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Dear chess friends,
First of all, I would like to wish all of you a Happy New Year.
In recent years I am not so active as a chess player, so playing 36 games in 5 days during the Rapid and blitz World championships was very exciting for me. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play any Open Sicilians there, but I have selected some attractive games from other players. Again, we have real fighting chess (only 1 draw) combined with important theoretical novelties and drama.

Download PGN of January ’19 Open Sicilian games

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

We start with Rodriguez Villa, A - Shirov, A, where Andres employed the relatively rare 10.h4:

in one of the sharpest and most fashionable lines of the Sveshnikov. Alexei reacted well, so Black's position looked fine up till the move 14...Nf5?!, that slowed his play on the k-side. On his turn White soon went astray with 16.Ra3?!, and this led to extremely tense and double-edged play. A few moves later GM Shirov over-optimistically sacrificed material with 19...Ng4?!, but his brave play was fully justified, since White missed 21.Rxe3! and was soon nicely out-played.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 7.Qd2 Be7 8.0-0-0 a6 9.f4 Bd7 10.Nf3 b5 11.Bxf6 gxf6 [B69]

The game Smirin, I - Greenfeld, A saw Ilya employ the 12.Bd3!? that I had previously recommended. In reply Alon soon came up with the natural novelty 14...Rhe8:

It looks like the real test of this innovation would be seen had White played 15.a4 b4 16.Nd5!, whereas, instead, the quiet 15.Re3 failed to pose Black serious problems. Moreover, on move 26 GM Greenfeld could have reached a winning position by 26...Qxf4!, but instead, he switched to passive defence with 26...Bb7? and 27...exf5? and Ilya managed to win the game.

Najdorf 6.h4 [B90]

In the game Steinberg, N - Korobov, A White employed the original 6.h4!?, which was already covered on our site before. However, his very next move, 7.Be3!?, is new to our site:

It looks like Anton managed to react well, but a few moves later he went astray with the dubious innovation 10...Nf6?! and soon faced serious problems completing his development. In general, it was an exciting game, full of mutual mistakes, and eventually the higher-rated player got the full point.

Regarding the opening, 10...g6! seems much better and should be tested in practice.

Najdorf 6.a3 [B90]

Another side line occurred in Saric, I - Kevslishvili, R. In the rare theoretical position after 8.Nf3:

Robby came up with the risky novelty 8...Be6, that enables White to exchange the important bishop. The really critical moment came on move 11, when instead of the natural 11.Bc4 (that would have offered White a positional advantage) Ivan wrongly pushed on the kingside with 11.g4?! and soon got into trouble. After this GM Saric was defending quite well for a while, but a few inaccurate moves, 22.Re1?! and 25.Rf1?!, spoiled all his effort. In general, it was a well-played game by Robby.

Regarding the opening, the previously played 8...Be7 seems to offer Black acceptable play, so 6...Nc6 looks like an adequate reaction to 6.a3.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3... 12.g5 Nh5 [B90]

The game Zhigalko, A - Dziuba, M saw an interesting theoretical discussion. In the position after 14...f6:

Andrey chose an interesting pawn sacrifice 15.g6!?, that made it possible for White to transfer his knight to c6 and keep the g-file locked. In the following complex play he managed to outplay his experienced opponent, but the careless 30.Rc1? spoiled all his advantage. Moreover, at the end it was GM Dziuba, who should be unhappy with sharing the point as the final position is absolutely winning for Black.

No doubt 15.g6!? should definitely be tested more in practice, even though Black's position looks perfectly playable afterwards.

Najdorf/Scheveningen 6.g3 e6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 [B91/80]

The game Ragger, M - Tsydypov, Z is important for the theory of the 6.g3 e6 Najdorf. Indeed, Ragger's aggressive plan with 9.Be3 followed by 10.g4 looks quite promising. In reply Zhamsaran came up with the decent novelty 13...Nc6!>:

It looks like White's reaction 14.Nxc6 led to an unfavourable change to the pawn structure and yielded Black some superiority in the centre. However, the real mistake came on move 20, when 20.gxf6?! made his king very unsafe, and eventually Black managed to exploit that and win the game.

At the moment, 14.Kh1! looks like a certain improvement over White's play and might pose Black some problems.

Najdorf 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 Be6 9.Qd3 Nbd7 10.Nd5 [B92]

The next game, Seyb, A - Kelires, A, saw White employ the well-forgotten 12.g4 that gave Alexander Khalifman a memorable victory (eventually he won the event too) vs Boris Gelfand 20 years ago in Las Vegas:

Black was the first to deviate with 12...Nb6, and soon the players reached the first critical position. On move 14 Andreas started to go astray with the novelty 14...Nd7?! and quickly got into a lost position. Luckily for him, his lower-rated opponent missed a few winning opportunities, and eventually blundered with 35.Rh3??

Anyway, this game illustrates White's attacking potential after q-side castling well, so 11...Rc8! seems much safer.

Najdorf 6.f4 e5 7.Nf3 Qc7 [B93]

In our last game, Amonatov, F - Sarana, A, White chose the well-forgotten 6.f4 and a few moves later played the relatively rare 9.Qe2:

This would have hardly any independent value had Black castled, but instead the somewhat careless 9...Nbd7 was nicely met by 10.g4!? which posed Black definite problems. As a result, GM Sarana failed to find the thematic 10...d5! and soon got into a bad position. On his turn, Farrukh went astray with 15.Nxe5? so after 15...Nf4! Black was able to solve his problems. The last critical moment came on move 20, when Alexei decided to capture the g-pawn with the wrong piece and got crushed by a direct attack.

Until next month, Michael

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