gave his opponent serious winning chances.
Grünfeld Exchange 5.Qb3 [D85]
The queen coming to b3 is a common theme in the Grünfeld but on move five, as in Jumabayev, R - Paravyan, D it's rare:
Now Black can decide whether to drop back to b6 or capture on c3, and after 5...Nxc3 White has a choice of how to recapture. As such early decisions are still relevant, this indicates that the theory hasn't crystallized as yet, so the line might seem to be an attempt to graze on fresh pastures. Still 6.Qxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 0-0 8.Bf4 Qd5!? gave Black a decent game which suggests that there isn't much pressure after the queen recapture. Instead 6.bxc3 has been more popular, but the reaction of achieving ...c5 as soon as possible is logical, and then one can question the pertinence of having the queen on b3 in an Exchange Variation. So, not surprisingly, Black has comfortable equality there too.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.h3 0-0 9.Be2 b6 10.Be3 Bb7 11.Qd3 [D85]
In Grachev, B - Turov, M we can see Boris Grachev in action in the h3-Exchange Variation, a pet line of his.
Although the theme of playing a tempo game with ...Bb7-a6 is familiar, it usually occurs in the Rb1-Exchange Variation. Here it feels like a more favourable version for White, which seems surprising in that h2-h3 looks a little on the slow side! Why would this be the case? Well, in the 'R-b1 b6 lines' it's not clear that the rook is that great on b1 and it's often redeployed soon anyway so, in fact, although h2-h3 may not have much value in the long-term any 'loss of time' isn't felt on the board. In any case, I don't think that the diagram position is easy to play for Black, and indeed in the actual game Turov drifted into an inferior middlegame. Alternatives on move nine don't necessarily score any better but might be less to White's taste, the most active of these being 9...b5!?.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.Rc1 Bb7 12.Bb5 [D87]
In Ding Liren - Rapport, R the Chinese GM produced a novelty in a topical line.
Here 18.Bg5! had some bite and gave the opponent a few practical problems. To avoid passivity Rapport gave up the exchange with 18...Nxd4 and duly held the game, but a close scrutiny suggests an improvement for White on move 27. This isn't just an academic point, it could mean that Black is still some way from equality after Ding Liren's eighteenth. So there is still some mileage in the tank in this Bc4-b5 subtlety (see 12.Bb5) that has become fashionable of late.
Grünfeld Russian 7.e4 a6 8.e5 b5 9.Qb3 Nfd7 10.e6 [D97]
In Pultenivicius, P - Karthik, V Black handled the early phases quite well (I particularly liked 17...d5!), but the game gradually turned and he even blundered and lost at the end. White's opening try 11.Ng5 is not so well known but sets very different problems from the more popular moves 11.Be3 and 11.Qxe6+.
It's amazing that in the diagram position that 11...Bxd4 is possible, and if I'm correct seems to lead to a draw (but both sides would have to remember the theory perfectly!). In the actual game, following 11...Nb6 12.Nxe6 Bxe6 13.Qxe6+ Kh8 14.Be3 Black can choose between 14...Qd7 and 14...Qd6 and my impression is that they are both OK in principle, but there are some difficult decisions to make by Black a little down the line.
So 11.Ng5 can indeed be tricky, but anyone who pays attention to this game and notes should get by just fine.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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