Playing the Grünfeld

We recently sent a new book to the printer. Playing the Grünfeld by Alexey Kovalchuk is expected to be published on March 25th. You will correctly guess from the title that this is a combative repertoire against 1.d4. It’s also a big book – 504 pages – and full of lively chess. If you want to know more, you can read an excerpt here.

92 thoughts on “Playing the Grünfeld”

  1. Frankly speaking the abridged variation index is in many lines too short to give any impression of the made suggestions. Or did I just misunderstand why it is uploaded at all? I thought it would be to show which lines the author picked.

    For example in Chapter 13: The abridged variation index ends with A) 7. Be3, B) 7. Nf3 c5 8. Be3.
    Now it is not even clear whether the suggestion is to go for Nepo’s Nd7-f6 approach or for some of the Qa5 lines. Not to talk about the question whether one intends to go into some ending with cxd4 or not.

    Another example is Chapter 6: Will the suggestion be to go for a more slav kind of approach with c6, or the c5-lines?

    Or Chapter 12: It is no variation index needed in an excerpt to assume that those lines are covered at all.

  2. ‘super talent’ – No, the book starts from 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6. It was already enough of a challenge to offer a complete Grunfeld repertoire in one book without including extra material as well. We refer you to Mikhalevski’s excellent ‘Grandmaster Repertoire 19’ for detailed suggestions against the Anti-Grunfeld.

  3. Chris – The abridged variation index does contain some of the important information you are looking for: for instance, you can see the book gives 10…b6! against the 7.Bc4 main line; we also made a point of adding a few extra moves in variation E of Chapter 14, as people will want to know how Alexey meets the famous Nf3/Rb1 system. The index also reveals 7…a6! against the Russian System – another important choice.
    With that being said, you do have a point that the index is a little short on detail for some chapters. It’s hard to strike the right balance, as if we give a bit more detail there will always be someone asking what the author recommends one move later.
    Anyway to answer your questions:
    – In Ch 13 Alexey recommends …c5 followed by …Qa5 in both A) and B). In the latter case, 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Rc1 Nd7 is the main line of the chapter, as played by Nepo.
    – In Ch 6, there is no Slav/…c6 stuff. Generally …c5 is the plan, although 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Rc1 Be6! is an exception.
    – As for Ch 12, true there are no more moves given although you can at least see how many pages are allocated to each option. Besides, is anyone seriously going to base their buying decision on what the author gives against 7.Ba3 or 7.Bb5+?

  4. @Andrew Greet

    Didn’t you hear Andrew that everything we buy today is based on response to odd ball lines? LOL!

    In all seriousness, I totally agree with you that no matter what you do with an index, someone will ask a move further in one chapter or another. In my case, it’s easy. Nobody could pay me to buy this book as the Grunfeld and Alekhine are two openings I avoid like the plague (Grunfeld completely, Alekhine as Black), but I know where you are coming from as the same can be said for the upcoming Italian books (which I will be buying), or other openings of interest. For example, I could be pushing for the same thing on a French book. You show it’s Closed Tarrasch, and I could be asking 11…O-O, 11…Qc7, or 11…Qb6? Show that, and I could be asking about the next move. So I see exactly where you are coming from with that continuous problem!

  5. A Super Talent

    @Andrew Greet
    Andrew, you still didn’t answer my question as to whether Quality Chess India will be getting these books at the same time you release them. Any plans on updating the Modern Benoni work? Also, will the analysis in this book suit correspondence chess players, who want a nice complete reference?

    Frankly, these days you can’t call anything an oddball line. Magnus plays 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Nf6?! and wins against 2600+ GMs! Also, I too avoid the Grunfeld, because it is highly theoretical, and in many lines Black seems to be surviving due to only moves, which is not to my taste.

  6. Steve – Can you be specific about where Mikhalevski allows a transposition into the main Fianchetto lines with …d5 and …Nxd5? If you’re talking about the main Anti-Grunfeld with 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 and you’re thinking White can follow up with cxd5, g2-g3, and d2-d4, this is something different because White’s knight has already committed to c3 and Black can exchange it rather than retreat to b6. Alexey does cover this scenario in the book.

    ‘super talent’ – Sorry I overlooked the question about India. It definitely won’t be there on the 25th; perhaps QC India could give you an estimate of when they might aim to have it in stock. As for the analysis in the book, although it’s primarily aimed at OTB players, every recommendation in the book is intended to hold up at the highest levels including engine/correspondence play. By the way, it’s interesting that you have so many questions about a book on an opening that you never intend to play.

    We currently have no plans to publish an updated edition of the Modern Benoni book.

