The Most Treacherous Defense in Chess
By GM Lubomir Kavalek
Those who played the Grünfeld Defense knew that it could turn into a nightmare
in an instant. But the defense also brought them bright moments, tempted them
again and again, and they could not live without it. Bobby Fischer created the
"game of the century" in 1956 against Donald Byrne and he almost beat
the world champion Mikhail Botvinnik at the 1962 Olympiad in Varna, Bulgaria,
with the Grünfeld Defense. Garry Kasparov picked it up and played it in the
world championship matches against Anatoly Karpov.
The most unlikely convert was Nigel Short, a classical player who liked his
pawns to be present in the center. For him the Grünfeld belonged to another
universe, but as his coach I thought it made perfect sense to use it against
Jonathan Speelman in the 1991 Candidates match in London. Speelman was one of
those "diagonal players" who liked to place his kingside bishop on
the long diagonal h1-a8 as White. The Grünfeld steals the diagonal play from
White because Black's dark bishop has a target in the center. I taught Short
the Grünfeld Defense in three months and it won him the match.
Image by Jan Brychta
When they met in the 1988 Candidates quarterfinal, Speelman won convincingly
3.5-1.5. He seemed to have a psychological edge and what was even worse, Short
didn't have suitable repertoire for the black pieces against him. No matter
what he did, he was playing to Speelman's strength. The Grünfeld changed all
that and Short had suddenly something new, fresh and surprising up his sleeve.
Speelman was switching from variation to variation, but in four Grünfeld games
he was able to surprise Short only once. When he tried to win in the same variation
again, Nigel easily drew by repeating all 27 moves I have analyzed for him the
previous night. In the final game Speelman developed his light bishop on the
diagonal, but ran into a prepared setup we used to play in Czechoslovakia in
the 1960s around the time Short was born. Nigel won the game and the match.
Considering the limited time we had to prepare the Grünfeld, it was a miracle.
The Grünfeld Defence (ECO codes D70-D99)
is a chess opening characterised by the moves:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5
But Short was not comfortable with the new defense and shortly after the match,
he dropped it from his repertoire. With the appearance of Vladimir Kramnik,
Kasparov got rid of the Grünfeld Defense. But others like Vassily Ivanchuk and
Peter Svidler continue to play it. It made huge strides in the last 20 years
and more and more people playing it now.
New books covering the defense come out almost every year and the number of
pages grows. Boris Avrukh's two-volume work The Grünfeld Defense, published
recently by Quality Chess, is more than 600 pages long. The Israeli grandmaster
presents ideas from Black's point of view, mixing known games with many original
analyses. It is a wonderful Grünfeld manual that gives tournament players advice
on where to move and what to avoid. And there are many slippery slopes as the
miniature game from the recent European Club Cup in the Slovenian town of Rogaska
In the last round, the Danish grandmaster Pieter Heine Nielsen, who is known
as the second of the world champion Vishy Anand, faced Andrei Volokitin. The
Ukrainian grandmaster played the Grünfeld reasonably well, followed Ivanchuk's
idea of exposing one weak spot in White's camp – the square d3. Volokitin
first controlled the weakness from a distance before occupying it with his knight.
We all know what the black knight can do on the third rank and on the square
d3 in particular. Remember Garry Kasparov's knight from the 16th game of the
1985 world championship match? How it tied up Karpov's pieces almost to the
point of zugzwang?
Karpov-Kasparov, Moscow 1985, Game 16, after 16...Nd3
Volokitin aimed his knight at the same square, but didn't react well to Nielsen's
novelty. When his horse leaped to d3, it was a losing blunder. Volokitin spent
only 21 minutes on his 17 moves before he resigned.
Note that in the replay windows below you can click on the notation to
follow the game.
column here – Copyright
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