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To finish the year I've been looking at the Grünfeld along with the Anti-Grünfeld. In many cases this time, I have noticed how typical Grünfeld themes get embellished with move order subtleties, so that the players vie for their own 'favourable version'. So, in practise, it's less a question of 'pure memory' skills that are required and more a case of 'general understanding' and 'all-round experience'. My advice to enhance these areas of your game is to keep reading your favourite chess column (just make sure it is mine!).

Download PGN of December ’18 Daring Defences games

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Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 f5 [D70]

One of the most remarkable novelties of recent times was introduced in Harsha, B - Sutovsky, E by the experienced Israeli GM.

You may have seen a number of games that have continued with 10...Nb4, but this is the first time anyone has played 10...f4. A surprising pawn sacrifice that Harsha (no doubt in shock!) sensibly declined.

If White had accepted then there would certainly have been more options and open lines than usual for Black's pieces, but only future tests will determine if this proves to be 'acceptable compensation' or not. In the game, Black retained his wedge on f4 and was able to find adequate room for his pieces. Later, seeking a victory at all costs Sutovsky overplayed his hand and was almost in trouble, but his opening idea passed its first test.

Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 e5 [D70]

The Swiss league game Vernay, C - Renet, O also deviated quite quickly from known territory. Firstly, in the following position, White recaptured on d5 with his knight rather than the usual way with the pawn:

In the archives, you'll be able to see various examples of 11.cxd5, but here Clovis Vernay opted for 11.Nxd5 (which has surprise value, but isn't objectively so challenging, in my opinion). There haven't been many games, so it's not difficult to introduce a novelty, which after 11...Nxd5 12.cxd5 Renet promptly did with 12...e4 (a line-opening idea that is familiar in analogous positions).

Black was soon better before losing his way, but the critical test at this point would have been for White to capture on e4, but that is in another story...

Grünfeld 4.Bg5 Ne4 [D80]

In Xiong, J - Sasikiran, K the Indian GM was seeking a solid non-theoretical approach. He achieved this in the following manner:

Firstly, by employing the rare 8...Qa5!? (which is new to ChessPublishing) and then after 9.Qd2 with 9...b6 (which is new to the world!). By delaying the typical ...c5 counter Black does keep a certain flexibility in the timing of this break and indeed with the other one ...e5. On the other hand, as in the game, White was able to consolidate his centre, so it seems that Sasikiran's cautious approach doesn't lead to full equality.

In the game, the young American outplayed his more experienced opponent and so Sasikiran was perhaps fortunate to draw.

Grünfeld Exchange 5 Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0-0 [D85]

The manoeuvre involving 5.Bd2 followed shortly by 7.Bxc3 has been tested a great deal over the last few years. In Kunin, V - Chatalbashev, B White extended his centre with the ambitious 11.d6, but it went badly wrong and Black was soon better. Although this d5-d6 pawn advance is known in a number of analogous positions it looks like the counter plan of ..Nc6, ...e5, and ...Nd4, is quite effective. The d-pawn then become a serious weakness after Chatalbashev successfully posted his knight on d4.

My feeling is that d5-d6 is a risky venture when played in similar circumstances. Probably better is 11.Bc4, but that won't surprise many opponents these days.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Bg4 [D85]

The various move orders and transpositional possibilities in this particular version of the Exchange Variation are a real labyrinth that can be baffling. Of course, the secrets are in the detail, so please read the notes diligently! The game Werle, J - Heimann, An saw the German opting for 8...Bg4!? when he keeps the opponent guessing about 'if and when' ...Qa5 will occur:

This seems to have become a favourite with super-GMs and, in the archives, you will notice that Black has generally done quite well with this approach. In our featured game, Black did obtain the more promising position from the opening (maybe 18...f5! is an improvement) but, later on, the higher-rated player almost lost after over-pressing.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 0-0 9.Be2 [D85]

In Predke, A - Stany, G White's 9.Be2 is one of those 'useful but non-committal moves' that oblige the opponent to show his hand first. White will react differently depending on Black's plan of counter action.

After 9...Qc7 10.0-0 b6 11.Qd2 Nd7 the following position was reached:

Predke was ready for, and justified in, expanding with 12.d5 leaving Black with problems to obtain enough counterplay. A few moves later, Black's attempt to force matters with ...f5 backfired, as he ended up with serious weaknesses that led to his downfall.

I'm not totally sure what to recommend against 9.Be2, but if I really had to pick something then the logical reply 9...b6 (as examined in Aronian, L - Dobov, D not so long ago in this column) wouldn't be a bad choice.

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

The novelty in Morovic, I - Kulaots, K came as late as move eighteen:

Here, Morovic's 18.Rfe1 was new, but could well have been inspired by a couple of rapid games between Yu Yangyi and Peter Svidler where the Chinese GM chose to place his rook on e1 rather d1. I've discussed this subtlety in the notes, where the reasoning is that the rook is more likely to have a role to play on the e-file.

White ultimately got the better of this encounter, but I think that Kulaots would have been OK if he had settled for the less risky 22...Nxb3, even if this seems like a small concession (it arguably improves White's structure).

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.Rc1 [D87]

The novelty in Xu Yinglun - Wan Yunguo is worth a diagram:

Black played 13...f5!? in an attempt to undermine White's centre whilst opening up play for Black's pieces (that is, more than White's). Of course, when you notice the bishop on b3 bearing down the longish a2-g8 diagonal towards Black's king you might be dubitative, but Wan Yunguo's idea seems to hold water!

In fact, Black's activity was more than sufficient to compensate for any ugliness in his structure. Even the weakness on e6 proved to be more of a distraction that lost time for White than anything else.

I particularly like Wan Yunguo's coup de grâce on move 25.

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.Rc1 Be6 7.e3 dxc4 [D92]

In Dreev, A - Robson, R White managed to squeeze out a win from a drawn endgame. You have to respect high-level Russian endgame technique! However, Robson created a few problems for himself at the end of the opening by opting for 18...e6 which, combined with 21...Bxb2, led to a slightly damaged pawn structure. Previously, Vachier-Lagrave had demonstrated that Black can obtain sterile equality with 18...Rad8 and, in addition, a case can be made for 18...Bxc3.

Overall, this whole line shouldn't be too much of a worry for Black, but you have to remember a lot of theory and make sure you don't get too confused with the move orders. As for the second player's winning chances, they will only occur if White is himself too ambitious, or has a bad memory!

Grünfeld Russian 7...Nc6 8.Be2 e5 - MVL Gambit [D97]

The gambit involving 7...Nc6 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4 has been played at least seven times by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, so it could perhaps be named after him. Here it was tested in Bosiocic, M - Ragger, M and Black obtained a comfortable game following 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Qxd4 c6 12.d6:

Ragger just followed in the footsteps of Navara and Vachier-Lagrave and didn't have to do anything special to get the better of equality. So this doesn't look like anything that is challenging the soundness of the MVL gambit.

White soon found himself under pressure, but fought back well only to stumble at the final hurdle, when a perpetual was within his grasp.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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