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This month we will mostly focus on the recently finished Tata Steel event. The fact that most of the games here were drawn doesn't alter the fact that we have several important novelties, and that the play was exciting in all of them.

Download PGN of February ’22 Open Sicilian games

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Sveshnikov 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 [B33]

The game Shankland, S - Praggnanandhaa, R has exceptional theoretical value. In the position after 13.Be2:

Black deviated from the previously covered Shankland - Grischuk with 13...a6! followed by 15...b5! Undoubtedly, the arising complications were analyzed in depth by both players - it was a quality game, that ended in a draw by repetition.

Generally speaking, the somewhat risky 8...Ne7 remains acceptable.

Taimanov 6.g4 h6 [B47]

The next game, Grandelius, N - Rapport, R saw Richard employ the very rare 6...h6, and it took Nils out of his preparation. The further natural play by both sides led to a critical position after 9...Ne5:

At this point White bravely sacrificed the pawn with 10.f4?! but it wasn't a good decision - Black could have refuted it with 10...Bb4! Instead, the 10...Nc4 that was played by Richard led to complex double-edged play, where Black felt more confident and eventually won in nice style.

In my opinion, the real test for 6...h6 would be seen had Nils played 10.h4! - I hope that this position will be tested soon.

Taimanov 6.Be3 g4 7.g4 [B48]

In the game Grandelius, N - Carlsen, M Nils decided to test his opponent's preparation in one of the sharpest Taimanov lines. In the position after 9...Bb7:

White opted for 10.f3!?, I'd previously recommended in my notes to Nepomniatchi - Caruana. Magnus reacted with the decent new idea 13...h6! that made it possible for Black to leave his king in the centre. The dynamic balance was kept till move 18, when Black over-optimistically played 18...d5? sacrificing the pawn. Luckily for the World champion, Nils soon returned the favor with 20.Ba4? and the further interesting play led to a draw.

Classical, Richter-Rauzer 7...Qb6 8.Nb3 a6 [B60]

The next game, Oparin, G - Rapport, R, saw Richard employ the well-forgotten line with 7...Qb6 8.Nb3 a6:

this should have surprised Grigoriy. Indeed, White deviated from the most challenging continuations in favor of 9.Be2 Be7 10.g4. It is an interesting way of handling the position, but objectively Black doesn't face serious problems. Moreover, the inaccurate 13.Rhe1?! allowed Richard to quickly develop his counter-attack on the q-side. In general, GM Oparin was on the defending side till the end of the game, so he should be satisfied with sharing the point.

Classical, Richter-Rauzer 7.Bb5 Bd7 8.Qd3 [B62]

In the game Safarli, E - Gabrielian, A Eltaj went for the side line that was previously covered in Ragger - Sanal. Artur reacted with the rare 8...Qb6:

but it looks like GM Safarli was well-prepared for this. In fact, the decent innovation 9.Nxc6! allowed Eltaj to obtain a comfortable position, where Black's king was permanently unsafe. Had White played 21.b4! it would be very difficult for GM Gabrielian to withstand the pressure, but instead the inaccurate 21.Rd1, followed by 25.Qd4? let the advantage disappear.

Classical, Richter-Rauzer 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 h6 [B66]

Another unfashionable line of the Rauzer took place in Grandelius, N - Duda, J. In the position after 11.f3:

the Polish Grandmaster wrongly avoided the main theoretical paths with 11...Qb6?!, and after 12.Bc4! Black's king came under strong pressure. Nils was attacking precisely for a while, but on move 19 he wasted an important tempo with 19.Bd4?. This mistake made White's attack much slower, and eventually Black managed to take over the initiative. The critical moment of the game came on move 26, when GM Duda carelessly played 26...bxc3? allowing Nils to escape with 27,Bxg7! Instead, the patient 26...Qb7! would have put White in a difficult situation.

Najdorf 6.h3 g6 7.g4 [B90]

In the next game, Rodgriguez Vila - Cubas, Jo, Black opted for an original setup with 8...h5!?:

White responded with the logical 11.Nde2!? avoiding possible simplifications. The further expansion with 12.f4 and 13.f5 put Black's k-side under pressure, but only the careless 15...Nb6? allowed White to decide the game by a direct attack.

In my opinion, the early 8...h5!? is worthy of attention. In fact, even the awkward 9...Nh7!? seems to offer Black acceptable play.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Nd5 [B90]

In the game Zhu, Jiner - Jumabayev, R the players entered the fashionable theoretical position after 13.Be2:

It looks like Rinat messed something up, since 13...Rc8, followed by 14...Nb6?! could have led to a difficult position had White played 15.Qa5! Instead, White played 15.Na5?! and it provoked Rinat into grabbing the pawn with 15...Nbxd5?! (correct was 15...0-0, and then Black is OK). The further interesting play was full of mutual mistakes, where both players missed their winning chances at some point.

Undoubtedly, 13...b5!, as previously played by Anish Giri, has to be preferred.

See you next month, Michael

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