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These difficult times have obliged many folk to resort to the Internet to play their chess. Whether it is e-mail chess or Internet games, at a fast rate, the Grünfeld remains popular. Maybe it has certain characteristics that continue to attract followers: It's dynamic, basically sound, and despite years of scrutiny it's still rich with new possibilities. The ten games that follow illustrate these and other qualities.

Download PGN of December ’20 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 Qd6 [D70]

I was immediately struck by the fact that Cheparinov was playing in a way that he himself proposed in print not so long ago. A man true to his word! The challenge was taken up in Cheparinov, I - Maghsoodloo, P but despite Maghsoodloo demonstrating a promising new plan, he couldn't avoid difficulties altogether. There still seems to be plenty of scope for both players to seek improvements, so 13...Na5 will no doubt receive further attention in the near future. The endgame should have been won by White (on a couple of occasions), but when time is short opportunities get missed.

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

In Ivanchuk, V - Nepomniachtchi, I Black gave up a few pawns to seize the initiative and it worked a treat. Notable indeed was Nepomniachtchi's eighth move:

Although in an earlier game, between the same players, Black obtained a playable position after the most common move 8...Nbd7, it seems that the choice of 8...a5 leads to a sharper struggle. As Ivanchuk was soon in difficulties, he must have quickly regretted 14.Qd3 rather than 14.Qxa4, after which analysis suggests that he would have been OK. In any case, 8...a5 looks like a good choice for those who want a fight.

Grünfeld Exchange 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0-0 8.Qd2 [D85]

The following position after 19.exd5 occurred in two Giri, A - Nepomniachtchi, I online games:

My feeling is that Black is probably OK after both of 19...Rad8 (as here) and 19...cxd5 as in their later duel. In both cases, however, White managed to get the better of the struggle at some point, which perhaps indicates that it's harder to handle the intricacies with Black. A case in point being on move 22, in the main game, where 22...Qd4?!, as chosen by Nepomniachtchi, looks inferior to at least two other options.

Later on, Giri's desire to win eventually led to him over-pressing and he even lost.

The encounter Lysyj, I - Lobanov, S was decided in the endgame, where White's 'exchange up advantage' gave him all the chances. As for the opening, there were several moments of interest.

Lobanov's reaction 12...c5 seems best. After this, play followed that of a previous game, where after 13.bxa5 bxa5 14.Ba5 the slightly odd-looking 14...Qb8! proved to be fine for Black. Instead, White was able to generate some pressure after 14...Qe7, which led to the win of the exchange.

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

Goganov, A - Ponkratov, P highlights the main focus of theoretical interest in one of the most popular lines.

Now there are several ways to react, but Black's main decision is whether or not to trade on d5. In the game, he preferred 14...Ne7, keeping the tension in the central arena, but following 15.c4 Qxd2+ there is a suspicion that White has a slight pull. It seems that even if there exists some way to ensure the balance, it's certainly not such an easy task in a practical game. Still, there are plenty of plausible possibilities after 14...exd5 15.exd5 with 15...Bg4, or 15...Ne7, or even 15...c4. All this will probably become clear if (or should I write 'when') further GM-level or high quality e-mail games become available.

Goganov was close to winning in the latter stages, but had to settle for a share of the spoils.

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

The game Korobov, A - Cheparinov, I led to a black win as Cheparinov's excellent preparation seemed to put Korobov under pressure. A key move was 17...Qa3! and then after 18.f4 the plan of ...Rad8 and ...Nc5 in some order. This set-up seems preferable to one based around ...Rfd8 and ...Nb6 which occurred in a Carlsen - Grischuk encounter from last year. The best chance for White may be to react to Cheparinov's 18...Rad8 with 19.e5, but that could do with further testing.

With more time, I suspect that the endgame should have been drawn, but defending unpleasant endgames in zeitnot can be a tough task even for high-ranking GMs.

Grünfeld Exchange Nf3 & h3 [D85]

The German GM Bluebaum stuck to his pet h3-Exchange Variation in Bluebaum, M - Svidler, P, but it looks like his experienced opponent was ready.

The choice of 9...b5 is notable in that Kasparov played this way against Kramnik twenty years ago, but didn't equalize. Black hopes for some action on the queenside, but Kramnik's counter-plan involving a queen going to b1 still seems relevant today, and can be applied in a number of analogous positions. In fact, in my opinion, the only conceivable way of testing Black's idea is with 14.Rac1 followed by 15.Qb1, rather than 14.Rab1 which didn't challenge Black at all.

Exchange 7.Bc4 - 10...Bg4 11.f3 Bd7 [D87]

A long endgame was finally won by Artemiev when Timofeev missed his chance to save himself in Timofeev, A - Artemiev, V. The opening phase also turned out well for the higher-rated player as he obtained an outpost on c4 for his pieces which enabled him to gain comfortable equality (at least) from an early stage. The main move 12.Rb1 has generally been preferred to 12.Rc1 and on the evidence of this you can understand why. After 12...Rc8 snatching the pawn with 13.dxc5 is perhaps a bigger test for Black, but a number of e-mail tests seem to be suggesting that he's OK there as well.

Russian, Prins System 7.e4 Na6 8.Be2 [D97]

In Checa, N - Sevian, S a theoretical line in the Prins was given a test:

Sevian's 14...Ng4 is the critical way of continuing for Black, but has the disadvantage of leading to some highly complex variations where a good memory is required. In e-mail play, 15.Qf4 has featured and has proven to be a serious alternative to the 15.Bf4 of the game. A little later, Checa was the first to leave established theory, but with a poor move 19.Bxa6? instead of the tricky 19.d7, which hasn't yet revealed all it's secrets. The endgame was yet another one where the result would probably have been different if the defender had had more time.

Russian Mainline 7.e4 Bg4 8.Be3 Nfd7 9.Rd1 Nb6 10.Qb3 Nc6 [D99]

In Ter Sahakyan, S - Mikhalevski, V the opening phase went in Black's favour.

However, in the diagram position after 13...Bh5, Ter Sahakyan played the objectively inferior 14.f4 which doesn't seem that challenging. Instead, 14.Rg1! has caused problems for Black over the years and is still the key move here. Later, the way that White drummed up an attack from nowhere was impressive.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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