What's the Main Idea in the Exchange Gruenfeld?

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"What are the main ideas in the Exchange Gruenfeld?"

This is a great example of the type of question I can't handle adequately on my show "Q&A with Coach Heisman". It's not that I don't know anything about the Exchange Gruenfeld - although I have never been a 1.d4 2.c4 player nor defended that sequence with the Gruenfeld, the Exchange Variation Gruenfeld is one of the most popular GM openings of our time. However, I have played it in speed games and reviewed hundreds of games played with this line.

But that's the problem. It's too "big" a question for a show like mine. In 90 minutes I expect to get dozens of questions from viewers, and that works out to 1-3 minutes per answer.

Let's assume an author writing an entire book on the Exchange Gruenfeld could overview the main ideas in a five-page Introduction. Do you think I could even read it in 1-3 minutes much less verbally explain it to an audience? We could easily do an entire 90-minute show on the Exchange Gruenfeld. That's also why my show has a the caveat: "Please don't ask questions they write entire books about, or even chapters of books." This would be one!

So when I am faced with such a question posed on the show anyway, I have a dilemma: do I attempt to give a brief answer, ignore the question, or take more time to answer than I should for a question on the show? I chose to give a brief answer: I showed what the Exchange Variation of the Gruenfeld was (many viewers on the show probably did not know how a Gruenfeld starts) and a few of the very basic early-move ideas. For example, I showed how, when I first started serious play in the 1960's (Undecided), all the grandmasters played Bc4 and then Ne2 for White. But by the early 1980's it was discovered that it was possible to play Nf3 without worrying that the center would collapse after ...Bg4, ...Bxf3, and ...c5, with pressure on white's d4.

That's about all I had time for, but I did the best I could. Hopefully the person asking the question was not disappointed.

We tried a new format for the show and it worked pretty well. Last show, in order to get more diagrams for viewers, we asked that the first hour be devoted exclusively to positions. Unfortunately, almost all the "position" questions turned out to be about openings. So this time we divided the show into three 30-minute segments:

  1. Openings
  2. All other positions (middlegame, endgame, puzzles, etc), and
  3. Open to all chess questions of any type.

That seemed to work better and show went very smoothly.

At the suggestion of Danny Rensch, I opened the 2nd segment with an example. I chose the following well-known endgame problem: Black to play and draw:

The idea is to set the tone for the second 30-minute segment. I think it worked fairly well.
By the way, by encouraging so many "diagram-oriented" questions on the show, we created another dilemma: I can't compete with GMs, databases and, certainly, engines when it comes to finding "book moves" or "best moves". So why use me at all for this purpose?
Therefore, I told the audience that if they had a position where they truly did not know the best move and wanted to know what it was, unless it was fairly straightforward, that kind of question was best saved for your pet engine or friendly local GM. (By the way, one rule of the show: you cannot show me positions from ongoing games; e.g., turn-based games in progress. If you want to show me a position from a game, it has to be a game that is finished).
But that doesn't mean I am worthless when it comes to positions. There's quite a bit I can - and did - do that maybe a non-teacher would do a little less ably: I can explain some of the basic ideas to the audience in an instructive way.
For example, suppose for the show you give me an intermediate tactics problem. One difficult enough that I can't do it by recognition but not so difficult that I probably can't solve it (and there are a myriad of those!). One thing I am pretty good at is explaining how I am attacking the problem: what aspects I recognize, what are the keys that are getting my attention, and I can explain the logic of the flow of how I (and hopefully, eventually, the audience) can try to find the solution. Not only can I do that in an instructive manner, but I can do it "in real time" while speaking out loud. Thus the audience can get a step-by-step, blow-by-blow insight into how a master (well, an old master) can solve an unfamiliar problem.
That would be using me at my best for the "diagram/position" part of the show and that, hopefully, will be part of many future shows.
"Q&A with Coach Heisman" is normally seen at 5-6:30 PM ET on the first Friday of each month.