  7. @Andrew Greet
    I was thinking of line C1 on p.480, but I just realised that on p.479 he gives an alternative move order “for those who yearn for the …cxd5 structure”. Actually, it is slightly weird that line C1 forces black to play …Nxd5, while line C2 forces him to play …cxd5. Why not just give this alternative move order as the main one? Not that I am complaining. The more lines for black in the Grünfeld the better as far as I am concerned.

  8. Yes I see what you mean; still, the question about maintaining compatibility between the two books has been answered, so that’s the main thing.
    Having said that, it does sometimes happen that a line in GM 19 offers a transposition to a main-line opening which doesn’t quite match up with our book on that opening. Mikhalevski did an amazing job covering as many bases as possible but we couldn’t expect him to accommodate every possible repertoire preference. Likewise, other authors (for example Kovalchuk) have their own ideas and can’t be expected to design their entire repertoires around possible transpositions from Mikhalevski’s book. So while GM 19 is a superb resource containing a wealth of information, readers should keep those things in mind. By all means flag it up on the blog and we’ll see if we can find an easy solution – but readers should also be prepared to fill in the occasional gap themselves when a transposition from a move such as 1.Nf3 doesn’t quite match up.

  9. A Super Talent

    @Andrew Greet
    Andrew, my coach is a Grunfeld expert, and he has suggested numerous times that I take it up. However, in OTB chess, I see MVL getting crushed from the Black side a lot these days, so I prefer not to play it myself – the Benoni seems to be a ‘sounder’ and lesser played option, which gives me lesser theory to memorize. Having said that, I am looking at trying the Grunfeld out in correspondence play, and your book might just be the one for it! Also, playing something that is personally so uncomfortable might lead to an evolution of chess thought…so Cheers!

  10. I see. That’s not a bad idea at all – I myself have also tested certain openings in correspondence which I would generally not play OTB, and it’s been interesting to see how the ideas play out and what kind of resources exist in the positions. So experimenting with the Grunfeld in this way sounds to me like a good idea for the reasons you mentioned.

  11. A Super Talent

    @Andrew Greet
    Andrew, not to disturb you too much, but as an IM could you tell me why the Grunfeld is held in such high regard by both players and engines alike, while the Benoni is viewed with contempt? I have never liked the idea of giving up my center so easily, and using Axel’s book I managed to score a lot against it by avoiding damaging my structure.

  12. @A Super Talent
    The Grunfeld is just one of those openings which has proven to be completely correct and sound: Black gives up some space in the centre but evidently has enough counterattacking resources. The Benoni, on the other hand, is strategically riskier: I’m sure that if the game of chess were to be completely solved we would find that the Benoni is still a draw, but Black will have to work harder to prove it in some lines. But still, if you like the Benoni and it suits your style, then stick with it.

  13. I am quite intrigued by Kovalchuk’s use of exclamation marks in the preview. Is their use for lines like 7… a6 in the Russian System or 10… b6 in the 7. Bc4 Exchange Variation an indicator that he believes black’s alternatives to be inferior, a personal preference between objectively equal lines, or something else?

  14. @Jack Hughes
    A bit of both. He’ll typically say something like “Author X recommends xxx but Black has experienced some problems in that line in recent games…” or “Move xxx has been more popular but I find that the text move is safer and easier to play”. The exact reason will vary from one case to the next. In the case of 10…b6!, it’s not just that it’s the soundest move, but also the fact that top players only started taking it seriously within the last decade that makes it worthy of the exclam.

  15. @Andrew Greet

    Has the Grunfeld really proven totally sound? Or is it just what is trendy? The latter seems to be the case for all fianchetto defenses. Once upon a time it was the Benoni that was all the rage (80s). Next they say it is risky. The Kings Indian becomes all the rage (early 90s). Then Kramnik slams it with the Bayonet Attack. Since then, answers have been found. Now 13.Rc1 in the Mar Del Plata seems to be the question.

    There were times the Grunfeld was viewed as dicey, and some may question the exchange still.

    I doubt anybody will ever be able to say any fianchetto defense is totally correct, unlike the QGD, Nimzo, Slav, etc.

  16. Although the Grunfeld has a different character from the QGD and Slav for example, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a 100% correct, top-tier opening. Other people are entitled to their opinions of course, but that’s where I stand.

  17. @Patrick
    I would dare say that the Benoni never was “all the rage” at any particularly high level, and I don’t quite understand how this impression may have been formed…
    In any case, whatever the standards of “all the rage” are, there can be absolutely no comparison between the peak polularity of the Gruenfeld and that of the Benoni, for example – certainly not at Grandmaster level. In fact, I think the Gruenfeld has been 10x more popular at GM level even at its nadir.

