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Dear Subscribers,
This month was full of high-level events, and I had a wide choice of spectacular Sicilian battles to choose from. This time the update will mostly attract Najdorf and Taimanov fans. Enjoy!

Download PGN of December ’17 Open Sicilian games

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Taimanov 7.Qf3 Ne5 8.Qg3 b5 9.0-0-0 Nf6 [B48]

We start with the top-level game Karjakin, S - Caruana, F, where Black came up with the important novelty 15...Bc6!:

The critical moment came on move 17, when 17.exf6 would have maintained the balance. Instead, 17.h3?! allowed Fabiano to win a pawn, and even though the further play wasn't perfect, Black's victory seems well-deserved.

No doubt the ball is now in White's court in this fashionable line.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 Ne5 8.Qg3 b5 9.Bf4?! [B48]

The next game, Gorovets, A - Drozdowski, K, saw White try to refute the somewhat unusual move order with 9.Bf4?! d6 10.Bxb5?. However, in the critical position after 12.0-0-0:

Black missed a great opportunity to seize the initiative by means of 12...g5! Instead, after 12...Nf6? the game unexpectedly transposed to Morozevich - Bukavshin from the archives. The next critical moment came on move 14, when GM Gorovets came up with the dubious novelty 14.Qxg7?, which could have led to a quick loss. Luckily for Andrey his opponent was far from his best, so after committing 2 mistakes in a row Black's position was ruined.

Najdorf, Bartel's System 6.Nb3 g6 [B90]

In the next game, Preotu, R - Xiong, J, the players went into a rare theoretical position after 11...Bb7:

Here Razven came up with a decent novelty, 12.Nxc6, which enables White to maintain the balance. However, a few moves later he went astray with 17.f3? and was nicely outplayed.

Well, at the moment 6...g6 followed by 8...Nc6 looks like a great weapon against Bartel's system.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 setup with 0-0-0 [B90]

An interesting theoretical discussion took place in Leko, P - Areshchenko, A. In one of the most fashionable positions in the 8...h5 system Peter came up with the natural novelty 15.Bd3!?:

which might pose Black some practical problems. Alexander's reaction 15...Qc7! was correct, but on the next move he prematurely went for q-side castling, and after 18.c5! came under strong pressure. Luckily for GM Areshchenko, his experienced opponent failed to handle the endgame properly and so Black managed to achieve a draw quite effortlessly.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 9.f3 Be7... 12.g5 Nh5 [B90]

In the game Hracek, Z - Dziuba, M the players entered into a well-known theoretical position after 18.c4:

At this moment Marcin wrongly followed GM Nepomniachtchi's play, so that after 18...bxc4? Black got an unpleasant position. The really critical moment came later, on move 23, when Zbynek committed a serious mistake with 23.Ba2? when, instead, after 23.Bxc2! White would be firmly in control. As a result, Black managed to develop significant counter-play on the k-side, and the game ended in a draw after some interesting play.

Well, this line looks perfectly playable for Black in case of 18...Nb8!, but we need some practical tests for a better assessment.

Najdorf 6.Be2 e5 7.Nf3 [B92]

The next encounter, Van Foreest, J - Sorokin, A, is a sort of opening disaster. Indeed, in the rare theoretical position after 8.Nd2:

Black went for the over-optimistic 8...b5?! and soon got into an unpleasant position. His next unsuccessful decision was 11...Be7?! and led Aleksey to lose his b-pawn. Even though Black's further play wasn't the most stubborn, White's quick win still looks quite impressive.

Regarding the opening, the 'modest' 8...Be7! should have been preferred when I believe that Black shouldn't face serious problems in this line.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.a3!? [B96]

This line is becoming more and more popular. In fact, one of the leading Najdorf experts Maxime Vachier Lagrave had to face this line twice within a very short period.

First, in Giri, A - Vachier Lagrave,M, in the important theoretical position after 16...Ng4:

Anish came up with a dangerous novelty 17.Rhg1!, and after the dubious reply 17...g6?! White managed to develop a powerful initiative on the k-side. The really critical moment came on move 26, when GM Giri spoiled all his advantage with 26.h5?. Instead, had White played 26.Bg3! it would have been extremely difficult for Maxime to stay in the game.

Anyway, 17.Rhg1! is hardly a refutation of Black's setup, but the second player must play very precisely in order to maintain the balance.

Second, in Karjakin, S - Vachier Lagrave, M it was Maxime's turn to introduce an important innovation in the position after 17.Qxf4:

Here Black employed the new move 17...hxg5 and managed to show that control over the h-line doesn't offer White anything special. Moreover, Sergey soon switched to passive defence and was brilliantly outplayed after some interesting play. Impressive positional play by the French Grandmaster.

See you next month, Michael

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