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There are quite a few novelties in theoretically sensitive lines this time. Naturally, good preparation is important for those playing 'principled' opening variations with early conflict, such as in a number of Grünfeld variations. However, surprise value can be invaluable. So although certain of these new moves offer 'nothing at all', they can (and often do) sow the seeds of self-doubt and hesitation in an opponent who has been caught off-guard. So read on with care!

Download PGN of June ’23 Daring Defences games

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

The So, W - Firouzja, A encounter turned out to be quite theoretical.

Here Firouzja introduced a novelty 20...Qa3 (rather than the usual 20...Bf6) and after a few moves even obtained some advantage. If Wesley So had preferred to seek a repetition on move 25, then Firouzja's idea would still have been vindicated, but after 25.f4?! the American lost a pawn and had to seek solace in a drawish endgame.

Overall, these lines with 13.Be3 require good book knowledge, but also a good feel for the double-edged structures that generally occur i.e. with White having a big d-pawn whereas Black has counterplay with the passed a-pawn. There may not be any problems for Black, in principle, but churning out twenty-odd moves of theory won't appeal to everyone.

In Korobov, A - Ansat, A there was a significant development in the 13.Bg5 line.

Korobov introduces a novelty with 16.Qd2, thus varying from the previously seen 16.Bxe7. Ansat reacted well and was able to keep level pegging throughout, which suggests that 14...Rfd8 is holding up well to scrutiny. Indeed, I consider it to be the best move.

Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 Qa5 9.Qd2 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qxd2+ 11.Bxd2 [D85]

In Pechac, J - Volokitin, A Black's novelty didn't work out well.

In the past Black had dropped his attacked bishop back to d7 with complex play where Black seems to be fine. Here Volokitin tried 16...Rac8 which might seem like a tempo gain, but in fact following 17.Rxc8 Bxc8 18.Nb5 White's play on the wing took on significant proportions. Pechac was soon able to capture on a7 and although Volokitin found a way to obtain two minor pieces for rook and pawn, White was always for preference. So it looks like 16...Bd7 (first played by Ftacnik) is the correct response to 16.f3.

Grünfeld Exchange, Nf3 & Be3, 8...Bg4 9.Rc1 Qa5 10.Qb3 [D85]

In Gupta, A - Fawzy, A White's tenth move deserves a diagram:

If this position is unfamiliar it's perhaps not surprising, as it hasn't occurred very often. The queen tries to make the absence of the light-squared bishop an issue by putting pressure on the b7-square. In the game, Black reacted well and could have had a decent position with 15...c4 rather than 15...f5?!. Towards the end, despite squandering most of his advantage, Gupta later outplayed his opponent in a complex opposite-coloured bishop middlegame where the killer blow 28.d6! was probably missed by Fawzy. Overall, I think 10.Qb3 packs a punch, as Black's various attempts to fully equalize don't seem that convincing.

Grünfeld Exchange, 7.Qa4+ Nd7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.Be2 [D85]

In Wang Yue - Zeng, C Black grabbed a hot pawn.

Here 14...Bxd4 was strongly met by 15.Bg5! and White happily gave up both of his rooks for the opposing queen. The resulting middlegame is hard to fully understand at first, as one resource either way could make a big difference. The engine however prefers White all along, and indeed Black found it hard to keep his pieces competitive in the actual game. Several moves have been tried in the diagram, but analysis and experience suggest that the more cunning 14...e6, and then following up with the active 15...Qh4, is the best way to handle Black's game.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.d5 Qa5 [D85]

In Bluebaum, M - Antipov, M White was doing OK, but lost his way in the double rook endgame.

The first moment of note was Antipov's novelty 13...Be6 which seems to yield a good game. I don't know if this was preparation (as it's quite a rare line) or OTB inspiration, but there are a number of cases in the notes where an early ...Be6 seems to offer good chances. Another point of interest was where he opted for long castling, which led to his king becoming active yet exposed. Bluebaum didn't find a way to punish his opponent's cheek and the advantage soon changed hands. Still, Bluebaum would have been OK if he had placed his rooks behind Black's passed pawns rather than allowing the opponent to do so.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 with 10...b6 11.Qd2 Bb7 12.h4 [D87]

In Caruana, F - Firouzja, A the result (1-0) didn't reflect what happened in the game, where Black obtained an advantage and was on the verge of winning.

An early h2-h4 is becoming almost a 'rite of passage' for anyone playing the traditional Exchange Variation with 7.Bc4. Here, however, it was undertaken in a slightly unusual position and is certainly new to players of this level. A key moment occurred a few moves later when Caruana opted for 15.Bg5, after which Firouzja's reply 15...f6 turns out to be a novelty. Both this new move and the alternatives seem reasonable enough, and there doesn't seem to be a white advantage anywhere, just the types of position where both sides have chances but Black's king is the weaker. Caruana later sacrificed a couple of pawns but struggled to justify his over-ambitious approach.

Grünfeld Defence, 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 dxc4 6.e4 c5 7.d5 [D90]

Recent successes for White, such as in Nguyen Thai Dai Van - Iskanderov, M are reviving interest in 5.h4.

At this point, the usual reaction is 8...b5, seeking to sharpen up the game whilst distracting White from his h-file ambitions. However, 8...Bg4 develops a piece and keeps an eye on the d1-h5 diagonal, so can't be dismissed lightly despite the fact that, in the games so far, White has scored highly. Nguyen's curious novelty 9.0-0! (castling short in the opening is rarely a surprise, but at first it feels odd when associated with h2-h4) turns out to be quite promising despite the h-pawn seemingly misplaced on h4. So, as far as I can see, 8...b5 is still the 'best' way of continuing in the diagram, despite the fact that the theory has developed such that it has become rather 'played out to equality'.

Grünfeld Defence, Russian System 6...a6 7.Bf4 c6 [D96]

In Lazavik, D - Puravyan, D the 'slow' anti-Russian with ...c6 and ...a6 was tested.

In the diagram position, Paravyan's choice 10...Qa5 seems best with mischievous trickery in mind to restrain and even counter White's attempts to consolidate his central mastery. This queen move doesn't just pin the c3-knight it also threatens ideas based around ...b5-b4. Indeed, 11.Bd2 b4 soon led to the exchange of White's important e-pawn for the lesser b-pawn, after which I don't think that there were too many problems. So the slow Anti-Russian is holding its own at present.

Grünfeld Defence, Russian System 7.e4 Nc6 8.Bf4 Bg4 [D97]

In Tin Jingyao - Puranik, A I have to admit being unfamiliar with White's eighth move, 8.Bf4:

Placing the bishop on f4 when it hits the c7-pawn would be understandable, but here it has less direct pressure, however it cuts out MVL's pet line that occurs after 8.Be2 e5!?. Here the sharp, and critical line 8...Bg4 9.d5 Bxf3 10.dxc6 b5 followed with a lively struggle. The early stages seem to have been correctly played, except perhaps for 16.Nxc7 (rather than 16.0-0 after which Black was able to emerge with an extra pawn, albeit with White having some compensation) which only seems to lead to equal chances. So 8.Bf4 has surprise value and steers the game away from the Vachier-Lagrave Gambit, but if Black reads this column he should be fine!

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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