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As 2009 draws to a close, Adorjan's mantra that 'Black is OK' most certainly applies to the Sicilian. The Najdorf, Sveshnikov and Taimanov remain as tough as ever to crack, and this year has also seen something of a resurgence for both the Classical and Kalashnikov variations.

Download PGN of January '10 Open Sicilian games

The Kalashnikov

Bacrot has employed 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 d6 on occasion of late, but found himself on the white side and up against a leading Kalashnikov exponent in Bacrot - Ikonnikov. There the topical sideline 6 N1c3 a6 7 Na3 Be7!?, avoiding any transposition to a Sveshnikov, was debated:

Bacrot settled for quite a positional approach, but never really gained any advantage and was perhaps a little fortunate to emerge with a draw after overpressing.

The Sveshnikov

Leading grandmasters are often happy to debate both sides of a variation; Shirov's recent switch to the black side of the Novosibirsk Variation being a case in point. Following 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 Bxf6 gxf6 10 Nd5 Bg7 White opted for quite a rare continuation in Malisauskas - Shirov. Admittedly 11 c4 might be described as being quite critical, but after 11...f5! 12 cxb5 Nd4 Black obtains decent play for his pawn and, indeed, White quickly found himself in trouble:

The Taimanov

The Dangerous Weapons-endorsed 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 Nf6 7 f4!? remains fairly topical. We round up recent developments in Fier - Leitao; a game which supplies further proof that Black is OK after 7...Bb4 8 Bd3 d6 9 Nxc6 bxc6 10 0-0 e5 11 h3 (Emms' preference for 11 Na4!? might be a better try) 11...0-0 12 Qf3 exf4! 13 Bxf4 Nd7:

The Classical: 6 Be2 e5

The Boleslavsky Variation, 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Be2 e5, is rarely seen these days at grandmaster level, but Ivanchuk decided to take it on in a recent rapid game. Following 7 Nb3 Be7 8 0-0 0-0 Black shouldn't have any problems no matter which set-up White plumps for. Ivanchuk - Vovk continued 9 Kh1 a5 10 a4 Be6 (10...Nd4!? is a little more dynamic) 11 f4 exf4 12 Bxf4 d5...

...with equality one would assume. Probably, yes, but the game was already more than halfway by this point!

The Najdorf: 6 h3

Thanks to the efforts of players like Carlsen and Karjakin (not to mention Fischer!), the sideline 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 h3 continues to grow in popularity:

The state of play here is examined in Haslinger-V.Gurevich, in which Black follows a recommendation of mine, namely 6...e6 7 g4 b5 8 Bg2 Bb7 9 0-0 Qc7!?, only to err the very next move with the mysterious 10 Re1 Nfd7?, which is punished in style by the in-form English Grandmaster.

The Najdorf: 6 Be3

Ivanchuk might have got away with 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 e5 7 Nb3 Be6 8 Qd2 Be7 9 f3 0-0 10 0-0-0 Qc7 11 g4 Rc8 against Leko in the Tal Memorial, but I'm not sure that many will be flocking to copy him because of 12 g5 Nh5 13 Kb1 Nd7 14 f4!:

This had been played three times before Grischuk - Sjugirov, but nobody quite appears to have appreciated its strength. Grischuk certainly did, though, realising that 14...exf4 15 Bxf4 Nxf4 16 Qxf4 is actually quite unpleasant for Black: he is solidly placed, but lacks counterplay, whereas White's knights will head for d5 and f5, and that h-pawn will be fast to motor down the board.

The Najdorf: 6 Bg5

It's been a few months since we considered 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Nc6!?, which was looking in good health thanks to the patronage of Vachier Lagrave:

Recent developments are considered in Van der Wiel-Baklan, but this line does come with a small hazard warning for the more ambitious black player: a number of lines do land up in a repetition with best play.

The Poisoned Pawn was preferred in Magem Badals-Alsina Leal. There White met 7...Qb6 with the modern 8 Qd2 Qxb2 9 Rb1 Qa3 10 e5, which continues to look OK for Black with careful defence, as we'll see. Do also check out the notes to see a fairly rare approach by Hector in the old main line:

Here White has often continued 17 Be2 0-0 18 0-0, leading to quite a well-known drawing sequence. Hector's 17 Bd3!? may well have the same outcome, but Black certainly has to avoid a number of obstacles on his way to the half-point.

With Wijk aan Zee starting shortly and the Anand-Topalov match on the horizon, 2010 promises to supply plenty of exciting games in our favourite Sicilian variations!

Happy New Year! Richard


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