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It's been a while since we gave one of the most important of all Sicilian variations some special attention and so this month's update is devoted to arguably the most critical line against the Najdorf, 6 Bg5. This continues to lead to a number of fascinating positions, but the good news for Black is that most of his major defences are in decent shape, notwithstanding Van Wely's disasters at Wijk aan Zee.

Download PGN of March '10 Open Sicilian games

The 6 Bg5 Najdorf, 6...Nbd7

Black's main response to 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 remains very much 6...e6, but 6...Nbd7!? has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late. We consider the typical 6 Bg5 response, namely 7 f4 Qc7 8 Qf3 h6 9 Bh4, in Namyslo - Bogner:

Here 9...e5!? leads to interesting complications, but the thematic gambit 9...g5! 10 fxg5 hxg5 11 Bxg5 Qc5 just looks like quite a decent one and it doesn't take the young German talent long to make good use of Black's dark-square play.

The boot is very much on White's foot after 7 f4 Qc7, so it's no surprise that 7 Bc4 remains the critical test of Black's system. Here 7...Qa5!?, as recently employed by Sakaev, deserves further attention, but 7...Qb6 8 Bb3 e6 is probably Black's most reliable approach. Following 9 Qd2 Be7 10 0-0-0 Nc5 11 f3 Qc7 we reach a position which might seem familiar to many subscribers:

Indeed play has transposed to the classic Najdorf game, Naiditsch-Anand, Dortmund 2003, which actually began with a 6 Bc4 e6 7 Bb3 Nbd7 8 Bg5 Qa5 9 Qd2 Be7 10 f3 Nc5 11 0-0-0 Qc7 move order! Shirov - Dominguez recently arrived here via the 6 Bg5 move order and after 12 Kb1 0-0 13 g4 b5 14 a3 Rb8 15 h4 Bd7 the Cuban had good queenside play, although Shirov was able to maintain a rough balance with a typically highly-creative effort.


The unNajdorf-like 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Nc6!? remains a fascinating tactical battlefield. These days White usually counters with 8 Nxc6 bxc6 9 e5 h6 10 Bh4 g5:

We'll consider developments after both 11 Bf2 and 11 fxg5 this month. A critical line after the latter was debated in Smeets - Dominguez, in which Black was likely out prepared, but still maintained rough equality all the way through another fascinating encounter from Wijk.

The Gelfand System: 7...Nbd7

Boris Gelfand has long championed 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Nbd7, but one disciple, Loek van Wely, failed at Wijk to emulate the Master's success with it. The main line 8 Qf3 Qc7 9 0-0-0 hasn't been seen much of late, but 9 Bxf6!? Nxf6 10 g4 b5 11 g5 Nd7 12 0-0-0 is a less-explored and dangerous alternative:

At this point Black can take play into the Old Main Line with 12...Be7 (something which probably wasn't in his plans when he went 7...Nbd7), force a critical piece sacrifice with 12...b4 13 Nd5 or go 12...Nc5?!. Van Wely opted for the last of those in Nakamura - Van Wely, but the American was well prepared and the new idea 13 a3! Rb8 14 b4 Nd7 15 Nd5! left Black somewhat on the back foot.

There have also been developments in another dangerous sideline, namely 8 Qe2!?. Following 8...Qc7 9 0-0-0 I suspect that Black should give careful thought to holding back on his ideal advance in favour of 9...Be7. Indeed, the immediate 9...b5 gives White some dangerous options:

After 10 a3 Rb8 11 g4 Black may not be able to fully equalize in any case, but Van Wely's 11...Rb8?! was most certainly a step in the wrong direction in Ivanchuk - Van Wely. There we'll also see the hapless Dutchman mixing up his move order yet again in a later game against Smeets which featured the no less dangerous 10 g3!?.


Vachier Lagrave appears to have abandoned 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Nc6 for the more solid 7...Qc7 of late. In Andriasian - Vachier Lagrave White tested a critical line in 8 Bxf6 gxf6 9 Qd2 Nc6 10 0-0-0 Bd7 11 Kb1, as Topalov once played against Anand:

The future 15th World Champion responded with the natural 11...h5, but the young Frenchman's play makes a good case for 11...0-0-0 12 Bc4 Rg8!?, either giving Black counterplay against g2 or forcing White to rule out a major piece swing to h3 with 13 g3.

The Poisoned Pawn

Following in his coach's footsteps, Magnus Carlsen essayed 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Qb6 8 Qd2 Qxb2 in Ivanchuk - Carlsen in the first round of the Melody Amber event. Perhaps after 9 Rb1 Qa3 10 f5 Nc6 11 fxe6 fxe6 12 Nxc6 bxc6 he was hoping that Ivanchuk would be happy with 13 e5 and a likely draw, but unsurprisingly the Ukrainian no.1 was in a combative mood and showed that 13 Be2!? doesn't have to lead to an early repetition, as has sometimes been thought:

Finally, we come to the undoubted game of the year so far. I'm talking about Black's dramatic, successful king march in Gashimov - Grischuk, in which we round up a number of important developments in the fairly topical sideline 8 Qd3!?.

This has certainly been an action-packed update. I just hope that April's won't be too dull in comparison!

Until then, 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