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Grünfeld Defence 4.e3 Bg7 5.cxd5 [D80]
The plan with 4.e3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Nxd5 Qxd5 7.Ne2 was very popular three or four years ago, but has since lost its shine.
After the diagram's 12...Qb6 there have been several games with 13.0-0 (three featuring Canadian Master Eduard Porper!) but Black seems to be fine. Jovanovic's 13.Qb3 didn't impress in the main game. So my conclusion from Game One is that there are no real problems to obtain a good position as Black in this variation.
Over the years that I've been producing this update I have seen 4...Ne4 5.Bh4 become one of the most popular variations against the Grünfeld. Here, however, in both of this month's games there are early deviations.
In Game Two Romain Edouard tried 5.Bf4, which has become quite popular over the last couple of years. The bishop is dropped back to a square where it is often comfortable in the Grünfeld, and later the push h2-h4 becomes a distinct possibility.
The main choice for Black is whether or not to capture on c4. I quite like keeping the tension, but Hansen's way of developing shows that Black can capture on c4 and obtain a comfortable game. Notable is the novelty 11...b6, as the bishop turns out to be quite well-placed on b7.
Eric Hansen had all the chances after White's central pawn advance didn't work very well. Later, however (time trouble?), the tables were turned and the Frenchman missed a win.
In Game Three it was Black who varied with 4...Bg7, where Black offers a pawn, another 'in vogue' continuation. Indeed after the critical moves 5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.cxd5 c5 7.dxc5 Nd7 8.Qa4 we get to the following position, which may be familiar to regular subscribers:
Topalov played 8...Qc7 here (eighteen months back, see the archives and the notes to the main game) which looks best. Unfortunately in this game Henrichs opted for the inferior 8...0-0, regained one pawn, but was unable to get enough for the remaining one.
4.Qb3, 7...b6!? [D81]
In Lalith-Gupta (Game Four) the typical Grünfeld scenario of three minor pieces for a queen (and pawn or two) was acted out. A difficult one to judge throughout, where I often found myself disagreeing with the engines. It looks as if time trouble was the source of some scrappy play at the end, but it was still a fascinating struggle.
Both players showed great fighting spirit, but we'll have to wait for further examples before we make any firm conclusions about whether or not this version of the queen 'sac' is any good.
Exchange with Be3, 9.Nd2!? [D85]
Gupta was playing White in Game Five where the key question is what to do in the following position, after 10.Nc4:
As for Black's queen: Should it stay (put) or should it go (back)?
Maxime Lagarde valiantly played the queen sacrifice by capturing on e3. He may have missed a draw at one point, but I can't help feeling that Black's whole idea just isn't good enough. I personally recommend retreating to d8 and, as you'll see in the notes, Black is able to obtain a reasonable game.
In Game 6 veteran Ljubomir Ftacnik produces a model game as Black and demonstrates that despite the early exchange of queens there can be winning chances for Black against 7.Be3. Note in particular that (in my opinion) 12...Bg4 is easier to play than 12...e6, hence the exclamation mark. The rook endgame wasn't clear-cut and maybe Michalik missed a draw, but only as a result of a slight imprecision on Black's part.
Exchange with 7.Qa4+ [D85]
Game 7 was another great tussle with Khairullin coming out of the starting blocks first. His exchange sacrifice looked highly dangerous, but somehow Ponkratov rode the storm and came out ahead, only to miss a couple of wins and let Black escape with a perpetual. Another time scramble, perhaps?
I would conclude that White's novelty was well met in the game, which suggests that 11.Nd2 isn't as good as the natural 11.Bd3.
4.Nf3 with 5.h4 [D90]
The surprise value of 5.h4 has gone, but the complications have yet to be fully worked out. In Game 8 Black sacrifices back his b-pawn for White's h-pawn, leading to some strange positions where there is still plenty of room for individual creativity. Al Sayed had a great tournament in Gibraltar, but was second best here, as he clearly hadn't worked out the consequences of the 16...Nxf2 blow, which engines give as better for Black in all lines:
Ganguly's way of handling the opening looks pretty sensible to me, so this could be a problem for White. Or is it?
4.Nf3 with 5.Bf4 [D92]
In Game 9 the opening phase didn't lead to any real advantage for White. Theoretically I think Black is fine in such lines, but it often boils down to a question of taste, for example sometimes Black's best is grabbing a pawn, but allowing White some initiative. To avoid all this, 7...c5 is probably playable, but leads to a symmetrical position from which Black may lack winning chances./p>
In the actual game the resulting rooks with opposite bishops scenario turned out to be more difficult to play with Black than Areshchenko probably bargained for and Landa squeezed out a win.
Russian System, Hungarian Variation 8.Be2 [D97]
In the following position Black came up with a surprising reply to 10.e5:
The standard 10...Be6 had previously been awarded 'the only move' label. However Belous played 10...Nd7 and got away with it.
Indeed after 11.e6? Black was able to play 11...Nxd4! in Game 10 and won back his piece with advantage.
I consider 11.Bf4 to be more precise, but then Black has some choice with 11...Bb7 and 11...Nb6 both seeming to be satisfactory. A nice idea, and one that had only been played once before in my database.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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