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Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 [D70]
This has become popular even amongst the elite, so it was about due some serious space in this column!
In the first game Black is aiming to get White to commit his d-pawn early:
Indeed, White often reacts with 8.d5 and after 8...Ne5 he has the space-gaining 9.f4. I actually had this position a few years back against Ni Hua, who felt that he had got the opening wrong. However, several strong players have been willing to go down this road and it seems that Black's position is not bad.
David Navara instead preferred 8.Bb5 in Game one and this seems critical. Apart from our featured game, in which White kept some pressure throughout, a couple of Bocharov-Timofeev encounters (see the notes) should give some material for future investigations. As things stand at present, I don't think Black is fully equalizing here.
Unknown ten years ago, 9...Qd6 is now commonplace. After 10.Nb5 Qd7 White has several tempting options:
In Game 2 Svidler plays the sharpest idea 11.Bh6, but Caruana was well prepared. He actually introduced a novelty on move 21, which seems to keep Black afloat. As I can't see any improvements for White, this suggests that 14...f6 is adequate. In turn, this means that any discussions about the viability of the other defence, with 14...c5, are of academic interest only.
So this brings us back to possible alternatives at move 11.
In Game 3 I've been looking at 11.Kb1 and 11.f4. Unlike after 11.Bh6 (which seems to have been worked out?), there are lots of unanswered questions after both of these moves.
Playing the 11.Kb1 line, Wojtaszek tried something new against 11...Rd8 12.d5 a6 13.Nc3 Ne5, but was soon worse. Areshchenko successfully defended against the attack, but failed to take the best of his chances and even went on to lose.
In the notes, there have been several key games after 11.f4 Qe6. Svidler (this time playing Black) got into hot water against Wang Hao (again, see the notes), but players including Giri and Negi have shown ways for Black to survive and even thrive.
In Game 4 Viktor Bologan was able to retain the advantage against Ivan Cheparinov throughout. It's possible that his use of the rare 10.Rd1 threw the Bulgarian somewhat. Personally, I would opt for 11...Na6 (rather than 11...N8d7) if I had this line tomorrow.
As for 10.h4, see the notes for Bocharov's novelty on move 20 and then, further down, my suggested improvement on move 21 enabling Black to equalize.
Novelties go a long way into the game these days!
Neo-Grünfeld 5...dxc4 [D73]
In Game 5, after 5...dxc4, Sargissian employs a rare idea involving Qa4+ with Nbd2. Most of the theory here is not new, but the subtlety of the ideas involved is a domain in which the Armenian flourishes. He obtained an advantage, and it was only careful defending by Saric that saved Black's day.
If I had to recommend an improvement in the opening phase, then I would suggest 12...Bg4 as being more trustworthy than Saric's rather soft 12...h6. Furthermore, could the not-yet-played 10...Nxd4 actually be playable? See my analysis and then form your own judgement.
6 cxd5 Nxd5 7 0-0 Nb6 8 Nc3 & 9 d5 [D76]
In Game 7 Ivan Cheparinov introduces a novelty, 12...Bg4:
and outplays Sebastien Mazé to bring home the whole point. The Frenchman put up a stern defence, but was unable to cancel out losing the thread between moves 21 to 24. Cheparinov is definitely a specialist in this line and had probably judged at home that he had enough practical compensation for the pawn.
6 cxd5 Nxd5 7 0-0 Nb6 8 Nc3 & 9 e3 [D76]
In Game 8 White plays 10.a3:
In my database it is historically the ninth most common move here, but recently has become quite popular, even amongst the elite.
It certainly seems to be a line that Black needs to be aware of (see the notes to move 15) and not one he should expect to get away with on auto-pilot. I would recommend comparing the likely resulting middlegames with other analogous lines, noting that here the b4-square is not available.
In the game White may well have been much better (see move 20), but Shimanov missed his chance and was then well outplayed by Kovalev.
6 0-0 dxc4 7 Na3 [D77]
One of the joys of the Neo-Grünfeld for players is that there are so many options. For theoreticians it's often hard to give hard-and-fast judgements on individual lines, as the assessment often comes down to a matter of taste. In Game 6 Giri uses his excellent feel for the position to simplify and leave Black with awkward problems on the a-file. Li Chao2 didn't seem to do much wrong and yet the game slid away from him. So perhaps 12...Ne8 isn't advisable. Instead I quite like the cheeky 12...Bh6, as employed recently by Maxim Turov.
I remember that 30 years ago Predrag Nikolic obtained his second GM norm in Esbjerg, the same event that I obtained my second IM Norm. I also remember that it was a nice tournament, except that you could smell the fish factory wherever you were in town! Another fact about Nikolic is his loyalty to certain 'positional' openings such as the Neo-Grünfeld, which he has played since the seventies! There are references to his games wherever you look! Here he wins a complicated struggle (Game 9) in an unusual way. Sedlak's first error was on move 22 and the fatal one on move 24.
Maybe the critical line for White involves 13.Ne5, but there aren't many games.
6 0-0 c6 7 Qb3 [D78]
Game 10 can be summarized as a smooth positional performance by Morozevich over a fellow 2700-player. Essentially the choice of this game is not so much for the theory, but for the fact that it shows that if Black isn't careful then ...dxc4 can be shown up to have a downside. Whatever your analysis engine states, White can have long-term chances due to his slight central preponderance, as here.
I would recommend varying for Black as early as move 7 or 8, to avoid becoming too passive, but also to get a more interesting game. Black has so many options, I can't cover them all, but I've highlighted some dynamic ideas.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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