The English Defence
We start this time with two draws in the English Defence. In both cases English Defence fans will be heartened to see high-ranking players taking up the cause. Mamedyarov in Game One offers us a new way to a comfortable game in one of the main lines whereas Game 2 quickly deviates from the beaten path.
After 11...Qe7 12 Rad1 Rae8 Black was perfectly OK:
His successful opening strategy was followed-up by some aggressive play against White's king which netted a pawn. I'm not sure if he could win the double-rook ending as I couldn't find anything convincing, but Atalik did show good defensive technique.
In Game Two Beliavsky tries the English Defence but reacted badly to White's unusual 4 f3. Alexandrov seemed to have everything going for him but maybe had too much choice and missed his way. Beliavsky needed all his experience to complicate the issue and earn a draw, but he could so easily have equalized with 6...Nf6 and saved himself so much trouble.
One of those anti-Budapest lines which can annoy those looking for dynamic play is 4 Bf4 followed by 6 Nbd2:
White just keeps things calm and after generally obtaining the bishop pair just maintains control before pressing either on the queenside or on the d-file. Even if Black doesn't have too many problems in the early phase he is in some danger of lacking anything positive to do and eventually getting outdone by the team with the bishop pair. In recent weeks Budapest specialist Miezes has had a couple of unfortunate experiences defending this line. See Game Three with notes for the gory details.
How can Black avoid this undynamic middlegame? I suppose that if you really want something more lively then 4...g5!? is worth a go, for that see the September update.
Despite the result in Game 4 Black's opening looked sound enough. Only later did Felgaer go astray in a complex middlegame.
Although Graf's 9 Qf3 has surprise value it doesn't seem to change the assessment of the whole line which is: Black has nothing to fear against 5 e3.
The Grünfeld Defence
The fashionable Grünfeld is again responsible for the majority of our selected games this month. It's popular because each time White finds a new theoretical development to create difficulties, the second player bounces back with a solution. However it's an opening that requires careful preparation with Black as White has many different systems that he can opt for.
In all six games below Black had some problems early on, so there are indeed some challenging systems that Black players need to be ready for.
Harikrishna was willing to play into Avrukh's pet-line against Boris Avrukh himself in Game 5. In view of what happened I doubt that he'll do so again! White has in general been scoring quite heavily against ...b6 in the 8 Rb1 Exchange Variation and this game further confirms that White's attacking chances are not to be underestimated. Black has a problem with his queenside development and this means that he's not able to get defenders across to help his king in his hour of need.
In Game Six Van Wely went wrong in the opening and found himself a pawn down for most of the game. However he defended with great resourcefulness and thoroughly earned the draw. The Dutchman shouldn't have been surprised by the opening choice of Alexandrov as he had actually faced the same variation four days earlier against myself! In the meantime he hadn't checked the theory and this could have cost him dear. I recommend that after one has played in a quickplay or Blitz tournament to look up those openings that one wasn't sure about, so that for the next time...
The Classical Exchange Variation crops up in games 7 and 8.
Game Seven features 10...Bd7 which (in view of it's popularity in this column!) can no longer be dismissed as a sideline:
The late opening/early middlegame phase raises a few questions: Why did Graf put his bishop on the less popular e2 square? If White was nevertheless better despite such a slow build-up, does this mean that Black's opening is inferior?
White won the exchange for a pawn and then got carried away, but Navara played a fine endgame and surprisingly even went on to win. A good example of Larsen's maxim who said something like (I can't remember the exact words!) "One of the easiest ways to win is to start out by being slightly worse!".
In Game Eight we continue to investigate ways for Black to avoid 10 (or 11)....Bg4, which these days implies that the second player is trying to keep away from the heavily analyzed Exchange Sacrifice Variation (and who can blame him!). In recent updates I've looked at alternatives to 8...c5, and of course the (by now familiar) idea of putting the bishop on d7 has been flirted with by a number of top players as vouched for by Game 7.
Here Eljanov continues to revive the plan of an early ...b6 with ...Bb7 to follow, as he has done in a number of games in recent years. White is then tempted to switch his attentions to a kingside assault with B-h6 and/or h2-h4.
It seems to me that Black can indeed get away with this bold provocative strategy and can hope to cash in if White's attack fails to cause any chinks in Black's armour. This is despite the fact that (I suspect with precise play) White keeps a pull after both 13 Rc1 and 13 Qd2. Although the plan lacks converts as yet, Eljanov doesn't seem to be concerned about defending for most of the game and here he holds out against Goldin's threatening play.
I have to be honest in that I would rather play Eljanov's idea than try to remember 35 moves of theory in the Exchange 'Sac' line - at least you would be 'playing' chess rather than repeating other folks' games!
Playing Bg5 on either move 4 or 5 is considered a sound positional way to meet the Grünfeld. Here even a gambit line becomes strategic as White regains the pawn and Black catches up in development. Although Dreev's win in Game Nine against Huzman was mainly due to a tactical error rather than the opening, there is the suspicion that the early middlegame plays a little easier for White whose solid central majority is so hard to counter. In any case 'dynamic protagonists' may wish to find something more combative in the opening, but that isn't so easy against B-g5. That's one of it's main qualities from White's point of view!
In Game ten another slow positional line (this time with Nf3, e3 and b2-b4) is successfully employed by Bruzon against Sutovsky, where White kept an edge all game. In the notes I propose that Black should aim to get ...c5 in quickly to obtain active play even if it sacrifices a pawn. He would then avoid the evident positional bind that arose herein.
Till next time,