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Exchange Variation with 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.0-0 0-0 [D85]
In Dubov, D - Abdusattorov, N the young Russian GM is willing to give 8.Bb5+ a try.
After 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.0-0 0-0 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 the last few months have witnessed the 're-discovery' of 11.Qc2!?:
Play can then become quite forcing and the theory has moved on and crystallized in only a few months, so those who don't follow the latest developments very closely could get caught out. White is showing a willingness to sacrifice a pawn for an opposite-coloured bishop middlegame where he has some attacking chances. With best play, Black seems able to hold, but it doesn't seem such an easy defensive task, as you'll notice in the featured game where Dubov pounced on a small error to accelerate his attack. So I can understand why some prefer 8...Nd7 (including Dubov, when playing Black!) to avoid such inconveniences.
Exchange Variation 7.Be3 c5 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rc1 Rd8 [D85]
In Robson, R - Gledura, B the American GM aimed to surprise his opponent, a known Grünfeld specialist.
This bishop development 11.Bd3 is very rare and has never been played before at GM level. It could be something of a one-off as 11...Bg4 12.d5 c4! seems to solve Black's opening problems. Benjamin Gledura (another player who has taken both sides in the Grünfeld Exchange!) preferred to stick to the sort of position where he has experience, by opting for 11...Nc6, but he gradually drifted into a slightly worse queenless middlegame. Along the way, however, there was a clear refutation of White's play (see the notes to move fifteen) so I don't think we'll see 14.Bh6?! very often! Despite me not enthusing about White's opening choice, it's definitely worth studying alternatives to 11.d5 as they do contain a number of subtleties.
Exchange Variation 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.Rc1 Bb7 [D87]
In Yu Yangyi - Vachier-Lagrave, M we are able to study another example of the trendy Bc4-b5 in the Exchange Variation.
With the option of (x).Bxc6, Bxc6; (x+1).d5 on the cards, most players (including Nepomniachtchi) have opted for the prophylactic 13...e6 here. Three years ago when playing against Anish Giri, MVL opted for 13...Na5, but despite drawing the game he was always second best. So it was interesting to see his latest antidote: 13...cxd4 14.cxd4 e6 15.Rc1 Qd6 and after 16.h4 he innovated with 16...a6 and soon obtained equality. I wonder if Black's sensible play in this game will kill off interest in the 'bishop nudge' to b5?
Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 c5 6.dxc5 Be6 [D90]
The Sarana, A - Dubov, D encounter is one of those games where we notice that even super-GMs are human!
Meeting 5.h4 with 5...c5 may feel like the right response (in principle, and indeed the sister variation 4.h4 is generally considered to be unplayable because of 4...c5). However, after 6.dxc5 Black needs to find the right follow-up and despite a number of experiments with alternatives it's only recently that 6...Be6! has come to the fore. These fresh green pastures are ideal for those who like to have fun games without too much theory to learn. Sarana innovated next move, but Black was soon better and later had such a big advantage it was astonishing to see the tables ultimately turned. White's best try on move seven could be 7.h5 but this needs further tests before reaching any meaningful conclusions.
Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4 Bg4 [D90]
Everybody seems to want to play 5.h4 against Daniil Dubov (!) and here's another example. In Xiong, J - Dubov, D the Russian tried his pet line 5...Bg4 with which he has been successful (with quick time limits) in the past:
After 6.Ne5 there is some choice, but the novelty 6...dxc4 didn't work very well in the game, as Black was soon worse, having allowed his opponent to obtain a firm grip on the centre. It strikes me, that amongst the alternatives, the more natural-looking 6...Be6 looks the best bet to make 5...Bg4 playable. In the later stages, just when Dubov had got himself right into the game, a couple of slack moves handed the advantage back to Jeffery Xiong who finished off with a series of elegant moves.
Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bd2 [D90]
The Exchange combining Nf3 and Bd2 doesn't have the reputation of containing much bite, but was the choice in Narayanan, S - Nepomniachtchi, I.
