Chess Opening Basics: The Grünfeld Defense


Table of Contents

What is the Grünfeld Defense?

The Grünfeld Defense is one of Black’s most combative opening lines against 1.d4 2.c4.

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5

The Grünfeld DefenseThe Grünfeld Defense

The defense is named after the Austrian chess player, Ernst Franz Grünfeld (1893 – 1962). Black allows White to build a big centre after:

4.cxd5 Nxd5

5.e4 Nxc3


The Grünfeld Defense, Exchange Variation

How strange this must have looked in an age where everyone wanted to build such a centre! Yet when Grünfeld played this way in the 1920s the world was witnessing the rise of the Hypermoderns, a group of players who challenged the established concepts of the strong centre. The argument was that the centre could become a liability if Black knows how to attack it in good time.

In the Grünfeld Defense such attacks come from both pawns and pieces. …c7-c5, …Bg7, …Nc6 and …Qa5 are all good ways of applying pressure against the white pawn centre and this is where the main battle will be fought. If Black can dismantle or at least compromise the centre then he will be able to play for the advantage, but if White can keep the centre strong and stable then Black will remain cramped all the way through to the endgame, where he can be squeezed off the board.

Grünfeld Defense Practitioners

The unbalanced nature of the resulting positions makes the Grünfeld Defense an ideal weapon for players who like to play for a win as Black. This is why it attracted the considerable attention of World Champions Vasily Smyslov, Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. Viktor Korchnoi, possibly the greatest ‘disturber of the peace’ of all, had a lot of success with the Grünfeld too and Peter Svidler is the current number one expert in the defense.

The Grünfeld drifted in and out of fashion over the course of several decades but when Kasparov used it (not entirely successfully) against Anatoly Karpov in their extraordinary title matches the amount of theory attached to the opening predictably started to grow like never before.

White has numerous options to the Exchange Variation, most of which require very careful handling by Black. These include the following.

The Russian System

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5

4.Nf3 Bg7


The Russian System

This is White’s major alternative to the Exchange Variation. White’s queen adds significant pressure to d5. Black normally plays 5…dxc4 here and has various ways to try and take advantage of the queen being out very early in the game. Black needs to do plenty of homework here, just as he does to face the Exchange Variation.

Taimanov’s Variation

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5

4.Nf3 Bg7



Taimanov's Variation

The idea is to head into more positional waters, in which White’s good development will help him gain a slight edge. Black usually tries to muddy the waters quickly with 5…Ne4.

Bf4 Systems

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5


The 4 Bf4 Grünfeld

This system is recommended in a number of books and needs to be taken seriously, although Black has good chances of equalizing with standard Grünfeld moves such as ….c7-c5.

The Neo-Grünfeld

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.g3 d5

The Neo-Grünfeld

White avoids the main battlefield and opts for a more positional approach.

There are also more eccentric systems, such as:

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5

4.cxd5 Nxd5


Grünfeld Defense 5.Na4

Moving the knight to the side of the board looks ridiculous, but the motivation for White is the desire to play 6.e4, hitting the Black knight, which cannot then make the typical Grünfeld trade for the knight on c3.


The Grünfeld Defense: New Chessable Courses

Anyone wanting to investigate this fascinating opening in greater details may like to know about our new Chessable course: Lifetime Repertoires: Peter Svidler’s Grünfeld − Part 1.

Lifetime Repertoires: Peter Svidler's Grünfeld − Part 1

A Short and Sweet version of the course is also available.

Short and Sweet: Grünfeld

More Chess Opening Basics

Here are links to the other parts of our series on Chess Opening Basics. More openings will be added soon.

Arkhangelsk Defense

Budapest Gambit


Caro-Kann Defense

The Chigorin Defense

Göring Gambit

The Jaenisch Gambit

Leningrad Dutch

London System

Najdorf Sicilian

Nimzo-Indian Defense

Queen’s Gambit Declined

Ragozin Defense

Ruy Lopez, Cozio Defense

Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation

Sicilian Wing Gambit

Semi-Slav Defense

Symmetrical English

Taimanov Sicilian

Highlighted course

Thinking In Chess: A How To Guide

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