A good line against the Grünfeld

by Sagar Shah
10/26/2014 – What to play against the Grünfeld? Preferably something solid and reliable, but still ambitious? A line that offers winning chances no matter how well the opponent is prepared? On his DVD "Winning against the Grünfeld" Mihail Marin offers a repertoire to help find that line. Sagar Shah looked at the DVD, worked with it and was impressed.

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DVD Review: Winning against the Grünfeld

Mihail Marin: Winning against the Grünfeld
Video running time: 4 hours 31 min
With interactive training including video feedback
Exclusive training database with 50 essential games
Including CB 12 – Reader

Solid yet ambitious

Since childhood I have been a 1.d4 player. In the year 2012, I came across Marin's book on the English Opening published by Quality Chess. I was highly impressed with Marin's analysis and exclusively played 1.c4 for almost a year and half. Finally, in mid-2013, bored of playing the English over and over again, I decided to return to my first love, the Queen's Pawn Openings.

Playing 1.d4 was more fun now after a gap of nearly one year and a half. But there were two openings which constantly kept posing problems to me: the Slav and the Grünfeld. All the systems that I tried to prepare against them were highly theoretical because so many books and articles were written on them and so many games were played with these lines. But all lines usually ended with the evaluation "=".

With so many equal lines, there was no point in having just one system. People would come thoroughly prepared and I would have to forget about an opening advantage. So I usually prepared for one game at a time, changing systems constantly. For example, after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 I have tried the following systems against the Grünfeld:

4.Nf3 followed by Qb3

4.Nf3 followed by h4!?

4.e3 followed by cxd5 Nxd5 and Ne2.

4.cxd5 followed by Bd2.

5.And many more that I have tried in rapid and blitz games.

In general my strategy worked pretty well and my opponents did not know what I would come up with and could not prepare accordingly. But deep within I had this nagging nomadic feeling and I wanted to find a system that I could bank on. If you play two rounds per day you do not have much time to prepare and I felt I should be able to play something solid yet at the same time ambitious without any pre-game preparations. But my search for such a dream line was in vain until one fine day I saw Marin's DVD on the Grünfeld lying in the stalls of a tournament that I was playing.

"Come on! Winning against the Grünfeld! That's surely an exaggeration", I said to myself and I wouldn't have spent even a minute more on it had it not been for the picture of Marin on the cover. I went ahead and bought the DVD, hoping that I would be able to end my search for that one solid line against the Grünfeld Defence.

Mihail Marin, highly estimated author and theoretician

I worked for many hours with this DVD. And now I would like to share my experience with the readers.

In the first clip Marin himself dispels any hope the listener might have had to find a winning line against the Grünfeld! According to Marin, debating whether Grünfeld is a sound opening or not is like debating if White should always claim an advantage in chess because he has the first move. There is no definite answer to this question and there cannot be.

But the best way for White to try for an advantage against the Grünfeld is to take the centre when Black offers it to him. Thus, after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 Marin recommends the main line with 4.cd5 Nd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3. Black now continues with 6...Bg7 and we get the following position.

In this position Marin recommends two moves: 7.Nf3 and 7.Be3. However, after 7.Nf3 c5 he recommends 8.Be3 anyway. Hence, my suggestion would be to start with 7.Be3 as that gives you much more flexibility. In fact, after 7.Be3 c5 almost 80% of the DVD covers the positions after 8.Nf3.

80% of the DVD covers this classical setup.

Now Black usually plays 8...Qa5 and this is also the move Marin looks at. But in my first training game with this line my opponent surprised me with 8...Bg4 after which I was kind of clueless. The point to note here is that after 8...Bg4 9.Rc1, Black usually plays 9...Qa5 and we transpose to a line Marin covers. However, instead of 9...Qa5 Black can also play 9...Bxf3 and we reach the game Caruana-Areshschenko, 2011, and a line Marin does not consider. Which shows how much flexibility Black has after White's eighth move: He can sometimes play ...Bg4, sometimes ...Qa5, sometimes ...Nc6, sometimes ...0-0, a whole number of setups with a range of different move-orders and nuances, and it is impossible to cover each one of them in a four and half hours video presentation.

But let's come back to the positions after 8...Qa5. White now has to play 9.Qd2 and now Black usually plays 9...Nc6.

Now starts the best part of the DVD. Marin first shows the great classical game between Kramnik-Kasparov, and  the game Kasparov-Romanishin to illustrate the various ideas of the setup with 10.Rc1. Black does best to take on d4, and after 10...cxd4 11.cxd4 Qxd2 12.Kxd2 we reach the following position.