  18. @middlewave

    Perhaps “all the rage” came from the days when Tal was championing the Benoni …. but tend to agree with you that in the computer age the Grunfeld has gained a reputation of respectability whereas the Benoni is probably consider too high a risk to play on a regular basis..

    But who knows what the future will hold…..until Kramnik came along the Berlin Wall was considered as just a bad endgame for black, now look at its popularity…

  19. @Andrew Greet
    Thanks for the reply Andrew. If I am correct in interpreting you then he is saying that 10… b6 in the Exchange is the soundest move and so all the deeply investigated alternatives (e.g. 10… Bg4, 10… Qc7) aren’t quite as good. Is this correct? Does he make a similar claim about 7… a6 in the Russian System?
    As regards all this discussion of how theoretical evaluations have evolved over the years I think that in the computer age evaluations should be given much, much higher epistemic standing than in the twentieth century. Prevailing opinions in the twentieth century were based on the evaluations of ~2800 or lower strength human players, which for obvious reasons were much more prone to error than modern opinions based on the evaluations of ~3500 strength engines. Now that we have different types of engines (i.e. NNs and traditional A/B engines) that play with very similar styles evaluations are even more robust. Opening theory is still far from being solved and we have much to learn, but at this point it would be foolish to dispute the classification of the Grunfeld as a top-tier defence on a par with the NID, QGD or Slav; the days when such seemingly established openings as the KID can be so thoroughly re-assessed are over.

  20. @Jack Hughes
    It depends on exactly what you mean by “not quite as good”. I imagine that all of those moves will ultimately hold a draw with perfect play; on the other hand, some lines are more equal than others. In general, an exclam just means that according to the author’s understanding of the best information available at the time, as well as his personal taste to some degree, he regards that move as the best bet for Black to go for in a practical (and often correspondence) game, for some combination of the reasons I already mentioned. I won’t narrow the definition of the exclam any further, as each of those variations you mentioned has its own individual characteristics, and also because – despite having edited the book and having a decent grasp of what the author was thinking – it’s still not for me to explain in intricate detail exactly what the exclam signifies in one case as opposed to another.

  21. A Super Talent

    To each their own I’d say, but the Benoni is perhaps underestimated by the majority of the top. Only Grischuk and Caruana have had the nerve to try the main lines of the Modern Benoni at the top, and produced fantastically oscillating struggles. In general one can understand why the top refuse to play such an opening on a regular basis – the inherent unbalanced struggle for a win is not something to be done unless you desperately need a win, and as Gashimov showed until his untimely death, the Benoni is a 100 percent sound option, if strategically a bit suspect.

    I can agree with this. The Grunfeld too has never really produced brilliant results in the recent World Championship matches atleast – as far as my knowledge goes Anand tested Carlsen a lot in their match in 2014, and at the very top MVL sometimes struggles for equality. A lot of that has got to do with how masterfully the top 10 handle space advantages, so in that respect I prefer the Benoni – Black is not giving up the center fully.

    @Andrew Greet
    I would be interested to know what you think about the the reason Black scores poorly in the Grunfeld in the matches of the highest calibre – take Kasparov as an example – he has suffered in the Grunfeld against Karpov and Kramnik.

  22. @middlewave
    When a top player plays an opening, the lower players in the world try to copy cat it. Like the Berlin back in 2000.

    Kasparov was a heavy advocate of the Modern Benoni in the 80s, particularly the first half of the 80s.

  23. @Andrew Greet
    Speaking as a King’s Indian player myself (just to show I’m not being biased), I just find it difficult to classify any Fianchetto defense as Top Tier at the GM Level because the Fianchetto itself already creates a Hook for the opponent on the Kingside. The safest pawn structure to have in front of your king is one that is not damaged (e.g. f7-g7-h7 or f2-g2-h2).

    I play the King’s Indian because I understand it better and am more comfortable playing it than any other defense to 1.d4, but if I was regularly playing 2700 players, I’d probably be looking to master the Nimzo-Indian or a 1…d5 defense. Something that doesn’t create a hook on the side that my King is likely to be residing.

    You’re a GM and I’m a mere Expert, so clearly you know more than I do, but was just exposing my mentality, which I’m certain is severely flawed! 🙂

  24. @Andrew Greet
    That’s a fair point – views on what is ‘best’ can definitely come down to how one understands the term. One of my absolute favourite features of Vigorito’s recent book on the Najdorf was the commentary he provided on lines he wasn’t recommend – see for example the free extract on the English Attack. Does Kovalchuk take the same approach, especially awarding potentially controversial exclams?

