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The Grünfeld Defence is one of Black's most dynamic choices, especially when Black seeks activity almost at any cost. In a number of examples here he is sacrificing a pawn for rapid development, with mixed success, but at least White has a few problems to solve. In some cases, it's White who is willing to sacrifice as in Morozevich-Kulaots when the Russian GM offered a pawn, then the exchange, and then his queen in his quest to drum up an attack. An encounter full of drama that illustrates that even if the theory goes deeper into the game these days it hasn't dampened the Grünfeld spirit just yet!

Download PGN of January ’22 Daring Defences games

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Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 - 9...f5 [D70]

It's no trivial task to navigate in the 3.f3 lines, as complications (requiring a good memory and plenty of calculation) are the norm. Take for example the diagram position from Yakubboev, N - Chigaev, M:

The struggle has already heated up at this point with the previously played 13...Nec4 considered to be the key move. After that Black's position seems robust. In the present game, Chigaev opted for the novelty 13...Bxh6 but this proved to be a little easier for White. Maybe the word 'easier' isn't appropriate as some of the engine's suggested apparently advantageous continuations just aren't human at all! I wonder if I should ask the question: is 9...f5 about to become more popular again?

Neo-Grünfeld 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nb6 7.Ne2 c5 8.d5 0-0 9.0-0 e6 10.a4 [D72]

I've always considered the lines with a quick e2-e4 and Nge2 to be challenging for Black and the featured game Keymer, V - Grandelius, N reinforces this view.

Here Keymar unleashed the rare move 10.a4 which was first played by Max Euwe against Vassily Smyslov in the famous 1953 Zurich Candidates tournament. Despite the lack of success so far, it seems to set a few problems and generally makes a refreshing change from the more traditional 10.Nec3 and 10.Nbc3, although some transpositions can and do occur. White had the easier game in the latter part of the opening with Black's route to equality (as far as I can see) requiring him to find a precise sequence on move twenty.

Neo-Grünfeld 7.0-0 Nb6 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.e3 Re8 10.h3 [D76]

In the middlegame, Black launched a powerful attack in Dzagnidze, N - Abdumalik, Z and broke through the white defences.

In the past, Black has played 18...Nd6 retreating the somewhat unstable knight from its outpost on c4 to challenge the more secure one on e4. One could argue that Black's activity compensates for having an inferior pawn structure. Abdumalik instead chose 18...h5, to restrain g3-g4 from White, as well as to 'get things moving on the kingside', noting that the h-pawn played an important role in the later attack. This novelty may be quite a decent one, but following 19.a4 the best that the engine can come up with is the unnatural-looking 19...Qe6 with just a slight disadvantage. It looks like computer programs seem to assess that the inclusion of the additional moves '...h7-h5 by Black and a2-a4 by White' favours the first player. A far from obvious conclusion looking at the board with my mere mortal's perception. So in practical OTB games we'll no doubt see other examples of this approach, especially at quicker time limits.

Grünfeld 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bf4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 [D80]

A number of lines involving an early dark-squared bishop deployment (I'm thinking of Bg5, Bf4 or Be3) often lead to queenless middlegames, as in Oparin, G - Sindarov, J where White employed a plan that I can't remember seeing before.

Here 15.Rc5 is a novelty, but even in some analogous positions I can't remember White investing two tempi to induce ...b6. After 15...b6 16.Rc1 the hole on a6 gives White's position some bite. Furthermore, the later pawn sacrifice 17.Ba6 gave him full domination of the c-file and excellent practical chances. Black did well to survive, but could have made life easier for himself if he had chosen 20...e6 (rather than 20...Bf6).

Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 7.Qa4+ [D82]

The whole of the game Nabaty, T - Erdos, V may have been in the players' respective preparations, as it was so forcing.

Here Black's 9...Ne4 opens up play nicely and leads to lively play. After that, with both participants opting for the critical moves the whole way down the line it's not surprising that it all ends in a draw by force.

If White wants something different he could try 13.Nc3 rather than 13.Nc7+, but I don't think that it's better than 'unclear'. From Black's point of view, in the diagram position, both 9...dxc4 and 9...Bc6 come into consideration, just to keep the pot boiling.

