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Sveshnikov 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 [B33]
We start with Vachier Lagrave, M - Paravyan, D, where the players entered a sharp theoretical position after 14...Nf4:
Here MVL came up with a new idea 15.Qa4+, but it looks like David was well-prepared for it and after 15...b5! 16.cxb5 0-0 Black obtained excellent compensation for a pawn in view of White's unsafe king. The dynamic balance was kept till move 25, when 25...Be5? made it possible for White to fully consolidate and connect the rooks.
A well-deserved win for MVL, but 15.Qa4+ doesn't seem to offer White anything special.
Four Knights 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4 Qc7 9.f4 Qb6 10.c4 Bb4+ 11.Ke2 f5 [B45]
This old line has recently gained lots of popularity, and I've decided to consider White's 2 big attempts to fight for an opening advantage. First, in Esipenko, A - Abasov, N Andrey played 12.Nf2 and soon surprised his experienced opponent with 16.Qa4!?:
His excellent preparation fully paid off, since Nijat avoided any attempts at making counterplay, and after 19...0-0?! came under strong pressure along the d-file. Even so, Black's position was playable, but the inaccurate 22...Nc6? made it practically impossible for NIjat to get back into the game.
Undoubtedly, 16.Qa4!? is an interesting try, and 19...h6! seems to be the best challenge.
MVL also illustrated his deep knowledge of this line - in Vachier Lagrave, M - Praggnanandhaa, R White chose 12.exf6, and this led to an interesting middlegame position, where Black had decent compensation for a pawn. On the other hand, it looks like MVL was very confident with his opening, while Pragg messed up something in his analyses and quickly erred with 20...Qc7? As a result, White managed to immediately connect his rooks and convert his huge advantage into a full point in elegant style.
Despite such a defeat, the position after 16.Kd1!? still looks perfectly playable for Black.
Taimanov 5...a6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Qd3 [B46]
In the next game, Ivic, V - Andreikin, D, White only needed a draw in order to qualify for the next round. GM Ivic went for a fashionable setup vs the Taimanov with 7.Qd3 d5 8.Qg3, and his choice was fully justified: Black's k-side was cramped by the e5-pawn, while White's king was absolutely safe on the q-side. Undoubtedly, 11...Ng4 was a dubious novelty, but at the moment I do not see a convincing way of solving Black's problems in this line.
Classical Sicilian 6.Nb3 [B56]
In the second game of the mini match Carlsen, M - Martinovic, S, where Magnus only needed a draw, he decided to deviate from any theoretical discussions with the rare 6.Nb3:
Sasa naturally responded with 6...g6, and soon the players entered a complex middlegame position with mutual attacking chances. On move 15 White went for the somewhat risky 15.Bxf6, but the quick advance of his h-pawn allowed White to maintain the balance. It was a well-played game by both players, where the champion's unique endgame technique eventually told.
Richter-Rauzer 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f4 Be7 10.Nf3 b5 [B68]
In the second game of the mini-match Ponkratov, P - Bacrot, E, White, who needed a win, chose the sharpest way of handling the fashionable Rauzer. The position after 14.Bh4 was seen on our site a long time ago in Heinemann - Chandler.
Etienne responded with the original 14...Rg8!? 15.Kb1 Rb8 (he did well with this plan is a later game, too), and after 16.Bf2 f5 Black's king felt quite safe in the centre. The key moment came on move 21, when the premature 21...Ne7? allowed White to seize the initiative and eventually decide the game by direct attack.
Still, at the moment Etienne's 14...Rg8!? looks quite attractive for Black in this line.
Najdorf 6.h3 Nc6 [B90]
Another theoretical discussion in one of the relatively minor Najdorf lines took place in Karjakin, S - Shankland, S. In the position after 9...Bg7:
Sergey offered an interesting pawn sacrifice with 10.e5!? that was the fruit of deep preparation. The surprise worked, and Sam soon erred with 13...Qxd2?! which led to a highly unpleasant endgame - Black was a pawn up, but nearly all his pieces were undeveloped. Short of time, GM Shankland failed to withstand the pressure.
Even though Karjakin's victory is impressive, 10.e5!? doesn't seem to refute Black's setup. In fact, both 11...0-0!? and 13...Qxa2! look possible.
Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 e6 [B96]
In the last game, Pichot, A - Saric, I, the players entered the very complicated theoretical position after 13.Bh4:
Ivan deviated from the previously covered Eliseev - Sjugirov with 13...g5!? which was previously tested in correspondence games. I am not sure if Alan had any deep preparation in this line or he was improvising during the game, but his innovation 17.Bg2!? definitely poses Black some practical problems. White's attacking potential was already fully illustrated after Ivan's next erroneous response 17...gxh4? - White sacrificed the knight and quickly developed a decisive attack. This was a real masterpiece by GM Pichot.
See you next month, Michael
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