  25. @Patrick
    In my opinion this is a bit too simplistic. By the same reasoning you could also argue that white openings such as the Catalan or Fianchetto variations against the KID, Grunfeld and Dutch create a hook and therefore are worse than e.g. the QID or Ruy Lopez for white. Which is obviously not the case. Or you could say the Najdorf or the Svehsnikov must be unsound because black creates a hole on d5. I think chess is too concrete a game for these generalisations to apply. The Grunfeld is absolutely a first tier opening, on par with the Nimzo, QID and Slav. It is not for nothing that many top players avoid the Grunfeld with white. It might very well not be to your taste, but that’s a different thing.

  26. @Patrick
    How many games of Kasparov can you actually point out, from that first half of the 80s for example, where Kasparov did play the Modern Benoni with Black? (because he did score a couple of famous wins against it with White, vs Suba and Nunn). Everyone knows the 1982 Korchnoi game, but you know, Gary did play a lot of chess in those days, the percentage of Benoni games was very small (and half of these few games were certainly unavailable outside the USSR for a long time back then).
    Anyway, the Benoni never was ‘popular’ at top level, by any definition or stretch of the imagination, and Kasparov never was “a heavy advocate”. Which of course doesn’t matter at all, but just serves to say that there can be no comparison about the fates of the two openings (Benoni & Gruenfeld); they’re just in different solar systems.
    Of course, this is not judgment on their respective strengths and merits; only on statistics.

  27. @Jack Hughes
    I think many of us are overreacting to this exclam business and take things too seriously…

    Keep in mind that the author, any author, is trying to convey things to you, which include his feelings, his excitement, his fears and so on; and he has no other means to do so, except written language (and emojis – maybe that’s the solution!).
    It is clear from the writing style that the author has NOT conducted a 5-year PhD dissertation to conclude that 7…a6 is mathematically proven as the best move; just as it is clear, from both a historical and an analytical perspective, that 7…a6 is a very good move – if not the best or equal best. The author likes it more than the others, for various reasons, and thus has chosen to propose it; and he uses this exclam to convey to us, the readers, his emphatic preference for this move.
    Where is the problem with that? Should we prosecute him for making ‘unsubstantiated claims’? He’s just trying to get a message through to you!

  28. @middlewave
    I apologise if my message came across the wrong way. To make myself clear: I am absolutely not ‘prosecuting’ Kovalchuk for his use of exclams, nor would I expect a 5-year PhD thesis on his use of them. I am only asking these questions because I am very curious about it, and in particular would like to know how he backs up their use. Authors may vary in how they do this.
    In some cases it will be just one sentence saying it’s a personal preference. On the other it can be an indicator that the author will provide one or two lines accompanied by an explanation of why he doesn’t like the alternatives. There is nothing especially wrong with the former, but in my view the latter is one of those qualities that helps mark off a truly first rate opening monograph from the rest of the pack: I want to know if Kovalchuk does this because I want to know how excited I should be, not whether I should condemn him for his personal preferences.

  29. In the Grunfeld, from recent practice, it seems black has problem defending his king after the Nf6 being exchanged and direct attack with h4.

  30. @Jack Hughes
    In certain cases (e.g. 7…a6! against the Russian System) Alexey says nothing about the alternatives; in others (e.g. 9…Nc6! against the Nf3/Rb1 line) he does say why he is not so keen on the alternatives – he doesn’t go into great detail, but does give a specific reason why he rejected one popular continuation. That’s the last I will say about exclamation marks.

  31. @Patrick

    You’ve called me a GM – I’m flattered, but I am of course just a lowly IM. A few people have responded about the Benoni/Grunfeld discussion and I have nothing further to add to that. Regarding the kingside fianchetto, yes you could say it presents White with a hook, but on the other hand it could be argued that the f7-g6-h7 structure is the most robust possible set-up against other types of attacks, especially with the bishop on g7 being close to the king. But really, such sweeping generalisations are anything but helpful at move 3 in the opening! Sometimes the fianchetto is great, other times it can fall under attack, and everything depends on specific details. The Grunfeld holds up extremely well when it comes to the specific details, as readers of this book will discover.

  32. @middlewave

    80s was a guestimate. It’s late 70s thru early 80s. He had Black in all of these. White, year, and result listed:

    Zaid – 1977 – Lost
    Lapienis – 1978 – Drawn
    Tukmakov – 1978 – Drawn
    Magerramov – 1979 (Twice) – Won 1, Lost 1
    Beliavsky – 1979 – Lost
    Yusupov – 1980 – Drawn
    Grigorian – 1980 – Won
    Garcia Martinez – 1980 – Won
    Portisch – 1981 (Twice) – Both Drawn
    Gulko – 1981 – Lost
    Korchnoi – 1982 – Won
    Bach – 1984(Simul) – Won
    Schmidt – 1986 – Won

    And then he played it twice in 1994, winning both.

