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Wijk aan Zee provided plenty of drama this year and I'm delighted to cover four games from there, including a smooth win with his old favourite, the Najdorf, by Boris Gelfand. Elsewhere look out for Giri's bold sacrificial approach which may well force a re-evaluation of a sharp sideline of the Kan.

Download PGN of February '12 Open Sicilian games

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The Sveshnikov 11 c4 [B33]

The modern preference as White remains that most simple of approaches, 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5 6 Ndb5 d6 7 Bg5 a6 8 Na3 b5 9 Nd5 Be7 10 Bxf6 Bxf6 11 c4 b4 12 Nc2. Shirov has now given it another punt as White (postscript: and a third too!), but by avoiding excessive simplification Black should be OK after 12...a5 13 g3 0-0 14 h4 Be7 and then 15 Bg2. Timman, however, preferred 15 Qd3 Be6 16 Bh3 in Timman - Reinderman:

White is unable to force a favourable trade of light-squared bishops on his terms after this and the Dutch legend soon overpressed. Overall, it's hard not to feel that 15 Bg2 à la Shirov is at least a more tricky practical try.

The Sveshnikov - Novosibirsk Variation [B33]

Thankfully some of the elite aren't so happy with such a simplistic approach and 9 Bxf6 gxf6 10 Nd5 led to an important debate in a key line of the Novosibirsk in Nakamura - Radjabov after 10...Bg7 11 Bd3 Ne7 12 Nxe7 Qxe7 13 0-0 0-0 14 c4 f5 15 Qf3:

Radjabov appears to have accepted that Anand demonstrated the route to a plus for White against his old favourite, 15...d5!?. Thus at Wijk he opted for the solid 15...Qb7 16 Qe2 b4 17 Nc2 f4, restricting White's minor pieces, and drew without much difficulty.

The Kan 5 Be2!? [B41]

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 5 Be2!? is quite a tricky little sideline, albeit one which forces White to be happy with a transposition to the Classical Scheveningen. Vitiugov faced it twice in consecutive rounds at Reggio Emilia and found 5...Nf6 6 Nc3 Bb4 7 e5 Nd5 not to be the easy equaliser theory had suggested it was:

White struck with 8 0-0! Nxc3 9 bxc3 Bxc3 10 Ba3 in Giri - Vitiugov, swapping a pawn and the exchange for a huge dark-squared presence and grip on the position.

5 Bd3 [B42]

5 Be2 is on the rise, but still lags some way behind 5 Bd3 in the popularity stakes. After that quite a topical choice is Romanishin's provocative 5...Nf6 6 0-0 e5!?, best met by Wells's equally creative 7 Bg5!:

In the critical line 7...h6 8 Bxf6 Qxf6 9 Nf5 g6! 10 Ne3 Bc5 11 Nc3 d6 12 Ncd5 Qd8 Topalov introduced 13 Kh1!? in Topalov - Caruana, but never really obtained any advantage before collapsing to a rather strange defeat.

The Richter-Rauzer 6...g6 [B60]

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bg5 g6!? 7 Bxf6 exf6 is not exactly a normal position for the Rauzer, but Vladimir Potkin gave it a go at Wijk. We round up developments here in Haslinger - Komljenovic, where White opted for the direct approach, 8 Bc4 Bg7 9 Ndb5 0-0 10 Qxd6:

Here Black must carry out the thematic ...f5 break without delay, since he didn't get very far by kicking White's pieces about with 10...a6?!, after which the English Grandmaster went on to win a fine game.

The Najdorf: 6 f4 [B93]

Meeting 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 with 6 f4 hasn't been too topical of late, which might make it a decent surprise weapon. In response to a subscriber's request I've taken a look at the sharp sideline 6...Qc7 7 Qf3!?, which once inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kasparov and soon gave White three pieces for the queen in Fogarasi - Naroditsky.

English Attack 6 Be3 Ng4 [B90]

Somewhat more topical is the English Attack line 6 Be3 Ng4 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Bg7 10 h3 Ne5 where White has gone back to trying to make 11 f3 Nbc6 12 Bf2 Be6 13 Qd2 work:

However, Karjakin hasn't proved much for White of late and in Karjakin - Gelfand Black went on to win a model game after first equalising with 13...Rc8 14 0-0-0 Nxd4 15 Bxd4 Qa5 16 Qf2 Rc6 17 g3 0-0!.

6 h3 [B90]

Finally, that little 6 h3 move just won't go away. Vallejo quite likes it and Shirov has now jumped on the bandwagon, but in the old main line what should White do after 6...e6 7 g4 d5 8 exd5 Nxd5 9 Nde2 Bb4 10 Bg2 0-0?

11 0-0 is, of course, standard, but Black has a couple of ways to equalise here, including 11...Bxc3 12 Nxc3 (maybe 12 bxc3!? has to be explored) 12...Nxc3 (now we see why Black first traded bishop, not knight, on c3 as there's no time for White to take the queens off on account of the immediate check on e2) 13 bxc3 Qa5. This has hardly been explored, so kudos to Stephen Gordon for recognising the line's potential. He rapidly enjoyed very easy equality in Vachier Lagrave-Gordon and might well have won after the young Frenchman became far too ambitious.

Until March, Richard

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