First of all an e-mail from Doug Schwetke who asks about 'the current status of the Larsen variation in the Exchange Grünfeld':
Well I've had a look and I must admit that I'm not surprised that this line has been avoided by most top players. White can play normal moves (involving castling short) and keep a pull (in a similar way to other lines where ...c5 is delayed, for example ...Na5, ...b6 and ...Bb7). These are sometimes considered a shade slow and that is without ...Qd7.
The game Williams - Avrukh to me is even better than some of the positional lines given by Sakaev as White aims to demonstrate that Black's plan is just too long-winded. The move ...Qd7 has its points (...b5, ...Qg4 or ...Rad8) but it's a tempo and this seemed to be always lacking in the lead up to Black's defeat.
In Game 2 Aleksandrov employs this immediate check and soon obtains a clear advantage. Olszewski was unable to cope with a type of Russian System where the bishop on d7 is 'misplaced'.
What is particularly dangerous about this move is that it isn't given much respect in chess literature, and so many Grünfeld players could be caught by surprise. In the notes to the game, you'll notice that I have pointed out that Black could aim to improve with Dembo's 5...Nc6, or otherwise, by meeting 8 e5 with 8...Be6, but then 9 exf6 is intriguing. Whichever you choose, my advice is clear, get your homework done now before you face the same confusion and, ultimately, the fate of Olszewski.
If 4 h4 has bugged you in the past (it can't be good, but what to do in reply?) then Game 3 seems to represent the answer. Cebalo was so out-played I can even dare using the word 'refutation' to describe Riazantsev's solution.
Who is better after this move?
White's aim is (just like in Game two) to seek a favourable version of the Russian System. There has been quite some interest in a 'neo-Hungarian' approach (7...a6) by Black, but in Game 4 Krasenkow uses 7...Na6 (a neo-Prins!?) followed by 8...c5. I couldn't find any ideas for White to get better than equality (as in the game), so this could represent a dynamic way for Black to nullify 4 Qb3.
A sharp and highly theoretical variation was given a further outing in Game Five, where Sasikiran introduced a nice novelty:
Black played 19...b5 here and created many practical problems for his opponent. There are rich pickings in the complications that followed and both sides perhaps had their chances.
Exchange Variation: 8 Rb1
In Haba - Jansa, White was able to keep a tiny pull throughout the game and finally overpowered his opponent in the queen ending. The main concern for players of this line is that Jansa didn't seem to do anything wrong! How then should Black seek equality in Game 6? Perhaps the popular move 14...Rae8 isn't best after all, see the notes, where my gut-feeling tells me that 14...a6 is more precise.
Exchange Variation: 7 Qa4+
Another teasing check where Black is confronted with the problem of sorting his development and counterplay out, that is now that his pieces have been induced to less than optimal squares. Socko seems to have found a nice way for Black to get a satisfactory position and generate some tantalizing possibilities. First of all he improved on known theory on move 10 and then demonstrated that he was up for a fight.
Here Socko showed that Black is in business with 13...Ba6! Overall, Game 7 was a superb fighting draw which reflects great credit on both players.
Exchange Variation: 8 Be3
The truth is that 8 Be3 Qa5 9 Qd2 may be interesting for many, but these queenless middlegames may not suit everyone. Stocek prefers the lesser-known 9 Bd2 (he has played this several times before) which spices things up nicely and leads surprisingly to lively middlegames akin to the Rb1-Exchange Variation.
In the game Black's reaction seemed less critical and Stocek was able to maintain control on all fronts. Indeed the whole of Game 8 was quite impressive making B-d2 seem worth a go.
Exchange Variation: 10...Na5
In Game 9 Kamsky employs the fashionable 12...e5 idea, but Gelfand was ready with a newish counter that had only been played once before by Naumkin:
After 13 Bg5! (I like this better than the alternatives) Kamsky played the new move 13...Qd7 (avoiding 13...f6 which looked unimpressive in Naumkin-Bentivegna) but I don't think he quite equalized. However Kamsky has excellent defensive technique, especially in the Grünfeld, and was frankly never in trouble.
Exchange Variation: 10...Bd7
Game 10 is a good example of a player specializing in a line and getting quite good results up to a point, but by repeating a pet-line frequently he leaves himself open to some clever preparation. Ponomariov was up to the task and has certainly sent Vachier-Lagrave back to the drawing board. How should Black improve? Don't ask me, ask Maxime! This game represents a serious blow to the way Vachier-Lagrave handles 10...Bd7, so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next time.
I like Black's play in Game 11: Avrukh demonstrates how Black can at times seize the initiative once White closes the centre with d4-d5. The subtle differences between the variations in Games 10 and 11 will no doubt be investigated by several top players in coming months. The 'extra' move f2-f3 supports the e4-pawn and stops any Black use of g4, however there is a slight loosening of the a7-g1 diagonal which can sometimes be awkward for White.
Till next month, Glenn Flear