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Dear subscribers,
Maybe the World Championship match was not the most spectacular event (all the Classical games ended in a draw), but the players introduced lots of new theoretical ideas, especially in the Sicilian. Therefore, I think it's important to focus on their discussion in the Sveshnikov.
Najdorf fans won't be disappointed, though, as there are a few important innovations on this territory, as usual.

Download PGN of December ’18 Open Sicilian games

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Sveshnikov 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 [B33]

We start with a decisive Rapid game, Caruana, F - Carlsen, M (after losing this game Fabiano only had minor theoretical chances to save the match), where Magnus again played the somewhat risky 8...Ne7, and the players followed their play from the 12th game up till 11.Qb4:

At this moment the World Champion deviated with 11...Qb8!?, which was undoubtedly deeply analyzed by his team. Still, soon Black wrongly exposed b5 with 14...a5?! and got into a strategically difficult position. The first critical moment of the game came on move 21, when instead of the natural 21.Nb5 Fabiano went for the impulsive 21.c5? and it made the play very double-edged. Another ambitious decision, 25.Nd5?, enabled Magnus to develop a powerful attack and eventually win nicely.

Since the position after 14...Be7 looks acceptable for Black, I expect that 11...Qb8!? will soon be tested more often in practice.

Sveshnikov 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Nb8 9.a4 Be7 10.Be2 0-0 11.0-0 Nd7 [B33]

The line with 9.a4 was never considered too dangerous for Black, but recently it was successfully employed by the young Russian Grandmaster Oparin against Boris Gelfand. However, I guess few people would expect this to be Fabiano's main weapon against the Sveshnikov in the match! Nevertheless, Magnus faced definite strategical problem and even switched to 8...Ne7! later on.

First, in the 8th Caruana, F - Carlsen, M game, Fabiano played 12.Bd2 (as in Oparin - Gelfand) , and natural play from both opponents led to the critical position after 18.Bxf3:

Perhaps, had Magnus now played 18...Bf6 Black would have obtained acceptable play, whereas the over-aggressive 18...g5? quickly led Black into an extremely dangerous (to say the least) position. Luckily for Magnus, Fabiano returned the favor with 24.h3?, and so the game ended in a draw after some complications.

Undoubtedly, before the next Caruana, F - Carlsen, M game Carlsen's team did their homework, but again it was Fabiano to surprise his opponent with the interesting novelty 12.b4!?:

This idea could have worked well had Fabiano played 19.Re1!, heavily limiting Black's attacking possibilities on the k-side, whereas after 19.Ra3?! he unfavourably changed the route of the game.

In general, it was a very attractive encounter that ended in a draw after some interesting play. Even though 12...a5!? might offer Black acceptable play, I expect to see more practical tests of 12.b4!?

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 Be7 8.Bc4 Be6 [B90]

Our next game, Ponkratov, P - Sarana, A, saw Black employ the rare 9...Nbd7!?:

The idea behind delaying castling was justified in this game, since the ambitious 11.Nh4 didn't yield White any advantage. The critical moment came on move 17, when 17...Qc6 would have offered Black comfortable play, whereas 17...h6? led to the loss of a pawn. After this GM Sarana failed to put-up much resistance and quickly lost.

It looks like 9...Nbd7!? definitely deserves attention, while White's best attempt to claim superiority might be 11.Re1!?

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Nbd7 9.Qd2 b5 10.0-0-0 h5 11.Nd5 h5 [B90]

An interesting theoretical discussion in this fashionable line recently took place in the Tournament of Peace in Zagreb. First, in Saric, I - Palac, M White played 12.g3, and a few moves later employed the natural novelty 16.Kb1:

The real test of this idea would be seen had White played 17.Rhe1!?, while, instead, after the premature 17.f4?! Black gained the upper hand. The next critical moment came on move 27, when Mladen missed the strong 27...e4! and allowed White to equalize. The further play was full of mutual mistakes, but Ivan was luckier and got the full point.

Undoubtedly, this line was analyzed in detail by GM Ivan Cheparinov, so in Cheparinov, I - Palac, M he opted for 12.Kb1 Bxd5 13.exd5 Nb6 and then introduced another fresh and dangerous idea 14.Qa5! It looks like Mladen managed to handle the position well, so the players entered the critical position after 17.Nxa5:

Alas, from this point onwards GM Palac started to play passively and was defeated without a real fight. Instead, had he played 17....g6! the play would definitely be double-edged.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 b5 [B94]

The game Nakar, E - Preotu, R saw the players enter the relatively rare and interesting theoretical position after 9.fxe5:

Razvan chose the most common 9...dxe5, and then White's development advantage started to tell. The first critical moment came on move 15, when the timid 15...0-0? allowed White to develop a powerful attack. Eylon's play was very natural and strong till move 21, when he started to go astray with 21.h6?! and eventually let his attack disappear. In the end, it was Razvan who got the full point.

In my opinion, 9...Nxe5 is a safer way of handling the position, but still I prefer White's chances.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 e6 8.f4 Qc7 9.0-0-0 b5 [B96]

In the last game, Savitskiy, S - Bocharov, D, the players entered the important theoretical position after 10...Bb7, that might arise via various moves orders:

At this point White chose 11.g3, which wasn't covered on our site yet. As the route of the game proves, this hardly poses Black serious problems. Moreover, Dmitry soon took over the initiative.

In general, this spectacular game saw many mutual mistakes. Still I would like to mention 2 dramatic moments: first, the timid 25...b4? surprisingly let White develop sufficient counterplay on the k-side (instead 25...gxf6! would have easily won). The other one is Black's resignation (or maybe forfeit) in a drawish position!

I hope you enjoy the update!

See you next month, Michael

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