Anticipating The Endgame As Part Of Understanding The Opening

The 2014 World Chess Championship rematch between Carlsen and Anand kicked off with Carlsen playing the Grünfeld as Black, an interesting choice since he does not usually play this opening, and in fact Anand is the one who prepared the Grünfeld as Black in 2013. The game proceeded along a path in which Anand as White lost an opening initiative and got into some trouble but held an unpleasant endgame.

Since detailed commentary from many strong players is already available and will continue to be provided as the match progresses, so why should I write out it here at The Chess Improver? My goal here is to describe the big picture that players of many levels can relate to and hopefully apply to their own play.

The goal of the Grünfeld Defense opening

Black’s goal in playing the Grünfeld Defense is to try to destroy White’s center, by targeting White’s Pawn on d4. The asymmetrical Pawn structure that arises when White’s c-Pawn is exchanged with Black’s d-Pawn gives Black possible chances to contain White’s d-Pawn and counterattack with a Queen side Pawn majority.

White has a choice of goals in return, and has to make a decision. (Take note if you are following the match, because we may see the Grünfeld pop up again with players making different decisions.) The three basic choices are to:

  • Grab the big center with e4, advance with d5 eventually, possibly make a passed d-Pawn for the endgame.
  • Forget the endgame, go all out with an attack on Black’s King based on h4, h5, etc.
  • Forget the big center, protect the d4 Pawn with e3, block in Black’s Bishop on g7, and try to make headway on the Queenside.

What happened in this game

What actually happened was Anand played as though aiming for one of the first two, but was inconsistent in followup. He got the center and then played as though to attack Black’s King: Qd2, allowing his Knight on f3 to be captured by Black’s Bishop permanently messing up White’s Pawn structure (doubled f-Pawns, isolated h-Pawn), castling Queen side. But he never did attack Black’s King after all, and the Pawn on d5 didn’t get any further.

So Black’s defense, based on destroying White’s Pawn structure and surviving any attack, with the aim of reaching a superior endgame, worked out. Anand had to be careful to hold the draw in face of his isolated and weak f and h Pawns.

The main thing I want to point out is that it was not automatically bad for White to allow the weakened Pawn structure. Before the endgame, there is the middlegame. It is a valid, aggressive idea for White to decide not to try to win the endgame, but instead the middlegame. It just didn’t work out in this particular game.

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.