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Greetings, fans of the Najdorf Variation.
It has been some time since I put pen to paper on my favourite variation of the Sicilian, in fact I have produced nothing since my book Winning With the Najdorf (1992). I thought it was better to play the opening rather than write about it! Anyway, here we go with a few snapshots of current Najdorf theory and praxis.

Download PGN of December '06 Open Sicilian games

Najdorf [B90 to B99]

I am taking as my main topic some specific ideas in the 6 Bg5 variation. Although these days 6 Be3 has just about taken over as the main line, it has always seemed to me that 6 Bg5 is the acid test of the Najdorf. Theoretically there are probably several reasonable responses, not least the Poisoned Pawn variation, but many of these run the risk that if White wishes to force a draw, he can. This has happened to my cost in the past when playing a weaker player. Therefore I am always on the lookout for new ideas that are slightly off the beaten track against 6 Bg5. There are several here that I have researched and examined.

John Nunn provides some food for thought in his latest autobiographical volume Grandmaster Chess Move by Move. A few years ago he reverted to playing 6 Bg5 against the Najdorf and annotates a couple of his games in the main line with 10 g4 b5 11 Bxf6 Nxf6 etc. However, at this point he mentions '11...Bxf6 is a reasonable move and it is surprising that it is not played more often':

That was enough for me to start investigations. I've been aware of this move for some time, but somehow never took it seriously. It's an attractive idea, if only because there is no prescribed route for White to follow. For example, the line that Nunn recommends (12 g5 in game 3), I do not find convincing. Anyway, Game 1, Game 2, and Game 3 feature White's three main responses, 12 Bxb5, 12 Ndxb5?! and 12 g5.

Game 4, Burg - Baramidze, is closely related to 10...Bxf6 above, indeed, variations often transpose. After 10 g4, instead of the standard 10...b5, Black simply castles:

It looks terrifying to commit the king at such an early stage (think how often the king escapes to the queenside in the Najdorf), but there is more to this than meets the eye. The German player David Baramidze - no theoretical slouch - has tried this twice, so it is certainly worth a look. However, thus far he has not had to face what I believe to be the real test of the system, 11 Bh4. I should mention that one of the progenitors of 10...0-0 was the late Latvian Master Alvis Vitolinsh, and that gives it good street cred. I once had the pleasure of playing against him in a closed tournament. His games were full of the most creative opening ideas.

Let's have a quick dip into the Browne Variation, one of the most reliable systems for Black in the Najdorf.

Here, White always plays 13 Qe2 and Black follows with 13...Nfg4 recovering the pawn on g5. Black must have got a bit of a shock in Azarov - Predojevic (game 5) when White simply gave up his queen with 13 gxf6. Let me say straightaway that this does not represent the refutation of the main line of the Najdorf. Black's position is too solid for that. However, it's good to be aware of the sacrifice and it should be treated seriously.

Game 6, Mueller - Kasimdzhanov features a system that is growing in popularity:

I know that Tony has discussed this before, but I'm bringing you up-to-date with the latest games and giving my own views. I find this system attractive, not least because of an important practical consideration: it comes fairly soon in the game so there is less chance of White deviating and avoiding it. Moreover, in securing the e5 square for the knight, the idea has a sound positional basis.

And finally ... as the icy tentacles of theory extend to touch the most obscure lines of play, it is great to see that even in the most well-known positions there is still scope to surprise.

As far as I can see 6 Qe2 was first played in 2001 by Balinov in a game in the Austrian league. Perhaps it was just a 'fingerfehler': his blurry eyes reached out to play the bishop to e2 and he found himself clutching the queen. He had to do something with the piece so, what the hell, it went to e2 anyway. Recently the move has had a little wave of popularity in Spain. I am featuring the game Romero Holmes - Harikrishna. Although White lost, I think he missed a strong idea in the opening (8 Nh6). This reminds me of the spectacular game Nezhmetdinov - Tal, USSR Ch. 1961 that I have appended at the end of this batch of games.

One thing is clear: do not underestimate 6 Qe2.

That's all for now. Good luck with your Najdorfs, and whatever happens, keep the Faith. I look forward to greeting you again, at some future date, on Daniel King


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