The Grunfeld Defense is not only one of the most popular but also one of the best chess openings for Black against 1.d4. It’s characterized by the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 (see the diagram on the right).
Many lines in the Grunfeld Defense promise Black more active play than in most other openings. Black is able to enter unbalanced positions which allow him to aim for more than just equality.
The Grunfeld Defense has been frequently played by the best grandmasters of the past – Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov (in their many World Championship Matches against each other), Bobby Fischer (famously in his Game of the Century), and Alexey Shirov.
It is still regularly played by nearly all the leading grandmasters today – Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Peter Svidler, Vishy Anand, Maxime-Vachier Lagrave, Boris Gelfand and many more.
However, when talking about the Grunfeld Defense, one chess player stands out. Super-GM Peter Svidler is arguably the world’s leading expert in the Grunfeld Defense.
Since the 1990s, the eight-time Russian Chess Champion has contributed plenty of ideas and variations to the development of the Grunfeld Defense. Peter himself calls the Grunfeld his pet opening and has never abandoned it as one of his main weapons with Black against 1.d4 for more than 20 years. He constantly plays this opening against the world’s best players – with tremendous success.
So, who better to learn this opening from than the chess heavyweight Peter Svidler (2756 Elo)?. Let’s take a look at what he tells us in the video.
Grunfeld Defense – Exchange Variation (7.Bc4 and 8.Ne2)
Peter starts by looking at the Exchange variation. It arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 (see the diagram on the left).
Before continuing with more theoretical moves, let’s take a quick look at the position and evaluate the position by examining the pawn structure.
At first glance, it seems like White has excellent control of the center and Black was way too passive in the opening. White was able to achieve the e4-d4-c3-pawn formation, completely controlling the center.
Jonathan Rowson hits the nail on the head when he jokingly wrote in his excellent book “Understanding the Grunfeld”: “If Philidor’s view that ‘Pawns are the soul of chess’ is to be believed, then I think we can say that Black’s soul is more grounded than White’s here, though White has lived a little more deliberately.”
However, Black allowed that to happen because he has a plan for undermining White’s central pawns. The Grunfeld Defense is a hypermodern chess opening. This means that Black does not try to control the center early on with his pawns but spends some time on fianchettoing his dark-squared bishop and only then attacks the center with his pieces.
To put it into a simple formula: Black first leaves the center to White and then tries to conquer it back due to his better development.
With this knowledge in mind, it’s easier to understand the following moves:
6…Bg7 Black Fianchettos his bishop which points at the central square d4. 7. Bc4The bishop on c4 is actively placed, but also vulnerable to an attack by the Black pieces.
7…c5 Black can’t leave the center to White for long. He needs to rely on several pawn breaks against White’s center. With White’s pawn on d4, the move …c5 is one of the most typical pawn breaks.
8. Ne2 (see the diagram on the right) White develops the knight and protects pawn on d4. He brings the knight to e2 instead of the more active square f3 in order to prevent the nasty pin …Bg4. Moreover, the f-pawn is free to advance and in some lines, White can create a kingside initiative.
8…Nc6 Black puts more pressure on the center 9.Be3 0-0 (9…cxd4!? 10.cxd4 Qa5+ is an interesting alternative which Peter Svidler mentions in the video. After 11.Bd2, Black retreats his queen to d8, threatening the d4-pawn. If Black wants to avoid an immediate repetition, he needs to bring his dark-squared bishop to c3 instead of e3. This leads to quite unusual play.)
10. 0-0 (see the diagram on the left). We have reached a key position from the Exchange Grunfeld Defense. White has put together the strongest possible defense of the d-pawn.
Black has many ways to continue here.
For several decades, Black automatically played 10…Bg4 11.f3 11. …Na5 (see the diagram on the right).
However, as Peter Svidler points out, White can either reply with 12.Bxf7+ Rxf7 13.fxg4 Rxf1+ 14.Kxf1 or 12.Bd3 cxd4 13.cxd4 Be6 14.d5, both leading to very forced play. Although Black should be fine in both lines, he has to remember a huge amount of theory and precise moves in order to get a draw.
Nowadays, Black usually sticks to other variations after 10.0-0. One interesting line is the pawn sacrifice 10…b6 11.dxc5 Qc7, which Peter Svidler used in a game against Magnus Carlsen in 2011 and soon achieved a better position.
Peter also tells you about the line 10…Na5 11.Bd3 b6 (see the diagram on the left) which he spontaneously invented at the chessboard in a game against Veselin Topalov in Linares, due to jetlag issues.
If you want to hear Peter’s whole story about this line and finally know which line he recommends to play against this setup, you definitely need to watch the whole video.
The Russian Super-GM gives you in-depth insights into all the variations and shows you the really critical lines you need to be booked up with.
Master the Grunfeld Defense with Super-GM Peter Svidler
If you’ve been looking for a new weapon against 1.d4 or want to understand this opening at a much deeper level then you’ll benefit from watching The Grunfeld According to Svidler, a superb 12-hour course covering all the main lines, key sidelines and model games. Check out The Grundeld According to Svidler with 35% off.
Other articles that may interest you:
- Grunfeld Defense – The Definitive Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening
- Master The Grunfeld with US Chess Champion Sam Shankland
- Best Chess Openings for Beginners: The Definitive Guide