  33. @Patrick
    Still, I don’t follow your reasoning. Your question was whether whether the Grunfeld is really a sound opening or whether it was just a matter of fashion. Then you gave examples of other openings which were once fashionable but have fallen out of favour (such as the Modern Benoni). But this doesn’t proof anything about the Grunfeld, it’s a false argument. And besides, the Grunfeld has been popular at the highest level for a very very long time, so it’s hardly justified to call it ‘fahionable’ in the first place. So if anything, the Modern Benoni haven fallen in disuse while the Grunfeld after all these years is still popular at the highest levels, is a strong indication that the latter is more sound than the former. Of course, always keeping in mind that is the current state of theory.

  34. @Ray
    Ray, While your reasoning about the Grunfeld is correct, I respectfully disagree with your comments on the Modern Benoni. If you consult the modern computers, they stupidly claim that White is much better, because they are computers, not the Gods, who have been programmed to see only the weakness on g6 and the space advantage White has.
    However, this is far from the truth. Yes, The Benoni is strategically suspect, but it compensates for this with amazing tactical opportunities that I am yet to see in any other Black defense to 1.d4.
    The whole reason people don’t play this variation at the top is due to primarily two reasons:
    1. Players there care a lot about the computer evaluations, and apart from the main lines their knowledge about chess is sometimes surprisingly limited by dogma. So they are happy to draw and keep their ratings intact.
    2. While the Benoni is sound as a practical and theoretical choice, it involves Black playing for two results – he wins or loses – there are rarely some draws. Due to this, it becomes impractical for the top guys to play this all the time – living on the edge is fine once in a while, but doing it daily is a disaster in the making.
    Let us take the Grunfeld itself. How many players today play it consistently, every single game, except MVL? MVL himself has lost two games against Carlsen and Nepo in positions where the computers evaluate equality quite comfortably.

    So why is it so? I suspect…

  35. @A Super Talent
    Good points! The Modern Benoni may indeed be well playable due to the tactical chances (I believe Nunn once called it ‘one big swindle’ or something similar 🙂 ). And indeed many top GMs may be risk averse. It might be that these openings are more prone to specific ‘one-game’ home preparation by white, because black is living on the edge. But anyway, this would even more support the point that ‘Fianchetto Defences’ are perfectly playable.

  36. @A Super Talent
    I’m really confused by your second reason. Why would low drawing rate be a reason for top players to avoid an opening? If their main goal in choosing openings is to maximise their expected score while playing them, and I can’t imagine what else it would be, then shouldn’t this mean going for some lines with lower drawing potential when doing so is justified by the increase in winning potential? I would have even thought that this fact helps to explain some modern trends in opening theory (e.g. preference for 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 over 3… Bd7, 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Nf3 Bb4+ over 4… Be7, or 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 h6 over 5… dxc4). I would have thought that a low drawing tendency would only be a disincentive to play an opening if it were judged that the increase in winning potential is outweighed by the increased losing potential. Do you disagree with this?

  37. @Michael
    A very good point. The only real exception to this would be the Nimzo-Indian, but that’s mainly because 3. Nf3 is just a lot more popular than 3. Nc3 at top level these days. In fact if you cut out the Nimzo I would suspect that the Grunfeld is the very next opening on the list! Not only MVL but also Nepomniachtchi and (if he still counts) Svidler are more loyal to the Grunfeld than just about any top player is to their Classical QGD, Ragozin or Semi-Slav.

  38. A Super Talent

    @Jack Hughes
    I think there is too much of potential in your message! Ok I was fooling around with that. The main reason I think you didn’t understand what I really meant.
    When you play a top 10/top 20 player, he very rarely commits mistakes. Thus, your winning chances are anyway quite low, especially if you are a tempo down as black. Now, when you toss your QGD and Slav, and head for a Grunfeld or Benoni, you are statistically increasing your winning chances, but as a converse your losing chances increase as well.
    Players at the top are separated by only 10s of rating points. A loss due to a miss will cost them a lot of rating relatively, and thus even if they get better chances of winning, they choose to avoid openings that can cost them dearly. Due to the increased accuracy of the top guys, one mistake in the Grunfeld or the Benoni or the KID and you are finished – it is as simple as that.
    If I have to summarize this – top players tend to go for lines that have a high draw percentage, but enough complexity that they can play for two results – a draw or a win, thus keeping their rating intact. Thus openings like the Indian Defenses are very rarely played. As Ray said, these defenses are also susceptible to one game ideas a lot more than regular symmetrical openings, as they are relatively less explored these days.
    With regards to all the lines you have mentioned, it seems to me that they have a better theoretical repute not because…

