Positional Gruenfeld Repertoire - Part 1
Nowadays, Gruenfeld Defence is one of the most topical and complicated openings. Practically, every top-player has the Gruenfeld in his opening repertoire. Still, the complexity and the enormous amount of theory make a number of players reluctant to play this opening. This is the reason why we decided to start another ambitious project - complete Gruenfeld repertoire in three parts prepared by GM Mihail Marin.
Being aware of the fact that it is difficult to study a new opening without knowing the typical middlegame positions which could be reached, we have decided that this database should start with some pawn structures that every Gruenfeld player should know. The coverage of the structures is based on 4 articles that GM Marin wrote for Modern Chess Magazine. After studying the arising positions from a structural point of view, the reader will better understand the theoretical part of the database.
Pawn Structures You Should Know
1) Structure 1 - White Plays e4-e5
This is one of the most important Grunfeld structures. The plan connected with the e4-e5 advance is by far the most agressive one. Note that this idea could be realized before or after Black's cxd4. Here is what GM Mihail Marin writes about the plans of both sides:
"Advancing the e-pawn usually makes sense if Black has previously played ...e7-e6 or, due to the threat e5-e6, he needs reacting this way to e4-e5. The weakened f6-square offers White chances for a slow attack based on Be3-h6 and h2-h4-h5 followed by either h5-h6 or an exchange on g6 followed by somehow doubling the major pieces along the h-file. Sometimes, the knight transfer to d6 or f6 is possible, but since White has to use the transit e4-square Black can usually prevent this plan with Bb7xe4.
Another thematic idea is breaking the blockade with d4-d5. In order to be effective, White typically needs his knight on f4 while Black's queenside minor pieces should be placed far from the d5-square (for instance the bishop on c8 after general rook exchanges on the c-file and the knight on a5).
For Black, a good control on d5 is essential in order to maintain the equality or even take over the initiative. Another important aspect is the status of the g7-bishop. After e4-e5 its direct pressure on d4 disappears and in many cases Back's usual "pride" in the Gruenfeld can become the most passive piece. In manoeuvring games, the bishop is supposed to look for new horizons with Bg7-f8, but this can happen only if there are no immediate kingside dangers. Alternatively, tactical blows on e5 or d4 are possible but even if Black's coordination is superior."
These explanations are backed with a number of instructive games. Here is one of them:
2) Structure 2 - White Plays d4-d5
The idea to create a central passed pawn by means of d4-d5 is another another important plan for White in such structures. Just like in the Structure 1, White could create his passed pawn before or after the pawn exchange on d4. Here is what the author has to say about the subtleties of this structure:
"Optically and not only, playing d4-d5 implies a completely different approach with respect to e4-e5. Instead of restricting the g7-bishop, White actually opens the whole long diagonal for it. This is especially effective if he had managed clearing in advance the diagonal. In our featured structure, this means removing the queen's rook from the bishop's range and inducing a previous exchange on d4 so that the c3-pawn is not hanging. This can lead to a paradoxical situation when the bishop is actually useless since attacking empty squares do not contribute to the fight. Things are different, of course, if the bishop sustains other pieces' activity, for instance of a knight could jump to b2 or c3, paralysing White's army.
Due to the dynamic character of the opening, there is not always time for clearing the diagonal before playing d4-d5 and in many theoretical lines, White sacrifices an exchange or a pawn. In order to understand whether the price is worth paying, we should mention the main virtues of advancing the queen's pawn so far.
If Black had previously played ...e7-e6 in the hope of restricting White's centre's mobility, d4-d5 implies creating a passed pawn. Whether it is strong or weak largely depends on each side's piece placement and activity.
On the negative side of this typical operation, we have three main elements.
1) In the systems with Ng1-e2, handing the control over e5 could lead to strong black initiative after ...Nc6-e5. True, if White manages to extinguish it, Black would soon be crushed by White's space advantage.
2) The second aspect refers to the relative weakness of the daring pawn. After losing the support of his colleague from the c-file, the intruder could easily be lost if his advance is not properly sustained by pieces.
3) Finally, even if after ...exd5, exd5 White manages defending his passer with c3-c4, a blockading knight on d6 could well yield Black a favourable ending."
Among the variety of examples given by the author, we decided to pick the following one:
3) Structure 3 - White Plays d4-d5 without Creating a Passed Pawn
The main idea behind this plan is to gain space in the centre and to restrict the mobility of Black's pieces. With the pawn on e7 still, the central advance could cause some discomfort to Black's knight (usually developed on c6) and allow the occupation of the c6-square (if Black had advanced his b-pawn). Generally speaking, the evaluation of the arising positions largely depends on the activity of the pieces. After the exchange on d4, the side which has a better control over the open c-file usually has the advantage. Just like in Structure 2, in positions where the c-file is closed, White is trying to support his centre by means of the advance c3-c4 while Black's usual strategy consists of fixing and attacking the c3-pawn. Regardless of whether the pawns on the c-file are exchanged or not, Black always tries to establish a firm control over the c4-square.
