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Candidates winner Ian Nepomniachtchi has been consistently 'surprising' his opponents in the Grünfeld, year in year out, and even if his ideas don't always work they still challenge the opponent with new problems. One of his opponents here, Anish Giri, even has games featured with both colours. He is renowned as being the best-prepared player around, so in order to cross his homework everyone seems to try a secret weapon against him! You'll see a few examples in what follows. By the way, Black has been doing well in this opening recently, as you can see from the results of the selected games this time.

Download PGN of July ’21 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld 4.e3 Bg7 5.cxd5 [D80]

In Berkes, F - Savchenko, B White tried a new way of pursuing his development.

With 13.Bf4 the Hungarian GM hinted that he might castle long, and indeed he did so two moves later. The next few moves were sufficiently logical i.e. 13...Bb7 14.Qd2 Re8 15.0-0-0!? a6 16.Rhe1 Nd7 17.d6!? that I wonder if they were all part of White's preparation. The sacrifice of the g-pawn turned out to be justified in that White obtained enough practical compensation, but no more than that. Overall, Black navigated the resulting complications rather well, especially as he was perhaps surprised by all this, and went on to win the R + B v R + N pseudo-endgame having an extra pawn and the better minor piece.

Grünfeld 4.Bg5 Bg7 5.e3 c5 6.Nf3 [D80/91]

The opening in Radjabov, T - Giri, A soon moved away from any of my previous analyses for ChessPublishing.

Here 7...Nc6 once worked for Shankland, but 7...Ne4 also generally scores well and was chosen by Giri. However, in this case, Radjabov was able to create nagging pressure down the b-file following 8.Bh4 Nxc3 9.bxc3. It was as if the Dutchman struggled to find a coherent way to complete his development. Eventually, he 'liberated' his pieces but this process cost him a pawn and he was rather fortunate not to lose the endgame. Coming back to the ninth move, perhaps the simplest then is 9...Nc6, as previously chosen by Mchedlishvili, but I have also suggested another possible improvement on move fourteen. All-in-all, 5.e3 has surprise value and shouldn't be underestimated, especially as transpositions can be confusing.

Grünfeld 4.Qb3 [D81]

In Muradli, M - Asadli, V White sought a favourable Russian System by delaying N-f3 so much he eventually opted for f2-f3!

The idea of supporting the e4-pawn with 10.f3 originally came from Ivanchuk and seems more challenging than the alternatives. After 10...a5 11.0-0-0 a4 the position starts to hot up and Black soon lost his way, so these positions need some attention in one's preparation. However, be reassured that there are several plausible improvements along the way, for example on moves 10, 12 and 14.

Exchange 8.Rb1 0-0 9.Be2 Nc6 10.d5 Ne5 [D85]

In Giri, A - Nepomniachtchi, I the first surprising move came from the Candidates winner.

Here, the main move by far is 12...e6, to nibble at the big centre. Instead, Nepomniachtchi tried the offbeat 12...Qa5 but after 13.Rb3 e6 14.f4 Bg7 15.c4! it soon became clear that the Russian's choice of variation hadn't had the desired effect. The dichotomy facing him was then trading queens (and giving Giri a comfortable space edge in a quiet game) or retreating (and hoping that White would be unable to break through). Nepomniachtchi kept the queens, but then went close to losing his king. So I don't think we'll be seeing too many elite players trying this line for Black in the future.

Exchange 8.Rb1 0-0 9.Be2 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qxa2 [D85]

A surprising novelty by White in Grischuk, A - Giri, A must have come as a shock at the time.

At this point, 99% of the world would castle, but Grischuk opted for 12.h3, a novelty with the purpose of denying Black his typical ...Bg4 idea. So Giri switched to another standard plan i.e. bringing his queen back into the fold and then pushing the a-pawn. This led to a tense middlegame where White had enough compensation. In fact I quite like White's chances after 15.d5 (instead of 15.Qe2) and thus, if others agree, there will no doubt be further tests of Grischuk's brand new idea.

Polak, T - Erdos, V turned out to be quite a theoretical struggle with some of the key decisions only arising deep into the game.

Here 19.Qc1 is the best known move, but experience suggests that Black is fine following 19...Nc4. Instead, Polak tried 19.Bg5, but Erdos's 19...Bf6 looks like the correct response, and that is despite Black's structure being damaged somewhat. Play soon simplified to a Q + B v Q + N pseudo-endgame which White mishandled by failing to trade queens when he had a chance. The novelty, when it came, was 24.Bd1 when Black should be OK after the flexible 24...Kf8, rather than 24...Qd3 which I don't rate too highly.

Exchange 5.Bd2 Nb6 6.e3 Bg7 7.h4 [D85]

Anish Giri tried a fashionable idea in Giri, A - Svidler, P but the experienced Russian was ready.

In reply to 7.h4, the previously played moves 7...h5, 7...N8d7 and 7...Nc6 all have their downsides, so you can understand White's opening selection. However, Svidler's 7...e5! is an excellent novelty and, in my opinion, puts the whole line out of business. So it's a wing advance met by a central counter. What could be more natural?

For the record, the critical idea then should be 8.dxe5 Nc6 9.f4, but the gambit 9...f6 would offer Black a lead in development and ample open lines for his pieces.

Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Bg4 9.Qa4+ Nd7 [D85]

In Praggnanandhaa, R - Adhiban, B Black won quickly by going into attacking mode. However in the following diagram it's hard to imagine how this came about!

The ball was set in motion with 13...b5! exploiting the exposed nature of White's queen. After 14.Bxb5, Adhiban could have settled for the better of equality with 14...Nxe4!, but instead of that, he played the fun move 14...Rb8 just prioritizing activity. He didn't even bother counting pawns as his pieces became more and more threatening, before they took over completely.

The game and notes suggest that 9.Qa4+ isn't a worry for Black (well, it doesn't impede the opponent's development, so this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone!).

Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Nd2 0-0 10.Nb3 [D85]

In Grischuk, A - Nepomniachtchi, I Black spurned a draw in the opening.

Here 10...Qxc3+ virtually forces a draw with 11.Bd2 as in many games. Instead, Nepomniachtchi opted for 10...Qc7 sacrificing the c-pawn, a gambit which he had previously tried (unsuccessfully) against Anton Korobov. A fascinating struggle followed in which a second pawn was offered, but where White's material advantage was balanced out by the dynamic activity of Black's forces. Later, both sides missed chances to win before Black prevailed. In my opinion, 10...Qc7 is good enough to be definitely worth a try against somebody who has their heart set on a draw.

Exchange, Seville Variation 7.Bc4, 10...Bg4, 12.Bxf7+ [D88]

In Sjugirov, S - Paravyan, D, which features the so-called Seville Variation (which is generally considered to be well-mapped out), Black soon found a way to vary from the main lines, starting with 14...Nc4:

This isn't a blunder(!) as 15.Qb3 is adequately met by 15...b5. In the game, after the cautious 15.Bf2, Black again chose 15...b5 to support the knight. This whole variation is quite mysterious, as the engines consistently prefer White but are often at a loss to find ways to make the extra pawn count. In many cases the kingside majority is of nominal value only. Black's loss in this encounter wasn't anything to do with the opening, which suggests that Paravyan's novel way to handle Black's game is playable.

I've made a quick review of the state of play of the alternatives on move fourteen, but there haven't been any dramatic developments there.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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