  39. @A Super Talent
    I’m generally happy to let you guys debate this kind of thing among yourselves but will just offer one counter-point to what you’ve said about a single mistake being more costly in a sharp opening. Although there is some truth in what you’ve said, I get the impression that some top players favour certain sharp openings precisely because the ‘concrete’ nature of the play lends itself to long, relatively forcing lines which can be accurately analysed by a computer all the way to a forced draw (for instance by perpetual check) or easily holdable endgame. A good example is the Marshall Attack, which used to be considered a sharp attacking weapon but has since acquired a drawish reputation. Also certain sharp lines of the Najdorf may look horrifyingly risky and the cost of a mistake would be sky-high, but to someone who’s analysed it thoroughly it’s just a draw.
    To summarise, if your goal is to ‘kill the game’ with Black by preparing your way to a draw, then you have more chance of achieving it by playing a ‘risky’ opening (due to the high number of long, forcing lines) than with a ‘safe’ opening leading to a small but manageable disadvantage where the opponent can keep the game going.

  40. Yes, this style of chess – looking for ways to kill the game to a draw by means of deep preparation – is anathema to me as well. However, the discussion was specifically about opening choices at the elite level.

  41. @A Super Talent
    To be honest with you I’m still really confused here. I get that top players really want to decrease as much as possible the number of games that they lose, but I would have thought that they would be equally concerned with increasing the number of games that they win. If that assumption is correct, then riskier openings will only be rejected in cases where the increase in losses is greater than the coincident increase in wins. In such cases it seems quite reasonable to me to conclude that the risky opening is just less sound than the higher scoring but more drawish solid one. Susceptibility to one game surprise weapons in sharp openings is a good point, but it doesn’t stop openings like the Grunfeld, QGD Vienna, Najdorf, or Marshall Attack from being very popular at top level.
    Another thing that puzzles me is that you seem to be listing the Grunfeld alongside the Benoni and King’s Indian as a type of opening that top players tend to avoid, but empirically this doesn’t seem to be the case at all: the Grunfeld is an absolute staple of elite level chess!

  42. I think when debating why the elite (which I would define roughly as 2730+) pick certain openings we should remember they are not like most of us. It is a safe assumption they know almost everything about the openings they play and rarely make tactical errors. So an opening like the Benoni (“one big swindle”) just doesn’t work at that level. Or at any rate, while it may work once or twice, certainly not more than that. Maybe once you can play it and do well based on the surprise value, but the next time your opponent will be prepared for you, play all the best lines, and you’ll spend a long, painful day struggling to get a draw. Not a fun day at the office!

  43. Indeed good to note that this whole discussion is not relevant below elite level (let alone amateur level such as myself). At these levels just about any opening is fully playable, and you can play whatever suits your taste best.

  44. @Jack Hughes
    To play an opening like the Benoni, one needs nerves of steel sometimes. It always seems as if Black is losing to an e5 break, but he somehow drums up enough counterplay, and the game balances out.
    It is similar with the KID as well – your queenside is slaughtered, and you have to sacrifice piece after piece to land a perpetual check or swindle your opponent into a drawn or lost position.
    It’s probably somewhat easier with the Grunfeld, but not as much easier, as Black still has to be extremely precise – MVL has found this out the hard way after his losses to Nepo and Carlsen recently.
    I think that the main reason they don’t play the Modern Benoni regularly has a lot to do with the 1 game surprise weapons and their general tendency to prefer conservative openings to risky ones.

    @Paul Massie
    I disagree with you. True, I wouldn’t bet against their knowledge in the QGD and the Ruy Lopez, but with regards to the Benoni or the KID I don’t really feel that it is about understanding. I would not go so far as to call them chicken or something really harsh, but I think that once you are settled in life your ambition level drops, and you want to maintain some high level you have reached.
    Also, the risk-reward balance for openings like the Benoni and the KID tends to lean to the former – you can win but you can lose if you make one stupid move, whereas the same balance is tilted towards the…

  45. @Paul Massie
    Huge respect to Dr.John Nunn, but calling an opening one big swindle is perhaps a bit harsh and judgemental – we must understand the context of the comment before understanding the comment itself. This probably comes from a time when the 4 Pawns and the Flick Knife was dominating top players, but today in 2020 these lines are as dangerous for White as they are for Black. I recently checked out an interesting survey by an Indian Author on the subject in CBM 192, and if whatever he claims is true, then the Benoni is reborn in the computer era, as he as managed to neutralise the 4 Pawns attack and the Flick Knife attack.

