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Hello everyone,
I am glad to introduce this Update, that almost exclusively features top-level online games, although there is one game from an 'offline' tournament - the Russian Team Championship. This time we have many side lines, and all the games were decisive!

Download PGN of December ’20 Open Sicilian games

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Sveshnikov 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exe5 Nb8 9.Qf3 [B33]

We start with So, W - Carlsen, M from the exciting final match of the Skilling Open, where White employed the rare (at least at the top level) 9.Qf3:

I am not sure if Magnus's reaction 11...Be7?! had already been analyzed by his team or whether it was just an improvisation, but his king quickly came under pressure after 15.f4! However, following this Black started to defend very well and practically equalized, but the huge blunder 31...Ng4?? decided the game in Wesley's favor.

It looks like after both 10...Be7 or 11...f6 Black should be OK, but I still expect further practical tests in this line.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 Ne5 8.Qg3 h5 9.f4 h4 10.Qh3 Nc4 [B48]

An interesting theoretical discussion took place in 2 recent games at the Ayelen Invitational. The diagram position after 16...Bc5 was previously covered in Abdumalik - Antal, where Black was quickly defeated.

This time GM Pichot was able to prove that it isn't as bad as it looks. Moreover, he won both his games against higher-rated opponents!

First, in Sethuraman, S - Pichot, A White made the new move 17.g4, and after 17...b4 18.Nce2 Ne7 Black obtained a decent position with good counterplay due to his control of the d5-spot. After this Alan started to go astray and got into big trouble, but GM Sethuraman missed a few winning possibilities, and at the end Alan converted his positional advantage into a full point.

In another game, Dominguez, L - Pichot, A , Alan faced the more aggressive 17.f5, and then came up with the important novelty 17...Ne7! that seems to offer Black acceptable play. Moreover, GM Dominguez soon initiated a repetition of moves, but Alan reasonably rejected the 'silent draw offer' and managed to completely outplay his strong opponent.

Scheveningen 11.a4 Re8 12.Kh1 Rb8 13.g4 [B84]

In the next game, Le Quang Liem - Svidler, P, the players entered a line that was extremely popular in the 80's and 90's, mainly due to the efforts of Garry Kasparov, who managed to prove that Black has decent counter-attacking possibilities in his match vs Anatoly Karpov:

This time the opening battle was lost by Peter: after 20.Nd5! and 22.a5! GM Le Quang Liem managed to seize lots of space. Despite the inaccurate 23.Bg2? White's energetic play looks very impressive, and eventually he managed to decide the game in great attacking style.

Even so, this game doesn't seem to refute Black's setup. For instance, both 14...Nd7!? and 17...Nd7!? might be improvements.

Najdorf 6.h4 e5 7.Nb3 [B90]

Another theoretical discussion in one of the relatively rare Najdorf lines took place in the match Caruana, F - Duda, J. The first game saw the common 7...Be6, and after 8.f4 exf4 9.Bxf4 Nc6 10.Qd2 GM Duda went for the most challenging 10...d5!?:

Undoubtedly, this position was analyzed by Fabiano in detail, so he reacted with the most aggressive 11.0-0-0 Bb4 12.Bg5! and managed to pose Black some practical problems. On move 17 Black finally went astray with the novelty 17...Ng3 and soon came under strong pressure. The further play was full of mutual mistakes, but Fabiano's victory is well-deserved.

In another Caruana, F - Duda, J game Jan-Krzysztof played 7...Be7, and after 8.Bg5 Be6 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.g3:

he went for the somewhat unusual 10...Qd7, preventing White from exchanging the light-squared bishop. This surprise didn't effect Fabiano, and he quickly managed to develop a powerful initiative on the k-side. The further exciting game was full of mutual mistakes, but a few key moments have to be mentioned. First, on move 33 GM Caruana missed a great opportunity of winning with a direct attack by 33.Qh8! and eventually the impulsive 37.g4+? yielded GM Duda the full point.

In general, 6.h4 doesn't seem to pose Black serious problems, but it can work as a surprise weapon even at the highest level.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 Be7 8.h3 [B90]

Our next game Chigaev, M - Murzin, V, saw White employ the rare and aggressive setup with 8.h3 0-0 9.g4, which was previously covered in Ganguly - Warmerdam. Volodar quickly deviated from that game with 10...Nfd7:

Which seems to offer Black acceptable play. However, he soon opted for a passive plan with 12...Re8?! and came under long-lasting positional pressure. Maxim's technique in this game wasn't perfect, but at the end he was luckier and got a full point.

Najdorf 6.g3 e5 7.Nb3 [B91]

In our last game, Le Quang Liem - Vachier Lagrave, M, White quickly deviated from the main theoretical paths with 8.Bg5, followed by 9.f4:

This ambitious idea hardly offers White any advantage, but after the inaccurate 12...Ne5?! Maxim came under some pressure. Luckily for him, White soon returned the favor, when he rejected the natural 15.Nf5! and let Black quickly develop strong counterplay on the q-side. Another serious mistake was 23.Ka1?, after which White was defeated by a direct attack.

See you next month, Michael

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