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The idea of playing h4 at some point against our favourite dynamic defence isn't new by any means, but has become flavour of the month after being employed in the Exchange Variation at the 2020 Candidates. Previously, Alexander Shabalov has been known to play with h2-h4 in certain Exchange lines as part of a determined effort to attack Black's king (well, if the knight on f6 is absent then it's certainly tempting)! Here, we notice that sometimes this enterprising advance is sometimes made with more positional ambitions, such as cramping the Black king or just recapturing on g5 at times. Anyway, with h2-h4 being played (between moves five and sixteen) in seven of the ten Grünfeld encounters this time, there are plenty of cases here to bulk up your own ideas about its relevance.

Download PGN of May ’20 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld Exchange 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 c5 8.d5 [D85]

In Giri, A - Vachier-Lagrave, M the French star demonstrated a robust way to handle this variation.

It seems clear that 10...Qd6 followed by ...e6 is an improvement on the immediate 10...e6 (after which 11.d6 scores heavily). The next part of the game and the notes suggest that Black has no problems at all in this line. However, I think that, later on, 17...d4 was questionable (17...Rad8 being adequate for equality) as, towards the end, Giri perhaps missed a chance to squeeze out an edge with 24.Ra3 rather than 24.Rd3.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 Qc7 [D87]

In Sargissian, G - Sargsyan, S White introduced a novelty in the following position:

Previously 14.hxg6 had been played when 14...hxg6 15.Nf4 is actually quite tricky to meet (so be careful if you intend playing like this as Black!). Instead 14.h6, playing for space and control rather than an attack was employed. A pioneer's game often leaves us unsure about the relative strength of a new idea, and this is no exception. Sargissian managed to outplay his opponent for most of the time but his opponent (the similarly named Sargsyan) had a few chances along the way to save the day. The critical moment was White's 19.f4!? which I think needed to be met by the materialistic 19...Bxh6 when I would happily take Black.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 0-0 9.0-0 Nc6 10.Be3 b6 11.Qd2 [D87]

Overall, Black was probably never really in danger in Caruana, F - Nepomniachtchi, I but this impression is perhaps coloured by the fact that the Russian GM defended well throughout. The whole line looks like a good option for Black if he is happy with sharing the spoils (and knows his stuff!), but Caruana's use of h5-h6 at least created some pressure which kept his opponent on his toes. I can't find any concrete advantage, but Caruana did at least try his best.

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

White engineered the win of a pawn in Wang Hao - Vachier-Lagrave, M but the Frenchman managed to put up the barricades and save a valuable half-a-point. A lesson for those defending in the Grünfeld after their opening has gone wrong!

It does seem that 11.h4 is quite a promising way to meet 10...b6, but there are several potential ways that Black's game could be beefed-up. See the notes to Black's 16th, 17th and 26th moves. However, I quite like 11...Bb7 which was recently employed by an unknown player to obtain a good game, noting that the queen went from d6 to a3 rather than to the usual h4.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 0-0 9.0-0 Nc6 10.Be3 Bg4 11.f3 Bd7 [D87]

The play after the opening certainly seemed to be in White's favour in Muzychuk, M - Abdumalik, Z and that is despite Black introducing a novelty (13...Rab8!?). I don't know if this idea was a result of over-the-board inspiration or home preparation, as Abdumalik had already faced 13.Bd3 before. Black's problems seem to be due to the over-ambitious pawn sacrifice 16...c4, which is dubious, so I instead suggest 16...Na5. Later, Black fought back well (see 24...e5!) to earn a draw.

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 c6 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Bf4 [D90]

The rather positional opening in Kozak, A - Aravindh, C features some jostling for position on the queenside while both sides are working out their middlegame plan. The timing of ...Nc6-a5 and then to c4 seems paramount in these lines. Black seemed to get it about right in the game, but there was still a hint of a pull for White, maybe because the Grünfeld bishop on g7 is typically the least effective minor piece in these lines. A couple of elite games recently featured 9...a6 (with ...Na5 and ...Bg4 to follow) which seemed to be adequate for equality, but Aravindh's play in our featured game keeps more tension.

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 c6 6.Bg5 0-0 [D90]

In Gupta, A - Puranik, A the player of the black pieces introduced a new plan aiming to open lines where he has the bishop pair.

During the next phase, there was no real opening advantage for White and it seems that Black perhaps had more than one way to a safe, balanced position. However, in the game, Gupta recognized first that he could sacrifice the exchange for an eternal bind. So it may well already be very difficult for Black after 20.d6, despite appearances. A passed d-pawn is always something to be on the look out for in the Grünfeld!

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.Bf4 [D91]

The opening didn't have a great deal of newness about it in Sargissian, G - Ivic, V but I was impressed by how Sargissian was able to grind out a victory from the 'triple minor piece endgame'. Black's pieces were always less mobile (noting the use of the cramping moves 16.g4 along with 20.d5) so he had a few problems to coordinate his forces. Nevertheless, I think his position was tenable, but in a practical game slight but durable pressure can be difficult to live with.

Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.h4 [D91]

The whole line with 6.h4 has always struck me as a bit 'coffee house' in nature, and I really feel like it's the poor sibling compared to 6.Bh4 and 6.Bf4. Even so, Pia Cramling decided to give it a go in an important game, Cramling, P - Muzychuk, A but her opponent didn't seem fazed and obtained a more than satisfactory middlegame. This seems to demonstrate that the reaction involving 6...Nxg5 basically puts the whole concept out of business. I'm concluding that the bishop pair is worth more than some vague threats down the h-file, although Vachier-Lagrave recently blundered playing Black in an Internet rapid game. Later on, Cramling put up a fine rearguard defence to save the day, but I suspect she'll still be put off playing this system again.

Grünfeld Russian System 7.e4 c6 [D97]

The plan undertaken by Black in Can, E - Artemiev, V has been seen before in this column, but in slightly different circumstances.

After 13...Bc4 Black shows that he doesn't mind doubled pawns, as in return he obtains a decent grip on the light squares. Artemiev achieved a good defensive position and started to press his forces on the queenside, but Can defended solidly and held the draw. There was one well-concealed moment where White missed a chance to break-out into attacking mode, when he would have had the better of proceedings.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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