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The choice of these labels isn't universal and can be confusing, but for me the 'Anti-Grünfeld' means 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3. I know that there is also a train of thought in the English Opening where the same term is used, but that generally refers to a series of set-ups where White delays d2-d4. In the present context, play can become very theoretical and one should really learn these lines well.
As to the Neo-Grünfeld, in this column, I'm considering those cases where White opts for a kingside fianchetto and Black for a defence involving ...d5. Here move orders can be a nightmare, so it's best to learn set-ups and plans as a priority, before getting down to specifics. Hopefully the following examples will be of use for players of both colour, whatever the move orders that could arise in your own games.

Download PGN of July ’22 Daring Defences games

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Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3, 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 Qd6 10.Kb1 [D70]

In Vernay, C - Kulaots, K White tried a sub-variation which seems to offer very little theoretically, but read on!

Here Clovis Vernay opted for 13.dxc6 rather than the main move 13.Nc3. There is surprise value in his choice and I don't think that White is risking very much after the exchange of queens, so it perhaps suited him in a team tournament. In the latter phases of the game White's 'hint of a pull' became more serious and the Frenchman even missed a win near the end. This just goes to show that a couple of imprecise moves can still get Black into trouble even in a seemingly tame variation.

Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3, 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 f5 10.e5 f4 [D70]

In Shankland, S - Grandelius, N the Swede's tenth move 10...f4 deserves a diagram:

Black offers up a pawn for enhanced play for his pieces, particularly the rook on f8 and the bishop on c8. There have been a few (even high level encounters) but the messages from these games is mixed. It seems that there is still plenty to be uncovered in these lines and it may well interest those who want to vary from the better known main continuation resulting from 10...Nb4. In this game, White was winning hands down, but a couple of natural but feeble moves saw the advantage switch to Black. This is typical in this variation which is not for the faint-hearted!

Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3, 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 f5 10.e5 Nb4 [D70]

I had a few words to write about the diagram position from Savchenko, B - Sviridov, V as you can read in my notes to that game.

As in many key lines in the 3.f3-Grünfeld, Stockfish really likes White. At times, I think the engine is far-too-optimistic about the attacking chances and I don't always agree. Here however, I can't find a route to equality, so probably the engine is spot on! Human chess is never so simple and Black did go on to win this particular encounter, but it's clear that he was in trouble. As to the opening phase, it's 12...Qd7 (rather than 12....N4d5) that seems to be the centre of interest in e-mail chess and where Black's defences are holding up, even if White can press to some extent deep into the game.

Neo-Grünfeld 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.0-0 Nb6 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.d5 Na5 10.e4 c6 [D76]

In Baenziger, F - Yakubboev, N the higher-rated player was very patient before seizing the opportunity to turn the game definitively in his favour.

In the diagram position, Black seems to be able to equalize without much fuss by playing 12...e6 which generally leads to mass simplification. However, when playing someone 200 points lower a more complex struggle is often required, hence the choice of 12...e5. The knight on a5 then heads to the blockading d6-square and Black has a kingside majority to create some asymmetry. Still, White's d5-pawn has a cramping effect and he also has some prospects to make progress, particularly on the queenside. In any case, a tense struggle seems on the cards after Yakubboev's choice.

Neo-Grünfeld 6...dxc4 7.Na3 c3 8.bxc3 c5 9.Re1 [D77]

In Matlakov, M - Preotu, R the Russian GM snatched a lion's share of the centre and never let go. This can be the case in the Neo-Grünfeld when Black fails to cope with White's often mysterious preparatory moves, which are generally aimed at expanding in the centre once the support is already in place. Here, however, White was very direct with his tenth move.

So how to press against the centre? Nakamura has previously captured on d4 before posting his bishop on g4, and this looks natural enough. In the game, Preotu preferred the immediate pin 10...Bg4 which is also OK but retaining the c-pawns adds an extra degree of complexity. Anyway, Black missed chances to obtain equality, for example with 12...Qa5! (instead of his 12...Nb6 which has been played a few times but I'm not a fan).

