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The Zaitsev lives! Or, more to the point, I'll be examining the relatively new 8.a4 in the Zaitsev variation of the Benko, as well as a number of games in the ever-popular Grünfeld Defence.

Download PGN of February ’18 Daring Defences games

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Benko Defence Other lines 5.Nc3 [A57]

I received an enquiry about the Zaitsev Variation from Wee Zhun Teh, a line that has until recently been shunned by top GMs. One recent development (that it seems is regenerating interest in 5.Nc3) is the move 8.a4, which immediately gives Black a dilemma:

White supports the knight on b5. Should Black leave the structure as it is, or take en passant? In either case, there are new problems to solve, see my investigations. When it becomes better known, could this be the next fashionable anti-Benko choice?

My feeling is that 8...g6 is the practical man's reply, but this is only based on one OTB game.

Grünfeld Defence 4.Bg5 c5!? [D80/91]

I haven't examined 4...c5 before, an unusual line championed by Daniil Dubov and tried out here in the prestigious Russian Championship. However, in Fedoseev, V - Dubov, D I think that the drawbacks of his pet line were revealed. Fedoseev steered the opening towards a variation where Black is on a knife-edge. Dubov innovated but didn't find a route to equality.

Here, after 11.a4, Dubov's novel 11...Qd7 was not bad, but White can emerge from the complications with a small edge in all lines. Previously, 11...f6 has been shown to be inadequate, but the plausible 11...a6 needs further tests.

Grünfeld Defence 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Nxe4!? [D80]

This capture has always struck me as a decent surprise weapon that avoids lots of theory. White, however, really has to castle long and can sometimes (if he isn't careful) come under pressure on the queenside. Although this indeed happened in Bluebaum, M - Xiong, J White was actually close to winning early on, showing that this sideline has some bite.

I suspect that Black should try and delay touching his e-pawn here, as the later advance d5-d6 turned out to be powerful. So I suggest the calm 11...Bf5 followed by generally getting his piece development sorted before committing himself.

In the game, it was curious how White achieved such a big advantage early on, only to allow Black to turn the tables. A great fight full of ifs and buts.

Grünfeld Defence 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bh4 [D80/91]

A long drawn-out struggle occurred in Wei Yi - Svidler, P where Black was playing second fiddle. The eight times Russian Champion was outplayed towards the end of the opening and then had to hang on in there for a further 100 moves or so to earn his half-point.

The key moment revolved around the exchange of queens. By trying to find the right time the Russian missed his chance for equality which could have occurred following 13...Qxc4! in the above diagram position.

In the actual game, the way that Wei Yi created some action was instructive. Of course, the endgame a piece up might have been won at a lower level, but Svidler's defensive technique was up to scratch.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Bb5+ [D85]

The 8.Bb5+ line came into focus when Anand played it against Gelfand in a World Championship Match six years ago. Since then things have gone fairly quiet, so the tricky play that follows could easily have been forgotten by a unprepared opponent. Vachier-Lagrave, however, is generally anything but that. In Gupta, Ab - Vachier-Lagrave, M Black had to step very carefully to nullify White's advantage. Either the Frenchman was confident about his defensive technique or his novelty 15...Qb5 didn't quite go to plan. It seems to me that alternatives at this point, i.e. 15...Qb4 or 15...Qxd2+, are superior.

Curiously, it's another example of Black avoiding the exchange of queens and then having to go on the defensive!

Grünfeld Defence 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 [D90]

In Antipov, M - Howell, D I thought that Black's opening was quite good, but the game gradually turned in White's favour. The Englishman was ultimately able to defend the opposite-bishop endgame a pawn down, but he had a hard day at the office for his half-point.

My conclusion is that if White meets 7...c6 with 8.Bf4 then Howell's 8...dxc4! is the principled and correct move. Note that, normally, the sequence would be 5...c6 6.Bf4 dxc4!, but there was a weird repetition in the opening (according to the transmission).

There were possible improvements around moves 12 or 13 (read that as 10 or 11 under normal circumstances!) for Black, which could have given a more rigorous test of the soundness of White's gambit play.

Grünfeld Defence 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.Rc1 [D92]

In the 6.Rc1 variation, when White meets 6...dxc4 with 7.e4, a forcing variation can occur if both sides continue with the principled moves. Follow the early stages of Lehner, O - Seyb, A for a case in point. From White's point of view the minority attack starting with 14.b4 adds a little bit of spice to the pot:

Against this, an earlier game demonstrated a way to equalize with 18...Bd6 instead of 18...Bg7. There might be other solid tries that are reasonable for Black a little earlier, but he seems to be playing for only two results, which isn't necessarily to everyone's taste. In my opinion, Black didn't defend the endgame very well.

Grünfeld Defence 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 [D93]

The opening in Mikaelyan, A - Sychev, K is highly theoretical and leads to very sharp play. A close look (with engines blazing away) reveals a few surprises including the fact that both sides in this encounter missed the power of an amazing rook sacrifice. There are sometimes astonishing hidden resources in games that escape the human mind. That's part of the fun! Don't forget to check out my analysis on move 22.

However, as to this opening choice by White. I would describe it as a 'rolling the dice variation' as there is no advantage, but anything can happen. Only inveterate 'attack and be damned' gamblers should apply!

Jakovenko's 15...Rfc8 is still holding up to scrutiny.

Grünfeld Defence Russian System 6...Be6 [D97]

Peter Svidler is the latest soul who is successful with 6...Be6 against the Russian Defence. In Volkov, S - Svidler, P he was able to generate counterplay with a quick ...b5, exploiting the fact that all White's queen moves cost him time. Black 's lead in development led to him actively deploying his pieces and he never looked back. White contributed to his own misfortune by rather dangerously pushing his kingside pawns.

Grünfeld Defence Russian 7...a6 8.Be2 [D97]

A dramatic win for Black occurred in Volkov, S - Riazantsev, A as White was mated in only 24 moves. Black sacrificed material for an attack and it paid off with a pretty finish.

In the opening Riazantsev played an old idea 10...Nbd7:

Against this knight move, Volkov chose 11.Be3 Ng4 12.c6 but this was met with a natural novelty 12...Nxe3 with complex play. I think the critical reply is 11.e5 after which I couldn't find a path to equality.

Grünfeld Defence Russian 7...Be6 8.d5 [D97]

When Black plays his bishop to e6 on move seven, it's tempting to flick it away with 8.d5. That's exactly what happened in Ivanisevic, I - Soysal, S the featured game. White gains time, but Black has in return a clear target on d5, which led here to an IQP scenario where White had more space and no real worries with the isolani. I have a healthy respect for White's space edge which seems to give Black a few headaches:

In the game Black was close to equality, but as soon as the queens came off he went too readily into passive mode. Ivanisevic's technique was instructive as to how he created insurmountable problems for Black.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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