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As ever the recent European Club Cup in Ohrid produced a number of highly-interesting and theoretically-important Sicilian struggles, especially in the Kan and the Taimanov. These developments form the backbone of this month's column.

Download PGN of October '09 Open Sicilian games

The Sveshnikov

Last month we returned to the critical line of the Novosibirsk, 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 11 Bd3 Ne7 12 Nxe7 Qxe7 13 0-0 0-0 14 c4 f5 15 Qh5 Rb8 16 exf5 e4 17 Rae1 Bb7 18 Qg4. In Shirov-Markos we examined 18...Kh8, but in Topalov - Carlsen the Norwegian star remained true to his earlier choice, 18...Rfe8:

After 19 cxb5 d5 20 bxa6 Bc6, Topalov avoided 21 b3 which brought Shirov memorable success in Sofia, but his 21 Rc1 appears less challenging and Carlsen was quickly able to reach a drawish endgame.

The Kan

The variation 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 5 Bd3 Bc5 remains quite popular. After 6 Nb3 Black has a choice and we consider recent developments after 6...Ba7 in Rublevsky - Zukov. I suspect that 7 Qg4 remains critical, whereas Rublevsky chose 7 0-0 and after 7...Nc6 8 Qg4 Qf6 9 Nc3 Black should be okay, although Zubov's novelty, 9...d6, may not be quite the most precise.

The Scheveningen-like retreat to e7 also has its adherents, and following 6...Be7 7 Be3!? Nf6 8 N1d2 Nc6 9 f4 we reach quite a critical position:

At this point Black may do best to bravely castle, but in Shirov - Manik he preferred the slightly misguided 9...Qc7 and found himself worse in a sharp situation after 10 Qe2! b6 11 0-0-0. As usual with Shirov the board quickly caught fire, but even the Latvian wizard wasn't able to remain fully in control of the flames.

White might, of course, prefer 5 Nc3 and we discuss developments there after 5...b5 6 Bd3 in Gashimov - Siebrecht. That encounter confirms that the non-standard retreat 6...Qb6 7 Nf3! continues to pose problems, and after 7...Bb7 8 0-0 Nf6 9 e5 Nd5, Gashimov's aggressive 10 Ng5!? is but one promising continuation:

The Taimanov

I'm grateful to subscriber Igor Kragelj for drawing my attention to the fact that the old main line 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nb5 d6 6 c4 Nf6 7 N1c3 a6 8 Na3 Be7 9 Be2 0-0 10 0-0 b6 11 Be3 Bb7 12 f4 isn't quite as harmless for Black as fashion might suggest:

Black's problem is that 12...d5 fails to equalize, and Delchev's line with 12...Rc8 is also looking a little suspect due to some analysis kindly supplied by Kragelj. Thus in Diaz - Diamant Black sensibly tried to manoeuvre with 12...Qc7 13 Bf3 Rac8, but even in this classic Hedgehog position White may retain a small edge.

Somewhat more topical is the English Attack approach, 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Be3 a6 7 Qd2 Nf6 8 0-0-0:

Black has two main paths at this point, and I'm pleased to report that the variation 8...Be7 9 f3 h5!? has continued to grow in popularity. Moreover, Black is in pretty reasonable health here, as we'll see in the dramatic encounter Movsesian - Horvath. Despite such success, 8...Bb4 9 f3 Ne5 remains the main line, but Sutovsky - Polgar suggests that after the critical 10 Nb3 b5 11 Qe1 Be7 12 f4 Black should prefer 12...Ng6 to the game's 12...Nc4?!.

The Scheveningen

Finally, we discover yet more evidence of strong players not being scared off the move order 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 by the Keres Attack. One option then is the solid, old line 6 g4 h6 7 h4 Nc6 8 Rg1 h5 9 gxh5 Nxh5 10 Bg5 Nf6:

I've long considered 11 Rg3!? to be quite critical here, but Fier - Ponomariov suggests that Black may have solved his problems with the promising novelty 11...a6 12 Nxc6 bxc6 13 Qf3 Qa5!.

That's all for now. No doubt the Najdorf will return with a vengeance in November!

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