  46. Paul H :
    Is the book still on track for the 25th?

    Yes, ‘Playing the Grunfeld’ still planned for the 25th – all shipping of books seems to be on schedule, despite everything. Of course I don’t know what is happening at everyone’s local chess shop.

  47. I picked up the book on Forward Chess and I must say that it is excellent. Kovalchuk’s writing is entertaining and thorough. Great work, guys.

    joflo :
    Will the line with h4 (Caruana-Nepo Rd. 3) be covered?

    Kovalchuk reaches the position with 14.Rc1 e6 (instead of 14…Na5) by transposition. I haven’t analyzed the Fabi – Nepo game, but one advantage of going …e6 and …Qe7 rather than Nepo’s …Qd7 is that it discourages this h4 business.

  48. @joflo
    I’ve just looked up the game (from round 4, for what it’s worth). I don’t have the final version of the book available to check (due to working from home); but if I remember correctly, when White meets 10…b6! with the kind of slow build-up chosen by Caruana in that game, Alexey recommends …e6 as part of Black’s plans, so the quick h2-h4 is not really an option for White as the queen will take it.

  49. Haha looks like I typed my reply just as Dunc’s comment was being approved! Nice to see that my memory still occasionally works okay.

  50. @Thomas
    Yes, and although we’re only talking about two games in this tournament, it’s noticeable that neither Caruana nor Wang Hao opted for the main line of 11.dxc5, which is a pretty encouraging sign that Black is holding up fine in all the critical lines there.
    I’m sure Alexey covers this 11.h4 move in the book, as the …Qh4 idea looks familiar. I can’t recall the details of where this game deviates from the book. If I remember correctly there are certain lines where Black can follow up with …Qh8 to increase the pressure against d4 – a nice geometric motif showing the power and mobility of the queen.

  51. It is probably to early to ask, and this is definitely not the most creative question, but in content there is mentioned: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 ….. is 5.e3 (move with best score in online DB) covered?

  52. FWIW – I’ve been going through the book on ForwardChess and it’s very good. I consider this one of the very best opening books I’ve seen. Now I’m looking forward to the next book he does…

  53. Kovalchuk’s book is outstanding – but still, there is an ugly omission.

    In the Nadanian line (5.Na4) he gives 5.-e5!?.
    There is no mention of 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Na4, when e5 is not possible anymore.

  54. Kinghartattack

    This is a brilliant book, I particularly like the extent of verbal explanation/assessment combined with the analysis. Is there a book recommendation for Black repertoire against 1.d4 sidelines (such as the London and Tromp). I have the Quality Chess book on Beating Minor Openings, but currently have a gap for d4 sidelines.

  55. Thomas – sorry I only just noticed your comment. It’s true that 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Na4 should have been mentioned. However, there is an easy fix: 6…Nf6 transposes to the 5.Na4 Nf6!? 6.Nf3 Bg7 line which is given as a promising alternative to 5…e5.

    Kinghartattack – thanks for the positive comments. GM Repertoire 11 by Avrukh covers exactly the topic you are looking for.

  56. Kinghartattack

    Thanks Andrew and Ray. But Avrukh’s book on 1.d4 sidelines was written in 2012 and there has been a lot of activity in these lines since then. Is an update planned for this book please as I am worried it would now be too dated.

  57. @Kinghartattack
    I have the Avrukh d4 Sidelines book. I would think you are probably correct in thinking that it has dated over the last 8 years. This is the same for every chess opening book though so it isn’t a criticism of this book specifically. For example, the Trompowsky treatment I don’t think would be the same if they were to re-write the book today.

    However, the framework of the book and the way the lines are presented (to cover 1..d5, 1..Nf6/2..e6 and 1..Nf6/2..g6 players is excellent.


  58. We currently have no plans for an updated GM 11. Avrukh has a habit of recommending strong moves, and for most of the sidelines covered in this book, a good move from 2012 is still good today. It’s true that in a few of the more critical lines, new ideas have cropped up for White. But still, I don’t know of a better source that covers this topic – especially as he covers all White’s set-ups from the perspective of 1…d5, 1…Nf6/2…e6 and 1…Nf6/2…g6.

