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This month we shall be investigating some ideas in the Leningrad Dutch, as well as recent developments in the Exchange Variation of the Grünfeld Defence.

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Leningrad Dutch

After White develops in a standard manner, Black has to show his hand (to some extent), as early as the seventh move. In recent years the most common move has been 7...Qe8, when Black threatens to expand in the centre with ...e7-e5. However, here we shall be looking at Black's three main seventh move alternatives.

7...e6 [A87]

In Game One Leningrad aficionado Dmitri Reinderman opts for the slightly old-fashioned 7...e6. A line that was sometimes adopted by Tal and Botvinnik in the 60's.

In the actual game, the Dutch GM should have reached something like equality after the opening, but blundered, and then after a series of adventures went on to lose.

As for the theoretical status of 7...e6: I don't believe that Black achieves an easy game following 8.Re1, as emphasized by Anish Giri against the same player in the Dutch Championship. The notes show this fairly clearly.

7...c6 [A88]

In Game Two the way that Damljanovic was able to create some pressure was instructive, but Narciso Dublan was able to hold out by sacrificing the exchange and 'battening down the hatches'.

However, there is a simpler way for Black to equalize involving 10...Na6, where Black centralizes this piece before indulging in the ...e5 advance. Dolmatov used to play like this a generation ago with success. The point that he showed is that control of the e4-square avoids many difficulties for Black in the early middlegame.

7...Nc6 [A89]

After 7...Nc6, White's most common reaction is 8.d5 when Black has to decide between e5 and a5 for his knight. The 'Panno King's Indian-style' 8...Na5 is featured, and receives a battering, in Game Three. In fact, the 9.b3 played by Bogdanovich seems to be quite strong, and after studying a number of games I've come to the conclusion that I don't like Black's position:

So, careful if you have been playing like this, maybe 8...Na5 is just dubious. In any case, the game and notes show that Black has been having a rough time.

Grünfeld Defence - Exchange Variation [D85]

White has various ways of developing his pieces in the Exchange Variation. Here I shall be examining a number of ideas that have recently caught the attention of some highly-ranked practitioners.

7.Qa4+ [D85]

In Games 4-6 I've examined the three main replies to this fashionable line. In each case Black places a piece on d7.

If Black replies with 7...Qd7, then White generally withdraws the queen to b3, hoping to leave the black counterpart on a clumsy square. In Game 4 the players followed the established line until Black played ambitiously on move 18, which was immediately met with a strong novelty. This suggests that 18...Qa4 is inferior to 18...e5, the latter of which is known to lead to solid enough equality, however.

In Game 5 Peter Svidler is successful with 7...Bd7 8.Qa3 Nc6!? (a novelty), but after the game he admitted that he considers this to be inferior. His important win over Ruslan Ponomariov ensured him his ticket for the final of the recent World Cup, but White has several improvements and indeed could have maintained an edge in the opening.

I've looked at Black's alternatives on move 8, and the only one that I can recommend is 8...b6. Naturally the bishop is misplaced on d7, but still, Black seems to be able to get a reasonable position, even if he doesn't quite equalize.

I actually prefer the immediate 7...Nc6!?, but this hasn't been played enough to reach a sensible conclusion.

Emil Sutovsky opts for 7...Nd7 in Game Six, which is perhaps Black's most flexible choice:

Later on there are some solid ways of handling Black's position (see the alternatives on moves 10, 11 and 12) but Sutovsky decides to play sharply. Too sharply, in fact. Vorobiov obtained the advantage with a neat exchange sacrifice, and was better until the end of the game.

7.Bg5 [D85]

In Game 7 Ian Nepomniachtchi handles the opening almost as if White had placed his bishop on e3. He finds a way to equalize in a line where White had previously kept an edge. Later on he declined a draw, but soon went astray and was in danger in the endgame.

I suggest a simpler solution to counter 7.Bg5, that is by playing more-or-less as in the game, but with the additional moves ...h6; Be3. The advantage of this approach is that there is no longer a problem on e7 after the exchange of queens.

If you prefer playing with queens on the board, 9...0-0 10.Nf3 Bg4 is interesting, as you'll see in the notes.

White plays an early Be3 [D85]

This is one of the most common ways of meeting the Grünfeld these days.

In both Games 8 and 9 White dominates, which suggests that Black has to be careful about the order of moves he chooses.

The theory of 9.Nd2 is evolving very quickly, and there is still room for experimentation:

In Game Eight David Navara grabbed the c-pawn followed by the a-pawn and then entered complications, but didn't solve his opening problems against a well-prepared Viktor Laznicka.

In the notes I have indicated that slower plans for Black are less risky, indeed if Black doesn't go pawn-grabbing he should be fine, as suggested by the notes to moves 9 and 10.

In Game 9 Boris Avrukh gets into hot water on the kingside as Rombaldini opens the h-file. Indeed, in a number of games White's direct attack has proven too strong for Black to cope with, even if the computer isn't always convinced.

In the notes, you'll see that there are alternatives that do seem to be less risky, for example 12...f6 à la Svidler.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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