Again, we provide you with one of the instructive examples given by the author:
4) Structure 4 - White Plays d4-d5 and e4-e5
This is the last important structure you should know in order to understand the lines included in the current database. Here is how GM Marin explains the positive and negative sides of gaining space in this way:
"On first thoughts, White's biggest dream would be carrying them both, obtaining a huge space advantage without offering Black an outpost on d5 or opening the g7-bishop's diagonal. (of course, I refer to the cases when Black's f7- and e7-pawns are on their initial squares).
But things are not really one-sided. Far advanced pawns imply a lot of weak squares left behind and could become targets for the enemy pieces as well. In order to turn this structure favourable for White needs two main circumstances. First of all, his pieces should be ready to control or fill in the wide space behind the central pawns. That would ensure him stability but would not necessarily yield him an advantage. The second required element is that the pawns restrict at least some of Black's minor pieces (not only the g7-bishop, which could burst into freedom with a well-timed ...f7-f6."
The coverage of this structure starts with an instructive example which perfectly illustrates White's ideas in the position:
When the reader is already familiar with the basic middlegame ideas, he could proceed with building his Gruenfeld repertoire.
As we already pointed out, GM Mihail Marin is going to prepare a complete Gruenfeld repertoire in three databases. Parts 1 and 2 feature the position arising after the moves:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5
The variation with 4.cxd5 is historically White's most popular way to fight against Black's provocative opening. Througout the years, this line never lost it's popularity and even nowadays it remains the most reliable way to meet Gruenfeld Defence. This is the reason why the author decided to start his Gruenfeld journey with it.
Below, we are going to provide the reader with an overview of the variations which are dealt with in the current database.
1) White Plays 5.Bd2
In the past, this used to be an occasional guest in grandmaster games, but over the past decade it has turned into one of the main systems. White intends re-capturing on c3 with the bishop, thus neutralizing the Gruenfeld bishop. This sounds logical, but the bishops' opposition and probable exchange does not always favour him, as Black gets chances for a successfull blockade on dark squares. Moreover, the bishop manoeuvre is a bit time consuming.
At this point, the author suggests that Black could go for 5...Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0-0
This is an important crossroads. In principle, Black intends playing ...c7-c5, when the only principled reaction is d4-d5. He would then play ...e7-e6, opening the centre and aiming to make use of his slight lead in deevlopment. White has a wide choice of continuations, some of them allowing Black's plan in optimal form, but some trying to anticipate it. This line is covered in Chapter 1 of the database.
Of course, White's main continuation is to occupy the centre by means of 5.e4 when Black follows with 5...Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7
This position is by far the main focus of the current database. In this survey, GM Mihail Marin covers all the positions which could be reached after the moves 7.Be3 and 7.Nf3. The historical main line starting with 7.Bc4 will be the subject of the second database. We should point out that nowadays the move 7.Nf3 is at least as popular as 7.Bc4.
2) White Plays 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rc1
We reached a very important position. White's plan is obvious - after completing the development he wants to proceed with d4-d5 and c3-c4. That is why it was important to remove the rook from the critical long diagonal. Also, it is impotant to point out that White is perfectly prepared for the structure which is reached after the exchange on d4.
This system became popular in the late '70s, causing Black lots of problems proving the viabiity of the Gruenfeld Defence in general, and it has not lost its actuality up to today. White intends keeping the integrity of his centre hoping that this will offer him a stable advantage in the middlegame. Earlier, all these systems with Nf3 were considered inoffensive because of the possible ...Bg4, which was due to a static evaluation of the position.
Decades ago, the young Kasparov was the main hero of this system, but then Karpov took it up into his repertoire to play it in his matches with Kasparov himself. Over the past decades another great K, Vladimir Kramnik, became the main specialist with White.
In the diagram position Black has a variety of decent options. In general, his idea remains the same - put pressure on the centre in order to provoke a concession. In his analysis, GM Mihail Marin recommends the move 10...Bg4 which bothers the knight and creates an indirect pressure against the d4-pawn. This line is dealt with in Chapter 2.
In the same chapter, the author also covers the line 7.Be3 c5
The move 7.Be3 mostly transposes to the 7.Nf3. This is an interesting way to sidestep the line 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6. On the diagram position, White mainly continues with 8.Qd2 when the idea 8...Qa5 9.Rc1 Nc6 is well met by 10.d5 since White didn't waste a tempo for Nf3.
