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It can be hard keeping up with all the recent Sicilian developments in this column, or at least that's my excuse for covering some older games this time around! Not that they're exactly old: dating from June to September! Modern theory really can be a relentless beast, although thankfully preparation isn't yet everything, as we'll see in Navara-Svidler.

Download PGN of October '08 Open Sicilian games

The Classical: The Richter-Rauzer

Continuing our coverage from last month, we return to the variation 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 a6 9 f4 Nxd4 10 Qxd4 b5:

Sutovsky had previously done well with 11 Bxf6 gxf6 12 Be2 Qc7 13 Bf3, but in Sutovsky - Predojevic Black came well prepared and introduced the new idea 13...Bb7 14 f5 Rc8!?, which appears sufficient for rough equality.

Another option for Black after 6 Bg5 is 6...e6 7 Qd2 a6 8 0-0-0 Bd7, as favoured by Kozul. In Mongontuul - Hou Yifan we examine developments after both 9 f3 and the critical 9 f4 b5.

The Sozin Najdorf

With some players no doubt fed up with spending far too much time examining both 6 Be3 and 6 Bg5 after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6, 6 Bc4 has begun to make a small comeback at grandmaster level. One reason is that 6...e6 7 Bb3 Nbd7 8 Bg5 has been scoring fairly well for White:

However, Black shouldn't be worse in this sub-variation so long as he plays a little more accurately than he did in the brutal encounter Naiditsch - Van Wely.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with preferring 7...b5 (or even 7...Nc6), and after 8 0-0 Be7 9 Qf3, 9...Qb6!? continues to hold up quite well, as we'll see in Navara - Svidler. I get the impression that neither player was really expecting this variation, and there are certainly some tricky lines to be negotiated as we'll see.

The Najdorf: The English Attack

I've been a little remiss in not examining 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 in recent months, especially as this remains fairly popular at all levels. Svidler - Van Wely debated the highly-theoretical line 6...e5 7 Nb3 Be6 8 f3 Be7 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 Nbd7 11 g4 b5 12 g5 b4 13 Ne2 Ne8:

One does need to know a fair amount to play this variation with either colour, and on the current evidence Black appears to be most certainly holding his own.

The older preference for 8...Nbd7 is perhaps a little less theoretical and has never really gone away. Currently 9 g4 Nb6 is considered OK for Black, which helps to explain why we have seen some recent outings for 9 Qd2 b5:

At this point White has two main tries: 10 g4 is examined in Morozevich - Anand, while in Akopian - Gelfand we turn our attention to the hybrid variation 10 0-0-0 h5!?.

The Najdorf: 6 g3

By no means everyone likes to play sharply against the Najdorf, and a key figure in what one might term the positional ranks is one member of the 2700-club, Evgeny Alekseev. Alekseev has dabbled in 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 g3 e5 7 Nde2 a fair bit of late. However, it will be interesting to see if he repeats it after the game Alekseev - Dominguez, in which 7...Be7 8 Bg2 b5 9 h3 Nbd7 10 g4 b4! 11 Nd5 Nxd5 12 exd5 a5! 13 0-0 h5!? gave Black a good, active game:

The Najdorf: 6 Be2

Alekseev has also been busy here, especially in promoting the new idea of 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be2 e5 7 Nb3 Be7 8 0-0 0-0 9 Bf3!?:

The bishop doesn't look great on f3, but does help restrain ...d5 and this can hardly be a worse square than the older preference for f1 after 9 Re1 Be6. Nowadays 10 Bf3 is preferred here too, and another Alekseev - Dominguez encounter may help to shed some light on the issue of whether White should begin with 9 Bf3 or preface it with 9 Re1.

That's all for this month. I just wonder, though, whether Kramnik will return to one of his old favourites and surprise Anand with the Sveshnikov in Bonn. If that really does happen, we'll most definitely explore it here next month!

Until then, Richard


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