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The statistics may make grim reading for Black this month, but the result of a game rarely tells us just what was going on in the opening. Moreover, Alexei Shirov has been up to his old tricks and I'm sure subscribers will enjoy studying two typically eventful recent games of his.

Download PGN of September '10 Open Sicilian games

2...Nc6 & 4...d5

Despite having covered 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 d5!? in Dangerous Weapons: The Sicilian, I have to confess that I have no idea what the variation is called, if indeed it actually has a name. In any case it was an inspired choice against a much higher-rated opponent in Shirov - Raupp, which continued 5 exd5 Qxd5:

As we'll see in the notes, White's best option at this point and arguably overall against 4...d5 is 6 Be3, but Shirov preferred to head for a queenless middlegame with 6 Nb5?! Qxd1+ 7 Kxd1. Unsurprisingly Black had no difficulties whatsoever after developing with tempo through 7...Bg4+ 8 f3 0-0-0+ and I dare say that Shirov was a little relieved to eventually prevail in a tough endgame.

The Kan

The critical test of 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 remains 5 Bd3, on which we focus our attention this month, beginning with the slightly offbeat but by no means unsound 5...g6!?. An interesting and fairly critical response is for White to set up a delayed Maroczy Bind, namely with 6 0-0 Bg7 7 Nb3!? Ne7 8 c4, already reaching quite an important position:

Black would, of course, like to break with ...d7-d5, but it seems that he must bide his time with 8...Nbc6 9 Nc3 0-0 or, of course, 8...0-0 9 Nc3 Nbc6. In the latter sequence, 9...d5? is a move which one could easily make in a rapid game, but my fellow columnist quickly came unstuck with it in Karjakin - Davies and despite staging a spirited fightback was unable to save the game.

For a while one could say that 5...Bc5 was the main line after 5 Bd3, but in recent months the older 5...Qc7 6 0-0 Nf6 has staged something of a comeback. A critical continuation is 7 Qe2 d6 8 c4 g6 9 Nc3 Bg7 10 Nf3 0-0 11 Rd1 and now after 11...Nc6 Shirov recently employed the extremely rare 12 Bc2!?:

The main point of this prophylactic retreat is to quickly pressure d6 and after 12...Nd7 13 Be3 Nde5 14 Bb3! White may well have an edge. Black responded with a spirited pawn sacrifice in Shirov - Wang Hao, but it should have been insufficient... however, that's only the beginning of a long story and a highly entertaining tussle.

Wang Hao might have been happy to deploy his queen's knight to c6, but it can also go to d7 at any point from move 8 onwards. Indeed, the immediate 8...Nbd7!? was preferred in Grigoriants - Bocharov, which continued 9 Nc3 g6:

After 10 Rd1 Black never had any real problems and so for now I have to conclude that Wang Hao would have been better off with 11...Nbd7, transposing to Grigoriants-Bocharov, than his 11...Nc6. However, does Bocharov's move order really prevent 10 Bf4? Nobody's ever wanted to 'blunder' a piece like this, but matters are by no means so clear, as we'll see in the notes where we also observe that Black is completely OK after the earlier alternative 7 c4.

The Taimanov

Another Dangerous Weapons variation, namely 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 Nf6 7 f4, has been somewhat less popular of late than it was a couple of years ago, largely I suspect because of the rise of 7...Bb4 8 Bd3 e5!:

We've seen before that this is likely a solid equaliser and Almasi - Laznicka doesn't shake that view. Black is, though, outplayed soon after leaving theory, not that Almasi is ever able to make too much of his resulting edge before events again explode in the run up to the time control.

Yet another game this month which may have featured something of a scramble is Rietze - Ross, a lower-rated game but one which suggests that 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Be2 a6 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Be3 Bb4 9 Na4 Bd6!? might be due a comeback:

When Anand used to favour this line as Black his opponents generally went 10 g3, which is the prudent choice. Rietze prefers 10 Nxc6 bxc6 11 f4!?, but the resulting unbalanced positions arising after 11...Nxe4 12 Qd4 Nf6 seem to favour Black, if anyone, from what I can see. Thus if one is happy to defend solidly a slightly worse ending after 10 g3 (or look for earlier improvements over Anand's play), then 9...Bd6 could well be used as an alternative to the more popular 9...Be7.

The Classical Sicilian: The Richter-Rauzer

Two leading opposing authorities clash in Shirov - Dreev where the latter's pet variation 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 Bd7!? is debated. After 7 Qd2 Dreev eschews the risky 7...Rc8 for the solid 7...h6 8 Bxf6 gxf6, though:

I have my doubts that Black can claim equality here, but he can certainly hope to outplay White in the resulting unbalanced middlegames. On the current evidence White's best bet appears to be 9 0-0-0 Nxd4 10 Qxd4 Qa5 11 f4 Rc8 12 Kb1. Shirov prefers 11 Bc4!? which I've previously quite liked too, but Dreev comes prepared with a novelty and later a deep pawn sacrifice gives him a fairly comfortable draw.

The Najdorf

It's rare that I can use just that as a heading, but there is only the one game with 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 this month. However, fans of the opening should not panic - at the very least the topical continuation 6 Bg5 Nbd7 will return next month! For now attention is on 6 Bc4 e6 7 Bb3 b5 8 0-0 Be7 9 Qf3 Qc7 10 Qg3 0-0, which I have to confess has been a little neglected on the site:

We'll examine a number of possibilities for White, but unsurprisingly Rublevsky chooses the most critical, namely 11 Bh6 Ne8 12 Rad1 Bd7 13 f4!, in Rublevsky - Bu Xiangzhi. Both sides are happy to follow their previous experiences for quite a while, but it does seem that White's pawn sacrifice should give him an edge. That said, it doesn't for long as the Russian soon falls for a nasty trick.

Arivaderchi! Richard


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