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Ian Nepomniachtchi has been flying the flag of the Grünfeld in some of the recent elite online events. In fact, there have been many attempts by his opponents to challenge him in this dynamic opening in the last few months. He has been successful over the years with an 'active' interpretation, seeking the initiative rather than grabbing pawns or settling for passive solidity. There are four of his games below, offering some insights into his approach. Enjoy these, plus some other exciting games from last summer.

Download PGN of October ’20 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld 4.Bg5 Bg7 5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.cxd5 c6 [D80]

In Anand, V - Svidler, P Black relies on his bishop pair to give him enough play to compensate for the sacrificed pawn. Sometimes, in these positions, Black finds it difficult to regain material equality, but here everything went smoothly and Svidler was able to equalize in a fairly straightforward way. The endgame that followed was balanced and a draw was no surprise.

On move eight, Anand's 8.Qd2 was an attempt to get away from known theory, but it might be that 8.dxc6 is the critical option, which Svidler has in fact faced before. All-in-all, the prophylactic retreat 7...Bg7 seems to be holding up to scrutiny.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Nf3 c5 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.Rb1 [D85]

The Hungarian GM manages to innovate in Banusz, T - Nepomniachtchi, I with 12.Bd3:

It certainly looks odd to offer up the bishop pair so readily, but Nepomniachtchi preferred to exchange the white knight on f3 instead. After 12...Nxf3+ 13.Qxf3 it's plausible to capture on c3, but the game move of 13...b5 is perhaps less risky. The next phase seemed to involve a fairly balanced struggle, but where White lost his way.

It looks like this whole line with 9.Rb1 isn't objectively too problematic for Black, but as it's less-well known one has to watch out for the opponent's home preparation.

Grünfeld Exchange 8.Rb1 10...Qa5+ [D85]

Going through the labyrinth of variations in the Rb1-Exchange feels like a voyage back in time, as most of the theory had already crystallized a generation ago. Still Carlsen, M - Nepomniachtchi, I and the notes threw up some new questions.

Recently, Nepomniachtchi had a game that continued with 16...Bxf3 17.Bxf3 Qe6 18.e5!? against Wesley So. He coped well and nullified White's initiative, but he may have decided that Carlsen had something up his sleeve. One area for investigation is in the main line after 18.Qe2 which doesn't look that evident to me. So Nepomniachtchi varied in the diagram position with the previously unplayed 16...Bc3, but soon became tangled up. Still, an improvement on move twenty may ultimately show that the novelty is playable after all.

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

The line with 11...b5 only came to the fore a couple of years ago, but it has sparked great interest amongst high-level GMs. The featured game Giri, A - Nepomniachtchi, I is one of three of their encounters that reached this position:

On one occasion 13...Qb6 was tried, but it seems better to protect the e7-square with 13...Qc7, although after the forcing 14.Nd4 a5 15.Ba3 b4 16.Bb2 the queen does indeed go to b6: 16...Qb6. This theory in this line is developing fast, but the most challenging seem to be 17.c4 Na6 18.Nc6 (played by Giri in a later encounter in their match) or Vidit's 17.Bb5.

The Russian's aggression paid off here, but it could have gone the other way.

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.dxc5 Qc7 12.Nd4 [D87]

Two of the leading female stars gave an OTB testing in Koneru, H - Lagno, K to a theoretical line that e-mail players have tried out on several occasions.

The position has already become very sharp, with Black giving up a rook, but about to regain a piece. The activity seems adequate to compensate the exchange, according to engine assessments, but on move 21 Lagno made a slight error after which White was somewhat better. Having a good memory is necessary if you are intending to play this in old-fashioned 'face-to-face' tournaments (remember them?).

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.Rc1 Bb7 [D87]

A stunning attack by Studer led me to choosing Studer, N - Anton Guijarro, D as one of the featured games. I then realized that 11.Bb5 has gone from total obscurity to flavour of the month (Giri having played it four times and Studer twice) in no time at all!

I think that Black made an instructive error as early as move thirteen:

Here I recommend 13...e6 to hit at the centre. It was played by Jansa as early as 1983, but you'll see that I suggest an improvement in the notes. The game move 13...c4?! gifts the d4-square to White which turned out to be an ideal staging post for White's minor pieces. Although we've seen this sort of advance in many similar positions, here the knight on a5 is sidelined and it's difficult for Black to challenge White's centre with a pawn advance (...e6, ...f5 or even ...e5).

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...Bd7 11.Rb1 [D87]

In Korobov, A - Ftacnik, L Black's opening didn't work very well at all, and yet Ftacnik has some experience in this line. The main line with 11...Qc7 can't be bad, but it sometimes pays to play sidelines and 11...cxd4 may well be OK, i.e. if followed up precisely. It looks like the 'natural enough but a bit shaky' 14...b6 wasn't the only imprecision responsable for Black's demise, but 14...Nc4 (which had already occurred in a Ftacnik game) is playable, as far as I can see.

The losing move in fact was 17...Bc8, whereas 17...f5 18.f3 Bc8 is playable. It goes to show that 'trying to confuse the opponent' by playing an offbeat variation can easily rebound on oneself!

Grünfeld Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...Bg4 11.f3 Bd7 [D87]

The Gelfand, B - Nepomniachtchi, I encounter was a great fight in the middlegame and one that swung in Black's favour. The Russian must have been kicking himself for letting the win slip towards the end.

The most notable point in the opening was the choice of 13...Rfd8, whereas it's far more common to place the other rook on d8. The idea is to drop the bishop back to e8 to defend the kingside and then use the rooks to help pressurize the centre and support queenside counterplay. Gelfand was too slow getting his own play moving and had difficulties once the queenside majority rolled down the board. I think we'll see more games with this alternative rook development as Nepomniachtchi has shown it to be viable.

Grünfeld Exchange 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg5 [D90]

The position on move six of Rychagov, A - Wagner, De bears thinking about:

The 'Mamedyarov-Rychagov variation' sets a few novel problems as White combines the open play of the Exchange Variation with an early Bg5 (with nagging pressure along the h4-d8 diagonal). Black has plenty of choice, but unless he is well-prepared the resulting positions seem easier for White (well, that is if you are Mamedyarov or Rychagov and have played this stuff many times before!) to handle. The game continuation had already occurred in an earlier Rychagov game where Grischuk had played the superior 15...Bf6 (rather than 15...h6).

Wagner was slightly worse and then turned it around only to throw it all away, but it took two big blunders, each costing half-a-point.

As for my recommendation on the opening, I quite like 6...h6 (getting the bishop to decide early) 7.Bh4 c5, as it's handy to be able to kick the bishop with ...g5 if need be.

Grünfeld Russian 7.e4 a6 8.e5 b5 9.Qb3 Nfd7 10.e6 [D97]

In Yu Yangyi - Ding Liren the all-Chinese battle involved reviving some forgotten lines in the Hungarian Variation.

Here 11.Be3 would enter the big main line, but the chosen 11.Ng5!? is fairly rare. The resulting positions are probably nothing special for White, but led to an excellent struggle where both sides had their chances. Ding Liren had plenty of alternative ways to handle the position on moves 14-16, but his choices certainly weren't bad, as he was better for a while in the complications.

One day later, Yu Yangyi was successful with 11.Qxe6+ Kh8 12.Qd5 against Wei Yi, another variation that should get you motivated to do some revision (please use the ChessPublishing archives to find comparable lines).

In these high-level rapid encounters, a well-worked opening surprise that is 'sound enough even if it offers nothing special' can be a formidable weapon, as getting the opponent to spend more time on the clock can have consequences at the death.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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