In my youth, when I was a particularly active player and faced the Grünfeld frequently, then I played the Russian System (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Qb3) and was happy with the resulting variations. Naturally there is a fair amount of material to learn in this case but this suited my style (central control, positional, space advantage).
In recent years where I have been playing somewhat less I have switched to surprise variations which require less opening preparation. There are many of these, but here are some suggestions that are worth investigating: 4 h4 (for attacking players), 4 Bg5 Ne4 5 Nxe4 (for those seeking unusual positions) or, for a positionally sound game both of 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bd2, and 4 Bg5 Ne4 5 Bh4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 dxc4 7 Qa4+ can be potent. 'Amateur' players often prefer such quick-fix lines rather than learning the main lines where extensive knowledge is required.
There is no consensus on a clearly superior line against the Grünfeld, the choice boils down to style and the time one is willing to invest.
December's Daring Dutch Delights
After a break of several months it's time to have a look at some recent encounters in the Dutch Defence.
Gelfand was in convincing form in Game one as he produced a model game demonstrating the downsides of Black's Stonewall set-up. Black decided to exchange off his 'bad bishop' but then White's bishop pair and mobile kingside pawns demolished Black's defences. There are several ways for Black to try to avoid this type of accident:
- avoiding playing ...d5 too early i.e. wait one more move;
- aim for more pressure on White's centre with an early ...c5;
- don't commit the light-squared bishop prematurely;
- organize matters so that cxd5 can be met by ...cxd5 with a more solid edifice.
In Game 2 Dizdar plays with Bg5 and then 4 f3. The very real possibility of e3-e4 offers White the serious option of switching to a type of 'delayed Staunton Gambit'. Dizdar in fact handled the early phase quite sensibly (Black didn't provoke a gambit) and had a slight pull (better bishop, structure) until Sedlak lost patience with ...g5. White's correct exchange sacrifice then gave him a clear advantage which he competently converted in the endgame.
In Game 3 White employs the famous gambit, but then hurries to give up his dark-squared bishop to regain the pawn. Although this theme occurs in a number of Staunton lines, in this particular case Black has no space or development problems. So it seems that meeting 4...g6:
with 5 Bxf6 is not really that testing, especially as both 5 h4 and 5 f3 create complex positions more in the spirit of 2 e4!?.
Later on Dzhumaev outplays his opponent and played a nice flowing game, the only problem being that White has a resource right at the bitter end. Did White lose on time? resign, as he failed to see that he could escape? or, is it that the scoresheet is incomplete?
For the record, pushing the d-pawn with 39...d4 was in fact inaccurate, whereas a line starting with 39...Rc4+ would have kept Black in the driving seat.
Black plays an early ...Ne4 and ...d5 in Game 4 playing a type of dynamic hybrid between the Stonewall and the Leningrad. I can't see an obvious way for White to punish Black's nerve! The game illustrates that with the centre locked down Black can even play for the advantage on the queenside. Here's the position after 8...d5:
White quite frequently plays an early b2-b4 against the Leningrad. I've included two examples this time (in Games 5 and 6).
In Game Five White's early b4 was countered by the principled ...e5, which is fine if followed up correctly, but allowing Black's king to get stuck in the centre was fraught with danger that Renner under-estimated. It seems to me that slight differences in the position may require Black to react in somewhat different manners (in various analogous variations following b2-b4 being met by ...e5) as recapturing with a pawn on e5 isn't always best. However if it proves too complicated to remember all the subtleties arising then it may be simpler just to get on with development (i.e. delay ...e5 until virtually the middlegame) and not be too concerned about a space disadvantage on the queenside. A question of taste.
Game 6 was an interesting encounter between two of the leading ladies of the moment. Muzychuk seems to have a penchant for reacting to b2-b4 with ...c6 and ...a5, and earlier in the year she obtained a good game against Pia Cramling in this manner. Against Humpy Koneru her approach was less successful and indeed Black was close to losing before somehow wriggling out with a perpetual. However, if we look closely at the later stages of the opening simply 12...0-0 followed by 13...Kh8 would have given Black a comfortable game. At that point Black had already achieved a certain control of some key central squares, but this would be particularly important if only her king was safely tucked away.
In Game 7 Almeida Quintana experimented with a hybrid Dutch-Benko, but this was convincingly refuted by White's potent play. In fact as Black had already committed himself in the centre there was no real antidote to N-h3-f4 and h2-h4-h5. Black tried to turn the tide with some daring tactics but he never really got into the game.
Game Eight was quite a poor game as White was brushed aside. However, from a theoretical point of view the line is quite interesting and in my opinion excellent for Black. Beim in his book Understanding the Leningrad Dutch (Gambit 2002) rejects 12...Rc8 too lightly:
My notes show that it's actually White who has problems, so-much-so that in fact the whole well-known plan of R-b1 and b2-b4 doesn't convince me at all!
The Slav to Stonewall opening didn't seem to be a problem for Black in Game 9. Even after White was able to obtain some interesting tactical play Black had plenty of choice and could have steered the game into safer waters. The later phase with just major pieces favoured White due to his safer king, a problem for all Dutch players (...f5 can potentially be weakening!) who have not managed to create any action against White's king.
Istratescu eventually won a complicated game of many phases against Amin in Game 10. First of all a forcing sequence in the opening turned out well for White, but I think that 14...c6 is a better try than 14...a5. Later on a White blunder gave Black hope of even being better, and then after Black had gone astray, White wasn't as precise as he should have been in the ending with four pawns for the piece.
Probably time shortages contributed to the errors in this very rich game, but from a theoretical point of view 8...Qh5 is more natural and has proven its worth in practise.
Till next month, Glenn Flear