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Anti-Grünfeld 3 f3 [D70]
This highly fashionable variation continues to attract some of the leading Grandmasters around.
In Game One Wojtaszek tests Dominguez in a line that the Cuban had already played before. White varied on the 20th move, but the game only deviated from some analysis of Larry Kaufman (from his 2014 New in Chess book, Sabotage the Grünfeld) on move 26!
The American veteran was probably a shade optimistic about White's chances in this line, as Dominguez wasn't really any worse in the entertaining draw that followed.
In Game Two Tomczak tries an enterprising gambit as early as move 4, with 4...c6!?:
The justification is that White has only been playing with pawns and that an early f2-f3 may well be self-weakening.
I think that declining the gambit (i.e. 5.e4, see the note to White's fifth) shouldn't be too worrying for Black. Socko in the featured game took up the gauntlet and captured on c6, when Black certainly obtained some compensation. It's perhaps too early to make any major conclusions, but in the notes (especially to move 12, where the earlier game Zhao Xue-Lahno is discussed) there seem to be some ideas which should encourage Black players to give 4...c6 a go.
In Game Three Anish Giri was able to beat Boris Gelfand, but I don't think that Black's opening was at fault.
Here the natural novelty 14...Qd6 led to a middlegame with two bishops (for Black) against two knights (for White) and dynamic equality. Gelfand rather rushed his queenside pawn push, to allow White to obtain a handy outpost and thus the better chances, and then missed an opportunity at the beginning of the pseudo-endgame to hold the balance. I also think that 14...Nbc4 is also fully acceptable for Black, see the notes.
Neo-Grünfeld 6 e4, 7 Ne2 [D72]
One of the attractions of playing with g3 against the Grünfeld is that White hopes for a positional game with a safe king. This erstwhile non-theoretical approach is now becoming more and more concrete as tournament experience develops.
In Game Four Akopian plays the forcing 6.e4 and 7.Ne2 variation, which was popular a few years ago:
In the actual game and notes it seems that Black has two sensible plans: the first is to place the knight on d6, the second is to opt for ...c4 with ideas of creating an advanced outpost on d3. Both seems to be fine.
In the game Gao Rui made an error on move 18, otherwise he was fine. However, soon after, Akopian missed a tactical trick that allowed Black to obtain the better pseudo endgame. Later on, the rook endgame wasn't played very well, but I don't blame the players. I really don't like a rate-of-play where there is no additional time at move 40, as the endgame is then often played in perpetual time trouble.
Neo-Grünfeld 6 cxd5 Nxd5 7 0-0 Nb6 with 8/9 e3, 9...Re8 [D76]
In the tabiya (see the diagram below) there is tension building under the surface. Although it's possible to try and force some action, in many cases both players indulge in 'constructive waiting' moves. The hope is that, when the position finally boils over, a good version (of the standard sort of positions) can be obtained. It's frankly hard to navigate the resulting middlegame with analogous ones that have occurred in countless games over the years. This is why some top level GMs like to play these lines with either colour. Their innate ability and extra experience helps them find the right decisions more often than not.
Game Five, Van Wely-Sutovsky, featured the main move 10.Re1. A couple of waiting moves were then enough for Sutovsky who tried his luck with 12...e5, which had been previously employed by Cheparinov in a high-level Blitz game last year.
After 13.d5 the Israeli GM dropped back to e7 whereas the Bulgarian star had advanced to b4. In each case, Black had a playable game with near equality. A complex struggle saw Black, and then White, take the advantage before going on to share the point.
In Game 6 Czech GM Navara opted for 10.a3 from the diagram. Naturally this stops any ideas of ...Nb4. Black has tried all sorts of alternative manoeuvres, and chosen various moments to play ...e5. Maybe the simplest way is 10...e5 straight away, as 11.d5 can be met reasonably well by either 11...Ne7, or by 11...Na5.
A poignant question: Is 10.a3 that useful in the resulting middlegame? I'll let you check through the notes and make your own conclusion!
In the actual game Grandelius was quite happy, after 10...Bg4 11.h3, to drop back with 11...Bd7. A position that is known, but with a tempo less for White! I think we can conclude that the Swedish GM isn't particularly concerned that he has given White the free move h2-h3!
David Navara was better for most of the game, but Black (despite the tempo 'loss') might have been able to equalize early with 13...e5. Curious!
Ju Wenjun chose 10.Ne1 in Game 7, after which she faced 10...e5. Here we see a 'slow' White tenth move being met by vigorous action. It's a matter of taste, but it makes sense to me!
A few moves later Black had interesting pressure, but in such a complex middlegame it's not surprising that the players may not have found all the best moves.
The three improvements that come to mind for Black were 15...Rc8, 16...Rc8, and 22...Rec8. Strange that! Even more odd is that the three opportunities that White missed were all knight moves (see moves 21, 26 and 30) !? It's a funny old world!
Yet again, the tables were turned before ending in a draw. Exciting stuff!
In Game 8 Radjabov plays 10.h3, a move that would perhaps be frowned on by Grandelius! Only joking, Nils.
Here is another case where the reaction 10...e5 comes into consideration (as employed by no less than Grischuk in the 2013 Candidates).
The game move 10...a5 is one of Black's most useful ways of keeping the tension. Then Radjabov's 11.d5 was met by a novelty 11...Na7!?:
This move turned out badly in the game, as the knight was just left out of play for too long. However if Obudchuk had gone for 13...Nb5, then I think his idea would have been justified.
For the future, if you just consider 11...Na7 to be just too odd, then both alternative knight moves, 11...Nb4 and 11...Ne5, seem OK, see the notes.
Symmetric Neo-Grünfeld 6 0-0 c6 [D79]
The 'Fianchetto Exchange Variation' has the reputation of being boring and drawish. However I've included a couple of games of interest this month.
In Game 9 Grachev comes up with a remarkable novelty...
He played the amazing 13.Bh6!?, which must have come as a shock to Mchedlishvili. Black then buckled down, and despite being a shade worse, was able to skilfully steer the game towards a draw after 13...Bxh6. However, it could be that the alternative 13...Bb5 is the best reply. My analysis suggests that this leads to quick equality and thus saves Black from the onerous defensive task of the game.
Game 10 is a good illustration of the fact that Black can also play for more than half-a-point in these symmetrical variations. Golod seized the initiative which led to him obtaining rook and two pawns for two pieces and winning chances. The endgame wasn't easy but he finally found a way to engineer a win.
It looks as if 8.Nc3 Ne4! gives Black excellent chances of equalizing (with chances to play for more!)
Englund Gambit 1 d4 e5 [A40]
The oft berated Englund Gambit has been receiving a lot of interest on the Forum, despite the fact that it is (come on, admit it everyone!) decidedly dubious.
Essentially it seems that just as there exists a certain category of player, who enjoys getting away with speculative gambit-play, there is another who enjoys writing all about it!
I have included a few thoughts about Black's three attempts (...Qe7, ...f6, or ...d6) in Game 11, and I've updated my previous summary on the Englund Gambit (ChessPub Guide) with a few extras.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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