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I thought that it would be interesting to see the latest developments in our daring defences at the Corus Wijk aan Zee tournament. The ten games that I have selected feature seven Grünfelds and three Dutch Defences. There were no Benkos but plenty of Grünfelds, showing what is generally preferred in high-level closed tournaments.

Download PGN of February '10 Daring Defences games

Dutch Defence

In Game 1 (an attempted Leningrad with hints of a Stonewall) Nakamura defended very sensibly against Anand and gradually nullified any hint of a White advantage. I think that the early b4 systems are so common these days that Leningrad players need to be ready for this advance at various moments. The move order is important and Nakamura's choices were exemplary, although the alternative (and more line-opening) counter with ...d6 and a quick ...e5 also seems playable.

In the Stonewall, Wesley So didn't have to do anything dramatic in Game 2 as out-of-form Reinderman played several poor moves on his way to defeat. The opening system chosen by Black however looks robust and one against which White has struggled to find anything at all.

Kramnik employed an offbeat eighth move to throw Nakamura into virtually unknown territory in Game 3:

Old books give this as dubious but the line 8...Ne4 9 Qc2 Nxc3 10 bxc3!? (accepting doubled pawns), which was introduced by Anish Giri a few months back, looks 'unclear'. White's structure on the queenside has its pluses (open b-file, central pawn mass, d4 protected) and this method of capturing is known from some lines of the Classical variation. Nakamura played on the kingside but his kingside pawn advances rebounded on him once he had lost the initiative, however objectively he was OK.

Grünfeld Exchange Variation with Be3

The early B-e3 and Q-d2 will generally be met by ...Qa5 when the possibility of an early exchange of queens occupies both sides thinking and indeed occurred in games 5 and 6.

The most testing in my opinion is 10 Rb1 when black has to make a key decision:

In Game 4 David Howell was willing to cede his queen in the line 10...0-0 11 Rb5 cxd4 12 Rxa5 dxe3 13 Qxe3 Nxa5 but was unable to stop White's queen from causing too much damage. Howell has already lost before in this line and it seems to me that it is quite difficult to play with Black, although certain strong players have managed to hold out.

In Game 5 Sutovsky played 10...a6 and after 11 Rc1 exchanged queens and went into a positional line in which White probably keeps a small edge, but Ganguly has been able to defend the black position successfully on several occasions. The Israeli GM is at his best when he has action and so 11...f5!? would suit his style, but as he has already played this twice recently he probably feared an improvement. For ordinary mortals I would suggest that this is the way to get a more entertaining game, even if there is a suspicion that at the top level it may prove to be risky.

In Game 6 Negi won a nice game, firstly with a novelty that creates some new problems for White, and then with a well-judged piece sacrifice. Akobian wasn't at his best in this game and probably should have held but chose an inferior (passive) square for his rook. Of course the novelty involved a timely ...f5, so often the key to destabilizing White's centre in so many analogous positions.

Game 7 features 8 Bb5+, asking Black which piece to block with.

Exchange Variation with Bg5

In Game 8 Nyback plays his pet-line with 7 Bg5 and obtains a good game:

Another one of these systems which are hard to meet one hasn't worked out a good defensive set-up at home. Negi's choice of ...Q-a5-a4 looks slightly suspicious after this game and I recommend that in future Black players prefers d6 for his queen as Svidler played recently.

Exchange Variation with Bc4

Ni Hua plays 12...Be5 in Game 9, a neat idea that has been used successfully by Svidler and Ivanchuk. Although I'm not totally convinced by it, it again led to a Black win. Here the pressure on both flanks was too much for White to cope with:

Cheparinov and Nyback have both lost after the ugly 16 Qf3 here, but I think that the (so far unplayed) 16 h3! is the most challenging for Black.


Russian Variation

Carlsen was in good form in Game 10. He introduced a newish idea (it had only been played at a lower level before) in the Hungarian variation and made it difficult for his opponent to generate any counterplay. Once he had the advantage the Norwegian was ruthless as usual.

If 10 Ng5 basically means that Black isn't going to getting ...c5 in, then I think we'll be seeing more of this move:

What should Black do? Maybe Black just had to play with ...c6 and blockade the central light-squares, and not create weaknesses with the pseudo-active ...f6.


Till next month, Glenn Flear

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