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After noticing the recent and fascinating Ivanchuk - Navara game I thought that this month's update should focus on White's efforts to avoid both the Gruenfeld and the Neo-Gruenfeld (lines with g2-g3 by White). Dealing with scary theoretical openings like the Gruenfeld is one of the major reasons why strong players use flank opening move orders.

Download PGN of January '11 Flank Openings games

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Not The Neo-Gruenfeld

After the moves 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 d5 5.O-O, Ivanchuk - Navara featured the rare 5...dxc4 6. Na3 Be6, trying to make it difficult for White to regain the c4 pawn whilst furthering his development:

In earlier games White has played the dull 7.Qc2 here, but Ivanchuk's 7.Ng5 is much sharper. Actually it involves a piece sacrifice for which White appeared to have sufficient compensation. But after rejecting chances to cash in (17.Nxh8 was surely right) his compensation ebbed away.

The rest of the update considers different options after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.0-0 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Nc3:

Symmetrical English 7...c5

The line 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.0-0 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Nc3 c5 can arise via different move orders such as 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.Nc3 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 and so crops up quite a lot:

White seems to have a tiny edge after 8.Nxd5 Qxd5 9.d3 (Alekseev - Kurnosov) and some arguably fleeting pressure after 9.d4 (Ponomariov - Svidler), though it looks as if Black can equalise with accurate play.

On the other hand he can try a couple of different queen moves, 8.Qa4 and 8.Qb3, which were tried in Kramnik - Mamedov and Akopian - Svidler respectively. Kramnik's 9.Qa3!? is an interesting novelty which White can also play after 8.Qb3 Nb6. Again it looks like Black is OK but there is a gulf between theoretical equality and proving it over the board.

Pseudo-Gruenfeld 7...Nxc3

The exchange on c3 is Black's most straightforward way of clarifying the central tension but it does leave White with a central pawn majority. And it's well worth noting the simple plan used in Malakhov - Ni Hua with White's 9.Qc2 and a later c3-c4:

To me it looks like a solid plus for White and Black performed a small miracle to save this game.


This is one of two moves that still tries to reach a standard Neo-Gruenfeld which would happen after 8.d4 Nb6. Kramnik's 8.Qa4 (Kramnik - Mamedyarov) is an attempt to avoid this:

though the position he got in the game was hardly impressive, and the win came as a result of a blunder by Black which is par for the course in a rapidplay game.


Black's other option is 7...Nb6 which even avoids 8.Qa4 ideas. On the other hand he can now play 8.d3 as in Gelfand - Vachier Lagrave which led to a position that was better for White (Black's 8...Na6 is not an attempt to 'equalise' directly) but proved difficult to win.

That's all for this time, and Happy New Year!

Nigel Davies

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