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The Grünfeld Defence Revealed (Book review)

The term chess variations has different meanings. For most readers of the Chess Variant Pages (, chess variations are board games that are not chess, but related, i.e., some variation of, chess. Others attach to the term the meaning of a variation in the opening theory of the `orthodox' chess. I must admit that I know more of the former type of chess variations than of the latter. In my weekly game in the local chess club I am a member of (the Houtense Schaak Vereniging), I'm usually happy when I come unharmed through the opening of the game, avoiding theoretical pitfalls. In some other games, I tell myself that I should perhaps do some serious studying of the openings in chess - my not doing so is one of the reasons that my chess playing strength stays on the mediocre level as it is currently.

Thus, I may not be the perfect choice of a person to review an advanced book on opening theory. When the Sterling Publishing company was kind enough to send me several books for reviewing, I noticed that two of which were on opening theory of chess, and I wondered how to make a proper review of it. Well, here you read the attempt. One of these books was the book The Grünfeld Defence Revealed by Michael Khodarkovsky. The Grünfeld Defence is a specific type of chess opening, and this book is for the advanced chess player that wants to understand this opening better.

I hope that the other members of the Houtense Schaak Vereniging do not read this: I hate it when I'm black and my opponent starts the game with d4, i.e., when he advances the pawn before the queen two squares. There are several pitfalls for the black player, often leading to a significantly weaker position for black after the opening. Playing d5 (advacing the black pawn before the queen two squares) usually makes white play 2. c5. This is called the Queens gambit. Black can take the pawn on c5, but that gives a position where white has several attack possibilities, often leading to a position where white both recaptures the sacrificed pawn and gets a much stronger position. (At least, that happens in my games.) So, many chess players (including me) may want to have some plan, different from answering with d5 when white starts with d4. One of these possible plans is playing the Grünfeld defence.

The Grünfeld defence is an opening that was first played by Ernst Grünfeld in 1921. The opening starts as follows. After 1.d4, white moves his knight from g8 to f6. White plays (for example) c4 (getting a firm grip on the centre), and black moves his pawn from g7 to g6. (There are some variations where white makes a different move here.)

The pawn move enables to later play Bg7, giving the bishop a good attack on the centre. Suppose white plays Nb1-c3. Now, in the Grünfeld defence, black plays d7-d5, i.e., he now advances his queen pawn two squares.

This is what is the start of the Grünfeld defence. One can notice that the position gets complicated already after three moves of the game. Often white has the centre, but black has a firm attack on the centre.

For the expert chess player, the above explanation may be shallow and trivial, and I hope they forgive me for it. Now, when reading the book, I wondered: would it be a good idea for a chess player like me to take the Grünfeld defence in my repertoire of chess openings? After reading the book, I think it is not. In many of the positions that result from the Grünfeld, the chances for white and black are somewhat even, but often the type of position for white is more to my taste (and limited chess talent) than the position for black. For other players, the Grünfeld may be a good option. From the book, it is clear to me the positions coming from the opening usually will lead to interesting and complicated positions, with lots of possibilities, both for white and for black - so, at least, with the Grünfeld, your game will not likely be a dull one.

The book by International Master Michael Khodarkovsky gives a lot of information on this opening. Readers find in the book the main moves and reasons behind these moves explained, and in particular, they find several annotated games with the Grünfeld. The book contains eight chapters. The first one, called First Steps explains the basic ideas of the opening. The next four chapters, filling more than hundred of the 175 pages of the book, give annotated games, some giving particularly brilliant games, some giving modern lines in the theory of the opening, and some giving games with some of the traps that the opening hides. In the chapter Test Your Skill, fourteen positions arising from the Grünfeld defence are given where the reader has to find a winning continuation. The next chapter gives clearly described solutions to the problems. The last chapter Details gives a systematic overview of different branches in the opening; in this chapter, moves are given without commentaries.

Here are a few observations I made about the book. What I liked about this book is the clear way the author describes the ideas behind the moves. While one needs a certain level of chess skill to indeed use these ideas in ones own games, a mediocre chess player like me can at least follow and understand the ideas behind the openings, and understand why these moves are made by the expert players as they are. I noticed that other opening books have a more methodical setup. In many chess opening books, first all different lines starting with one type of moves are described, and then of the next one, branching like a tree the most important possibilities. Here, the ordering of the annotated games is more thematic: brilliant games, strategy, modern ideas, pitfalls. Games are usually given till completion. I also noticed that the book is somewhat short; for instance, the other chess opening book I received for reviewing (French Defence 3Nd2 by Lev Psakhis) is only about 1.5 times as expensive but seems to contain at least five times as much text.

Players of a mediocre chess level like me better learn chess opening theory from books that are more basic. For the expert chess players that want to know what to do with the Grünfeld defence in their games, this book may be a good addition to their chess library.

The Grünfeld Defence Revealed
Michael Khodarkovsky
B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York
ISBN 0 7134 8827 1
175 pages

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WWW page created: December 21, 2003.