The Grünfeld Enigma


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I remember reading somewhere what Tal said about his relationship with the Grunfeld. He said that he was always “platonically in love” with it. This struck a chord because I have always felt the same “platonic love” for the Grunfeld.

Let me explain. Ever since seeing Fischer’s immortal against Donald Byrne, Smyslov’s exquisite win against Euwe in The Hague-Moscow World Championship tournament in 1948, Kasparov’s battles against Timman in the Bf4 line (in Amsterdam and Belfort in 1988), and even Fischer’s losses to Petrosian in the second game of their match in 1971 and Spassky in the Siegen Olympiad in 1970, just to name a few of the games I see as typical Grunfelds, I fell in love with the opening.

I loved the dynamism, the initiative that is difficult to curtail, the aesthetics of the lone fianchettoed bishop on g7 hugged by the smooth pawn structure of e7, f7, g6, and h7. So I always imagined how I would win many Grunfeld games once I studied the opening.

I thoroughly studied the Grunfeld at the end of the 90s. I played it occasionally before, mostly against White’s fianchetto, when instead of the KID I would often go for …c6 and …d5 when I wanted more solidity. By the late 90s I thought that the KID was starting to wear thin, so the Grunfeld finally got to be the main defence in my repertoire.

As a basis for my repertoire, I used Rowson’s “Understanding the Grunfeld.” I am a big fan of Rowson’s writing and I liked the way he explained the ideas in the opening. The emotions he put into the explanations made me fall even deeper for the opening.

Now it is perhaps time to explain what I mean by “platonically in love.” Just like Tal, in spite of my infatuation with it, my (and his!) results in it were not that good. For some reason, things weren’t working that well in practice.

When I look back at those times I realise that there were two factors why it didn’t work out: I wasn’t playing well enough generally, often because of bad form (that period being difficult for me personally); and I couldn’t bring the energy to the board to make the dynamism work. Additionally, I discovered that certain positions that looked OK theoretically weren’t that easy to play in practice.

Eventually, my results improved, and my lifetime score in the Grunfeld is almost 60% out of more than 40 games. But by the mid-00s I was slowly migrating towards openings with more central control and this led to switching to the Nimzo/QID complex.

Not that long ago I started looking at the Grunfeld again, helping a student of mine prepare it. I was curious to find out how I would look at this old love after such a long time. Would the old flame return?

As with old loves, I was reminded of what attracted me, but I also painfully realised that time had taken its toll – the time that passed changed me and changed the opening. There was no going back anymore, while still attractive, I couldn’t see myself again venturing into the old territory that was once so familiar.

Perhaps it’s for the best. It usually is. Though the old romantic in me always has these hopes that perhaps, who knows, somehow, things could work out again…

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