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Welcome to the Xmas (or December, if you're getting technical) edition of the Sicilian update for ChessPublishing!

Download PGN of December '13 Open Sicilian games

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The English Attack v Taimanov 8 f3 b5 [B48]

If like me this time of year gets you sentimental, yearning for mince pies and holly, mistletoe and wine, you might not find time or the inclination to do hard chess study, slaving over the board or the computer trying to find that novelty on move 28 in the Orang-utan opening.

However, I believe that's a big mistake. Put aside the crimbo presents and turkey sandwiches for one moment, and take a look at the first game Almasi, Z - Movsesian, S which features the increasingly popular line of the Taimanov defence with 8.f3 where Black responds with 8...b5!?. This isn't quite as popular as the lines with 8...Bb4 yet, but if this game is anything to go by, that may soon change. In many variations Black can force through a quick ...d5, perhaps by displacing the knight on c3 first with ...b4.

After 19...a5!:

Black was already rumbling on the queenside.

Keres Attack [B81]

In fact in this month's update there is an emphasis on Black wins, showing once again how strong and vibrant the Sicilian remains. Perunovic, M - Zhigalko, A features an interesting line of the 6.h3 Najdorf, transposing into an obscure Keres Attack where Black plays an early 7...Nfd7!?:

A very interesting alternative to the more tried and trusted lines, and the idea of this is that Black may well be able to delay the development of his dark-squared bishop, instead concentrating on quickly mobilising his queenside. Ivanchuk has tried this, no greater endorsement can be made...

The position after 14...Rc8 is in many ways very typical of the whole 6.h3 line:

White's kingside advance looks very threatening, but at the same time Black's position resembles a coiled-spring; he is ready to unleash his forces at any moment to launch a devastating counter-attack.

The Scheveningen 6 Be2 [B84]

The opening in Naiditsch, A - Vitiugov, N rather resembles a weird sort of Scheveningen/Tiamanov/Kan lovechild.

With 12.e5 White very definitely takes it into Kan waters:

but I believe although he is slightly cramped, Black's defensive possibilities are excellent in these type of positions, and so it proved. Therefore I would prefer to keep the pawn on f4 for as long as I can.

The Najdorf 6 Be3 e5 7 Nf3 Qc7 [B90]

McShane, L - Papaioannou, I saw White try the positional approach against the Najdorf, with 7.Nf3, and after 11...Nc5 a very typical position of this variation was reached, where both players are opting for a slow manoeuvering game:

Personally I think that Black should be fine after 11...Nc5, but more active players might prefer the main alternative 11...b5. Despite the result White's innocuous looking opening contains a lot of venom.

6 Be3 Ng4, 10 h3 Ne5 11 f3 [B90]

Saric, I - Banikas, H saw a very topical variation of the 6.Be3 Najdorf with 6...Ng4 that I had already analysed in a recent update. Gelfand is loving this line at the moment, and seems to win just about every game with Black. Banikas followed the great Israeli's moves from his recent game against Nakamura, but White deviated with the unfortunate novelty 19.Nd5?:

As the game shows, this is virtually lost for White already after the bold response 19...Bxd5 20. exd5 Qxd5! which not only demonstrates how dangerous this variation is, but also makes you wonder how closely Saric had bothered to look at this line, especially when you consider that the aforementioned Naka-Gelfand game had been heavily analysed in a number of sources.

The general consensus is that it's a draw by perpetual check in the mainline, so clearly the onus is on White to come up with some kind of decent improvement to keep this variation alive.

Poisoned Pawn Variation 10...h6 [B97]

The last game I want to look at, before I let you get on with your Xmas pud, is Guseinov, G - Areshchenko, A, which features the legendary Poisoned Pawn Variation with 7...Qb6! which was popularized by Bobby Fischer of course.

I believe that if you play the Najdorf, and you are an active player with a good feel for tactics who can calculate and analyse pretty well, then you must play this variation at least once in your life. It would be rude not to.

It suits energetic players, and the position after 17.Rf4 is fascinating:

Black has the choice between 17...e5, which seems to lead almost to a draw by force, or maybe go for more with 17...Nxf6!? I doubt this is the last we have seen of this line.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed this month's update, and have a good Christmas! Danny.

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