This is more common than 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 these days, but frequently transposes, as was the case in Games 9 and 10. Here however in Game 1 Black played the provocative 4...Bg7 which is coming back into the repertoire of several high-level players at present, and with which the second player is scoring quite well. Pashikian's hopeful plan of generating a kingside attack didn't get off the ground until his centre was in the process of being demolished, and then Edouard should really have limited White's chances of counterplay. If Black had won this last round game France would have finished fifth in the Olympiad rather than tenth, but there again at one point Romain Edouard was even losing so the disappointment could have been even greater.
Maxim Rodshtein played the opening very ambitiously against Romain Edouard in Game 2. The plan with 6...Be6 seems fine, but after 7.Qb3 the prudent 7...b6 is perhaps more reliable than the double-edged 7...c5, which in the game didn't feel quite right for Black. Later on in this epic encounter the young Frenchman defended well but Rodshtein may have missed his big chance on move 31. I didn't find anything else, that is in the remaining 107 moves of the game!
Exchange with Be3
Peter Svidler again won against this (normally) awkward White system in Game 3. Here in the diagram position he chose what I think is a model method for Black:
Svidler continued 12...f6! and after 13.Bf4 followed up with 13...Qa4! pressurizing along the fourth rank. He soon followed-up with ...Nc6-b4 against which Sargissian couldn't find anything advantageous. In fact the Armenian soon went wrong and was outplayed.
In Game 4 Kiril Georgiev played the 10.R-b1 a6 11.R-c1 plan which has been causing Black some headaches of late as the 'b6 soft spot' can prove annoying. Ljubomir Ftacnik however conducted the defence resolutely and was able to gradually neutralize White's opening pull. The Slovakian life-long Grünfeld player has had this line with both colours and usually knows what he is doing, so the inference is evident: 13...e6 is a practical method of equalizing with Black, even if it isn't the most ambitious way of handling the defence.
Exchange with Bc4
Two leading Grünfeld lights fought out an interesting game in Game 5. The opening went quite well for Black as Nepomniachtchi was soon closing in on equality, so Vachier Lagrave tried a speculative pawn sacrifice for some kingside play. Although it probably wasn't enough compensation in theory, it turned out to be dangerous in the game which led to an unusual repetition.
In Game 6 the players both seemed to know the game continuation in advance up to about move 25. Veselin Topalov then had a few tricks but these weren't enough to rattle Wesley So who held the draw. On the evidence of this game, 12...Ne5 may well be a decent alternative to 12...Qa5.
Podolchenko-Howell was blundered away by the Englishman in time trouble. Before then several critical moments can be cited the first being the choice of 16...Bb7 à la Carlsen, and then 17...Rc8:
This position has only occurred three times so it may be premature to make any conclusions about Game 7, but it seems that if Black exchanges a pair of rooks he can hold out against White's attack. Although it seems perfectly playable for Black, it is nevertheless easier to play with the White pieces.
4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5
Putting the move order questions aside this approach has had a strong following in recent years.
In Papaioannou-Kulaots the Greek No.1 opted for 8.Qa4+ in order to recapture the pawn on c4. The third most common reply is 8...c6, as seen in Game 8, but experience suggests that it is solid enough. White's 10th move is a novelty that doesn't seem to be that worrying for Black, especially if Kulaots had played 12...Qxa2 when I don't believe that White would have enough. Later on, I suspect that White should have won, but with modern time limits and long complicated games it's hard to keep the precision up right until the end.
In Game 9, White varied with 9.Qb1 but although Black's opening was acceptable, one slow move allowed White the time he needed to launch a strong attack.
White has been regularly gambiting the c-pawn with mixed success, with Gelfand-Van Wely (Game 10) representing White's most successful approach, starting with 9.Be2:
Perhaps the reason for the gambit's success is thus: it is so much more difficult to defend than press in such positions.
Till next month, Glenn Flear