4 Qb3 (Pseudo-Russian System)
In Game 1 Meier employs this popular method of development. Naturally Grünfeld practitioners need to compare the resulting positions with the Russian System, but by playing Q-b3 early whilst delaying N-f3 White seems to keep some additional options, so be careful. Petrosian didn't want to bother with any discussions about move order subtleties and tried to blast the centre open with the novelty 7...c5:
but I find this move hard to believe and the game panned out in White's favour.
Exchange Variation: 7 Bg5
Svidler has already faced this slightly awkward move before but still didn't equalize in Game 2. In several lines of the Grünfeld placing a bishop on g5 can lead to nagging pressure along the h4-d8 diagonal. This particular line was highlighted in a recent SOS-survey by Lysyj (Secrets of Opening Surprises, Volume 10) which may have inspired Nyback to play like this. White retained a pull but in the middlegame it wasn't evident how he would make progress. Later on, a tricky tactic line bamboozled Svidler although the computer shows how Black could have held. In any case the point is that 7 Bg5 needs to be taken seriously.
Exchange Variation: 7 Be3
In Wang Hao-Mamedyarov, Black didn't push the position to its maximum as a draw was sufficient for his purposes. However, he obtained a nice position early on and had more than sufficient compensation for the exchange. His opening novelty helped him on his way:
Mamedyarov showed how Black can obtain harmonious development starting with 13...b5!
So, yet another line where White is being neutralized in the 7 Be3 variation.
Exchange Variation: 7 Bc4
Caruana and Dominguez had this variation three times in Khanty Mansiysk, see Game 4 and the notes. Black played the solid 10...Qc7 system where White retained a small central preponderance but at the cost of the bishop pair. In the game Black gradually equalized but it took a while, however I couldn't find any real improvements for White. This line seems adequate (after both 13...Ne5 and 13...Na5) but requires patience!
In Game 5 Svidler played an idea of Ivanchuk and went on to produce a good positional game on his way to eliminating Shirov. I particularly liked his 15th move as I can't recall seeing this theme before:
Here Black's 15...Be6! seems to give him a totally satisfactory game.
So perhaps there is a great future for the 'Ivanchukian' 12...Be5 ?
If we compare Games 4 and 5 with Game 6 we immediately notice that Black was less successful here. We can conclude that the natural move 11...Rd8 is more reliable, but Areshchenko's plausible idea of putting the queen's rook on d8 was only shown to be inferior because a top class player had the white pieces.
The resulting positions (after White gambits the c-pawn) are quite murky and older books and analysis engines are only of limited use here. Black can sometimes hold onto his pawn, but at other times he needs to give it back, but preferably he must find a way to do so painlessly.
In Game 7 it's worth emphasizing that the dynamic option seems to be best.
In the diagram, after 9 Qb1, Black has a good score with 9...Qd5, (which this game confirms!) but is struggling slightly after 9...b6.
In the actual game, White's attacking ideas weren't bad, albeit slightly risky but he needed to play more precisely. However, Nepomniachtchi was never in any danger even if White opted for the more practical approach cited in the notes on move 15.
In Game 8 Nisipeanu showed no mercy to his compatriot as he ripped Black to shreds. It looks to me that he has virtually refuted 5...dxc4 so this line should really be avoided unless you can find an improvement somewhere in the complications. I couldn't, but go ahead and try!
My conclusion is that Black is in trouble after White's last move, 11 a4!, so don't trust 5...dxc4.
Akobian played a positional variation with 5 e3 and 6 b4 in Game 9, but Ponomariov wasn't thrown off-track by the fact that he only needed a draw to progress in the World Cup. The Ukrainian responded with the principled (and well-established) line with ...b6 and ...c5. Black temporarily sacrifices a pawn for plenty of activity, which he duly obtained and even went on to win due to a blunder. The best aspect of this game was the way Ponomariov activated his pieces and thus threw his opponent onto the defensive.
I don't see much of a future in the 6 b4 idea myself, but note that Tregubov also played like this a few months ago. So is there really something for White in these complications? I doubt it.
Ponomariov is again in action in Game 10 and outplays a much-lower ranked player in an early round. I found his play with the a-pawn very instructive and he was able to pressurize two weaknesses until something gave way.
From a theoretical point of view, I'm not quite sure about his choice of opening system and it could be that the sharper 10...Nc6 is a better chance for equality than 10...e6.
Till next month, Glenn Flear