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Dear chess friends,
This time I decided to focus on the two most attractive events from recent months - Tata steel and Gibraltar. Once again the Najdorf rules, but we also have a couple of important theoretical discussions in the Taimanov and the Classical. There were a few new ideas at very early stages of the games. I hope you enjoy this update!

Download PGN of February ’20 Open Sicilian games

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Taimanov 6.f4 a6 7.Nxc6 Qxc6 8.Bd3 b5 [B47]

We start with Muzychuk, A - Kobo, O, where the players entered the theoretical position after 12...0-0:

At this point Anna deviated from the 13.Qh5 that was previously covered in Nepomniatchi Vitiugov and played 13.h4!?. Ori replied with 13...f5 14.g4 d5, but he failed to release the tension and soon came under a strong attack. In general it was masterful play by GM Anna Muzychuk, and 13.h4!? looks like a dangerous idea.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 7...a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f4 b5 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.Kb1 Qb6 12.Nce2 [B67]

The next game, Sanal, V - Le Quang Liem, saw a theoretical discussion in one of the most fashionable lines in the Rauzer. GM Le Quang Liem followed my recommendation from a past archive and played 12...Rc8, and after a few natural moves the players reached the critical position after 15.Re3:

At this point Black prematurely moved his knight, and White managed to quickly develop his initiative on the k-side, but then Vahap returned the favor with 20.g4? and was close to defeat. Luckily for the Turkish Grandmaster, his higher-rated opponent was the last to err with 25...Rh1?, so eventually White scored a victory.

Undoubtedly, the position after 15.Re3 should be tested more, and 15...a5 is a clear improvement for Black.

Najdorf 6.Bd2!? [B90]

Our next game, Van Foreest, L - Abdusattorov, N, saw Lucas employ the very rare 6.Bd2!?:

This move wasn't a surprise for Nordibek, since it was already played a few days before. Black reacted naturally with 6...e5, but on move 10 wrongly deviated from the natural 10...Bxf5 and played 10...Qf6. Surprisingly, this inaccuracy could have been refuted by the cold-blooded 11.Ng3! while 11.Bd3 soon provoked Lucas to go for a double-edged piece sacrifice. The really critical moment of the game came on move 15, when 15.Bf5+? allowed Nodirbek to consolidate and convert his material advantage into a win.

I suppose 6.Bd2!? might work as a surprise weapon.

Najdorf 6.h3 Nc6 7.g4 g6 [B90]

The game Karthikeyan, M - Sardana, R saw Black employ the relatively rare setup with 7...g6 and 8...Nxd4 that was previously covered in Li, C - Firouzja.

Murali responded with a decent novelty, 10.Qb4!, and obtained a definite advantage. However, soon he started to err with 15.Qd4?! and got into big trouble. Luckily, his opponent returned the favor, and the game ended in a draw after an interesting struggle.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.g4 Be6 [B90]

In the next game, Le Quang Liem - Santos Latasa, J, Black employed the rare 10...b5:

This idea could have worked had Jaime played 13...h6!, but in this case Black would have to keep his king in the centre. Instead, the natural 13...Nce5? was a decisive mistake, and Black was crushed by a direct attack on the k-side.

In my opinion, the real test of the ambitious 10...b5 would be seen had Le Quang Liem played 13.Nd5! Most probably, we will see fresh practical tests of this position soon.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Qc7 [B90]

Another interesting theoretical discussion in one of the most common 6.Be3 lines was seen in Sevian, S - Dominguez, L. The position after 16...Rc8:

had already occurred in Lenier's practice before, when he was defeated after 17.Bg2. This time Sevian preferredthe straightforward 17.c4, and the players soon reached the critical position after 18...Qa7. Had White continued 19.Na5! here he would have excellent prospects in the ensuing struggle, while 19.Ne3? allowed GM Dominguez to seize the initiative and eventually score a nice victory.

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

In our last game, Kobalia, M - Mammadzada, G, Mikhail quickly took the game into relatively unexplored paths with 12.h4:

It looks like his opponent was well prepared for it, as Black managed to fully solve his problems. Moreover, the impulsive 20.f4? led to a strategically difficult situation, where White's position lacked any counter-play. Gunay managed to almost outplay her experienced opponent, but the inaccurate 26...Ng4? allowed Mikhail to come back into the game and eventually score a win.

See you next month, Michael

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