Neo-Grünfeld 6...dxc4 7.Na3 c3 8.bxc3 c5 9.Re1 [D77]

In Puranik, A - Adhiban, B Black must have been kicking himself about letting the win slip through his fingers.

In a line where Black has tried all sorts of ideas Adhiban has now twice opted for 10...Nd7. The knight heads to b6 and then Black decides a little later where to develop his light-squared bishop. On a human scale, this doesn't seem to be a bad idea, as an opponent is almost certainly going to be less familiar with this approach than the main alternatives. In this encounter, White's best chance to obtain an edge would have been a few moves later with 15.Nd2 (instead of 15.Qa4) where the engine still prefers White somewhat.

Neo-Grünfeld with ...c6 7.Nc3 [D78]

A typical Carlsen game is next in that the World Champion was able to 'probe away until the opponent went astray'. In Carlsen, M - Mamedyarov, S the first moment of note was White's seventh move:

I see! If White can indeed gambit the c4-pawn with confidence then this means there is a whole new lease of life in this erstwhile 'stodgy' variation. In fact interest has grown in this idea in the Covid era, due perhaps to many folk trying it with faster time limits, but now it seems to be respectable even in long-play chess.

After 7.Nc3!? dxc4 (the principled move) 8.e4 (taking a chunk of the centre) 8...Bg4 (pinning) 9.h3 (unpinning) 9...Bxf3 10.Bxf3 e5! (hitting back) an interesting struggle arises which perhaps suits both players. White has his bishops and is set to regain the pawn whereas Black has the time to set up a solid enough barricade. In the game, Mamedyarov missed the chance for full equality (see the note to move 23) and then despite a careful defence for the next twenty moves or so the World Champion was there ready to pounce on the slightest error...and the rest is history.

Neo-Grünfeld with ...c6 7.Nc3 [D78]

In Matlakov, M - Bacrot, E we see another example of 7.Nc3, but in this case Black held onto the c4-pawn with 7...dxc4 8.e4 b5:

Bacrot also chose to develop his bishop to g4 (one move later with 9...Bg4) but this piece later went to f5, then d7, but it was only when it finally found the c6-square on the gaping long diagonal that it came into its prime. Along the way the Frenchman had sacrificed the exchange to eliminate White's fianchettoed bishop, a daring choice that ultimately paid off in this up-and-down struggle in which both sides missed their chances. Despite the errors, we can learn a lot from the opening phase and the fact that Black can get away with such a dynamic counter-strategy.

Neo-Grünfeld with ...c6 7.a4 [D78]

I could describe Esipenko, A - Ragger, M as a model game for White, but it's better if you check it out for yourselves.

Here, the Austrian GM has organized his pieces to hold onto the c4-'booty' and is fairly well placed in the central arena, but Esipenko's 15.f4 shows the downside of Black's set-up in that there is no convenient way to stop White from continuing to expand on the kingside. There were perhaps one or two potential improvements in Black's later play, but it seems evident to me that his game was harder to handle, especially as he was never really making any threats with his majority.

My suggested antidote would be to vary earlier, perhaps on move nine, that is, meeting 7.a4 Be6 8.Nc3 dxc4 9.e4 with 9...Qc8 which frustrates h2-h3, a useful move for White in many lines. It looks like a logical follow-up to ...Be6 to me but hasn't been played very often.

Neo-Grünfeld with ...c6 7.Ne5 [D78]

A big effort was made by both players to make a fight of it in Firouzja, A - Vachier-Lagrave, M despite the opening having a drawish feel to it.

MVL equalized with 12...b5! 13.Nd2 and then 13...e5, but the presence of opposing majorities gave both players hope for 'something more' than a share of the spoils. It was the more experienced of the Frenchman who better handled the tricky complications that arose with the honours eventually going to Black. Firouzja has tried 7.Ne5 several times before, but I'm not sure that it has any 'special powers' compared to the various alternatives, some of which are very different in character. It's a safe-looking option that doesn't gambit the c-pawn, keeps more tension than 7.cxd5 and perhaps doesn't require too much memory work, so not a bad choice when you haven't had time to prepare anything specific.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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