In Game 1 Carlsen shows that he is still willing to flirt with the intricacies of this opening. Good news for Benko lovers! When 2700-plus players put their minds to work on a line they can come up with novel moves and even whole new strategies, which is the case here. The game is not spectacular but the positional ideas behind the young Norwegian's moves are thought-provoking. Only a solid draw perhaps, but very stimulating all the same.
Carlsen follows up his novelty (10...Qb4) with a unique strategy, 13...g5!? - see the diagram position - which can only really be employed if White's knight is on d2 blocking the bishop's diagonal.
Game Two is a model win for Black, whose pieces were the quickest to occupy the wide open queenside. White could never untangle his pieces.
In fact quite a number of players have played 10 0-0 before 11 Rb1, as here, but this game emphasizes what many already know, that this is indeed an inferior move order. White should instead play 10 Rb1 and only castle when he has safely consolidated his queenside.
Bartel plays the Leningrad in games 3 and 4 scoring 1.5/2 (almost 2!) against tough opposition. His chosen variation 7...Nc6 8 d5 Na5!? is not so well-known, but seems to be a way of getting a dynamic game without having to learn too much theory:
He is the world's specialist on this variation, not only because he is the only 2600 who plays this way, but also due to the fact that he has been playing this way for half his life!
Drozdovskij's handling of the opening (12 Qc2) wasn't particularly dangerous in Game 3, but even the more critical 12 c5 isn't anything special.
In Game Four Yakovich made the mistake of underestimating Black's chances, so 14 Nh3 combined with 15 Rac1 clearly doesn't work. The complications always seemed to be favourable for Black. However even if White plays 'correctly' he may struggle to obtain an advantage, so 9 Qd3 may not be such a great option for White either. Why don't more people play this line as Black?
In Game Five Ponomariov shows how deep preparation can be in the 21st century with a novelty on move nineteen. Laznicka tried to repeat his game against Krasenkow but Black's improvement basically busts the line.
Black played 19...Nd4! here, and soon developed an attack that was stronger than White's.
It seems to me that 3 f3 is virtually a spent force, and nothing to be worried about these days, that is unless White can find an improvement somewhere...
Grischuk's smooth win in Game 6 demonstrates how the defence can badly leak if the passed d-pawn is allowed to advance. Avrukh's idea of 14...Nexd5 followed by 15...Qd6 didn't hold water as Grischuk quickly got his bishop to the b4-square, clearing the way for d5-d6.
This line has recently been highlighted in Dembo's new book Play the Gruenfeld, where her recommendation of 14...Nbxd5 15 exd5 Nf5 may be Black's best chance of keeping the line shipshape for Black.
In Arkell - Ivanchuk the experienced English GM played a dull line which leads to stodgy equality after the most popular 11...Nxe5. However Ivanchuk instead tried the dynamic 11...Bg4 and soon obtained a strong initiative. This move just looks good, and will almost certainly put 11 b3 out of business.
Despite White putting up resistance, Ivanchuk is just too classy to let anyone escape from that!
Only three pure Grünfeld games this time, but two instructive novelties. See the Diagrams below.
The first of these comes in Game 8 and radically changes the assessment of the variation:
A new and strong move 19...Qc8! was played here by English amateur, and lifetime Gruenfeld aficionado Simon Knott. A lot of energy has been put into the consequences of 19...hxg5 by several analysts but all this has basically been rendered irrelevant. After Knott's novelty I can't find anything acceptable for White.
Black's loss in Game 9 was mainly due to his choice of variation. Recent experiences suggest that 10...Bd7 11 Rb1 Rc8 isn't so great after 12 dxc5 and this game confirms this sentiment. Black could only get his pawn back by allowing White the superior ending, Pashikian then finished off the game with excellent technique.
Game 10 leaves one with a powerful impression. How can a well-prepared and positionally sound 2600-Grandmaster like Pelletier get so badly outplayed with White? First of all, Mamedyarov the magician interpreted the opening in an original manner, and then continued vigorously. The result was that White's dark-squared bishop never saw the light of day.
Mamedyarov is the first person ever to play 9...c4!? here. He followed up with a successful strategy based on ...e5 and later invaded on d3. Then White's queenside resembled a Swiss cheese, the fatal loss of the b-pawn being the consequence.
In Game 11 White declines the gambit with Bg5 and e3. The game and notes show some of the themes including the key one of a timely Bxf6 and Nf3-d2-e4 (using the e4-square for a piece, not a pawn), which may be White's best chance of keeping a positional edge.
In the game Black was able to 'win' a pawn with 13...Nxd5, but then complications arose in which White obtained plenty of compensation. Black was obliged to bail out by giving up material (he chose his queen), leading at the end to a curious repetition.
Till next time, Glenn Flear