Chess Openings: Grünfeld Defense

| 6 | Opening Theory

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Category – Semi Closed Game 

Opening Move Sequence – 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5

ECO CodesD70 to D99 

Grünfeld Defense is named after the player Ernst Grünfeld who used it in the 1920s. Since then, a lot of notable great players and world champions have used it. However it is only occasionally used in tournament play. Vladimir Kramnik is a leading supporter of this opening while playing White. Others have shown its possibilities as Black. This opening can be reached from other openings. For instance the so called Game of the century between Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer (age 13) in 1956 reached a Grünfeld position after 1.Nf3 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.Nc3 Bg7, 4.d4 O-O, 5.Bf4 d5. 

Grünfeld Defense, like other openings introduced in 1920s, uses the ideas of hypermodern theory which consider a center made of pawns to be weak and aims to attack it with pieces developed in the wings.   

Grünfeld Defense is classed among Semi Closed Games and with Indian systems (which are a subset of Semi Closed Games) which start with moves 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4. Variations in Grünfeld Defense can be found under ECO classification codes D70 to E99. 

Moves and Variations

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 g6

3 Nc3 d5 

As explained above, Black is following the hypermodern theory and is aiming to attack the White’s center using pieces in the flanks. White continues to build the center and develop pieces.   

Grünfeld Exchange Variation

This is the main line of Grünfeld defense and will continue with 4.cxd5 Nxd5, 5.e4. The center created by White appears truly formidable at this point. And the following moves in the main line 5...Nxc3, 6.bxc3, bolster it even more. Black will now try to threaten it through c5 and Bg7, and then cxd4, Bg4, and Nc6. Meanwhile White will try to exploit the center to start an attack on the Black’s position after Black castles short. A branch of the Exchange Variation is known as Seville Variation and will continue with a different fifth move: 5.e4 Nxc3, 6.bxc3 Bg7, 7.Bc4 c5, 8.Ne2 Nc6, 9.Be3 O-O, 10.O-O Bg4, 11.f3 Na5, 12.Bxf7+ Rxf7, 13.fxg4 Rxf1+, 14.Kxf1. 

White can follow several lines in developing pieces. The traditional way is to develop Bc4, Ne2, 0-0, and f5 and to avoid Nf3 due to Black’s Bg4. However, since the 1970s, different lines have been developed with the move Rb1 (to get it out of the way from the diagonal) and cramp Black’s bishop at c8. Other possibilities are moves Be3, Qd2, Rc1 and Rc1, strengthening the center and enabling a pawn advance along d file.   

4 Bf4

To simplify play, and thus avoid the complexities in Grünfeld Exchange Variation, White can play 4 Bf4. White basically selects an attack in the Queen-side and a lesser center. The main line here continues with 4...Bg7, 5.e3 c5, 6.dxc5 Qa5. White has several replies at this point: cxd5, Rc1, Qb3, and Qa4. However, in spite of its simplifications, historical statistics show that there is no significant improvement in White’s chances. As such this variation’s popularity has declined.  

Grünfeld Gambit

Another variation after 4.Bf4 is 4…Bg7, 5.e3 O-O and is known as Grünfeld Gambit. If White accepts the gambit, play will continue 6.cxd5 Nxd5, 7.Nxd5 Qxd5, 8.Bxc7. Or if White wants to decline it, he can play 6.Qb3 or Rc1. In that case Black will answer by 6…c5.  

Neo-Grünfeld Defense

When White does not play the move Nc3 as the third move variation, it is called Neo-Grünfeld Defense. Play will normally proceed along the lines of 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.f3 d5, or 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.g3 d5 (called Kemeri Variation).  

Other Variations in Grünfeld Defense

There are several other playable variations: 4.Bg5 (Taimanov Variation), 4.Nf3 Bg7, 5.Qb3 (Russian System), and 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.e3 (Quiet System, also called Slow System).

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