A review of The Safest Grunfeld by Alexander Delchev and Evgenij Agrest

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

The Safest Grunfeld
By Alexander Delchev and Evgenij Agrest
Chess Stars, April 2011
ISBN: 9789548782814

The Grunfeld Defence is a dynamic opening which has been played by several world champions, not least the current incumbent, Anand. Bobby Fischer himself used it to good effect, notably in two brilliant victories against the Byrne brothers, Donald (1956) and Robert (1963). One reason for such high-level advocacy is that the opening is very testing for White: Black’s active, centralised pieces are often fiendishly threatening and the play can become very sharp, very fast.

In this book, the authors provide a repertoire based around the Grunfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) and, as well as 3.Nc3, they also look at the Fianchetto Variation (3.g3) and the Anti-Grunfeld (3.f3), against which they recommend the rare 3…Nc6. They also look at the Grunfeld when played versus the English opening (1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5) and a few off-beat, SOS lines like the Barry Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4).

You could argue that the title is paradoxical or unintentionally ironic, since the Grunfeld is, by its very nature almost, an opening that is dangerous for both sides. It’s uncertain whether White’s pawn superiority in the centre will turn out to be a strength or a liability. But what’s meant by ‘safest’ here are those lines that are relatively straightforward, positionally based and, insofar as is possible, not dependent on long forcing tactical variations to make them viable. These lines are ‘safest’ because there’s less possibility of them being refuted out right.

Usually, the authors give two Black options versus each White system: one main line and one line as back-up. I’d query one of their back-up lines. Against the Russian System, they recommend an early advance of the e-pawn (4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0-0 7.e4 Nc6 8.Be2 e5!?) and seem to believe that it was first played in Carlsen-Dominguez, Sofia 2009, which they describe as ‘the stem game’; this is on page 167. In fact, the move was played as long ago as 1965. After 9.d5 Nd4 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Qxd4 c6, Uhlmann played 12.Qc4 against Shamkovich (instead of Carlsen’s 12.d6) and came away with an advantage. But their other back-up recommendations seem, to my mind, fairly sound.

As with the majority of opening books from Chess Stars, each separate system is covered in three sections: ‘Main Ideas’ gives you an outline of what’s to come, looks at some strategic themes and typical tactical motifs, and presents a few classic games: it gives you the gist; ‘Step by Step’ gives you the gen, the detailed must-know information; finally, ‘Complete Games’ gives you an opportunity to see the opening in operation, into the middlegame and through to the endgame.

Overall, this is another excellent opening offering from Chess Stars.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com