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Neo-Grünfeld 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Nc3 Nb6 7.e3 [D71]
In Riazantsev, A - Deac, B the Russian GM employs a hybrid between the Exchange Variation and the Neo-Grünfeld. Because of the move order he is even able to develop his king's knight to e2 which is highly unusual when combined with the modest e2-e3. There is surprise value herein, but you get the impression that Black should have some options in his quest for a playable game. In this case, Deac fully equalized in my opinion, but then allowed his opponent a clever idea Q-a5-e5! which created some pressure:
After that, the young Romanian had to knuckle down and defend for a further 120 moves before obtaining the half point. Riazantsev must have been close to winning at some point, perhaps the best chance coming on move 62.
Grünfeld 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Nxd5 Qxd5 8.Bxc7 [D84]
In Meier, Ge - Heimann, An a novelty was introduced by Meier, 14.Ba5, but I'm not sure if it will catch on as it's in a variation which essentially has a 'drawish' reputation:
In the game this move seemed to destabilize Heimann who soon went astray allowing one of his valuable bishops to be traded for a knight. For Black, there are improvements to be found on move fourteen and especially two moves later on move sixteen. After that it was one-way traffic as Meier showed masterful technique to give his opponent no chance. The mating net at the end is quite original.
Grünfeld Exchange Be3 & Nf3 queenless middlegame [D85]
In Bernadskiy, V - Kovchan, A White showed his willingness to sacrifice a pawn or two for the initiative. An example being in the following position where he played the ambitious 16.Bh3!?:
I am slightly surprised that this version of the queenless middlegame is so popular for Black, as he has his work cut out to compete against White's bishop pair. In the game Kovchan was probably OK (see move 20), but it just seems an easier task for White to create difficulties for his opponent. White won the knight and then just kept going and soon found himself with two extra pieces (for a few uninspiring pawns).
If all this doesn't attract you then I would suggest 9...0-0 to keep more tension.
Grünfeld Exchange Be3 & Nf3 8.h3 [D85]
The game Grachev, B - Ragger, M was hardly the most exciting this month, but it does demonstrate a sensible way to meet Grachev's pet-line involving an early h2-h3. Ragger just made his position bullet-proof by setting up a barricade involving ...e6 and ...b6.
Ironically, White's best chances to keep any opening edge was by going further than h3 here with 16.h4!
Overall, it's hard to believe that the topical 8.h3 will be anything more than a passing fad, but it still requires Black players to discover a way to neutralize it. Perhaps one has been found?
Grünfeld Exchange Be3 & Nf3 9...b6 [D85]
The encounter Aronian, L - Dobov, D is likely to become famous, but for the wrong reasons. The endgame can only be described as poorly played, with neither side being quite sure what to do for quite a while. I think we can blame the modern obsession with faster time limits for this! Later Aronian eked out a win after missing ten(!) earlier opportunities.
On a more positive note, the opening showed Aronian in an aggressive mood as was evident throughout his successful World Cup campaign. His plan with h5-h6 and e5-e6 is not appreciated by the engines, but creates practical problems and he was ultimately able to outplay Dubov and obtain an exchange-up endgame.
Do you believe your engine which claims a Black edge after 17.e6 here? I'm not sure that it's so easy to handle (for humans) in practice, so I will reserve my judgement.
Grünfeld Exchange Be3 & Nf3 8...Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 [D85]
A notable aspect of the encounter Istratescu, A - Gledura, B is that Benjamin Gledura has also played this line with White. Against Istratescu, he was clearly well-prepared, obtained a good opening and went on to generate a winning position. I'm not sure what happened at the end at the score is given as a draw, but there could be several explanations for that.
As things stand, from Black's point of view, this looks like an excellent choice to combat the Be3 set-up, as the key move 14...b6 is still standing up to scrutiny.
Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...others [D87]
The retreat 11.Bb3 is reasonable enough, but looks a shade slow:
as can be seen in Golubka, P - Bernadskiy, V where Black had a fine initiative for the pawn. There seem to be a variety of options for both sides, but using general knowledge from analogous positions might be good enough for Black to see him right. Although, one could argue that the precise 14...Ba6 might have been even better for Black than in the game. A tactical flourish led to White grovelling his way to a fortress, but was hardly good publicity for his opening choice.
Black had an interesting move order ploy up his sleeve in Urkedal, F - Stany, G which might surprise some folk:
So, as there are threats down the c-file, White needs to react quickly and Urkedal did exactly that with the sequence 10.Bf4 e5 11.Bxe5 Bxe5 12.dxe5 Qxe5 13.Bd5! and the bishop has a fine outpost on d5. Black's achievement has been to lead play into a sideline where the opponent may not be that comfortable, but I still prefer White, as you will ascertain from my notes. This is perhaps why this move order isn't employed that often.
The game became very unclear later before White eventually prevailed.
White's attack became very strong in Naumkin, I - Drygalov, A and it proved to be too hot to handle.
In this position, the experienced Naumkin introduced a natural-looking novelty 17.f4. This led to him sacrificing the d-pawn, when despite the fact that Black's pawn grab is sanctioned by the engines, I think the middlegame is more difficult to navigate for Black. As to a better defence, surely 22...Nc6 would have given him more chances of resisting the attack, whereupon the ultimate result would have been in doubt.
Degtiarev, E - Perelshteyn, E involved an opening variation that was popular when I started working for ChessPublishing way back in the early 00s. When White captures on c5 this leads to a struggle around White's broken pawns. If Black regains the c-pawn (as here) he obtains the advantage, if not he ends up somewhat passive even if White can't directly use his ugly majority.
The biggest test could be 14.Bb5, as in an old correspondence game mentioned in the notes.
Perelshteyn was well on his way to winning a model game, but a couple of imprecise moves enabled Degtiarev to put up a rearguard defence and save the half-point in extremis.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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