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Many varieties of the Sicilian fill up TWIC each week and we consider a number of them this month, but not the ever-popular Najdorf. Highlights include the increasing popularity of 9 Bxf6 against the Sveshnikov at sub-elite level, although Black remains in reasonable shape here, and evidence that Black is beginning to make something of a comeback in the Classical.

Download PGN of September '08 Open Sicilian games

The Lowenthal

This is a decent surprise weapon which I've long admired and employed. A critical test is the theoretical main line 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 a6 6 Nd6+ Bxd6 7 Qxd6 Qf6 8 Qd1 (there's also some coverage in the notes of developments after the more positional 8 Qd2) 8...Qg6 9 Nc3 Nge7 10 h4 h5 11 Bg5 d5 12 exd5 and now Vallejo's 12...Nd4 remains Black's best bet:

Fusco - Molina features a new try by White, but Black appears to be holding a rough balance in any case.

The Sveshnikov: 9 Nd5

The positional and rather dry 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 Nd5 Be7 10 Bxf6 Bxf6 11 c4 just won't go away. However, perhaps the course of Anand - Radjabov will finally convince white players that they have nothing here. After 11...b4 12 Nc2 Radjabov eschewed the common 12...a5, preferring to gambit his b-pawn with 12...0-0!?:

White doesn't have to accept this sacrifice, although not doing so reduces his options in comparison with immediate 12...a5 lines, but taking the pawn never really led to any advantage for the world no.1.

The Sveshnikov: 9 Bxf6

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 is not yet played out and, indeed, I expect that we will begin to see more of this in future months as White struggles to prove any advantage with 9 Nd5. We begin by examining 10...Bg7, the Novosibirsk Variation. Both sides come well prepared in Najer - Yakovich, and in a sharp and critical line White introduces the novelty 21 Be2!?:

This is dangerous. Over the board Yakovich was unable to find his way through all the complications, but in any case White may well just be better.

In Smikovski - Tregubov a critical variation of the Chelyabinsk Variation was debated, namely 10...Bg7 11 Bd3 Be6 12 0-0 Bxd5 13 exd5 Ne7 14 Re1 Bg7 15 c3 0-0 16 Qh5 e4 17 Bf1 Re8 18 Rad1:

Here Tregubov followed in Krasenkow's footsteps with 18...Ng6, but I'm not totally convinced by this pawn sacrifice and suspect that 18...Rc8 followed by 19...Rc5 is a better route to rough equality.

2...e6 & 4...Qb6

I'm not certain that the variation 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Qb6 has a name, but this is a reasonable way to avoid theory and reach Scheveningen-like positions. However, White should be a little better here and in Nisipeanu - Ivanchuk he demonstrates one decent try for an edge: 5 Nb3 Qc7 6 Bd3 Nf6 7 0-0 d6 8 c4 Be7 9 Nc3 0-0 10 Be3 b6 11 a4!

The Taimanov: 5...a6

A critical test of Black's decision to meet 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 with 5...a6, rather than 5...Qc7, is 6 Nxc6 bxc6 7 Bd3 d5 8 0-0:

On the current evidence Black is holding his own after 8...Nf6 9 Re1, as we'll see in Naiditsch - Mamedyarov, and so I won't be surprised if more players begin to follow in Leko's footsteps with 9 Qf3!?.

A sharp alternative is the Dangerous Weapons line 6 Be3 Nf6 7 f4!?:

This quickly leads to complex and original positions, and has appealed to both Radjabov and Shirov of late. Anand equalized with some accurate defensive play in Radjabov - Anand, but discussions are far from closed here - see Shirov's 11th-move alternative in the notes.

The Classical Sicilian: The Richter-Rauzer

Black hasn't been in great shape in a number of lines against the Richter-Rauzer over the past decade or so, but a number of leading Classical authorities have been happy to debate 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bg5 e6 7 Qd2 Be7 8 0-0-0 Nxd4 9 Qxd4 a6 of late:

We begin with 10 f3, preparing a kingside pawnstorm, in Dominguez - Dreev. However, Dreev comes well prepared and his instructive plan of ...Nd7-e5 appears to give Black fully satisfactory counter-chances. Thus 10 f4 can probably be considered more critical. After 10...b5 11 Be2 Bb7 12 Bf3 0-0! Black equalized in Landa - Malakhov, although some questions remain here over Kasparov's 11 Bxf6 gxf6 12 e5!? - a move which we may well have to return to in future updates.

I dare say that the Najdorf will be back next month!

Until then, Richard


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