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Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 [D70]
There are four games this time in this topical variation. The wave of interest in 3.f3 continues and White is still scoring well at a high level.
In Game One, Piorun dropped his queen back to e8 to get it out of harm's way. The following few moves offered a number of plausible options for both players, but my overall impression is that Black hasn't yet found a convincing path to equality. Black's most serious error in the early middlegame was capturing on d5, as this led to problems due to his more vulnerable king and an inferior structure. I have suggested alternatives, but if given a choice I'd still take White. Vocaturo was able to convert his advantage, perhaps not in the quickest fashion, but the most important point was that he kept control.
In Game Two, Inarkiev-Timofeev, Black also employed the 9...Qd6 line which has been played frequently in the last few years. One thing that has emerged on the white side of this line is that when 'about to be pushed' the white queen should drop back to c1 (as here), and not e1 (which used to be played).
From Black's point of view, there are various subtleties as how best to meet White's 15.Bd4, both here and in some analogous positions (such as when the other knight hops to c4):
Here Black has to choose between 15...e5, 15...Qd6 (the game), and 15...Bxd4. My preference is for the latter of these. Please view the game and notes before making up your mind.
In the actual game, Timofeev's ambition was at the root cause of his own downfall, as he attempted a combination which had a flaw. He won a piece but only at the cost of too powerful a passed pawn. Instead there were other ways of challenging White's centre such as on move 19 when ...e5 seems OK.
Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 e5 [D70]
Nakamura won convincingly with the White pieces in Game Three.
Here, after 14.0-0-0, Black normally goes for 14...Bd7 15.Kb1 Rc8, after which White has several continuations. Of these, 16.Nh3 e4 17.d6 is the one most likely to create difficulties for Black.
Instead, in the main game, Nakamura-Gupta, Black tried 14...Qd6 in the diagram position. It didn't really work very well for Gupta, who soon sacrificed the exchange and failed to obtain full compensation. Although Black certainly has improvements, it still looks less reliable that 14...Bd7 etc.
In Game 4, Giri-Caruana, Black tried an outrageous-looking idea, sacrificing the pawns in front of his king for activity. Against a lower-ranked player this might have led to a black win, but Giri held firm and kept an objective advantage throughout the game. I think Caruana's play is interesting because it gives good practical chances even though it isn't totally sound.
The game turned into an epic struggle with White spending the next eighty(!) moves trying to consolidate a material advantage with Black baying at his heels. Of course, in the cold light of day, analysis engines don't rate Caruana's idea at all and are confident that White was winning for much of the game. However, it must have been nerve-wracking for Giri trying to find a way to avoid all of Black's tricks.
Summing up: 11...Na6!? would be more suited to Rapid or Blitz play as it is complicated, but frankly dubious, so I would recommend sticking to 11...Nbd7.
Exchange Grünfeld 5.Bd2 Nb6 6.e4!? [D85]
In Game Five, it was revealing to see two of Azerbaijan's top players test out a gambit that I looked at (a few months back) in conjunction with a subscriber's enquiry.
Mamedyarov added his own personal touch with his 8.Be3 (diagram), but this looks so normal I suspect that Safarli had anticipated it in his preparation. Safrali prudently dropped back to d8 and then aimed for solid development whereas Mamedyarov sought to mix matters on the kingside. White may have enough practical compensation for the pawn, but as Black was better at one point (see his 19th move), this may put off others trying this gambit line.
Exchange Grünfeld 7.Qa4+ Nd7 [D85]
In Game Six, the 7.Qa4+ line led to an interesting game where White sacrificed the exchange for dark-squared play. On move eleven Black has some choice, but I think he picked the best move:
Wagner played 11...Nc5! and then after 12.dxc5!? Bxa1 13.e5 (closing the door on the bishop's desired retreat) again chose the strongest with 13...Qc7!.
It was difficult to judge the resulting positions, and I'm not that sure the engines can be relied on too much either. However, one thing was clear: that 7.Qa4+ has become just as theoretical as many of the better known lines in the Exchange Variation!
Grünfeld Exchange 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Nd2 [D85]
Game Seven is another of those lines where the surprise value has gone. It wasn't long ago when 9.Nd2 would win plenty of time on the clock and often hypnotize Black into some dubious tactical complications:
Here Savchenko showed the way to an easy game: drop back with the queen to d8 when under attack, castle, and then hit back at the centre with ...f5. Black can use the same recipe against various White wrinkles, enabling an economy of effort in one's preparation.
In the actual game, Black even seized the initiative with the precise move 13...f4! ignoring a possible discovered check. Even if White captures on f5 on move thirteen (instead of the dubious 13.Qb3?!) I can't see any problems for Black.
Grünfeld Exchange 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 O-O 10.Rc1 [D85]
In games eight and nine the much travelled Brazilian GM Alexander Fier features, at first, with White and then, with Black.
The battle in Game Eight could be considered as the present-day main line of the Be3 Exchange Variation. The following position illustrates a key moment in the theoretical discussion:
Ragger recently obtained a satisfactory game with 16...Rd7. Our main game took a different path as Danin opted for 16...Qa4. Then after 17.c4 Na5 18.Qd3 (consolidating the centre) Black grabbed the a-pawn with 18...Qxa2 which was met by 19.h4!? with sharp play. A delightful struggle followed in which both players showed their willingness to sacrifice the exchange when conditions were right. I'm not sure I fully understand who was better, and if you don't feel comfortable with all this then you can always opt for Ragger's move which looks reliable enough.
In Game Nine, when playing with the black pieces, Fier preferred a less-well-known idea with ...Nd7 and ...e5. It seemed to work out fairly well here, but the most challenging might be 13.0-0 (recommended by Kornev) rather than 13.c4 which just led to a totally blocked centre (and no opening advantage).
For a fair part of the game the closed nature of the position made it look as if nothing was going to happen, but due to the willingness of both players it all exploded with chances for both sides, although White was (according to the engines) on top in the latter part of the middlegame.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 [D87]
Game Ten, Williams-Le Roux, was hardly an example of cutting-edge theory, but it's still worth taking a look at Williams' sensible retreat 12.Bd3:
This has been played a number of times, essentially by those who are looking for mainstream play without the baggage of mainstream theory. There are several feasible ways for Black to meet this approach, but I quite like the way Jean-Pierre Le Roux developed his position.
There was later a notable theme where White's f4 was met by ...f5, which reminds me of some of Spassky's games from half-a-century ago. Williams being by nature a lover of attacking chess later played both g4 and h4 before pushing the h-pawn even deeper into Black's position. It was fairly unclear around this point, before the French GM finally prevailed.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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