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We will again focus on the European Team Championships - there were just too many exciting Sicilian struggles! Alas, in the World championship match both players preferred 1...e5 !

Download PGN of December ’21 Open Sicilian games

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Sveshnikov, Bird's Variation 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 Be6 9.Nc4 Rb8 [B33]

We start with the exciting encounter Bogner, S - Jobava, B, where Black chose the relatively rare 8...Be6, followed by the interesting pawn sacrifice 10...Be7!?:

Perhaps the surprise effect succeeded, as Sebastian chose the timid 14.Bd3?!, allowing Black to develop activity on the k-side by advancing his h-pawn. The presence of the black h3-pawn felt very annoying for White, even after trading queens, so Black soon took over the initiative. In general, it was masterful endgame play by GM Jobava, even though Black made some mistakes as well.

Still, the pawn sacrifice doesn't seem to solve all Black's problems, as we can see in the notes.

The Four Knights 8.Ne4 Qc7 9.f4 Rb8 [B45]

The next game, Duda, J - Nisipeanu, L, saw an interesting theoretical discussion in a rare and sharp line of the Four Knights. In the position after 11...0-0:

GM Duda deviated from his opponent's previous encounter with 12.a3. It looks like GM Nisipeanu was well prepared, so the standard piece sacrifice was followed by the decent novelty 17...g5. Still, had White played 18.Kf1! it would be very tough for Black to claim enough compensation even with the engine's assistance. Instead, Duda's 18.Qd3?! seems to offer Black sufficient counter-play after 18...gxf4. Luckily for the World Cup winner, his experienced opponent impulsively sacrificed his queen and quickly lost.

Classical, Richter-Rauzer 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f4 Be7 10.Nf3 b5 [B69]

Another theoretically important game in the Rauzer was Fedrochuk, S - Jens, J, where the players entered the sharp position after 14...e5:

that was previously covered in Anand - Demchenko. Sergey played 15.Nc1, as I suggested in my notes to the above-mentioned game, Black reacted with a few wrong moves such as 18...Bf8?! and especially 19...Rb8?, and was quickly crushed by a direct attack.

However, I have to admit that Black's position after 15.Nc1 isn't as suspicious as I initially thought. In fact, there are a few good ways to improve Jens's play.

Najdorf 6.h3 e6 7.g4 Be7 8.g5 [B90/81]

In the game Duda, J - Hilarp Persson, T Tiger decided to test his dangerous opponent in one of the sharpest lines with an early expansion on the k-side. In the position after 12.Rg1:

Black chose the provocative but interesting 12...0-0!?, but was soon punished by Duda's energetic play.

Despite such a quick collapse, this line looks perfectly playable for Black, but he has to play very creatively. In particular, 15...b4!, as seen in a correspondence game, is a tough move to find if you haven't analyzed this position beforehand.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.h3 h6!? [B90]

The game Moussard, J - Ter-Sahakyan, S saw Black employ the relatively rare 8...h6!?, but with some transpositions the players entered a well-known theoretical position after 16...Bd7:

At this point Jules came up with an unsuccessful innovation, 17.Bd3?!, that almost worked well! In fact, after 17...Bf6? White could have achieved a big advantage had he played 18.Qb4!, putting strong pressure on his opponent's king. Instead, GM Moussard committed a few mistakes and was convincingly outplayed.

In my opinion 8...h6!? is an interesting alternative to the main 8...Be6, when White can choose between several possible setups.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.Qd2 Nbd7 9.0-0-0 Be7 [B90]

In the next game, Firouzja, A - Yilmaz, M, the young super-star demonstrated his deep knowledge and understanding of a relatively rare line with 10.h3!?:

Mustafa's issues started with the inaccurate 11....Rc8?! that made it possible for White to expand on the k-side and occupy the d5-spot. Even though the impulsive 24.a4? could have spoiled a lot, Alireza's energetic and technical play was impressive.

Undoubtedly, 10.h3!? should be tested more, when Black's best reply is 11...0-0!

Najdorf 6.g3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6!? [B91]

In Adams, M - Vocaturo, D Michael went for this quiet and somewhat forgotten line, but Daniele was well-prepared for it. Black chose the ambitious setup with 7...Be6!? , followed by an early ...h7-h5 and obtained a comfortable position. Moreover, the ambitious 11.Qd2?! could have invited big trouble had Black continued 14...Nc4! Instead, 14...Qc7?! allowed Michael to release the pressure on his king, and a draw was agreed after some interesting play.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 Qc7 8.0-0-0 e6 [B94]

We end with the exciting game Christiansen, J - Navara, D, where Johan-Sebastian followed Esipenko's play from the 1st round with 10.Bd2!?:

David responded with the natural novelty 11...Rb8!?, that should have offered Black decent counterplay along the b-file. However, soon he started to err with 14...Nb6? and 15...e5? and got into big trouble.

In fact, GM Christiansen could have won this game a couple of times, including in the final position.

Undoubtedly, 10.Bd2!? which was mainly tested in some correspondence games, can be considered a dangerous idea.

See you next month, Michael

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