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This time there are quite a few short, sharp struggles in our beloved Grünfed Defence. In general, these encounters emphasize the importance (for both players) of getting the balance right between king safety, central control, and mobility (not forgetting pawn grabbing). Anyway, you might find you have more downtime at home to study the games this time. Whether this be the case or not, just don't forget to keep washing your hands!

Download PGN of March ’20 Daring Defences games

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Exchange Grünfeld 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Nf3 Rd8 11.Be2 [D85]

In Gharibyan, M - Chatalbashev, B Black didn't find a way to undermine the White centre in time and the outpost on d5 proved to be a real nuisance. I think that 11.Be2 is a good practical alternative to the highly-theoretical 11.d5 as (apart from being simpler to remember) it still gives a few problems for the opponent to solve. A key position occurs straight after the typical exchange of queens.

Carlsen recently faced 13...Na6, whilst 13...Nc6 might also be OK. My investigations suggest that the game move 13...Bg4 might not be good enough for equality.

In the 'Rook and Opposite bishop' endgame of the main game, each of White's pieces were superior to their counterparts.

Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.Rb1 a6 11.Rc1 [D85]

I found the encounter Vidit, S - Ragger, M to be a revelation. The way White won involved a completely new plan to me.

You might recognize this position as from one of the main lines in the Be3 Exchange, where White provokes ...a6 in order to later have use of the hole on b6. Ragger lost patience with his slightly passive position and sacrificed a pawn for the bishop pair and general liberation. However, the Indian GM kept the black pieces at bay and gradually used his kingside forces to create a chink in Black's armour.

A model display in exploiting a seemingly 'unusable' extra pawn.

As to the theory, in the notes you'll see some alternative ideas for both parties, but for those who enjoy testing their opponent's memory the key move has to be 15...Rd8.

Exchange 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0-0 8.Qd2 [D85]

Maghsoodloo, P - Aryan, C was a pleasant tactical struggle that resulted in perpetual check. The opening phase didn't offer that much new, with the set-up fairly well known both in ChessPublishing and beyond. Even so, Black's 14...Re8 seems to be the most precise (to me) and feels like the best choice in his quest for equality. It seems astonishing that White was able to capture on h7 and yet have no advantage, but Black's king wasn't as vulnerable as may have seemed at first sight.

Exchange 7.Bb5+ c6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bb3 b4 [D85]

In Shtembuliak, E - Karthik, V White's opening worked quite well.

This thrust either generates an attack or earns access to g5, which turns out to be a handy outpost. Rather than be confined to passive defence Karthik gave up his c-pawn 'for play', but it never looked to be enough.

If the diagram position (after 12.h4) is indeed good for White then an improvement is required much earlier for Black. I personally suggest (instead of 8...b5) 8...0-0 9.Ne2 and only now 9...b5 and not only because it was Grischuk's choice (but because the alternatives don't look as convincing).

Exchange 7 Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 Na5 11.Bd3 b6 12.Rc1 [D87]

In Shankland, S - Grandelius, N the US GM chose 13.dxe5 which I could describe as an interesting sideline but not theoretically challenging. The novelty on move seventeen (17.Rf2) enabled White to tidy up his forces with 18.Bf1 which, despite any aesthetic qualities, doesn't yield any advantage:

The game swung in White's favour only much later when Black mistimed ...g5, enabling White to seize the initiative.

Exchange 7 Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 e6 11.dxc5 [D87]

In Tsydypov, Z - Sychev, K White innovated with 13.Qb1 which has the merit of creating new problems, but early on Sychev was able to exploit the downsides of this slightly artificial move and obtain a good game.

Black's slight mistake at this point was instructive. It turns out that 19...b6 is too early and that he should first get his pieces onto more dynamic squares, perhaps with 19...Nc4 or 19...Bc6 both of which require some calculations to check that they are tactically sound.

In the game, White turned the tables as his bishops and then his rooks proved to be too hot to handle, all resulting from Black's sloppy nineteenth.

Exchange 7 Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 Na5 11.Bd3 b6 12.e5 [D87]

The quick draw, but not without incident, in Peralta, F - Mamedyarov, S has theoretical significance.

This 'pawn wedge' approach has appealed to Peralta in the past, as can be seen in Peralta, F - Artemiev, V Gibraltar 2019, (see the archives) where 13.h4 was played. Less of a problem for Black is another alternative 13.Qd2, which lacks punch.

So that brings us to 13.Nf4!? a move that the Argentinian has played before. Mamedyarov was ready (or inspired) with the surprising rejoinder 13...f6 provoking sacrifices which led to a draw. It seems evident that these lightening attacks shouldn't be a problem for the second player, but Black is the one who has to be the most careful.

Exchange 7 Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 0-0 9.0-0 Nc6 10.Be3 b6 11.h4 [D87]

In Cheparinov, I - Chigaev, M Black followed up with ...e6 and ...Qh4 to stem the White attacking ambitions on the kingside. In a later game, with only small differences, (Werle, J - Jones, G) Black was successful (i.e. he equalized) with this approach by finding a timely simplifying combination in the centre.

So it looks like Black can hold the balance playing like this, but he has to be precise.

In the featured game, Black's queen may have started out going to h4 but soon found itself stranded on the other wing as Cheparinov prepared to attack down the open h-file. Black's panicky reaction just hastened his end.

Exchange 7 Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 cxd4 11.cxd4 Na5 12.Bd3 b6 [D88]

White's attack broke through in Bluebaum, M - Votava, J with the young German GM also using the e4-e5 'pawn wedge' strategy:

My general feeling is that Votava's 15...f6 here is wrong and that he should have blocked the h-pawn advance with 15...h5. I am not sure I can prove this (even with silicon assistance) but I can't find a later defence for Black that satisfies me. So it's either another example of the danger of e4-e5, or perhaps that ...b6 combined with ...e6 is akin to waving the red rag at a raging bull. Food for thought for fans of an early ...b6 (with or without ...cxd4).

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 dxc4 6.e4 c5 7.d5 b5 [D90]

When White opts for 5.h4 as in Yuffa, D - Cheparinov, I many people are happy to go solid with 5...c6, a line that I've discussed quite a bit in recent years. It's more fun to play 5...dxc4, but you have to be as theoretically savvy as Cheparinov to do this with confidence.

This may or may not have been known to Cheparinov in advance (I suspect, yes), but in any case he came up with what I believe to be the best move 10...Ng4! which in my opinion puts 10.Rh4 out of business.

Another success story for Black is 8...Nxh5, an alternative and additional pawn grab (see the notes).

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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