Instead of 8...Qa5, GM Marin recommends 8...0-0 when we would mostly transpose to the 7.Nf3 line. An independent continuation would be 9.Rb1!? cxd4 10.cxd4 Nc6
Black starts the fight against the central pawn without spending a tempo on moving with his queen. In his analysis, the author proves that Black manages to create more than sufficient counterplay in every single line.
3) White Plays 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rb1
This move, aimed at harassig the enemy queen and thus provoking a small concession such as ...a7-a6 before the rook goes to c1 to defend c3, is typical in the line with 9...Nc6, but here it is harmless. The current database proves that Black's most effective reaction is 10...b7-b6 supporting the c5-pawn and intending to meet 11.Rb5 by means of 11...Qa4. GM Marin's detailed analysis show that Black has nothing to worry about in this line. The move 10.Rb1 is covered in Chapter 3.
4) White Plays 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Nd2
An interesting move which enjoys some popularity lately. The knight approaches the queenside aiming at harassing the enemy queen. White's idea is revealed after 9...cxd4 10.Nc4 Qd8 (10...Qxc3? 11.Bd2 traps the queen) 11.cxd4 0-0 12.Rc1 when White has transferred the knight on an active position without losing time since the queen has returned to its initial square. In doing so he avoided the usual problems along the e1-a5 diagonal.
We recommend to meet 9.Nd2 by means of 9...Bd7!?
Black slightly deviates from the classical developing move order (first the knights and only then the bishops). The last move has a series of concrete ideas. Apart from the obvious threat ... Ba4, which, in some cases, gets the c2-square for the queen after forced operations in the centre, he also prepares ...Qa4, taking the queen out of the knight's range without returning on the initial diagonal. Practice and concrete analysis show that Black is doing more than fine in all the variations. This line is covered in Chapter 4.
5) White Plays 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Bd2
The main idea of this strange-looking move is to inhibit the exchange on d4. Black should precisely since he could run out of active continuations if White manages to comfortable complete the development. In order to obtain a decent counterplay, Black should put pressure on the centre as soon as possible.
At this point, GM Marin suggests that after 9...0-0 10.Be2, Black should go for the thematic 10...Bg4 11.0-0 Rd8 putting maximum pressure on d4. Later on, the author provides us with some pretty forced lines which don't bring an advantage for White. The move 9.Bd2 is the subject of Chapter 5.
6) White Plays 8.Rb1 0-0 9.Be2
Probably, this is the most analyzed system in the Gruenfeld Defence. It first became popular almost at the same time with 8.Be3.
White's main idea is to clear the long diagonal in order to speed up the thematic d4-d5, even though in many cases this implies a pawn sacrifice. In practice Black has tried out many plans, and a huge amount of theory has accumulated in all of them.
GM Marin's main line goes 9...Nc6 10.d5 Ne5 11.Nxe5 Bxe5 12.Qd2 e6 13.f4 Bc7
It is strategically desirable to force White re-capturing on d5 with the e-pawn, which would reduce the dynamism of his centre and make f2-f4 looking like a weakness. The point behind the last move is precisely preventing c3-c4 (and cxd5, of course). Practice has shown that White cannot use the long diagonal for an attack easily.
Since this line is really challenging, the author dedicates two chapters to this position. Chapter 6 features the less topical 14.Bc4 while Chapter 7 deals with the main line 14.0-0. After studying the detailed analysis of GM Mihail Marin you will be ready to meet all the attempts for an advantage.
7) White Plays 8.h3
White intends developing his bishops in natural ways without being forced to advance any of his central pawns after ...Bg4. The plan sounds logical but implies delaying the development. If allowed completing his development White will retain a small plus, but Black can use the extra tempo to break the centre after 8...0-0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Be2 cxd4 11.cxd4 f5
It turns out that White couldn't hold his pawn centre. Practice has shown that Black is just in time to create a decent counterplay in all the lines. This position is dealt with in Chapter 8.
8) White Plays 8.Bb5+
With this early check in the spirit of the Bogoindian White intends reducing Black's pressure on d4. This may happen if he either interfers the d-file with ...Nd7 or ...Bd7 or, like in our line, by placing the knight under the bishop's attack (and at least temporarily under a pin).
According to GM Marin, Black's most reliable continuation is 8...Nc6.
After this active move, White will most likely have to give up his bishop, in order to reduce Black's pressure on d4. This line is covered in the last two chapters of the current database. Chapter 9 deals with the old main line starting with the move 9.0-0 while in Chapter 10 the reader could study Black's most precise reaction to 9.d5 which was tried by Anand in his match against Gelfand. The current state of theory shows that Black doesn't experience any problems. Of course, some precision is always required.
At the end of the database, the reader could find TEST POSITIONS which allow him to verify his understanding.