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The Najdorf didn't exactly dominate Wijk Aan Zee, as it used to in Kasparov's day, but we still have plenty of exciting Open Sicilians to explore this month. That said, I do hope that the elite will at some point soon switch back from the Marshall and the Petroff to 1...c5!

Download PGN of February '08 Open Sicilian games

Taimanov: English Attack

We begin by returning to the position after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 Nf6 in which White has a number of options:

I prefer either 7 Bd3 or 7 f4, but in Spoelman - Movsesian White remained true to the English Attack with 7 Qd2 when Black has usually responded with 7...Bb4. However, I can see nothing wrong with Movsesian's rare but logical 7...Ng4!?.

Kan: 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Qf3!?

After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 5 Nc3 Qc7, Korchnoi's idea of 6 Qf3!? has never really caught on:

However, having previously defeated no lesser opponent than Rublevsky with it, the young Russian talent, Ian Nepomniachtchi, made further good use of this dangerous sideline in Nepomniachtchi - Stellwagen. Will it now become more popular?

Classical Sicilian: The Richter-Rauzer

Following 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5, Black has a number of options. These days he usually plumps for one of:

i. 6...e6 7 Qd2 a6. Now after 8 0-0-0 we consider developments with both 8...Bd7 and 8...h6 in Baklan - Cvek. The latter has been considered suspect of late due to 9 Nxc6!? bxc6 10 Bf4 d5 11 Qe3, but Cvek makes a good case for 11...Bb4 12 a3 Bxc3!? 13 Qxc3 Nxe4 14 Qxg7 Qf6 15 Qxf6 Nxf6, swapping the bishop-pair for a potentially strong centre:

ii. 6...Bd7 7 Qd2 also gives Black a number of options, as we'll see in Andriasian - Asrian. That game featured the solid 7...h6 8 Bxf6 gxf6 9 0-0-0 Nxd4 10 Qxd4 Qa5 11 f4 Rc8 which may have been underestimated: it's by no means easy to breach Black's position.

iii. 6...e6 7 Qd2 Be7 8 0-0-0 Nxd4 9 Qxd4 0-0:

Now both 10 f4 (long considered good, but both Miroshnichenko and Baklan have recently been happy to defend the resulting positions) and 10 f3 are somewhat more critical than the 10 Kb1 of Demchenko - Miroshnichenko, but I plumped for that as a main game because Miroshnichenko grinds down his unambitious opponent in model fashion.

Najdorf: The English Attack

Our focus is on ...h5 ideas this month. In Anand - Topalov, Black repeated a variation with which he had enjoyed earlier success: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 e5 7 Nb3 Be6 8 f3 h5!?:

However, I'm not convinced that the resulting manoeuvring struggle after 9 Nd5! really suited Topalov. Indeed, I feel that he'd probably be off employing the sharper variations resulting from 6...e6. However, Black can also follow that up with prophylactic play, as he did with 7 f3 b5 8 Qd2 h5!? in Van Haastert-Nakamura. White was instructively outplayed after passing over the critical 9 a4!.

Najdorf: The Poisoned Pawn

My thanks to Weiming Goh for very kindly supplying notes to the game Berg - Najer. Black introduced the new idea 1 e4 c5 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Qb6 8 Qd2 Qxb2 9 Rb1 Qa3 10 e5 (this just won't go away!) 10...h6 11 Bh4 dxe5 12 fxe5 Nfd7 13 Ne4 Qxa2 14 Rd1 Qd5 15 Qe3 and now, rather than grab on e5, 15...Bc5!?:

This idea certainly deserves further attention, but do see my additional note on Sjugirov's 19 Rd6, reaching a critical position in which Black needs an improvement.

As requested by some subscribers, next month I'll be chiefly focussing on the 6 Be2 Najdorf, including a certain recent victory of Nigel Short's!

Until then, Richard


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