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As summer begins to turn into autumn, the Open Sicilian remains as busy as ever. This month we mainly consider developments in the Sveshnikov, the Classical and the Najdorf, with leading Sicilian experts Shirov, Vachier Lagrave and Nepomniachtchi to the fore.

Download PGN of September '09 Open Sicilian games

The Sveshnikov

A critical modern battleground is the Novisibirsk Variation, 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. After the critical continuation 11 Bd3 Ne7 12 Nxe7 Qxe7 13 c4 f5 14 0-0 0-0 15 Qh5 (we also examine developments after the important alternative 15 Qf3) 15...Rb8 16 exf5 e4 17 Rae1 Bb7 18 Qg4! we reach a key tabiya:

As we noted at the time, in May Carlsen came a cropper against Shirov with 18...Rfe8 19 cxb5 d5 in Sofia. Matters were hardly too clear, though, but Black doesn't have to play so aggressively. Indeed 18...Kh8!? 19 Bxe4 Bxb2 has been touted as a reasonable alternative. Shirov's latest novelty, 20 Re3!, brought him a crushing victory here in Shirov - Markos, but matters may not be so clear if Black now tries 20...Rg8!?.

A variation which just won't go away is 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 b4 12 Nc2, taking Black into a less dynamic middlegame than he might like. At this point Radjabov's 12...0-0!? is arguably critical:

As we will see in Nepomniachtchi - Ni Hua Black appears to have fully solved his problems against 13 h4, but Kamsky's simple 13 Be2 a5 14 0-0 isn't so easy to equalize against.

This had been considered good for Black, but unfortunately for us Black erred in a critical position on move 18 in Vallejo Pons-San Segundo. In the notes I've pointed out various ideas which both sides might wish to explore further, but for now I think we'll have to wait and see if Vallejo repeats the bishop sacrifice.

The Classical: The Richter-Rauzer

Over the past 18 months or so we've given quite a bit of attention to the variation 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 a6 9 f4 Nxd4 10 Qxd4 b5. It remains topical, partly because the tricky try 11 Be2 Bb7 12 Bf3 appears to have been neutralized by 12...0-0!. In Grandelius - Huschenbeth White took play down a fairly forcing line into an ending which may promise him a tiny edge, but Black held.

White's critical line appears to be the combative 11 Bxf6 gxf6 12 e5 d5 13 Be2:

In Ganguly - Dreev a leading black expert immediately went astray and was blown away after 13...Qc7? 14 Nxd5! exd5 15 exf6. I wouldn't be surprised if we soon start seeing much more of this variation, but for now 13...Bd7 appears to be holding up okay.

The Najdorf: 6 Bc4

The sharp line 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bc4 e6 7 Bb3 b5 8 Bg5 has rather fallen from fashion in 2009. Indeed, I can only assume that Bacrot has some new ideas after 8...Be7 9 Qf3 Qc7 for he tried this line as White in Bacrot - Sasikiran, but the Indian was well prepared. Following in the footsteps of no lesser players than Polugaevsky, Gallagher and Shirov he tried the surprisingly rare 8...b4!?:

From what I can see the resulting positions, while still quite murky, are less sharp and much less theoretical than the main line and, crucially, appear fine for Black, especially in the case of 9 Na4! Nbd7!.

The Najdorf: 6 Be2

We haven't given the Karpov system, 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 Be3 Be6 10 Qd2 Nbd7 11 a4, too much attention of late, despite Michael Adams' regular use of it:

White has, however, discovered a number of small nuances, especially in the Gallagher ...Nc5 lines. Several of these are pointed out in the notes to Adams - Negi in which the current main line with 11...Rc8 12 a5 Qc7 13 Rfd1 Rfd8 followed by a timely ...Nc5 holds up well for Black.

The Najdorf: 6 Bg5

The leading practitioner of 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Nc6!? is the winner of Biel, Maxime Vachier Lagrave. In this summer's French Championship he twice employed the variation and with decent results. Especially notable is his choice against the critical 8 e5 h6 9 Bh4...

...where Vachier Lagrave has avoided the uncompromising 9...g5 in favour of the solid 9...dxe5 10 Nxc6 Qxd1+ 11 Rxd1 bxc6 12 fxe5 and now not Anand's 12...Nd5, but rather 12...Nd7! which appears to fully equalize. Indeed, Black goes on to grind out the full point in Le Roux-Vachier Lagrave.

Another topical battleground remains 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Qb6 8 Qd2 Qxb2 9 Rb1 Qa3 10 e5!? h6 11 Bh4 dxe5 12 fxe5:

Black almost always continues 12...Nfd7, but in Anand - Nepomniachtchi the World Champion was stunned by 12...g5!? and suffered an unexpected defeat. Black's radical idea is not new, though - it's been around since 2007 in the correspondence world! Thankfully Tim Harding's excellent new database MegaCorr3 quickly helped me to get up to date here, and I wouldn't be surprised if we were to see much more of 12...g5 in the coming months.

So what was missing this month? Yes, that's right, the English Attack! That and I will both be back quite soon.

Until then, Richard


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