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It's been a busy time of late in the chess world, and this is reflected in a number of high-profile Sicilians this month. However, one event yet to produce a single Sicilian is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the London Classic, although one can hope that matters will be rectified with five of the seven rounds remaining!

Download PGN of December '09 Open Sicilian games

The Lowenthal

One associates Judit Polgar with the Taimanov and the Najdorf, but it was the Lowenthal which she surprisingly turned to in her rapid play-off with Nisipeanu at the FIDE World Cup. Twice the Rumanian opted for the simple 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 a6 6 Nd6+ Bxd6 7 Qxd6 Qf6 8 Qxf6 Nxf6 9 Nc3 Nb4 10 Bd3:

In their first Lowenthal encounter, our featured game Nisipeanu - Polgar, Black opted for 10...d6, came close to full equality and later drew after some adventures. Second time around Polgar switched to 10...h6, but had unfortunately failed to realize that after 11 Be3 Black must exchange on d3 before going ...d6.

As subscribers will be aware, I don't consider the exchange of queens to be particularly critical. Thus we'll consider various attempts by White to keep the queens on in Amanov - Shtyrenkov, including 8 Qd1 as recommended in the new Dismantling the Sicilian. De la Villa has some interesting suggestions for White there, but after 8...Qg6 9 Nc3 both 9...Nge7 and 9...d5!? remain viable in my view.

The Sveshnikov

I was a little surprised to see both Karjakin and Vachier Lagrave employing the slightly simplistic 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Bg5 a6 8 Na3 b5 9 Nd5 Be7 10 Bxf6 Bxf6 11 c4 b4 12 Nc2 0-0 13 Be2 in Khanty-Mansiysk:

Generalising slightly, it does seem that Black is best advised to develop his queen's bishop to e6, leave the knight on c6 and then make a well-timed exchange on d5. Such a strategy saw Black hold with some ease in our featured game, Karjakin - Timofeev, but Vachier-Lagrave's opponent fared somewhat less well, as the notes reveal.

The Richter-Rauzer

After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 Dreev and Malakhov have continued to uphold 6...Bd7 of late. A critical line then runs 7 Qd2 Rc8 8 f4 Nxd4 9 Qxd4 Qa5 10 e5! (avoiding 10 0-0-0 Rxc3!?) 10...dxe5 11 fxe5 e6 12 0-0-0 Bc6 13 Nb5! Bxb5 14 exf6 Bc6!:

Black's position may appear a little precarious, but he hopes to obtain counterplay on the queenside and with his strong light-squared bishop. This critical position was subjected to a test in Alsina Leal-Dreev in which White came out on top and Black appears in need of an improvement over Dreev's sacrificial play.

The Najdorf: English Attack

The soon-to-be no.1, Magnus Carlsen, is our guide this month after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3. First up we see him dealing with 6...e6 7 f3 b5 8 g4 h6 9 Qd2 Nbd7 10 0-0-0, although the relatively unusual 10...Ne5!? apparently caught him by surprise in Carlsen - Ponomariov:

Carlsen came up with the new idea of retreating the queen to e1 and later won with a sacrificial attack, but White appears to have stronger alternatives and I'm not convinced that 10...Ne5 will catch on.

The very next day Carlsen as Black preferred 6...Ng4 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Bg7 10 h3 Nf6 in Leko - Carlsen:

Unfortunately Leko opted for 11 Qf3 and never got anywhere before surprisingly collapsing in the ending, but 11 Qe2!? currently looks a more critical choice. I just hope that future games will reveal what the Carlsen-Kasparov school have in store here!

The Najdorf: 6 Qf3

Karklins' 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Qf3 is waning a little in popularity, but keeps attracting new English adherents. Yes, the good, old untheoretical English school of chess is still going strong! After 6...e6 7 Be2 I introduced the new idea 7...Nbd7!? in Howell - Palliser, and obtained good counterplay with 8 g4 Qb6 9 Nb3 Ne5 10 Qg3 Qc6!:

The Najdorf: 6 g3

Meeting 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 g3 with 6...e5 has been under a small cloud of late, but Vachier Lagrave hasn't been put off. In Popov - Vachier Lagrave he avoided the tabiya which arises after 7 Nb3 Nbd7 8 a4 b6 9 Bg2 Bb7 10 0-0 Be7 11 Nd2 Rc8 12 Re1 Rc5, preferring to introduce 11...Nc5!?:

This idea is more commonly seen in the 7 Nde2 sub-variation, but can hardly be a bad choice here and, indeed, Black just about managed to equalise. Talking of 7 Nde2, I wrote up some notes back in April to a game I played after it. Probably I should have used them before now, but before I forget again, here is Beach - Palliser; not a particularly theoretically important game, but thematic enough from the black perspective!

That's all for this month. With a ticket for round 3 at Olympia, I'd best run and catch a train to town! Will I be lucky enough to see an Open Sicilian, though? Unlikely I realise...

For now I'll just wish everyone a Good Christmas, Richard


Please feel free to share any of your thoughts with me, whatever they are, suggestions, criticisms (just the polite ones, please), etc. Drop me a line at the Open Sicilians Forum, or subscribers can write directly to