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Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 [D70]
Ljubomir Ftacnik is unable to solve Black's opening problems in both games from the Anti-Grünfeld.
In Game one he tried the 9...f5 defensive system which led to the following position:
The main move here is 12...Qd7, but Black hasn't been doing very well after that (see the notes). Instead Ftacnik tried the rare 12...Nc4, but 13.Bxc4 Bxc4 14.b3 led to an edge for White. In the game Shankland maintained pressure throughout, and so yet again Black fails with 9...f5.
In Game Two, a few days later, the Slovak GM switched to 9...Qd6, but was again soon on the back foot. I suspect that instead of 13...Nxe3, Black should prefer Giri's 13...N6a5, as I've suggested in the notes. Matlakov's positional queen sacrifice certainly created a few practical problems for his opponent, but it was actually only a trick, just before the time control, that finally broke Black's resistance.
Grünfeld Defence Exchange Variation 5.Bd2 [D85]
It wasn't so long ago that 5.Bd2 was chosen to 'avoid theory', but its popularity has led to it becoming quite theoretical in its own right. In Game Three White's 11.Rd5!? created some new problems:
However, there are great similarities with the analogous 11.Bb5 Nc6 12.Rd5, towards which I believe that Black should aim to transpose.
In the game Negi's difficulties seemed to stem from the fact that he avoided playing the natural ...Nc6 on either moves 11 or 13. Vishnu's 15.e5! was particularly noteworthy.
Svidler's 7.f4, to create a dark-squared wall (d4, e3, f4), has become astonishingly popular of late. However games such as Tunik-Gupta (Game Four) could well diminish many white player's ardour for this line. The surprise value is gone and a number of ways to counter this slightly artificial-looking plan are being revealed. There may well be other methods but Gupta's choice of 8...c5 seems well-founded.
Exchange Variation 8.h3 [D85]
An early h2-h3, naturally to cover the g4-square, is rare in the Grünfeld. This is especially the case in the Exchange Variation where, with so much tension in the central arena, one can hardly imagine that such a move could be any good. Nevertheless, Game Five is an astonishing crush with Najer not being able to stem the tide of Buhmann's initiative. The German GM offered the exchange for several moves, but it was never taken. One can understand why, as White tends to get dangerous compensation.
The most surprising lesson is that such a 'quiet' system of development should lead to such sharp play. In the notes of the game, we notice that there were many tricky choices for Black. Maybe the simplest way for Black is to avoid all this with 9...b6, logically placing the bishop on b7 where it gains a tempo.
Exchange 7.Qa4+ [D85]
The line with 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qxd7+ is considered rather tame, but Volokitin playing Black manages to liven things up in Game 6.
In this position Black is two pawns down, but White's rook is trapped! In fact Black is already better. I'm not totally sure if the exchange-up endgame is a forced win, but it turned out to be too difficult to defend in the face of Volokitin's persistence.
Exchange Variation 6.Bg5 [D90]
Loek Van Wely wasn't able to confuse Safarli with his off-beat opening system in Game 7. The Azerbaijani GM was able to equalize comfortably and, after White's over-optimistic h2-h4, he even seized the initiative.
Black was able to nurture his endgame advantage and, with precise play until the end, ultimately took the full point.
Against the tricky 5.h4, those who haven't followed the latest theoretical developments in the sharper lines may well settle for the solid 5...c6:
These lines can be a little passive for Black, but in Game 8 Oral is able to find a path to full equality.
The most entertaining part of the game is the endgame phase where Votava engineers a way to penetrate into the black camp. Black gets enough counterplay and both sides are able to promote before sharing the point.
In Game 9 Chernousek plays the interesting idea 11...b5:
This move, which had been employed by Garry Kasparov, creates a sharp struggle. However, I am not convinced of it's soundness. In the notes, 12.Qf3 a6 13.h4! looks strong, as once played in the seventies!
In the actual game, L'Ami's 13.g3 was less challenging. Black was able to complete development in peace and obtained at least equality. Later on, Black went the wrong way with his king and threw away half-a-point.
Russian System Hungarian Variation 8.Be2 [D97]
Sergey Volkov is quite happy to repeat these main lines of the Hungarian Variation, just as in Game 10. The position was so complicated that the advantage passed backwards and forwards until finally favouring White.
A critical position for this line is the one in the diagram above after 18.Ng5. Grandelius chose 18...h6, whereas an earlier game continued with 18...Bf6. It seems that, in both cases, Black has good compensation for the exchange. I'm not sure that an analysis engine necessarily gets this type of weird position right, but one can discover some amazing variations in the notes.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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