In these positions, normally it's just a question of finding the right moment to hit back with ...c5 in order to obtain a decent game. After 7...0-0 8.e3 Be6 9.Be2 Nepomniachtchi somehow persuaded himself to seek something different, perhaps because he feared that his opponent was better prepared. However, his choice of 9...Nc6 left him with problems to find an appropriate counter. Surely 9...c5 is best, a move that has worked quite well in the past. In fact this break could also have been employed on moves seven or eight. In the game, when it did come on move sixteen, it was a bit late and Black was worse. At the end, the sneaky trick that won the game for the Russian star was remarkable.
Grünfeld 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.Bf4 [D91]
The choice of 6.Bf4 in Giri, A - Duda, J is another case of a top GM being attracted to a fashionable variation. This often occurs when a player initially prepares a line (with one colour in mind), but after having noticed a few problems, ends up playing it with the other colour! Following 6...Nxc3 7.bxc3 dxc4 8.e4 b5 a critical position arises:
It's a gambit where the continuation 9.a4 c6 10.h4 showed Giri's intention to seek the initiative far and wide! The latter move was actually a novelty, but is very much along modern ways of thinking. For those who think of Giri as a 'drawish player' please note that 10...Bg4 was then met with 11.h5 Bxh5 12.Rxh5! with decent compensation for the exchange. Both sides had times when they were better, but Giri was very close to winning towards the end.
All this was far more fun than the 'solid' lines with 7...c5, but that's the move to make if you want to seek 'comfortable equality', whereas Giri and Duda (in the game continuation) both showed their desire for a fight.
Russian System 6...Be6 7.Qa4+ Bd7 8.Qa3 [D96]
In Esipenko, A - Abdusattorov, N White ground away with a minimal advantage and eventually broke through.
The choice of 8.Qa3 in the opening makes the ...c5-break more difficult to achieve and Black finds himself with a very solid, but not particularly dynamic position. This could be a good practical choice against 6...Be6 which has, up to now, proven to be tough to meet. The light-squared bishop went via e6 and d7 to get to c6 and even went on to e4 (after 13.Nxe4 Bxe4) before being traded on f3 for a knight. Abdusattorov seems to like ceding the bishop pair before battening down the hatches, but it doesn't look dynamic enough for most Grünfeld players, so maybe they should investigate 8...b5!? which was played by Gledura.
Russian System 7.e4 a6 8.e5 b5 9.Qb3 Nfd7 10.Ng5 [D97]
The Chinese GM tried 10.Ng5 (which was once used successfully by Carlsen) in Yu Yangyi - Giri, A and then after the natural moves 10...Nb6 11.Be3 Nc6 12.Rd1 reached the following position:
Black now has several options, with Giri sticking to the main choice with 12...Na5, but the reply 13.Qc2 may have taken him out of his comfort zone (whereas 13.Qb4 has been played in a number of previous GM battles). The surprise value worked, as following 13...Nac4 14.Bc1 the reaction 14...f6 proved to be a mistake (the engine assures me that 14...Nd5 is OK) after which Giri was in some danger. Yu Yangyi may have missed more than one way to turn the screw, and the Dutchman eventually escaped.
Russian System 7.e4 a6 8.Be2 b5 9.Qb3 c5 10.dxc5 Be6 11.Qc2 Nbd7 [D97]
In Esipenko, A - Navara, D the theory was tested deep into the game.
White's eighteenth move is the most challenging as it offers White the possibility to push Black's queen away from the blockading square. After the further moves 18...a5 19.Bf4 Qc5 20.Ne5 the threat of N-c6 forces Black to react vigorously if he wants to avoid being 'passified'. Navara produced an interesting novelty 20...a4 and then 21.Qxa4 Nxd5 led to lively play and a 'three pieces for a queen' scenario. I think that Black is fine if he correctly coordinates his forces (especially his knights) but in the game he overlooked a detail and got himself into trouble.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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