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To all who only play the black side of the Sicilian, I must apologise: White wins this month's update 5-1! However, Black is actually in fairly good health in some key lines and, as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Download PGN of March '09 Open Sicilian games

The Sveshnikov

Surprisingly there were only two Sveshnikovs debated at Linares. After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Bg5 a6 8 Na3 b5 Grischuk got nowhere in a theoretical 9 Nd5 clash against Carlsen, whereas Anand - Radjabov debated the Novosibirsk Variation, 9 Bxf6 gxf6 10 Nd5 Bg7. Play followed a critical line right up until...move 28!

Here Radjabov improved on Yakovich's play with 28...Bf8!, although this may have been more over-the-board inspiration than preparation. I believe that Black is pretty much OK after this novelty, but over the next few moves Radjabov badly lost his way and landed up in a horrible squeeze.

The Taimanov

The English Attack-style 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Be3 a6 7 Qd2 Nf6 8 0-0-0 remains pretty popular and critical. Morozevich has been to the fore promoting 8...Be7 (8...Bb4 remains the main line), but White came well prepared in Karjakin - Morozevich and 15 Qg2! appears to keep control and leave White slightly for choice:

The Richter-Rauzer

Black essayed an important if fairly unfashionable line in Svidler - Wells, namely 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 e6 7 Qd2 Be7 8 0-0-0 Nxd4 9 Qxd4 0-0. Svidler avoided 10 f4 in favour of an English Attack-style approach with 10 f3. This turned out well for White, but the notes suggest that Black should have his fair share of the chances here.

More topical has been 9...a6 10 f4 b5, keeping castling in reserve and beginning immediate counterplay:

As we've seen before, Mamedyarov has struggled as Black in this line, but in Shirov - Mamedyarov he came at least as well prepared as White and successfully negotiated the complications arising from 11 Be2 Bb7 12 Bf3 0-0 13 e5!?. We also consider recent developments after 11 Bxf6 gxf6 in the notes. This is probably a more critical path, although for the moment Black continues to hold his own in Dreev's favourite variation.

The Classical Scheveningen

After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 White rejects the Keres Attack in Areshchenko - Movsesian, preferring the classical 6 Be2 Be7 7 0-0 0-0 8 Be3 Nc6 9 Kh1. Movsesian, arguably the World's leading authority on the Scheveningen, counters classically too with 9...Bd7 10 f4 Nxd4 11 Bxd4 Bc6 12 Bd3:

It's hard to believe that this should hold too many dangers for Black, but he quickly gets into a bit of a pickle on the kingside, beginning 12...d5?! 13 e5! Ne4 14 Qe2.

Black prefers a more modern approach in Carlsen - Grischuk: 9...a6 10 a4 Qc7 11 f4 Re8 12 Bf3 Bf8. This is something of a tabiya, but after 13 Qd2 Rb8 14 Qf2 e5 Carlsen was quick to introduce a novelty:

White wins this encounter in brutal fashion, but I believe that both the two most natural recaptures should be fine for Black after 15 fxe5.

The Najdorf: 6 Bg5

Last month I promised that we'd look at some variations after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 which remain popular at club level if not among the elite. However, I was still surprised by just how few grandmasters are essaying 7...Nc6!? at the moment. Perhaps they just don't like Rauzer-like play, for Black certainly appears to be in fine shape here, as we'll see in Pushkarev - Loskutov, which reached a critical position after 15 c4:

Here Black was destroyed in Korneev-Sutovsky, Montreal 2006, as subscribers have seen before, but Black has three (!) better moves than Sutovsky's greedy 15...Qxg2?. Two seem to force quick draws, so if Black wants to play on, he must really do so with Loskutov's slightly risky choice.

The more theoretical Poisoned Pawn front might be fairly quiet with regards to 10 e5 after 7...Qb6 8 Qd2 Qxb2 9 Rb1 Qa3, but 10 f5 can probably still be considered the main line. I'd long believed that this led to a draw with best play after a long, key sequence:

I'm sure that the position above is familiar to many subscribers. Both 19...Kh8 and 19...Rd7 have long been considered to lead to forced draws (i.e. 19...Kh8 20 Rg3 Rd7 21 Qh6 Rxd1+ 22 Bxd1 Rf7 23 Qh5 Qa5 24 Kf1 Qd8!, etc), but in Grischuk - Anand, White met the latter with the startling 20 Bd3!?. Grischuk should have been rewarded for his bravery, but was this novelty actually anything more than a bit of bluff against an opponent moving slowly as he reconstructed theory?

That's all for this month. I'll try to adjust the scoring balance next time round! 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