Grünfeld Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

The Grunfeld Defense is a cousin of the King's Indian Defense after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 where Black strikes in the center with 3...d5 instead of playing 3...Bg7. In the King's Indian, Black is often playing for a kingside attack, while the Grunfeld is more confrontational in the center. White might get a central pawn mass, but Black plans to strike it down.

Starting Position

The Grunfeld Defense appears after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

Grunfeld Defense
Starting position of the Grunfeld.


  • Very active defense
  • Black only has to knock down, not build up
  • Unbalancing


  • White's space advantage
  • White's strong center
  • Very theoretical opening


The theme of any variation of the Grunfeld is White's center vs. Black's efforts to take it down. The two main variations are the Exchange and the Russian, but there are others worth knowing too.

Exchange Variation

The most popular and theoretically important Grunfeld is the Exchange Variation, which continues 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3. The simplest plan for Black, if White allows it, is to continue with ...c5, ...Nc6, ...Bg7, and sometimes ...Bg4 to pin the white knight to the queen, all of which put pressure on the d4 square. White usually seeks rapid development and active play to compensate, sometimes sacrificing the a-pawn.

This line is highly theoretical, which makes it more popular at the highest levels of chess.

Grunfeld Defense Exchange Variation

The standard position of the Exchange Variation. With no developed pieces, you can clearly see that White's center will be the focus of attention.

Grunfeld Defense
The standard position of the Exchange Variation. Orange arrows show Black's planned moves, the blue arrows demonstrating the resulting pressure on d4.

Russian Variation

The main alternative to 4.cxd5 for White is 4.Nf3 which Black usually follows with 4...Bg7, after which White has three options. The Russian Variation is 5.Qb3, protecting the c-pawn (5.e3 is another popular move which does so, but blocks in the dark-squared bishop), adding to control of d5. Play continues 5...dxc4 6.Qxc4 with 7.e4 to follow, and White gets the big center, although Black can pester the queen and chip at that center with the moves ...a6, ...b5, and ...c5.

Grunfeld Defense, Russian Variation
The standard position of the Russian Variation. Some lines run pretty deep from here.

Petrosian System

Instead of the Russian, White can play GM Tigran V. Petrosian's move, 5.Bg5, which is equally popular. The typical continuation is 5...Ne4 6.cxd5 Nxg5 7.Nxg5 e6, where White gives up the two bishops but leads in development. White is also now able to defend the d-pawn with e3 while not blocking in the dark-squared bishop.

Grunfeld Defense
By uncovering the queen's attack on the knight, Black's last move will regain the pawn.

On move five White can also play 5.Bf4, the Hungarian Attack, or the aforementioned 5.e3, the Burille Variation.

Brinckmann Attack

White can also play 4.Bf4 on move four, the Brinckmann Attack, where play usually continues 4...Bg7 5.e3 O-O. This continuation is called the Grunfeld Gambit because White can win a pawn, but usually only temporarily, as in the continuation below.

Other Variations

4.Bg5 on move four, the Stockholm Variation, is essentially a gambit for White with the usual continuation 4...Ne4 5.Bh4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 dxc4 7.e3 Be6.

Grunfeld Defense
Black's last move keeps the pawn. Statistically, this variation results in similar percentages than more mainline variations.

4.Qb3 is the Accelerated Russian but usually transposes to the standard Russian.

The rare Zaitsev Gambit, 4.h4, scores 48% for White in just over 100 games.

It is also worth noting that, because the Exchange Variation of the Grunfeld has a good reputation for Black, White sometimes makes third moves besides 3.Nc3 to avoid it. When Black replies 3...d5 anyway, these are called "Neo-Grunfelds". The three main alternative third moves for White are 3.Nf3, 3.f3, and 3.g3.

Grunfeld Defense
White's three main moves to avoid the Grunfeld. Black can play 3...d5 anyway, resulting in a Neo-Grunfeld.

How to Play Against the Grunfeld

Most of Black's control over the course of the game is over right after 3...d5, with White's setup determining action from there. It's still significant; the Grunfeld is safer for Black than the King's Indian, giving up the occasional win in order to draw more and lose less. Per 100 games, Black scores +27 -36 =36 with 3...d5 compared to +29 -43 =28 with 3...Bg7.

And at the same time, because 3...d5 is such a committal move, most of White's responses score similarly. The percentages are identical for 4.cxd5 and 4.Nf3 (37% for White, 27% for Black, 36% drawn), moves which represent three-quarters of all Grunfeld games. The Accelerated Russian Variation (45% win rate for White) and the Zaitsev Gambit (48%) score better, but represent only a small fraction of games.

Grunfeld Defense
The stats may suggest these unusual fourth moves for White, but beware the small samples if you don't know what you're doing.

White's best chance is potentially the anti-Grunfeld move 3.f3, 3500 games winning 44% of the time. In some ways, a Grunfeld player has already obtained all their goals after 3.Nc3 d5.


The Grunfeld Defense is named for GM Ernst Grunfeld, a leading opening theorist of his day. He began playing it in several games in 1922, including a win over Alexander Alekhine with it in Vienna (which apparently made enough of an impression on Alekhine that he tried it himself in the same tournament, only to lose in 26 moves).

Grunfeld Defense, Ernst Grunfeld
Grunfeld in his later years. Unfortunately his opponent seems to have opened this game with 1.e4. Photo: Jack de Nijs/Dutch National Archives, CC.

It was Efim Bogoljubov against Alekhine who introduced the Grunfeld to world championship play in 1929, but he only scored =1 -2. In 1935, Alekhine played it vs. Euwe and managed just +1 -3. In fact, the Grunfeld has scored surprisingly poorly in world championship play, but that is just one event. It has been respected for almost a century and no less a player than GM Garry Kasparov was a longtime practitioner. Several other top grandmasters use it to this day.

Famous Games

One of the most famous games in chess history, especially in the United States, was 13-year-old future GM Bobby Fischer's "Game of the Century" over IM Donald Byrne in 1956. The game did not start as a Grunfeld but transposed into one on Fischer's 5...d5, and the prodigy went on to sacrifice his queen in one of the greatest attacks ever played on a chess board.

GM Alexei Shirov defeated GM Veselin Topalov with the Black side of a Grunfeld at the 1998 Linares tournament. The game is best-known for its ending, however, and Shirov's astounding 47th move.

[GM Garry Kasparov played almost every opening he tried well, but especially the Grunfeld. Watch him at the peak of his powers, dismantling the great GM Alexander Beliavsky in 1988.

As he demonstrated in games like that one,] Kasparov was a longtime expert in the Grunfeld. That made it all the more shocking when GM Vladimir Kramnik defeated him in the second game of their world championship match in 2000, a match Kramnik went on to win.


The Grunfeld is one of the more active ways for Black to meet 1.d4, although it requires good theoretical knowledge to play well. Find out about more moves and approaches in our Explorer.


Gruenfeld Defense

Ernst Gruenfeld, an Austrian grandmaster who bumped heads with the legendary Alekhine and his contemporaries back in the twenties and thirties, invented the opening which bears his name.
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