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.Rc1 dxc4 7.e3 Be6 [D92]

In Dreev, A - Harikrishna, P Dreev plumps for the 4.Bf4 Grünfeld for the umpteenth time. This may have induced Harikrishna to play the less-well known 8...Bg4, as no one had done so against the veteran Russian since Sutovsky in the stem game back in the year 2000!

Following on with the natural moves 9.f3 Bc8 10.Bxc4 Black has clearly lost time but inducing f2-f3 might still justify his actions. The Indian GM's biggest surprise of all was 10...Nc6 which is totally new, against which the plan of 11.Bg3 followed by f3-f4 looks a little strange, but it did lead to success here for White. Maybe I shouldn't reject Black's tenth move out of hand on such limited evidence, but it seems that the solid options 10...e6 and 10...c6, both preparing a timely ...Nd5, are more trustworthy. Overall, I'm not sure that 8...Bg4 fully equalizes, but it does offer up fresher positions than the 'hackneyed' 8...Bd5.

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.Rc1 dxc4 7.e3 c5 [D92]

White obtained a big advantage early on in Iniyan, P - Vasquez Shroeder, R but later allowed his opponent a chance to get back into the game.

The move order (see the note to move nine) enabled White to play 11.Nb5 after which the black queen can't escape back to the relatively secure a5-square. So Vasquez Shroeder chose 11...Qh5, but after 12.Nc7 Rb8 13.h3 the queen was in some discomfort and Black soon had to sacrifice a piece (under dubious circumstances) for some breathing space. As to earlier deviations, I think that 11...Be6 might be worth a try, especially as it's quite surprising. However, the most sensible is to recapture with 9...Qxc5 before developing the knight to c6, and then after the standard moves 10.Bb3 Nc6 one doesn't have to worry about the knight leaping to b5 just yet.

Russian System 6...Be6 7.Qb5+ Bd7 8.Qxb7 Nc6 9.Qb3 [D96]

In Yilmaz, M - Adhiban, B Black sacrificed his b-pawn but in return obtained a lead in development.

White's score hasn't been that great from the diagram position, especially amongst the higher echelons, with 11.a3 0-0 12.e3 e5 in particular having been played out to 'good compensation'. Hence the desire to seek something less well analyzed. This brings us to the game continuation 11.Qa4 Qd7 12.a3 which had only been seen twice before (and firstly in a game of Max Euwe's). White's ploy worked to a certain extent as he obtained some advantage, but there are possible improvements for Black. In the notes, I've discussed alternatives on moves twelve and thirteen, but the most significant one is on move nineteen. For most of the game Black was scrambling to try and hold his own, but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the opening and 6...Be6 remains a good option.

Russian System 6...a6 [D96]

In Yilmaz, M - Grigorian, Sp Black's play was quite provocative. He started by trying 6...a6, which is normally played only after the inclusion of 6...0-0 7.e4.

Yilmaz replied with 7.Bf4 hitting the c-pawn (see the diagram position) after which Grigorian still opted for 7...b5 thus allowing 8.Qxc7. It feels optimistic to me and, indeed, analysis shows that Black is pushing his luck with this gambit. Other encounters, as well as this one, lead me to the conclusion that there isn't enough for the pawn.

Despite this setback, it might be that the early ...a6 isn't so bad. If Black instead meets 7.Bf4 with the more prudent 7...c6 then he can still go for his thematic ...b5 idea - but with level material. The fact that both of ...c6 and ...a6 have been played in order to support ...b5 might seem a little odd, but the results so far are not too bad.

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

In Morozevich, A - Kulaots, K White was in the mood for an attacking game.

Here the move 12.0-0-0 appeared only for the second time on a board in a tournament game. Morozevich followed up by pushing his h-pawn to open the file and then went hell bent on targeting Black's king. And it worked!

It might be that Kulaots response 12...c6 is too provocative, and that 12...Qd6 should have been preferred (Van Wely's choice from many moons ago). In any case, all this resulted in a fascinating game with some inspired play especially from White.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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