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Let's begin with a hearty Happy New Year before turning to the serious stuff.
This month I'll be looking closely at developments in the Anti-Grünfeld and Neo-Grünfeld.

Download PGN of January '13 Daring Defences games

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e-mail Exchange Grünfeld [D85]

First of all however, an e-mail from a subscriber who was recently frustrated by his opponent's move order. In the notes, you'll see that if Black castles before playing ...c5 (as often happens, it's true) then White has a few interesting options of his own.

Simplest is 8.Be2 and then 9.0-0, getting the king out of the way early, which will then enable White to concentrate on maintaining his centre, see Game 1.

Anti-Grünfeld with 3.f3 [D70]

This has become the height of fashion. Is this because everyone wants to play the Sämisch against the King's Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nc3), or (more likely!) just to annoy Grünfeld players? When you have some of the World's top players indulging in this line, with both colours, it's definitely worth a closer look!

All four games in this section passed by the following position:

In Game Two Timofeev continued with 7...Nc6 which forces White to make an immediate decision about the d-pawn. In reply 8.d5 has been popular at a high level, but Black has been holding his own. In the featured game, Bocharov tried the less well-mapped alternative 8.Bb5 which led to a complicated struggle. Matters were unclear until right near the end when White's attacking postures finally paid off.

In Game 3 I look at developments in those lines where Black hits back with an early ...f5. Although Black played this advance on the eighth move here, I think that 8...Nc6 9.0-0-0 f5 is slightly more precise (it's more forcing), although the main game transposed anyway. Nosenko's novelty 13.Ng5 is handled well by Chernousek and for a while Black had the better of equality. Later, after turning the tables somewhat, White tried too hard to win and should even have lost the endgame.

In the 2012 London Classic, Gawain Jones tried 3.f3 against no less than Anand (Game 4) and Aronian (Game 5).

The World Champion had already played recently against the 8...e5 line as White, in his match against Boris Gelfand (see the archives) so wasn't exactly thrown by Jones's choice. Although the Englishman introduced a novelty, Anand reacted thematically and quickly obtained a big advantage with Black.

Aronian preferred to play with the modern line ...Qd6 in Game 5, against which he has some experience himself. The World No.3 improved on a previous game and obtained comfortable equality which led to a repetition. One could conclude that although 3.f3 remains a dangerous weapon, against 2800-level preparation it doesn't quite have the same effect!

Neo-Grünfeld [D72-78]

Black has been doing well of late in a number of lines in the Neo-Grünfeld.

For a start, the French numbers 1 and 2 both won nice endgames in the next two featured games.

Vladimir Tkachiev tests Etienne Bacrot with a fairly new wrinkle, 12.Qc2, which has become popular only recently. Black was able to more or less equalize, although the point where Bacrot decided to offer his c-pawn was critical. Maybe Tkachiev could have snatched the pawn? However, Black could perhaps have sacrificed the pawn differently. Although there remain questions about the latter part of the opening phase, the endgame was played with great skill. The way that Etienne Bacrot exploited his advantage in Game 6 was exceptional, and worth closer study.

Following this, in Game 7, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was able to maintain a blockade on the e5-square right into the endgame where he gradually turned the screw. One has the habit of seeing Sargissian play like this himself, but here he was on the receiving end.

The opening is actually one of the most cutting-edge ones in the whole Neo-Grünfeld, here is the diagram after 15.f4:

Gleaning what I can from a number of recent games, I have deduced that Black's best plan in the diagram position is to capture on c3 and then put the white centre under pressure. In turns out that the bishop pair, plus the centre, doesn't necessarily mean an advantage for White, as Black is well placed to counter any pawn advances. The present game being a model for a successful black strategy. Could the Armenian have saved the day? I have made a couple of suggestions, which may have toughened up White's defence. See if you can find a way to hold out for White.

In Game 8 Black again wins in a line that used to be considered difficult for him. It seems that Grünfeld players have worked out how to cope with White's early pawn rush in the centre, and in the diagram position it is White who is struggling to equalize! Does this mean that the whole line with e2-e4 and Ne2 has lost its bite? It may do!

Kempinski soon ran out of ideas and Areshchenko (playing Black) seemed to win almost effortlessly.

In Game 9 Tomczak varied with a sideline which up to now hasn't really worked well in practise. However, despite losing this game, the closed centre with the blockading knight on d6 may not be too bad for the second player. Gajewski played a nice attacking game, but this was far from clear as Black's set-up may indeed be a way of making 8...Nb6 interesting. I don't find the computer that helpful, so judging the position after Black's fourteenth move may be a largely subjective affair. I personally think Black should be fine.

Probably due to the ultra-solid nature of Wang Yue's set-up in Game 10, Anish Giri tried an experimental idea to seek a more complex game. The tricky move 9.Qa3 has in fact been played a few times before, but not very often:

Wang Yue correctly captured the c-pawn and obtained a good game. Later on it was Black that had any winning chances going.

Many players are put off the Neo-Grünfeld by the ...c6 and ...d5 defence which has a reputation for being tough for White to get anything at all. In this case the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.g3!? might appeal.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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