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This month I'll be concentrating on just two principal variations: The Neo-Grünfeld (where White plays an early g2-g3 and Black reacts with ...d5) and the Russian System (where White plays N-f3 and Q-b3).

Download PGN of September '11 Daring Defences games

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Neo-Grünfeld [D72-79]

The schema with g2-g3 is becoming more popular. Boris Avrukh recommended this approach in his 2010 Quality Chess publication 'Grandmaster Repertoire 1.d4 Volume 2', and his influence is filtering down to all and sundry. However, there are many ways for Black to handle these lines and get dynamic play. In most of the first six games, not only is Black 'OK' it is often he who is calling the shots. There are in my opinion, not that many ways to make the g2-g3 system particularly dangerous from White's point of view, but the most critical line is the one investigated in Game 4.

Neo-Grünfeld - cxd5 with Nge2 [D72]

First of all, in Game One, Ftacnik's provocative 6...Nb4!? is less well-known than the fashionable 6...Nb6. The game itself was a lively draw, but the more I looked the more I preferred White, so what went wrong for Black in the opening? First of all, take a look at this position after 11...Ne5:

A few years ago there was a flurry of interest in 12.Bd4, but this has been essentially analyzed out to a draw, as you'll see in the notes. Kempinski instead opted for 12.Nge2 which I suspect came as a surprise and, as a result, Ftacnik wasn't able to find the best line. In my opinion this is 12...0-0 13.0-0 Bg4, as played by former FIDE president Fridrik Olafsson forty years ago.

In Game Two you can play through a model win by Le Quang Liem over Lazaro Bruzon. I've had a close look at the state of play in the 6...Nb6 variation, so the notes are quite dense (to enable me to try and understand the subtleties of the various move orders!). Transpositional possibilities can be baffling in this line, but following the Vietnamese GM's method is as good way as any of obtaining a decent game. Black also has satisfactory alternatives on moves 10 and 13, so my conclusion is that the e2-e4 lines are not really that effective against the well-prepared.

Neo-Grünfeld 6 cxd5 Nxd5 with e3 and 10.Re1 [D76]

The main line of the Neo-Grünfeld can be considered as White playing cxd5 and then N-f3. This features in games 3 and 4. The focus of many players' attention in recent months has been the following position after 10...a5:

Since the game McNab-Djukic, played at the end of last year, and analyzed a few months back in this column, there have been several games as new ideas are tried out. In Game Three Salgado Lopez wins at a canter playing Black against 11.b3, but from White's point of view this move and most of the alternatives haven't been very successful.

In Game 4 I take a look at 11.Qe2, and in particular the further moves 11...Be6 12.Nd2, which Etienne Bacrot and others have been playing as White. In the featured game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave cautiously equalizes as Black and then outplays his opponent, Jean-Pierre Le Roux, another Frenchman who has been trying to get the white position to work.

It seems to me that we are only just seeing the beginning of the crystallization of the theory after 10...a5, but signs have been fairly encouraging for Black so far.

Neo-Grünfeld 6 0-0 dxc4 7 Na3 [D77]

In Game 5 we look at the line where Black is given the opportunity to capture on c4, does so, and then gives it back with ...c3. Bosiocic wins a smooth game almost effortlessly with Black. This seems to be yet another line of the Neo-Grünfeld that is not working for White at the moment.

The Croatian GM makes an interesting positional decision in the following position after 12.e3:

The continuation 12...Nxe5 13.Nxe5 Bxe5 14.dxe5 Nb6! proved to be better for Black. The knight later dominated the dark-squared bishop, and this enabled Black to take control.

Neo-Grünfeld 6 0-0 c6 [D79]

The sixth and final game of the Neo-Grünfeld survey features the Russian Champion playing with ...c6, the rock-solid Slav/Grünfeld set-up:

In this particular World Cup encounter, Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son against Peter Svidler, Black's first priority was not to lose, so Svidler even played this way twice! Their rapid game (Game Six) did sharpen up, but in many cases from this line there is a danger of drawish simplification (see their classical game in the notes). If the tension can be maintained (it depends on the mood and motivation of the players!) then it's wise to be mentally prepared for some heavy manoeuvring, as demonstrated by several examples in the notes. My feeling is that Black has little to fear with this approach, but he may not be able to activate his forces quite as easily as he would like.

In any case, my recommendation is to play ...dxc4 rather than ...c6 if you want dynamic play, see Game 5.

Russian System [D97-99]

One of the major white systems against the Grünfeld, it has nevertheless lost some of it's erstwhile popularity in recent years. However, some high-ranking players have been playing 4.Qb3 (I call this the Neo-Russian), which I've covered a few times in recent updates, but if White follows up with an early N-f3 then the line can transpose back to more standard variations.

Here we'll be looking at developments in the traditional lines resulting from the textbook 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 move order.

Russian System - Hungarian Variation 7...a6 8.e5 [D97]

In Game 7 Alexander Morozevich inflicts a convincing victory on no-less a Grünfeld-hero than Peter Svidler. White's surprising choice against the Hungarian variation, after 8.e5 b5 9.Qb3 Nfd7 10.Be2 c5, was 11.e6!?, an idea which is much better known in analogous positions rather than this precise one:

The notes suggest that Black shouldn't really have anything to worry about, but the surprise value of the move, plus the fact that Svidler had already won the tournament, led to Black going wrong quite quickly.

I believe that at any level, a confidently played surprise move can have a devastating practical effect, even if it is objectively nothing special.

Russian System - 7...Nc6 [D97]

Game Eight features another Morozevich win, this time against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman's choice of opening gambit wasn't the problem, as you'll see in the notes, but he over-enthusiastically pushed his b-pawn and was punished quite ruthlessly. Watch out for 8...e5 in future! It looks playable to me, despite Black's unfortunate experience here.

Russian System - 7...Bg4 [D98]

Game 9 is a game that was pointed out to me by enthusiastic Grünfeld amateur Franck Steenbekkers. Anish Giri plays a quiet non-descript waiting move 15.g3 (rather than 15.Qc2 preparing to develop the dark-squared bishop), and then Black's position becomes difficult to play. Why? Well, maybe a useful waiting move is more important than directly pursuing development:

To meet this, Black then needs to make a decision about how to prepare counterplay, and White is well-placed to react whatever Black opts for. Here is a case of 'flexibility' being more important than 'forcefulness'.

If no solution can be found to Black's dilemma then he may have to revert to the alternative development method with 12...cxd5, see the notes.

In Game 10 Onischuk opts for 10.Qa4 rather than 10.Qb4. In the actual game, David Navara had few problems to equalize (at least!) as the plan with ...b5 works well here, and he perhaps regretted 'only' drawing. However, before one writes-off White's approach, the recent idea 14.Bg5 could do with a further look, an improvement which may offer White at least a nominal pull from the opening.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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