  59. I have GM repertoire 8 and 9 on the Grunfeld written by Avrukh. These are great books and I think nearly all lines are still holding up well, at least at my level. My concerns are:

    1. Line against 3.f3 (9.-f5) is in some trouble.

    2. Line in the Russian variation 7.-Nc6 8.Be2, Bg4 is doing very badly for black at the moment.

    Otherwise I think black is ok in all lines. Still at my level (around 2400) this is ok. For the guys >2600 this it is not ok I think.

    I use the grunfeld as my solid option against 1.d4 since honestly some lines are rather drawish which comes from the rather open and forced lines with a lot of exchanges. When a win is necessary I prefer the KID or the Leningrad Dutch.

    Against 1.e4 the Sicilian and Caro-kann is used. The Caro as the solid option.
    By the way when do you thibk Schandorrfs new book on the Caro-kann will be out?

  60. @Ray

    I have not decided to buy it yet. What does he recommend against 4.Bf4 and 4. Bg5?
    Is the book better than Avrukhs double volume?

  61. Against 4.Bf4, it’s 4…Bg7 and …0-0 (rather than rushing with …c5).
    Against 4.Bg5, it’s 4…Bg7, offering a pawn sac.

    Avrukh did a wonderful job at the time as he always does, but theory moves on and the new book benefits from being much more up-to-date. For instance, in the critical Bc4/Ne2 main line, 10…b6! was not even regarded as a serious move when Avrukh’s books were published, but nowadays it’s the main weapon of MVL and other leading players.

    There are many other examples but the bottom line is that if I was a Grunfeld player, I would buy Kovalchuk’s book in a heartbeat and think of it as The Bible.

  62. I’m a bit surprised, that the Grunfeld seems to in good shape, in all Grunfeld games in the Candidates 2020 Black was all the time under severe pressure.

    1. Jacob Aagaard

      Giri’s planned novelty was great. I analysed it and my friend Renier Castellanos showed it to the students of Nepomniachtchi is not a member, which is partially why he lost in 17 moves to Anand to the idea Giri clearly had intended against MVL.

  63. @Andrew Greet

    Thanks for the information and for the advice. Somehow I like the variation with early c5 against 4.Bf4 better. On the other hand I like 4.Bg5, Bg7. I think I will look in the book in a book store when they open after the Corona situation has changed to the better. Will decide later if I will buy it. There is no doubt that the book is great. It is just a matter if I like most of the variations.

  64. Benjamin Fitch

    Two of the three books under discussion have available a preview of the table of contents plus a sample. The third (obviously not from QC) has neither. Personally, I don’t buy books completely blind any more than I would enter into an arranged marriage with someone I’d never met. (No offense to anyone who is currently in such a marriage; it’s a matter of personal preference.)

  65. Another line I’m missing in Kovalchuk’s book is 5.e3 in the fianchetto line, which was played by many 2700+ players, starting with Kramnik against Gelfand in the 2013 candidates.

  66. @Benjamin Fitch
    I’m not against blind dates, but buying an opening book without any hint of its contents is indeed a bridge too far. I guess you’re referring to the Thinkers Publishing book.

  67. Ray :
    I guess you’re referring to the Thinkers Publishing book.

    There is a preview for that book, they call it “Teaser”.


    Well there’s first review of Kovalchuks book on Niggemann site by Lennart Quante (Elo 2079):

    1. CONTRA:

    – “Auch in der oft empfohlenen Fianchettovariante ………., bedauerlich ist lediglich, dass die – zugegebenermaßen “kleine“ Neuerung aus Christof Sieleckis Weißrepertoire “Keep it simple 1.d4“ noch nicht Einzug in das Buch gehalten hat – einige andere Weißrepertoirebücher wie Korneevs d4 Reihe oder auch die omnipräsenten Avrukh Werke werden aber diskutiert, sodass hier nur ein kleiner Makel entsteht.”

    – “Nach einem Einschub mit Nebenvarianten nach 4.cxd5 – hier ist die Hauptempfehlung gegen 5. Sa4 e5!? nicht ganz konsequent anwendbar, da nach 5.Sf3 Lg7 6.Sa4 e5 nicht mehr möglich ist, allerdings ist Zugumstellung in Kovalchuks Zweitempfehlung 6 … Sf6 spielbar……..”

    2. PRO:

    – “………kann ich das Buch jedem Grünfeldfan sehr empfehlen. Als Einstiegslektüre ist die Tiefe der angegebenen Varianten sicherlich zu ausführlich…….. Aus der eigenen Praxis habe ich die Erfahrung gemacht, dass Grünfeldspieler oft als fanatische Theorieexperten gesehen werden und wirklich kritische Varianten auf gehobenem Clubniveau um DWZ 2100 noch sehr selten erprobt werden………..”

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