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Dear Subscribers,
This time selecting 8 games wasn't an easy task, and, in fact, 6 out of the 8 games were played in different tournaments. Once again we have an update full of opening disasters, important novelties and high-level chess. Enjoy!

Download PGN of December ’16 Open Sicilian games

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Kan/Taimanov 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Qc7 7.a3 [B41]

The game Kantans, T - Almasi, Z saw the players entering a fashionable line with a Hedgehog pawn structure, where Zoltan employed the rather rare 12...Rc8, keeping the king in the centre for a while. In my opinion, this moves order hardly has any independent value, since in the position after 14.a4:

Black's best option still seems to be 14...0-0. Frankly speaking, after reconsidering the arising complications, I've come to the conclusion that this line isn't bad for Black, and I expect more practical tests on this territory. However, 14...Bd8, followed by 16...Bc7?! led the higher-rated player into a difficult situation. Even though the further play was full of mutual mistakes, the brilliant idea 20.Bd1! makes White's victory well-deserved.

Kan/Taimanov 6.Qd3 [B47]

In the next game, Eljanov, P - Neiksans, A, Pavel went for the tricky 6.Qd3!?, and Arturs reacted with 6...Nxd4, which wasn't covered on our site yet. The next 2 moves from both players were optimal, but in the critical position after 8...b5

White's best attempt to pose Black some problems seems to be 9.a4!?, switching to positional play. Instead of that, the most aggressive 9.0-0-0 Bb7 10.Kb1 was nicely met by the natural novelty 10...Nf6!, which allowed Black to gain comfortable play. The really critical moment of the game came on move 18, when the correct 18.Be4! would have kept the position balanced and very complex. Instead, 18.h4?? led to a quick disaster.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f4 b5 [B90]

Our following game, Volokitin, A - Kovchan, A, has exceptional theoretical value. Indeed, in the position after 8...b5 Andrei employed the important novelty 9.Be3!:

and quickly obtained a decisive advantage. Even though 10...Nxe4? was an obvious mistake, and GM Kovchan's play can be easily improved by the stronger 10...Bxd5, White's chances seems preferable. Therefore, the ball is in Black's court right now.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f4 Nbd7 [B90]

Another theoretical discussion took place in the top-level encounter Anand, V - Vachier-Lagrave, M, where Vishy was able to make use of his exceptional home preparation. In the theoretical position after 8...Nbd7 White went for 9.g4!, which was tested only once before. It looks like Maxime's innovation 9...Rc8, followed by 11...d5 was deeply analyzed by his experienced opponent, so when the critical position after 13.Bg2 appeared on the board MVL was already in serious time pressure.

Unluckily for Maxime, the natural-looking 13...Qb6? left Black a pawn down in a bad position, but it wasn't the last dramatic moment of the game. GM Anand didn't manage to handle the position properly, so had MVL played 28...Nxe4, liquidating one of White's powerful bishops, the game might have ended in a draw. Instead, 28...Rd1+?, followed by 29...Re8 led to a quick loss.

Regarding the Opening - even though 13...Rxc3! was much better, the whole setup with 8...Nbd7 looks extremely dangerous for Black after this game.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 b5 [B90]

The next game, Fedoseev, V - Kokarev, D, saw White employing the rare 8.Ng3!?, which was previously successfully employed by GM Pentala Harikrishna:

In reply Dmitry deviated from the most natural 8...Nbd7!? and played 8...Qc7, instead, when Vladimir's ambitious reaction 9.a4 b4 10.Nd5 didn't pose Black any problems. Moreover, a few moves later White committed the serious mistake 16.Rd1? and was convincingly outplayed.

Still, 8.Ng3!? is definitely worth more attention.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 [B90]

The game Vachier-Lagrave, M - Giri, A offers us another theoretical discussion between two leading Najdorf experts. The position after 8...Be6!? has already occurred in the practice of both players:

so I guess the position after 14.f4, which was seen in a preceding game from MVL, was properly analyzed by Anish before the game. As a result, he introduced the interesting novelty 14...Rc8, and the game ended in a draw after short, but attractive play. Well, I believe White still has some chances for gaining some advantage in this line, but at the moment 8...Be6!? looks like a good solution for Black.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.g4 b5?! [B90]

Our next game, Sevian, S - Xiong, J, also has exceptional theoretical value. Indeed, 10...b5?! was played by many strong players, including top Grandmasters, but 11.a4! looks like a clear refutation of this move order:

Possibly, 11...bxa4 is now the lesser evil for Black, but it also doesn't promise an easy life. Instead of that, Xiong's innovation 11...Bxb3 left Black with chronic strategic difficulties. Even though Samuel's play was far from perfect, had he played 23.h5! it would have been very hard for Black to survive. Instead, 23.Bd3? enabled Black to activate most of his pieces, so the play became double-edged. However, a few moves later GM Sevian got another excellent chance to win the game, but he didn't find this, either, and eventually lost.

Najdorf Poisoned Pawn 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.Qd2, 14...Qb2? [B97]

Our last game, Baron, T - Dvoirys, S, is a typical opening disaster. The text 14...Qb2? was previously covered on our site in Radjabov - Karjakin, and was considered to be a forbidden option:

In my opinion, after 15.Qe3! Black's only way to stay in the game is 15...Bc5, but even then White's initiative is worth more than the sacrificed material. Instead, 15...Qb6? 16.Be2 Nc6 was nicely refuted by 17.Bh5!, and Black was quickly crushed in elegant style.

Well, this game illustrates just how dangerous White's attack can be in the 6.Bg5 Najdorf, especially when the opponent isn't properly prepared.

See you next month! Michael

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