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Apologies for this slightly delayed update. I'd like to say I've been busy preparing for Christmas, but in reality a big project on the Scotch (the opening, not the drink before anyone asks!) has been taking up much of my time. Thankfully it's a pretty exciting opening, but so too, of course, is the Sicilian and it's been great to return with this column to studying the favourite opening of the likes of Judit Polgar and Peter Svidler.

Download PGN of December '10 Open Sicilian games

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Grivas Sicilian

A variation which continues to slowly emerge from the shadows is the so-called Grivas Variation, 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Qb6, named after the Greek Grandmaster who pioneered it. After 5 Nb3 Nf6 6 Nc3 e6 White has quite a wide choice, but undoubtedly a critical test is the aggressive 7 Qe2 Bb4 8 Bd2:

Following 8...0-0 White can plough straight ahead in the centre with 9 e5, as he did in two games from the recent rapid match between Ivanchuk and Judit Polgar in Mexico. Ivanchuk made 0/2, but was clearly better out of the opening both times and here, rather than the slightly tame 9...Ne8 of Ivanchuk - Polgar, I suspect that Black does better with the uncompromising 9...Bxc3!? 10 bxc3 Nd5.

Even more of a challenge is likely presented by 9 a3! when 9...Be7 10 0-0-0 d5 11 Be3 Qc7 12 exd5 Nxd5 13 Nxd5 exd5 brings about something of a tabiya:

The d-pawn is too hot to touch immediately, but 14 g3 took aim at it and appeared to be a decent novelty in Robson - Yermolinsky. The American wunderkind quickly lost his way in drastic fashion, but it does seem that Black may not obtain enough compensation should he continue to offer the d-pawn.

The first of that Ivanchuk-Polgar duo of games actually began with the move order 4...Nf6 5 Nc3 Qb6?!, only reaching the Grivas after 6 Nb3?!. However, 6 Be3! just looks like something of a refutation of this particular move order:

De la Villa has found some key resources for White after this aggressive move, which I've summarized while adding plenty of additional coverage in Lastin - Kononenko.

The Kan

Peter Svidler must be a tired man at the moment for the current Russian Championship coincided with the third Test between England and Australia. Few Russian Grandmasters would be distracted by such a contest (one which was not at all enjoyable from my perspective!), but as Svidler is a serious cricket aficionado I even wonder if he considered the position after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 5 Bd3 Bc5 6 Nb3 Be7 7 Qg4 g6 8 Qe2 d6 9 0-0 during one of the two earlier Ashes Tests:

At this point Black usually prefaces a queenside fianchetto with 9...Nd7, but perhaps Svidler had a Eureka moment as he pondered why 9...Nc6!? has been seen much less often. In any case he sprung his knight to c6 in Kurnosov - Svidler and after 10 c4 Ne5 11 h3 Nf6 12 Bh6 Nh5! enjoyed decent-enough counterplay, going on to completely outplay his opponent in a most impressive game.

As well as 7 Qg4, 7 Be3!? is currently both in decent health and quite popular. Then 7...Nc6 8 N1d2 Nf6 9 f4 demonstrates White's main aims: he obtains an attacking set-up without a knight on c3, thereby making any advance of the black b-pawn much less effective:

Following 9...d6 White introduced 10 a3!? to preserve his bishop in Nielsen - Van Wely. The Danish no.1 went on to win with a lovely attacking display, but matters would have been much less clear had Black countered with 10...e5!? 11 f5 d5, as we'll see.

The Najdorf

David Howell has made a major effort of late to move away from his once-standard choice of the c3 Sicilian to the pastures of the Open, but is yet to take up White's more critical and, of course, more theoretical options after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6. In Howell - Palliser we'll see him opting for 6 a4, while in the notes we'll see his later preference for 6 h3 in the somewhat more important clash, Howell-Carlsen.

Howell triumphed in the British Rapidplay Championship with a most impressive 10.5/11, finishing a whole 2.5 points ahead of your scribe, Mark Hebden and Aaron Summerscale in joint second. I was a little lucky to finish there, as we'll see in Hart - Palliser where we round up some important recent developments after 6 Be3 Ng4 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Bg7:

Finally, in response to a couple of requests from subscribers in Italy, I've taken a look at some recent developments in the slightly-neglected sideline, 6 Bg5 e6 7 Qf3:

After 7...Nbd7 8 0-0-0 Qc7 9 Qg3 Black has usually been advised by theory to nudge his h-pawn forward. One can quite understand why he wouldn't wish to encourage a piece sacrifice on b5, but actually the b-pawn might move just one square and 9...b6!? will be our main focus in Lorenzo de la Riva-Zoler.

Now I must return to the equally-complex world of the Scotch, but I just hope that many subscribers are able to sample the fine drink of that name while having a relaxing time over the festive period!

Until the New Year, Richard

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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