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Dear chess friends,
This month we will focus on the exciting tournament in Wijk aan Zee (the Tata Steel) and a few team events. This time all the games were decisive, and in most of them both kings were in danger - a classic Sicilian scenario!

Download PGN of February ’23 Open Sicilian games

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The Grivas Sicilian 4...Qb6 5.Nb3 Nf6 6.Nc3 e6 7.Qe2 [B32]

We start with Rodshtein, M - Alekseev, E, where Evgeny tried to confuse his opponent with the relatively rare 7...Be7:

Although it was successfully employed by GM Alekseev in the past, this choice definitely wasn't justified this time. Maxime came up with an aggressive novelty 10.g4!? and managed to develop a strong attack on Black's king. The critical moment came on move 17, when Evgeny played 17...Bd5? allowing White to invite favorable exchanges with 18.Ng3! After that Black was positionally busted, and the game ended soon.

To sum up, 7...Be7 is hardly as good as 7...Bb4.

Kan 5.Nc3 b5 6.Bd3 Bb7 7.0-0 Nc6 [B43]

The next game, Durarbayli, V - Sadikhov, U, saw Black opt for the fashionable 9...Ne7!? This move was analyzed a long time ago in Ponomariov - Dao Thien Hai, 2000, but Ulvi demonstrated his deep knowledge by playing 11...Bb4!:

This seems to improve over Pono's game and practically solve all of Black's problems. The balance was kept till move 35, when the lower-rated opponent impulsively played 35...f5? and eventually lost.

Undoubtedly, the ball is now on White's court in this line.

The Four Knights 6.a3 Be7 [B45]

In Tabatabaei, M - Perunovic, M the players entered a rare and complex position after 9.Qd3!?:

This was previously tested in the top-level game Caruana - Giri, from Candidates 2021. Milos was the first to deviate from it with 9...a6 10.f4 e5!? and managed to almost solve all the issues. However, at some point he made 3 mistakes in a row, starting with 14...Rb8?!, and eventually got outplayed.

Anyway, I expect to see more practical tests of 9.Qd3!?.

Taimanov 6.Be3 a6 7.Qf3 h5 [B48]

The next game, Abdusattorov, N - Van Foreest, J, was exceptionally important from a sporting point of view, since Nodirbek was the sole leader of Tata Steel before the last round. As often happens, Jorden took his opponent out of known paths with 7...h5 8.0-0-0 b5:

White reasonably reacted with 9.Qg3, liquidating into an endgame that looks pleasant for White. Indeed, had Nodirbek played 21.a4! he could have won the game and the tournament! Instead, after 21.Ng4?! Jordan soon managed to seize the initiative, and eventually scored a victory.

Regarding the opening, the position after 8...b5 still looks suspicious to the human eye. For instance, 9.Nxc6!? might also be promising for White.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 6.Bg5 g6 [B60]

In the next game, Giri, A - Rapport, R, Black chose the rare 6...g6, that was recently reinvigorated due to the efforts of GM Dubov. Anish responded with the solid 9.Bc4 and managed to obtain a safe position with a tiny advantage.

This choice was fully justified in the game - Richard made few dodgy decisions such as 26...Kg7?! and got into a difficult position. Even so, it was only a dramatic blunder at the end that allowed Anish to win this game and take clear 1st!

Classical Richter-Rauzer 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Be7 9.f3 [B63]

Another theoretical discussion in one of the trendy Rauzer lines took place in Smirin, I - Greenfeld, A. In the position after 14...Nd7:

Ilya played the quiet 15.Ne2 that doesn't seem to offer White any advantage. Indeed, the dynamic balance was kept almost till the end. Alas, after interesting play by both sides Alon ruined his position with 38...d4? and quickly lost.

In my opinion, 15.a3 as covered in Bologan - Zvjaginsev, seems to offer White more.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nf3 [B90]

In Praggnanandhaa, P - Maghsoodloo, P White quickly deviated from known paths with 8.Nh2:

This led to a long strategic struggle, where White managed to obtain a slightly better position due to his control of d5. However, at a critical moment the younger player wrongly switched to attacking plans with 17.Nf5, followed by 24.f4? and was convincingly outplayed.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 Nbd7 10.g4 h6 [B99]

The last game, Beerdsen, T - Mishra, A, saw White employ an interesting novelty in the old line, 15.a4!?, that recently gained popularity due to the efforts of top GM Anish Giri:

Tomas's deep home preparation fully paid off - his young opponent quickly erred with 17...Qc5?! and came under a strong attack. Despite GM Mishra's stubborn defence, White scored a well-deserved victory on move 58.

I am pretty sure that we shall see more tests of 15.a4!? even though Black seems to be able to solve his issues.

See you next month, Michael

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