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Games from recent rapid events tend to dominate this month. This does mean that the final stages are not always accurately handled, but one cannot doubt the entertainment factor, not least in Naiditsch-Bryzgalin. Meanwhile, while none of our main games feature a killer novelty, we do find proof that in several important lines of the Classical and Najdorf Black is very much OK as 2012 dawns.

Download PGN of January '12 Open Sicilian games

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The Sveshnikov 11 c4 [B33]

As subscribers will be aware I'm not a huge fan of the topical attempt to grind with 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 Nxf6+ Bxf6 11 c4. This may just be prejudice on my part, but should Black really have any problems in a manoeuvring battle (OK, not every Sveshnikov aficionado likes to manoeuvre so) after 11...b4 (don't forget too about 11...Ne7!) 12 Nc2 0-0 13 g3 a5 14 Bg2 Be6 15 h4 ?:

Somewhat to my surprise Shirov recently switched sides here and, being Shirov, soon managed to sacrifice a pawn before winning with a brutal assault on the black king. Here Black had copied Krasenkow by opting for a solid exchanging ploy in Shirov - Mista, but that may well not be the easiest way to maintain a rough balance.

The Taimanov 6 f4 [B47]

Last year we saw Naiditsch inflict a crushing defeat on Vachier Lagrave with 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 f4!?. After 6...a6 (I've also looked at a number of developments after 6...Nxd4 7 Qxd4) 7 Nxc6 Qxc6 8 Bd3 b5 9 Qe2 Bb7 10 Bd2 Bc5 11 0-0-0 Ne7 12 a3 something of a tabiya is reached:

Castling queenside didn't work out well for the French no.1 and 12...Rc8!? is a definite improvement in Naiditsch - Bryzgalin. White outplays his lower-rated opponent only to run into serious practical difficulties after some fine defence, at which point a mind-bogglingly complex late middlegame occurs, especially for a rapid game.

Brazilian Taimanov [B48]

Somewhat more topical than 6 f4 is the English Attack approach, 6 Be3 a6 7 Qd2 Nf6 8 0-0-0, after which the 'Brazilian Taimanov' with 8...Be7 9 f3 0-0 10 g4 b5 11 g5 Nh5!? remains pretty trendy:

Recent developments are rounded up in Morozevich - Maletin where the players debate a critical piece sacrifice after the move of the moment, 12 Kb1. Conclusion: Black needs to know his stuff, but is still very much alive and kicking here.

The Richter-Rauzer 6...Bd7 [B61]

Dreev has no problems plumping for 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 Bd7!? 7 Qd2 Rc8 in rapid events of late. One quite critical test is 8 0-0-0 Nxd4 9 Qxd4 Qa5 10 f4! h6 11 Bxf6 gxf6:

I'm still not sure that Black has enough to claim rough equality after 12 Kb1! Qc5 13 Qd3, but White prefers the less critical 12 Be2 in Kravtsiv - Dreev whereupon Black produces a model game for the variation.

The Richter-Rauzer 9 f4 [B65]

Many remain unconvinced by 6...Bd7, though, with Jobava remaining true to 6...e6 7 Qd2 Be7 8 0-0-0 0-0 9 f4 Nxd4 10 Qxd4 Qa5 11 Bc4 Rd8!? in Shirov - Jobava:

White's play is admirably direct, but doesn't appear to lead to an advantage before yet more endgame adventures occur.

The Najdorf: English Attack 6 Be3 Ng4 [B90]

It's been a few months since we covered 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 Ng4 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Bg7, so I thought an update was in order. White continues to get into trouble after 10 Be2 h5 11 Bxg4 hxg4, but 10 h3 Ne5 11 f3 Nbc6 12 Bf2 is both more topical and more critical:

That said, on the latest evidence Black has a fairly pleasant choice between 12...Be6 and 12...Ng6, with the latter sufficient for at least early equality in Giri - Dominguez.

6 Be2 [B92]

Various 2700+ players have been happy to debate 6 Be2 e5 7 Nb3 Be7 of late, although I'm not too sure why. Isn't Black just fine here? This month we take a look at Adams' attempts to generate something after 8 0-0, as well as 8 Bg5 Be6 9 Bxf6 Bxf6 10 Qd3:

In the Tal Memorial Nakamura made a solid draw against Karjakin with 10...Nc6 11 0-0-0 Qb6!? and 10...0-0 also seems in good shape, with 11 Rd1 Nc6!? a promising long-term pawn sacrifice essayed in Almasi - Wojtaszek.

6 Bg5 Poisoned Pawn [B97]

One of the variations of 2011 has been the development of 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 h6!? 8 Bh4 Qb6 and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see plenty more of the Delayed Poisoned Pawn in 2012:

We round up developments in one critical line, 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 e5 dxe5 12 fxe5 Nd5!?, in Kiuttu - Palliser, touching too upon White's attempts to sacrifice b2 and follow up with Nb3. After 10 Nb3 in the above sequence, Black has the annoying resource 10...Be7!, but by beginning 9 Bxf6 gxf6 and only then 10 Qd2 Qxb2 11 Nb3 White forces 11...Qa3 and transposition into one of the main lines of the Poisoned Pawn proper.

That's all for now. Happy New Year and all the best with your chess in 2012, Richard

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