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Happy New ChessPublishing Year! This time it's a Grünfeld special on the menu, with some exciting games. In particular, there are a number of games involving top players who seem to be testing lines that I've been looking at fairly recently in your favourite column! Maybe it's too presumptuous of me to claim that they are reading yours truly, but it could be that their analysis engines are coming up with conclusions similar to mine! Read on to see which ones I mean, and any lessons to be gleaned...

Download PGN of January ’20 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld Exchange - 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bd2 Nb6 7.Bg5 [D90]

In Laurusas, T - Howell, D White combined the 'Bd2 Exchange' with an early Nf3 which can arise from D90 or D85. Howell reacted well with 6...Nb6 7.Bg5 c5! and obtained a good game, which hasn't changed my general view of this line from previous analyses. Thereafter, White has a choice between the unambitious 8.e3 and the sharper 8.dxc5, as in the game:

The plan, starting with 8...Bxc3+, of giving up the dark-squared bishop for the better structure offers a certain assymetry where the stronger player can hope to outplay an opponent. This indeed happened for a while, but White's clever temporary piece sacrifice snuffed out any Black winning chances.

Grünfeld Exchange 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 [D85]

Austrian GM Markus Ragger introduces a novelty in Ragger, M - Cheparinov, I.

Various moves had previously been tried here, with Ragger himself playing 11.h4, but none of the various options have been particularly successful. Until now, that is, as 11.b4!, making the ...c7-c5 break less attractive, worked a treat as White kept the advantage throughout. When Cheparinov did try to liberate with 13...c5? he ended up just simplifying into a bad pseudo-endgame. There might be an improvement (or two) on move eleven (maybe 11...c5 or 11...f5) but I'm not sure if they solve all of Black's problems. So maybe the ...Nd7, ...b6 and ...Bb7 set-up isn't quite as good as I had thought before I saw this game.

Grünfeld Exchange 6...c5 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Be3 Bg4 9.Rc1 0-0 10.Be2 [D85]

Although Ernst, S - Fier, A started fairly quietly it soon built up into a wild struggle where White missed a couple of ways to earn a draw. The plans employed in the middlegame were instructive, but the most notable moment was when Alexander Fier bravely sacrificed the exchange for more than a draw. As to the opening, Black's 11...Nd7 seems to be quite a robust method of development, but White could opt to play more sharply (and theoretically) with the earlier 11.0-0 or (one move later) with 12.d5 whereas Ernst's 12.h3 wasn't particularly challenging.

Grünfeld Exchange 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.Rb1 a6 [D85]

The exciting game Donchenko, A - Nasuta, G finished in perpetual check, but there were several key moments where the players had to make difficult decisions. Overall, it was Black who was closest to winning, but it was never easy.

First of all, Nasuta showed that he wanted a fighting game with his eleventh move 11...f5!?:

This fairly common Grünfeld break hasn't been scoring that well, perhaps because the self-weakening involved is more of an issue than any disruption to White's centre. In this case, Nasuta got the better of the opening struggle, which suggests that 12.e5 isn't so dangerous when met correctly.

Grünfeld Exchange 6...c5 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Be3 Bg4 9.Qa4+ [D85]

In Esipenko, A - Xu Xiangyu White took the opportunity to release the pin with check (9.Qa4+), a possibility offered by Black playing 8...Bg4 before castling.

All three minor piece blocking moves come into consideration, but the 9...Nc6 of the game is the most common. After the further moves 10.Rc1 Bxf3 11.gxf3 Xu castled, but preferred 11...e6 in a later Rapidplay game. In both cases the Chinese GM went on to lose, but this seems to be more because he got carried away with his counter-attacking intentions than any problems with the opening sequence, for example, something more solid on move fourteen in the featured game was called for.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 0-0 9.0-0 Nc6 10.Be3 b6 [D87]

In Rodshtein, A - Jones, G, the Israeli GM (who notably has great experience of the Grünfeld on the black side) refused to be drawn into a theoretical dispute after 10...b6 preferring to continue deploying his forces rather than test his opponent in the critical 11.dxc5. The move order subtleties early on can be difficult to comprehend unless you compare the choices made with some analogous examples, but he ultimately obtained the better of the jostling. His ambitious middlegame choices 19.cxd5!?, 28.a6 and 29.Nb2 created problems for Jones who, to his credit, kept things complicated. Black eventually came out on top in a wild tactical mĂȘlée, but he was most fortunate not to lose. A 'modern time limit' tragedy (from Rodshtein's point of view)!

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 0-0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.h4!? [D87]

When the World Champion starts playing speculative sidelines you know that he has great confidence in his preparation or his attacking ability, or both. In Carlsen, M - Vachier-Lagrave, M the move 10.h4 surely came as a surprise:

In a couple of later Blitz games his opponents opted for 10...Qa5, but I can't see anything wrong with Vachier-Lagrave's solution 10...cxd4 (reacting quickly in the centre when facing a flank attack) 11.cxd4 and only now 11...Qa5+. Following 12.Kf1 there are several reasonable options, but again MVL's choice 12...Bd7 was good enough. Carlsen never looked as if was going to break down Black's defences.

Russian 7.e4 Nc6 8.Be3 [D97]

In the case of Nepomniachtchi, I - Vachier-Lagrave, M the Frenchman found it difficult to cope with his opponent's unusual opening choice (with 8.Be3!? avoiding MVL's bread-and-butter gambit with 8.Be2 e5). There may not really be any objective advantage to White early on, but MVL wasn't sure how to seek counterplay and was a little too wild with his handling of Black's game. I think that he was relying on his piece sacrifice to create practical problems for his opponent but 24.Ne4! put the spanner in the works after which he was busted.

Russian 7.e4 a6 8.Be2 b5 9.Qb3 c5 10.dxc5 Nbd7 [D97]

The encounter Navara, D - Wei Yi reached a position covered in one of my ChessPublishing analyses from a couple of years back:

Navara played the natural capture on e6 but was soon rather worse and had to defend carefully to hold the draw. Instead, 19.Nd1 was my choice (see the archives) when 10...Nbd7 started to come into the spotlight.

It feels that 11.Be3 doesn't lead to any advantage, so for White I would investigate alternatives at this point such as 11.e5 or 11.c6.

Russian 7.e4 a6 8,e5 b5 9.Qb3 Nfd7 10.e6 [D97]

To finish with, a nice endgame from Denis Wagner who I know to be a great fan of endgame studies. In Ivanisevic, I - Wagner, De the Serbian GM tried 12.g3 which I have been following in recent months, but Wagner's reply 12...b4! looks like a good novelty (and might put this whole idea out of business):

The weakness of f3 being a factor that White has to be careful about in the early play. Later on, the main error from White was 38.b3?! which weakened the c3-square. The moral perhaps being that in simplified positions one should be careful about making pawn moves when the opponent has the more active pieces (but I think that you may have read that one before!).

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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