Reviews | April 26, 2009 17:04

Review: Chess Explained - The Gr?ºnfeld

Chess Explained: The Gr?ºnfeldIt usually takes a while before beginning chess players realize there are also great chess openings for Black. For me, this moment came when I discovered the Gr?ºnfeld Defence. Here, finally, was a chess opening in which it was possible to create some of the rich dynamics usually reserved for playing with White. I remember xeroxing whole books on this great opening in the Max Euwe Centre in Amsterdam. This also made me discover another property of the Gr?ºnfeld: it's a highly professional opening. An opening for grown-ups.

These two sides of the Gr?ºnfeld-coin are confirmed again by the¬†most recent¬†book on this opening:¬†The Gr?ºnfeld by Valentin Bogdanov (with contributions of Viacheslav Eingorn), in the Gambit series Chess Explained. In the book's introduction, Bogdanov (who is a well chess¬†known trainer from the Ukraine)¬†is clear about¬†its purpose:

The goal is to explain the ideas behind the opening and its individual systems, with particular emphasis on the more popular and imporant variations in recent practice. Of course, different players may have different opinions on popularity. The chosen system for dividing the material into chapters doesn't always follow the traditional approach, but the author believes it to be the most logical.

To be honest, I find this introduction¬†slightly mysterious, especially when applied to the Gr?ºnfeld. Which 'traditional' books on the opening did the author have in mind, exactly? Unfortunately (and unusually, at least for books published by Gambit), there's no bibliography to check. When I think about books on the Gr?ºnfeld Defence, the first that comes to mind is Jonathan Rowson's excellent highly untraditional Understanding the Gr?ºnfeld; another is Winning with the Gr?ºnfeld from the equally unconventional author Andr?°s Adorjan.

So how is the book arranged? As expected, most of the book's lines and games (50% i.e. or 60 of 120 pages) are devoted to the Exchange variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5), which is indeed White's most popular choice. A mere 15 pages (12,5%) are devoted to lines where White plays Qd1-b3 on move 4 or 5, and just over 15% of space is spent on lines with Bf4 or Bg5. The rest of the book is about closed systems (White plays e3) and white fianchetto setups.

We'll come to the main lines shortly, but let me say first that from a club player perspective, I found the book's lack of emphasis on 'side lines' (especially lines with Bf4 or Bg5) a bit disappointing. On my own club, for instance, a number of players regularly play the hybrid line 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg5!? (also occasionally employed by I. Sokolov and Zvjaginsev) and I was curious what Bogdanov recommended against it, but the line cannot be found in Bogdanov's book at all. The author might defend himself by referring to the statement about differently perceived popularity, but it does raise the question for whom his book is intended. The introduction is silent about this.

Apart from this slight lack of focus, however, the good news is that the book contains many great games with the Gr?ºnfeld Defence, all well analysed and containing¬†plenty of novel and interesting ideas. I remember being puzzled as a youngster¬†by the move Rb1 in the popular line 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1!? so I was relieved to read the following down-to-earth explanantion by Eingorn which is worth quoting in full:

diagram 1Initially the move Rb1 has a rather outlandish appearance, although the fact that the move is such a well-established part of the theoretical landscape may blind us to just how surprising the move seemed in its earlier years. White the move Rc1 (the main approach at the start of the 1980s) has a clear purpose, putting the rook on b1 fails to defend c3 and targets a defended pawn. Yet it has become by far the most popular method, and has proved an enduring weapon, giving Gr?ºnfeld players serious headaches for many years, with no truly clear-cut solution found despite extensive testing at the highest levels.

In fact, the Rb1 idea arose from a consideration of the drawbacks of other moves. The birth of this system was preceded by a crisis for White in the variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Be2. The bishop move looks extremely natural, but after 8...Nc6, attacking the pawn-centre without delay, White lacks an effective reply. 9.Be3 is well met by 9...Bg4! when White's centre becomes a static target rather than a dynamic weapon, while 9.d5 Bxc3+ 10.Bd2 Bxa1 11.Qxa1 Nd4 12.Nxd4 cxd4 13.Qxd4 is unconvincing after either 13...0-0 or 13...f6. (...)

White those lines in mind, the apparently unpretentious 8.Rb1 turns out to be a rather nimble way to parry Black's main active ideas. Now ... Nc6 can be met by d5, while ... Bg4 leaves the b7-pawn en prise. White intends to play Be2 next, and it is hard for Black to find a reply that is quite as useful as Rb1 that serves as preparation for ... Nc6 and ... Bg4.

Well, I think this is simply¬†a great explanation, combining historical perspective and the ability to present ideas in a logical arrangement. Chess Explained: The Gr?ºnfeld is full of such great stuff. On the other hand, the book is also full of the very complex, concrete variations you're required to study when you want to play the Gr?ºnfeld with either Black or White. Here's an example in a slightly less well-known branch of the 8.Rb1 system:

diagram 2Va?Øsser - Vachier-Lagrave
Chartres 2005

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1 0-0 9.Be2 Nc6 10.d5 Bxc3+ 11.Bd2 Bxd2+ 12.Qxd2 Na5 13.h4 Bg4 14.Ng5 Bxe2 15.Kxe2 h6 16.Nf3 Kh7 17.Qc3 b6 18.Ng5+ Kg8 19.h5

No kid's stuff, this. According to latest theory, 19...Qc8 is Black's best try here, and even though the authors seem to acknowledge this, they only mention the move as 'deserving consideration'. It's obvious they're more interested in showing a great game than in boring the reader with too many variations. I have mixed feelings about this, as it's slightly misleading to the serious student, but I'll give the authors the benefit of the doubt because the rest of the game is truly great. See for yourself:

19...hxg5 20.hxg6 fxg6 21.Rh8+ Here the authors recommend their own improvement (and novelty) in this position, 21.Rbd1, but don't go into this any deeper.

21...Kf7 22.Rh7+ Ke8 23.Qg7 Kd7 24.d6 Qe8?! 25.dxe7 Rg8 26.Qe5 Kc8 27.Qd5! Nc6 28.Rbh1 Nd4+ 29.Ke3 Rb8 30.g4

diagram 3It turns out that Black is in zugzwang: the king cannot venture onto its second rank because of Qxg8, and the queen has to defend the g8-rook, which has not a single move left. Why the other rook cannot go to b7, we shall find out from the game. The knight must defend the e6-square and is only capable of driving the white king to g2, and then what? The a-pawn can only manage a few steps.

30...Rb7 31.Qxg8! and Black resigned after a few moves.

This game and the way it's annotated show the intentions of the authors to me very clearly:

  1. ¬†to make the reader enthusiastic about the Gr?ºnfeld Defence, and
  2.  to give him a flavour of recent developments without delving too deeply in the labyrinth of hardcore theory.

In my opinion, they have succeeded marvellously. After the reading this book, my fingers¬†are itching to play the Gr?ºnfeld again. Who cares if I don't know all the details? I may not be a professional, but at least I'll feel like one if I play the Gr?ºnfeld. And I'll definitely have a great time, which for most chess players is all that matters.

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Author: Arne Moll

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