The Grunfeld Defense is a Queen’s Pawn Opening beginning with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5
After black’s first two moves, it looks as though black might play the King’s Indian Defense by following up with …Bg7, …d6, and …0-0. Instead, black’s early …d5 pawn thrust constitutes the Grunfeld Defense.
Often, it’s not a good idea for white to play an early …d5, unsupported by a friendly pawn, when white’s c-pawn is already on c4. For example, after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d5?!, white gets an advantage with 3. cxd5. After black recaptures with 3…Nxd5, their knight will be kicked away with a later e4 and have to retreat. White controls the full center.
In the Grunfeld defense, however, black waits until white puts their knight on c3 before playing 3…d5, and this makes a big difference! Let’s see what happens if white builds a big center by taking the d5 pawn:
5…Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7
Now we see black’s idea! White controls the full center, but black is ready to strike back with …c5 next turn and generate a lot of pressure on the d4 pawn. If this pawn moves, the g7 bishop becomes a monster along the long diagonal.
One of the main lines continues 7. Nf3 c5 8. Be3 Qa5 9. Qd2 Nc6
Black’s getting a lot of pressure against white’s pawns! The d4, c3, and a2 pawns could all be considered targets.
After 10. Rc1 0-0, black wants to follow up with …Rd8 and increase the pressure even more. White often plays 11. d5, and now after for example 11…Rd8 12. Be2 e6:
Black begins chipping away at white’s center.
Sometimes white will put their kingside knight on e2, rather than f3, in the Grunfeld Defense. This leaves the path of the f-pawn clear to possibly advance and bolster white’s center.
For example, let’s consider the line 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 c5 8. Ne2:
White develops the light-squared bishop actively to c4 before coming to e2 with the knight.
Play might continue 8…Nc6 9. Be3 0-0 10. 0-0 Bg4 (black knows that white will kick this bishop away, but black would like to provoke the potentially-weakening f3 move!) 11. f3 Na5!
Throwing in this in-between move has become popular, attacking the c4 bishop.
After 12. Bd3 cxd4 13. cxd4 Be6:
We arrive at a pretty typical situation for a Grunfeld Defense. White controls the full center, which may serve them well in a middlegame. However, black has a 2-on-1 queenside pawn majority which could be a valuable endgame asset. White’s a-pawn is also isolated and being eyed by the e6 bishop!
Putting these factors together, white’s most popular move here is 14. d5!, sacrificing the exchange. If black takes the exchange with 14…Bxa1 15. Qxa1, black’s king could become vulnerable due to the missing dark bishop – the game is sure to remain complex!
We’ve seen two examples of what can happen if white accepts black’s invitation to build a big center. But white is under no obligation to do so. This is white’s second-most-popular fourth move.
Black could play 4…c6 and offer the d-pawn some reinforcement, and play might resemble an unusual line of the Slav Defense. But the main Grunfeld move is 4…Bg7.
It’s not too late for white to return to the main lines with 5. cxd5, but white’s most popular alternative is 5. Qb3, putting pressure on the d-pawn. If black doesn’t want to play the “Slav-like” 5…c6, then black has to play 5…dxc4 and relinquish their grip of the center after 6. Qxc4
The downside of this line, from white’s perspective, is that the queen on c4 is a bit exposed and will likely have to move again.
The game can become quite sharp in this line! One popular continuation is 6…0-0 7. e4 a6 8. e5 b5
When both sides will have their chances.
The Grunfeld Defense is a complex opening – one that I would not consider very “beginner-friendly!” Playing the Grunfeld can be great practice at utilizing positional pressure and queenside pawn majorities, and dealing with an opponent’s space advantage.
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