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In this month's update I will be investigating a couple of games from the English Defence, plus a couple of recent games in the Dutch that caught my eye. However, the main focus of my attention will be centred on some high-level encounters in the Grünfeld Defence from the recent Tata Steel, Wijk aan Zee tournament.

Download PGN of February '11 Daring Defences games

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English Defence [A40]

In Game One, Pavel Tregubov outplays Normunds Miezes in the latter stages and earns the full point. However, although the Russian's novelty on move ten, 10.Nd4!?, caused Black some practical problems:

, Mieses was up to the task in the late opening/early middlegame and obtained full equality, it was only after the exchange of queens where he went astray.

The Latvian's pet-line isn't played that often so has surprise value and seems to create interesting off-beat positions.

In Game Two, another long-term adherent of the English Defence, Konstantin Chernyshov, was in action. The choice of placing the bishop on d6 in the opening may seem unnecessarily provocative (especially as ...Be7 intending ...Ne4 and ...Bf6 is comfortable) but this is a theme that can be seen in various other games of his. Here White's (premature!) central advance with e2-e4 rebounded on him and Black soon seized the advantage.

Dutch Stonewall Defence [A90]

In the Stonewall defence, it is rare to see Evgeny Gleizerov in such disarray. In Game Three he varies from his usual system and is soon thrown by a tactical shot that won the game for Frode Urkedal. The lesson of this sorry tale is that combining ...Bd7-e8 with ...b6 is not a healthy way of handling the Black development.

My recommendation for Black is to follow Gleizerov's usual recipe i.e. 8...Ne4 followed by ...Qe7, and then if the conditions are right continue with ...Bd7. This move may be the debut of the thematic manoeuvre ...Bd7-e8-h5 or, as in the game segment in the notes, to simply allow ...Rc8 to seek influence down the c-file.

Leningrad Dutch 7...Qe8 [A87]

Alexander Beliavsky's win in Game Four isn't particularly theoretical, but reminded me of an important theme that I have already touched on in recent months. Black opted for a pawn structure that combines elements of the Stonewall Defence with the Leningrad. The point is that White cannot be that effective if his only real trump card is use of the e5-square, whereas the closing of the centre enables Black plenty of time to get his pieces well organized and to even threaten to threaten some kingside activity. Many players struggle to handle such positions well where qualities such as 'experience' and 'strategic feeling' are more important than tactical flair.

Grünfeld Defence Exchange Variation 7 Be3, 8 Nf3 [D85]

In the Exchange Variation with Be3, featured in Game Five, Nepomniachtchi was able to get away from the well-trodden paths of the main lines and deviate the game into relatively unknown pathways by means of 8...Bg4:

The unusual early development of the bishop can be used as a transpositional tool by following up with ...Qa5, but Nepomniachtchi simply captured on f3 (9.Rc1 Bxf3!?) and Giri couldn't do anything dramatic with his damaged structure. Indeed White over-played his hand and lost.

Exchange with 7.Qa4+ [D85]

In Game Six, Kramnik surprised Anish Giri (playing Black this time) with a novelty in the 7.Qa4+ system. Black seemed to be fine, but Kramnik was able to introduce a tactical sequence leading to a superior 'Rook and Bishop versus Rook and Knight' pseudo-endgame.

Although the notes point out possible improvements for Black, the lesson is perhaps that well-founded 'surprises' tend to take their toll on an opponent as additional energy is required to work out fresh problems at the board.

My advice is to not to concentrate your home preparation solely on the main lines. By examining such lesser variations in advance you are less likely to be bamboozled by an offbeat selection. So play through all the games in the update, not just the ones covering fashionable lines!

Exchange 7.Bc4 [D87]

In Games Seven and Eight the theory of the 12...e5 counter-punch is tested in a couple of Vachier-Lagrave games:

In the first of these (Shirov - Vachier-Lagrave from round four of the Wijk aan Zee tournament) a line that I had analyzed in October is tested. White sought an attack, but my notes in October had already indicated that Black should hold out. Indeed Vachier-Lagrave, who was clearly the better prepared of the two players, had few problems in obtaining the full point.

In Game Eight the young Frenchman wasn't so successful, here is the position after 17.f3:

Here he made a positional error allowing White to open the game and obtain strong pressure against Black's king. So 17...Rf7 proved to be wrong whereas 17...c4 18.Bc2 f4 would have been fine as after 19.g3 g5 Black can keep the position closed where he has little to fear.

I suggest you find Van Wely-Kamsky, Dagomys 2008 (see the archives) and play through this game which illustrates my point. Note how White's knight on e2 is then quite a poor piece, an observation that is also true in analogous positions resulting from some more traditional lines of the Exchange Variation where Black plays with ...c4 and ...f4.

5.Qa4+ [D90]

In Game 9 we see the downside of employing 'surprise weapons'. Navara reacts with a playable sideline of his own and then White is also out of his main preparation! The young Czech star then demonstrates some neat ideas to gradually outplay the Polish number one and wins an instructive endgame.

It looks to me that 5.Qa4+ can be met by various moves, but be ready in advance!

5.e3 [D94]

I liked Game 10 as Vachier-Lagrave (as White!) sacrificed a pawn and turned the screws on Ian Nepomniachtchi to eventually break through to victory. A game that must have been especially satisfying for the Frenchman as in a similar scenario, in the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad, Vachier-Lagvrave allowed the win to slip through his hands.

The opening variation has been played many times, and can even occur from various move orders. However it seems that these 'reversed Tarrasch' positions are not so easy for Black as White gets plenty of activity for his isolani.

If you don't like the type of positions that arise, then you could vary with the plan of 8...Nc6 followed by 9...e5.


Till next month, Glenn Flear

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