One of the merits of the 1 Nf3 move order is that it gives White a means of side-stepping some of Black’s most awkward defences to 1 d4. Among these defences is the Gruenfeld Defence, which normally arises after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5. Contrast this with the line after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 (if 3…Bg7, then 4 e4 prevents the Gruenfeld outright). White has avoided playing d4 for the moment, which has several advantages:
- White may not want to play d4 at all
- White does not give Black an immediate target
- White saves time which can be used otherwise
We shall see all these advantages in action in what follows.
The move recommended after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 is the disruptive 4 Qa4+. This should be compared to the lines 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Qa4+ and 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Qa4+ in the Gruenfeld proper. There – as here – the idea is to get an improved version of the Russian System (4 Qb3 or 5 Qb3) by luring the Black bishop to d7, which deprives Black’s knight of that square. Unfortunately for White, Black can use the extra move …Bd7 to play …b5, gaining counterplay. In contrast, 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Qa4+ is more effective, both because White has saved a move, and also because he has not yet exposed himself with d4.
Black alternatives to 4…Bd7
Black’s main response is 4…Bd7. His other moves are less challenging:
- 4…c6 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nxd5 Qxd5 7 e4 Qd8 8 d4 Bg7 9 Be3 0-0 10 Be2 Nd7 11 Rd1 Nf6 12 Qc2 Bg4 13 0-0 gives White a comfortable edge.
- 4…Nc6 is sharper, but ultimately White seems to be better off: 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Ne5 Ndb4 7 a3 Bg7 8 axb4 Bxe5 9 b5 Nb8 10 e3 Bg7 11 d4 0-0 12 Be2 c6 13 0-0 again gives White a comfortable edge.
Black plays 6…Nc6
After 4…Bd7 5 Qb3 dxc4 6 Qxc4, Black has three main moves. The least common is 6…Nc6. White can then head back to the Gruenfeld proper with 7 d4, with Black committed to one of his less respectable systems. Play might continue 7…Bg7 8 e4 0-0 9 Bf4. Now Black can try playing actively, but this leads him into a poor position: 9…Bg4 10 d5 Nh5 11 Be3 Na5 12 Qb4 c6 13 Rd1 Bxf3 14 gxf3 Qc7 15 f4 Nf6 16 Bg2 and White has a clear advantage.
Black plays 6…Bg7
Black’s most natural choice is 6…Bg7. However, this allows White to exploit both the time he has saved on omitting d4 and also the position of the Black bishop on d7 by playing a quick e4-e5. After 7 e4, Black has a choice:
- 7…Bc6 allows White to show another facet of holding back d4, namely that White can choose to advance the pawn one square with 8 d3. Then play might continue 8…0-0 9 Be2 Nbd7 10 0-0 e5. Now Black stops, or at least discourages d4 by White, but White can develop an initiative on the queenside instead: 11 b4 a6 12 a4 Nb6 13 Qb3 Re8 14 Be3 h6 (preventing Ng5) 15 a5 Nbd7 16 Rfc1 with a slight advantage to White.
- 7…0-0 allows White to push on with 8 e5. Then 8…Ng4 9 d4 and 8…Ne8 9 Be2 (to keep open the option of Qh4) both look good for White.
Black plays 6…a6
Black’s main move apart from 6…Bg7 is 6…a6, which is in the spirit of the Hungarian System in the Gruenfeld (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Qb3 dxc4 6 Qxc4 0-0 7 e4 a6). White plays 7 d4 b5 8 Qb3 and now Black has two basic means of counterplay:
- 8…Nc6 9 e4 Bg7 10 Be3 0-0 11 e5 Be6 and now White plays a typical queen sacrifice for this kind of position: 12 exf6 Bxb3 13 fxg7 Kxg7 14 axb3 and experience suggests that White seems to have the better of it.
- 8…c5 9 dxc5 Be6 10 Qc2 Bg7 11 e4 0-0 12 Be2 Nc6 13 0-0 Qc7 14 h3. This prepares Be3, without allowing …Ng4. Now Black can regain the pawn via 14…Nb4 15 Qb1 Qxc5 but then White’s pieces become dangerously active: 16 Be3 Qc8 17 Rc1 Qb7 18 Nd4 Bc4 19 a3 Nc6 20 Nxc6 Qxc6 21 Bf3 Qd6 22 Rd1 Qe5 23 Bd4 Qe6 24 e5 Nd5 25 Ne4.