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Dear subscribers,
After a long period of covering correspondence and online blitz games I am pleased to finally be able to offer you an update that only includes high-level OTB games from the traditional event in Wijk aan Zee. Moreover, there were so many exciting Sicilian battles that some more will have to be included in the March Update. Another interesting fact is that 3 of the 8 games were played by the current World Champion!

Download PGN of February ’21 Open Sicilian games

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Taimanov 6.f4 a6 7.Nxc6 bxc6 [B47]

We start with Carlsen, M - Harikrishna, P, where Pentala employed the rare and well-prepared 11...c5!?, leaving the king in the centre for a while:

Magnus reacted naturally with 12.b3 Bb7 13.Rae1, focusing on the k-side attack, but the strong 13...c4! allowed Black to liquidate into a comfortable endgame and quickly achieve a draw.

Undoubtedly, the ball is now in White's court in the fashionable 6.f4 line.

Scheveningen 6.Be2 a6 7.Be3 Be7 [B84]

The next game, Esipenko, A - Carlsen, M can be considered an opening disaster for the current World Champion! It seems that the aggressive 8.g4!? came as a real surprise for Magnus, who started to spend lots of time at the very beginning of the game. In the rare theoretical position after 12.Qxe3:

Magnus came up with the dubious novelty 12...Qh4?! and soon had to admit his mistake by retreating the queen. However, the really dramatic moment of the game came on move 16, when Black carelessly played 16...Nc6?, allowing 17.Ncxb5! From here, White's position was winning, but Andrey's further precise and energetic play was very impressive.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 8.g3 Be7 [B90]

The game Donchenko, A - Wojtaszek, R saw Anton employ the fresh and aggressive idea 13.g4!?:

I am not sure if this move poses Black any problems objectively, but 13...h4 is definitely not the best reaction - Alexander could have obtained a better position had he played 14.Qd2!

Another good chance was missed by GM Donchenko in the endgame, when he wrongly rejected the natural 20.Nc3! After that, Radoslaw managed to fully solve his problems and even put White under slight pressure, even though he was a pawn up.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 Be7 8.Bc4 0-0 9.0-0 Be6 10.Bb3 [B90]

In Harikrishna, P - Vachier Lagrave, M Maxim went for the ambitious 10...b5!? which is new for our site. It looks like Pentala was well-prepared for it and replied with the aggressive 11.Re1 Qc7 12.Nh4:

At this point MVL decided to deviate from the previously played game Nisipeani - Gopal, but his innovation 12...Nbd7?! led Black into an unpleasant position with no counter-play. GM Harikrishna handled the position well till move 25, when he missed the energetic 26.Rd7! Even so, Maxim had to struggle hard for a draw till the end of the game.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.h3 Nc6 [B90]

In the next game, Carlsen, M - Donchenko, A, Alexander went for a somewhat forgotten line with 8...Nc6, followed by 10...Na5:

Since it was already employed by GM Donchenko before, most likely Magnus 's reaction 11.Bg5 was part of his preparation. Still, Alexander managed to handle the position a-la Sveshnikov very well, and after 13...Bg5+, followed by 14...h5! Black obtained a comfortable position. The further positional play by both sides was very instructive, where Alexander managed to withstand the pressure till the end and achieve a draw.

In general, the relatively rare 8...Nc6 seems perfectly playable for Black.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 h5 [B90]

An interesting theoretical discussion in the recently fashionable line with 9...h5 occurred in Giri, A - Grandelius, N. In the position after 12.Be2:

Nils gave 12...a5!?, which was tested in many corr. games before, a try. Anish reacted with the aggressive 15.f4, that was later followed by an interesting pawn sacrifice. Still, GM Grandelius was able to maintain the balance during most of the game till he went for the materialistic approach with 31...Rxc3?! and later allowed Anish to advance the a-passer. It was a real masterpiece of endgame play by GM Giri!

Najdorf 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 [B92]

In the next game, Esipenko, A - Grandelius, N, the players entered the relatively rare theoretical position after 10.Kh1:

Here Nils managed to surprise his young and well-prepared opponent with the original 10...Re8!?, which was only tested before in some corr. games. Andrey reacted with the somewhat harmless 11.Qd3, and after 11....b5 Black had no problems at all. Moreover, after the inaccurate 15.Nxe7?! GM Esipenko found himself in an unpleasant position, where practically all his opponent's pieces were very active. Luckily for Andrey, Nils missed a few decent opportunities to extend his initiative, and the game ended in a draw after interesting play.

Undoubtedly, 11...Re8!? should be tested in more games, and 12.f5 seems to be the only way to pose Black any problems.

Najdorf Poisoned Pawn 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.f5 Be7 [B97]

Our last game, Grandelius, N - Vachier Lagrave, M, saw Nils employ the fresh and well-prepared idea 15. Bb3!?:

in one of the sharpest lines of the Najdorf with 6.Bg5. Perhaps the surprise effect did its job, as Maxim soon deviated from the correct 19...Nh5! in favor of 19...Qe6? and simply lost a pawn. Unfortunately, MVL was far from his best in this tournament, and in this game he also failed to put-up much resistance.

Despite such a quick defeat, I don't think that 15.Bb3!? is a real refutation of Black's setup - in fact, after 19...Nh5! I cannot see how White can claim any superiority. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that Nils had something in mind in this case.

See you next month, Michael

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