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Hello Dear Chess friends, I wish all of you a successful New Year!
This update includes 2 Top-level events: the London Classic and the World Rapid Championship. In my opinion, this time the games really have a special theoretical value.

Download PGN of January ’17 Open Sicilian games

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The Grivas Sicilian 7.Qe2 Bb4 8.Bd2 0-0 9.a3 Bxc3 [B32]

We start with the exciting game Leko, P - Atabayev, Y, where Peter was surprisingly outplayed by his lower-rated opponent. In the theoretical position after 11...a5:

White employed the natural novelty 12.f3, which looks rather slow and enables Black to activate all his forces by means of the ...d7-d5 advance. The really critical moment of the game came on move 15, when Peter should have played 15.Nc5, maintaining the balance. Instead, the passive 15.Nd2? immediately led to a hopeless position, and even though Black's further play wasn't the most precise, Yusup's victory is impressive and well-deserved.

Regarding the Opening, 12.f4! seems the best way of fighting for the initiative in this line.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 Bd6 [B48]

The game Borisek, J - Najer, E saw Black employing the new idea 9...b5!?, which was earlier successfully tested a few times by a Chinese player:

In reply Jure managed to find a new way of handling the position, starting with 10.Nxc6. The surprise effect was so great that Evgeniy immediately went wrong with 10...dxc6? and got into serious trouble. The further play was full of mutual mistakes, but the final storm of White's heavy pieces on Black's monarch looks impressive.

Anyway, 10.Nxc6 should be definitely met by 10...Qxc6, whereas the critical test of 9...b5!? seems to be 10.Qe2 Bb7 11.f4 - this position still looks promising for White.

Scheveningen/English attack with 8.Qd2 b4 9.Nce2 e5 [B80]

In my opinion, out next game Najer, E - Artemiev, V, has exceptional theoretical value for one of the most fashionable English Attack lines. The position after 10...a5 was previously deeply covered here in the top-level encounter Anand - Gelfand, Turin ol 2006, where Black managed to solve his problems. It looks like 11.a3!, as played by GM Najer, is a significant improvement over Anand's play and might pose Black serious problems:

In fact, I am not sure if Vladislav could have played any better, but after the powerful innovation 15.Ng3! the endgame seems difficult for Black, and in the end GM Artemiev was lucky to achieve a draw. Well, the ball is now in Black's court.

Najdorf 6.h3 e6 7.g4 Be7 8.g5 Nfd7 9.h4 [B90]

The top-level encounter Anand, V - Giri, A saw another theoretical discussion in a very sharp and popular line of the Najdorf, and it looks like Anish's powerful innovation 13...Nc5! should find new followers soon:

Indeed, during the analysis process I failed to find any significant improvement over Vishy's play, so Black's counterplay on the q-side looks very promising at the moment. Moreover, it was GM Anand who should be happy with sharing a point, since 25...Qd8+! would have put White in a hopeless situation.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f4 [B90]

The position after 8.f4 is well-known to our subscribers from the previous updates, but 8...g6!?, as played in Lu, Shanglei - Wojtaszek, R, is a new move for our site:

In reply the Chinese Grandmaster employed the ambitious new idea 10.f5, which was incorrectly met by 10...Bxb3?!. GM Radoslaw could have regretted exchanging his bishop so early had White played 13.Bd3!, developing a serious initiative. Instead, the automatic 13.exf5?!, followed by 14.Bg5? led White to a quick loss (true, at the end GM Lu Shanglei had one more chance to save the game).

Anyway, 8...g6!? looks like an attractive way of meeting White's aggressive setup, but Black should first play 10...gxf5! and only then exchange the bishop.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 Be7 [B90]

Our next game Akopian, V - Vachier-Lagrave, M looks quiet, compared to the other battles, but the end of the game was very spectacular! First, Maxime employed the natural novelty 15...Rc8:

, which doesn't seem to change the evaluation of this line - Black is OK. However, 2 moves later he underestimated the potential activity of his opponent's pieces and wrongly played 17...Bxf3?!, inviting some trouble. The next unsuccessful decision was made by MVL on move 24, when he gave up his queen. To be honest, after losing the f2-pawn, White's win doesn't seem trivial, but had GM Akopian played 35.Kg1!, Black wouldn't have much to play for. Instead, 35.h5? allowed Black to save the game by perpetual.

Najdorf 6.Be3 Ng4...10.h3 Ne5 11.h4 [B90]

In the game Vachier Lagrave, M - Grischuk, A White went for the original 11.h4:

in order to deviate from known paths and, possibly, pose Black some practical problems with his k-side pawn structure. Well, this approach would be fully justified had MVL played 14.Nd5!, heavily limiting his opponent's counterplay. Instead, the inaccurate 14.Be2?! and 16.Bxg4?! allowed Black to take over the initiative and achieve a nice win.

Well, Black's play after 11.h4 can easily be improved, so this game isn't a warning sign for Najdorf players.

Najdorf Delayed Poisoned Pawn 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.a3 [B96]

Our last game, Nakamura, H - Vachier Lagrave, M, is a nice illustration of deep home preparation at the top level. In the theoretical position after 15.Kb1 Maxime introduced the novelty 15...g5, but this was probably what Hikaru was waiting for!

White's reply 16.Qh3! is definitely the most dangerous way of handling the position, forcing Black to find the tough 16...Nh7! in order to keep the position playable. Alas, Maxime didn't manage to withstand the pressure, and was defeated by a direct attack.

In general, the tricky 9.a3!? is certainly a cause of worry, though 16...Nh7!? deserves practical tests.

See you next month, Michael

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