Marin shows the different plans for both sides and how Black can hold his own in this endgame if he plays accurately. Hence, he asks the viewers to be more subtle and start off with 10.Rb1!? rather than 10.Rc1.

To tell you the truth, I only knew that this move usually provokes 10...a6, which after 11.Rc1 cxd4 12.cxd4 Qxd2 13.Kxd2 leads to the position above, with Black having made the extra move a7-a6.

The subtle Rb1-c1 idea gives White a chance to fight for an advantage

The b6 square is weakened and Marin wonderfully explains how this helps White to play for an advantage. I liked his clear cut explanation how White could do so.

He also explains a lot of other setups related to 10.Rb1 - particularly interesting is the line 10.Rb1 0-0!? 11.Rb5 cxd4!? 12. Rxa5 dxe3 13.Qxe3 Nxa5.

This isn't the main line, but it is quite tricky and computers aren't much of a help because they keep indicating a huge advantage for White without telling us how exactly he should be playing. In such situations insights by a strong player like Marin are very useful.

In his book about the Grünfeld the theoretician Boris Avrukh also analyses this variation and advocates the line 10.Rb1 a6 11.Rc1 Bg4!? 12.d5 Rd8!? on no less than five pages.

In contrast Marin does not consider this particuar set-up at all - and although it is not particularly dangerous you will have to work on it because Black players might come well-armed with Avrukh's recommendations.

After working through the lines with 9...Nc6, you will find one clip on the line with 9...Bg4 to which Marin recommends a strong antidote.

Marin suggests a strong idea for White here.

In the main line with 9...0-0, Marin recommends 10.Rc1 and then goes really deep by analysing as many as five setups for Black.


The green arrows denote the Black possibilities that the author covers.

I think Marin offers very nice and fresh analyses in these clips, which should give you a good idea how to fight against 9...0-0.

As Marin rightly says that you shouldn't be playing just one system against the Grünfeld because there is a high possibility that after a while your opponents come well prepared to the board. Hence, apart of his main recommendation 7.Be3 c5 8.Nf3 he also suggests another system based on 7.Be3 c5 8.Rc1!?

Once again the system is extremely solid and the position that arises after 8...Qa5 9.Qd2 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qxd2 11.Bxd2 0-0 12.Nf3 is very topical.

Black has two main options here: 12...Bg4 and 12...e6. After 12...e6 Marin analyses three different continuations for White: 13.Bc4, 13.Bb5 and 13.h4. Vladimir Kramnik has played all three and listening to Marin's explanations of these moves will definitely give you an excellent understanding of the position.

Towards the end of the DVD, there are five test positions and one game in interactive format where you have to guess the right moves. I did not find the selection of the positions in this section particularly impressive but solving these tests can help you if and when you are confronted with a similar middlegame position on the board.

Chess factors apart, Marin's presentation is also convincing: the way he speaks is quite soothing to the ear and he constantly has a smile on his face which makes you enjoy this journey together.

I would rate this DVD with 8 out of 10 points. There are a few lines missing but I think when you take up such a huge topic as Grünfeld and try to combat it with one of the main lines, this is bound to happen. Personally, I would have never embarked on the journey of studying this classical line all by myself. After all there are an intimidating number of games in this line by elite players such as Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik etc. Here Marin helps by separating the wheat from the chaff by explaining the key ideas. Later you can fill the missing holes in his analysis with some analysis of your own and to have a very good weapon against the Grünfeld.

So this DVD is a must for all those who want to improve their understanding of this classical line against the Grünfeld. However, I wouldn't recommend it to those who have already vast experience in this line as Marin explains the variation but does not present many theoretical novelties.

And finally, I must say that the move orders in this line are extremely tricky. You need to be alert and avoid automatic play. Take for example the game Mihail Marin-Ivan Popov, Benasque Open, July 2014.

Here Marin was still on auto-pilot and played 9.Qd2?!, which was strongly met with 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Bg4!. Now White had to make the uncomfortable move 11.Rd1 and Black had absolutely no problems. Of course Marin should have played 9.Rc1 when 9...Qa5 can be strongly met with 10.d5! and after 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Qa5 has the reply 11.Bd2!? In both cases White retains a very pleasant position.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Marin for making this wonderful DVD and for his constant contributions to chess literature. He again and again produces excellent material that allows players like us to learn and to improve our understanding of the game.

Mihail Marin: Winning against the Grünfeld in the shop
Video running time: 4 hours 31 min
With interactive training including video feedback
Exclusive training database with 50 essential games
Including CB 12 – Reader

Sample Video


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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