The Handszar Odeev Variation (express-preparation)

…Tomorrow you face a crucial game in an open or club tournament. You want to surprise your opponent with a new idea and an unexpected variation, but in order to do that you need to check the quality of the novelty, and also get to the bottom of the opening nuances in time. Your available free time, however, is “well, at most a couple of hours”...

In that case you clearly need express-preparation.

Read on

                                                                                                                                                                        Alexey Kuzmin

Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer

Express-preparation means:

а) a brief analysis of the new idea itself;

b) mini-preparation for possible deviations in the build-up to it.

If the prepared variation should work at an early stage then the second point can sometimes be left out. As in this case…

The Handszar Odeev Variation

Let’s imagine your next opponent plays the system with 5.Qb3 against the Gruenfeld. You won’t, of course, surprise him with Smyslov’s move - 7…Bg4, he’d be familiar with the consequences of 7…Na6, and when it comes to the fashionable line 7...а6 - he’ll know it inside out!

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0–0 7.e4 Be6!?

Handszar Odeev’s move - 7... Be6!? has been seen in practice on only a limited number of occasions. Anish Giri played it in the first round of the Biel tournament. Morozevich, who had White, deviated from the main line, preferring, as was noted in our report, “to play against the opponent who was actually sitting opposite him rather than Houdini”. That was a practical decision, but White didn’t derive any benefits from the opening…

Morozevich,A - Giri,A

Biel , 23.07.2012


8… Bd7! 9.Qc5

Capturing the pawn allows Black to seize the initiative: 9.Qxb7 Bc6 10.Qb4 Nxe4.



9...b6 10.Qg5 Diagram

10...c5! 11.dxc5 Bc6 12.Qh4 bxc5 13.Be2 e6 14.Bg5 h6!
Exchanging the h and e-pawns removes all doubt – chances are even.



Three weeks later Jakovenko improved on White’s play by choosing another queen retreat.

Jakovenko,D - Svidler,P

65th ch-RUS Tiebreak Moscow, 13.08.2012

8.Qd3!? This move gives Black more trouble. 8... c5 9.d5

9...Bc8?! Too passive. There followed: 10.Be3 b6 11.h3 [11.Qd2!?; 11.Be2!?] 11...e6 12.dxe6 Bxe6 and now instead of exchanging queens the forced variation 13.e5! Qxd3 14.Bxd3 Nd5 15.Be4 Nxe3 16.fxe3 Nd7 17.Bxa8 Rxa8 18.Ng5! promised White better prospects.

Out of the three possible bishop retreats Svidler chose perhaps the most unfortunate. 9...Bg4!? was interesting. For example: 10.Be2 e6 11.h3 Bxf3 12.Qxf3 exd5 13.exd5 Nbd7 or 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 Nbd7 12.Be2 Ne8 13.0–0 Nd6 in both cases with real counterplay.

It also doesn’t look bad to play 9...Bd7!? In that case if 10.Be3 Qa5 11.Nd2 it’s worth considering the unusual pawn sacrifice 11...Ng4!? 12.Nb3 Qc7 13.Bxc5 Na6 with sufficient compensation.

And the main (or most expected) position in the Odeev variation arises after 8.d5 Bc8

There’s double-edged play after 9.e5 Nfd7 and White’s centre is under attack. Therefore it’s logical to think about reinforcing the d5-outpost, which we, in turn, intend to attack with c7-c6 or e7-e6.

White has four moves at his disposal to develop bishops. Let’s take them one at a time:

Option 1: 9.Bf4

Budnikov,A -Odeev,H

Azov, 1991

9... c6 10.Rd1

10...b5!? This interesting mechanism for generating counterplay is the idea of the Turkmenistan master (and now international grandmaster).

I’d add that for the typical position arising after 10...cxd5 11.exd5 the bishop isn’t too well placed on f4. It interferes with switching the queen to h4. After 11...Nbd7 12.Be2 Ne8 13.0–0 Nd6 14.Qb3 Qa5 Black has good counterplay.


On 11.Qc5 there would follow 11…Qa5 12.Bd3 Na6! and it’s White who has problems.

11... Qa5 12.Nd2 a6 13.Be2 cxd5 Diagram


Later in the game their followed 14.e5?!, after which 14...Ng4! (instead of 14...Ne4?) allowed Black to seize the initiative: 15.Nxd5 Nc6 16.0–0 Be6.

Even in the case of the best move 14.Nxd5 Nc6! Black would have sufficient counterplay: 15.Bc7 Qa4 16.Qxa4 bxa4 17.Nb6 Ra7 18.Bf4 Nd4.





Option 2: 9.Bg5

Lima,D - Odeev,H

Moscow, 1994

9... c6 10.Rd1 b5!

With the bishop on g5 the variation 10…cxd5 11.exd5 Nbd7 is less appealing for Black.


In the version with 11.Qc5 there would follow 11... Nbd7 12.Qxc6 Rb8 and again Black has wonderful counterplay.

11...Qa5 12.Nd2 a6 13.Be2 cxd5 14.exd5 Nbd7

Black’s position is already more promising. It was possible to develop the bishop to f5 - 14...Bf5!? 15.0–0 Nbd7 with a small edge.


Handszar continued with 15... Bb7, which led to unclear play 16.0–0 Qc7 17.Rfe1 Nc5. More energetic was 15...Nc5! 16.Qb4 Qxb4 17.axb4 Na4 with better chances.


Option 3: 9.Be3

This option for developing the bishop hasn’t been seen in practice, but represents no particular danger for Black.

9... e6

In case of 9...c6 the critical position arises after 10.Rd1 b5 11.Qc5!, although also possible is the calmer 10... cxd5.



10.Rd1 exd5 11.Nxd5 Nxd5 12.Rxd5 Diagram

12...Qe8! 13.Rd2 Be6 or 13…Qc6 and Black has no problems.




Option 4: 9.Be2

In my view the most logical move and the one you can expect from your opponent.

In the game Novichkov,V - Odeev,H /Moscow 1998 Handszar continued 9...c6 and after 10.0–0 cxd5 11.exd5 e6 12.dxe6 Bxe6 13.Qb4 Qc8 14.Bg5 Nd5 he got decent play. But firstly, his opponent could have taken control of the d5-square - 14.Qh4 Nc6 15.Rd1 Re8 16.Bg5 with the better chances, and secondly, Novichkov missed the strong resource - 12.d6!

I think when analysing this variation Giri had prepared another breakthrough:

9... e6! 10.0–0 exd5 11.exd5 Diagram


And now 11...c6!

This is more precise than 11...Nbd7 12.Qh4 Nb6 13.Bg5 and I have some concerns about Black’s position.

12.dxc6 Nxc6 13.Rd1 Qa5 A symmetrical pawn structure doesn’t automatically guarantee full equality, but in the given situation Black has sufficient play.



In this express-format we’ve looked at all the main options for White. In all cases Black has active counterplay.

“So what can we conclude: the move 7…Be6 can “put an end to” the system with 5.Qb3 in the Gruenfeld?”

“For the time being, YES!

Later a path will be found for White that leads to a more promising position for him – after all, such openly provocative play can hardly be without its drawbacks. But for half a year or a year the Odeev Variation will serve people successfully even at grandmaster level, while in opens and club tournaments it’ll remain a “small opening bomb” for much longer!