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This time I'll be looking at new developments in the Grünfeld Exchange. Ever popular and at times almost over-analyzed, it's surprising that there could be so many new ideas to get one's teeth into in just one month's column!

Download PGN of May ’21 Daring Defences games

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Exchange with 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg5 Bg7 6.Nf3 0-0 [D85/D90]

Just to be clear, in Radjabov, T - Grandelius, N, White actually opted for 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg5 (a D85 move order) but this quickly transposed (towards D90) once the further moves 5...Bg7 6.Nf3 had been played. The most striking choice in the opening phase occurred just a little later, with Radjabov's deciding on the restrained 7.e3, which is much in the spirt of those lines of the 4.Bg5 variation where the c3, d4, e3 triangle is applied.

White has bolstered his centre but any further pawn moves by him in that zone may just fragilize his grip on the centre. Indeed e3-e4 when it came (see 18.e4?) left Black with the better game. This whole opening scheme may have surprise value but it didn't seem to worry Grandelius, who from the diagram position just mobilized his forces onto sensible squares in typical Grünfeld fashion. Later, he failed to find a killer blow, but it might well be that the piece up endgame isn't actually winning after all.

Exchange 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qa3 b6 [D85]

With these players meeting so often (at least online) the World Champion has been varying his choices against MVL of late, so Carlsen, M - Vachier-Lagrave, M is one of a pair of games featuring these two this time. With 7.Qa4+ Carlsen was repeating a line that occurred in some earlier games of the Frenchman, that is until the Norwegian opted for the rare 10.Be3:

The continuation of the game 10...0-0 11.Rd1 cxd4 12.cxd4 Qd6 certainly felt OK for Black, but Carlsen may have been more comfortable in the resulting queenless middlegame, especially if he was prepared. Somewhere between moves seventeen to twenty Black went astray, which shows how in simplified scenarios, even when under no real pressure, a good plan is required. However, the World Champion's use of his rook on the kingside was remarkable and easy to overlook.

Exchange 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nb6 7.Be3 [D85]

In the second of the Carlsen, M - Vachier-Lagrave, M pair of encounters, again it was the World Champion who came out on top. He arguably understood the strategic elements best of all.

The idea of advancing with 8.a4 (which is duly met by 8...a5) has until now been rare, but after Carlsen employed it a couple of times against MVL it has already spurred further interest.

At first sight the position would seem to be fine for Black as his knights have good outposts and White doesn't have any real threats. However, it became clear in the game that the black e-pawn was a problem and MVL didn't find a good way to cope. So following 16...Kh8 17.Nxd5 I suggest recapturing with the pawn instead of the knight (17...cxd5 rather than 17...Nxd5) in order to then be able to offer the exchange of rooks on the c-file and thus release the latent pressure.

Exchange 5.Bd2 Nb6 6.Nf3 [D85]

In Suleymanli, A - Djukic, N Black gave up the bishop pair early, but despite the resulting solidity I must admit I always preferred the first player's position.

If this position is indeed better for White (I mean, even slightly) then Djukic's novel 6...Bg4 followed by 7...Bxf3 will have to be considered as less trustworthy than the routine 6...Bg7. Nevertheless, this idea might appeal to some as it avoids lots of theory and does obtain a very solid-looking position. Suleymanli later found a delightful breakthrough, but went astray in the follow-up and was eventually hit by an attractive counterblow that led to a draw.

Exchange 7.Bb5+ Nd7 [D85]

In Shtembuliak, E - Fedoseev, V White tried something unusual on move ten.

Although White has tried many moves here, 10.Bf4 isn't one of the most common, by any means. However, as the bishop soon had to drop back to e3 anyway, there is a suggestion that it isn't such a great choice. The only move that has scored positively for White in the diagram position is 10.Bg5, which I've examined in the notes. In the actual game, over the next few moves I liked the way that Fedoseev manoeuvred into a good position and was even able to snatch a pawn. Shtembuliak fought back and obtained some compensation due to his bishop pair. There then followed a few imprecisions from both protagonists (but that's to be expected in such a complex position at rapid chess), with Black ultimately exploiting his material advantage.

Exchange 7.Be3 c5 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rc1 Bg4 11.d5 [D85]

The 11...b5 thrust has been quite topical of late, but Black's attempt at breaking new ground with 16...f5 in Pashikian, A - Harutyunian, T rather rebounded on him. This aggressive thrust weakened too many squares in the black camp and hardly inconvenienced White. After that, with the bishop pair pressing against Black's loose position White soon obtained a serious advantage.

I'm not sure if his reply was a planned novelty by Harutyunian, or that he was confused by the unusual move order (see move thirteen) that had just occurred. In any case, instead of 16...f5?!, Black should settle for 16...Rcd8 as already played out to equality by Markus Ragger.

Exchange 8.Rb1 10...Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qxa2 12.0-0 Bg4 13.Bg5 [D85]

In Grigorian, S - Heimann, A the German GM may have found a way to revive a previously frowned-upon variation.

Here the novelty 15...h6 was a clear improvement on the ugly 15...f6 that had previously been tried here. However, what makes Heimann's idea so attractive is that instead of playing out loads of well-mapped theory to a draw with 13...h6, the sequence 13...Nc6 14.d5 Rfd8 15.Rxb7 (and now 15...h6) leads play into fresh pastures and a real game! Anyway, after this, although Black enters the middlegame a pawn down the passed a-pawn seems to give him adequate compensation. A good find that might stimulate a wider theoretical debate.

Exchange 8.Rb1 0-0 9.Be2 b6 10.0-0 Qc7 [D85]

In So, W - Grandelius, N White found a novel way to handle the ...b6-variation, starting with 11.Re1:

If Black were now to fianchetto his bishop with 11...Bb7, then White responds by moving his bishop from e2 (there is a choice of various squares), but in each case the rook defends the e4-pawn. Still, my feeling is that this is probably best. Instead, Grandelius preferred 11...Nc6, but then 12.d5 Ne5 13.c4 led to White building his centre. In addition, he then has the handy rook shift with Rb1-b3 in mind. In order to hit back the Swedish GM tried 13...f5, but his game wasn't easy to handle due to issues down the e-file. So with White winning at ease, Black's opening choices need to be examined, and I think that 11...Nc6 is probably just too helpful for the opponent.

Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.Qd2 Bb7 12.Rac1 [D87]

In Duda, J - Nepomniachtchi, I Black had to decide how to react to the opposing light-squared bishop being placed on b5:

From the diagram position, the Russian GM has already obtained a good game after 15...Qd6, but there is a feeling that Harikrishna's 16.Bf4 might have some bite. So Nepomniachtchi preferred 15...Na5 after which Duda played the novel 16.f3 bolstering the e4-pawn. It seemed to me that the game continuation 16...Qe7 followed by ...Qa3 led to Black obtaining adequate counterplay. The whole encounter was a hard fought affair with both sides having their chances, especially towards the end.

Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...Bg4 11.f3 Bd7 12.Rb1 Qc7 [D87]

In Duda, J - Shankland, S White innovated against Black's trendy 13...Rfd8:

Here 14.Bd5 was played aiming to exchange off the c6-knight and thus reduce the pressure on the centre. Shankland reacted well and obtained the better of equality quite quickly, which suggests that this novelty won't be seen too often in future. Later, Black blundered but Duda missed his chance, and the game fizzled out to a draw.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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