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Dear chess friends,
First of all I would like to wish all of you a successful new year in every way.
This time we will mostly focus on the World Rapid Championship, where almost all the elite players were taking part. As often, the Najdorf dominates in this update, but this is justified by the amount of fresh ideas in various lines.

Download PGN of January ’20 Open Sicilian games

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Classical Sicilian 6.Bc4 Qb6 7.Ndb5 [B57]

We start with Ivanchuk, V - Praggnanandhaa, R, where Vassily chose a well-forgotten line, which he successfully employed a long time ago. In the position after 11.Bb3:

his young opponent prematurely exchanged the knights, and soon came under strong pressure on the k-side. On move 19 Vassily wrongly played 19.Qh3?, a move that could have spoiled all his advantage had Black played 19...a5! Instead, 19...d5? made it possible for White to develop a crushing attack very quickly.

Undoubtedly, the usual 11...0-0 12.f4 Bd7 has to be preferred.

Najdorf 6.Bd3 e5 [B80]

The next game, Sek, K - Wojtaszek, R, saw Radoslaw employ the rare 8...Nc6:

In response, Konstantin went for the most challenging 9.Nd5!, but later he missed a few promising continuations and let Black solve his major problems. The really critical moment of the game came on move 19, when GM Wojtaszek wasted an important tempo with 19...Rfe8? and got into a passive position. In general, this game was full of mutual mistakes, but Konstantin's eventual victory was definitely well-deserved.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 Be7 8.h3 [B90]

The game Ganguly, S - Warmerdam, M saw White deviate from the main theoretical paths with 8.h3:

In response, Max soon employed an interesting novelty, 10...Nh5!?, that slowed down White's expansion. However, a few moves later Black inaccurately played 15...Nc4?! and let White occupy the key d5-spot. In reply GM Ganguly also failed to handle the position well, so Max had a few chances to save this game. Even at the end, had he found 27...Bxh3! it would be very difficult for Surya to win the arising endgame.

In general, 8.h3 doesn't seem to pose Black serious problems, but it can work as a surprise weapon.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e6 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Nd5 Bxd5 10.exd5 Nbd7 11.Qd2 g6 [B90]

An interesting theoretical discussion in one of the most fashionable lines took place in Dominguez, L - Giri, A. It looks like the important position after 14.Be2:

was deeply analyzed by both players, as they were handling the position very precisely. First, Anish came up with a decent novelty, 18...a4!, that seems to offer Black sufficient counterplay. However, Leinier also managed to develop his attack effectively with 22.Rcf1!, and on move 27 the critical position was reached. Had Anish found the intermediate 27...Rxa2! he would have kept the balance, but instead 27...gxf5? led to a quick collapse. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most spectacular battles!

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Nbd7 9.g4 [B90]

In the next game, Aronian, L - Sarana, A, Levon managed to show the drawbacks of an early 9...b5 with 10.a4!?, which was never seen on our site before:

As usual, this rare idea was a result of Levon's deep home preparation, as was demonstrated by the brilliant 13.Bg1! White got a promising position, but then went astray with 16.fxe5?! and could even have faced some difficulties. Luckily for GM Aronian his lower-rated opponent didn't take his chances (such as 25...Bb6, followed by an exchange sacrifice) and was convincingly outplayed at the end.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 Qc7 8.0-0-0 e6 9.f4 b5 10.a3 [B96]

The game Frolyanov, D - Dominguez, L saw the players enter one of the sharpest positions after 12.Bh4:

At this point Leinier played the fresh move 12...Rb8!?, which was recently introduced by Anish Giri. Dmitry responded with 13.Bg3, allowing Black to quickly develop his play on the q-side with 13...b4! Moreover, the consistent 15.e5? could have invited big trouble had Black retreated his knight to h7, while 16...Nh5? actually justified Dmitry's optimistic play. The really critical moment of the game came on move 23, when 23.Qd2! could have put GM Dominguez in big danger. Instead, White returned the favor with 23.Rg1? and quickly lost.

Najdorf Poisoned Pawn 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.f5 Nc6 [B97]

An important theoretical idea was introduced in Giri, A - Korobov, A. In the well-known position after 13...Be7:

GM Giri sacrificed another pawn with 14.e5!? The surprise effect worked, so Anton soon erred with 17...e4? and came under a strong attack. White missed a few opportunities to decide the game by direct attack, but even the final position (where a draw was agreed) looks desperately bad for Anton, to say the least.

I expect further practical tests of 14.e5!?, though Black's position after 17...Qc5 looks acceptable.

Najdorf Poisoned Pawn 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.f5 Nc6 [B97]

We end with Chigaev,M - Sarana, A, where Maxim demonstrated another fresh and interesting idea at an early stage of the game: 13.Bd3!?:

This was never mentioned on our site before. In the critical position after 16.Re1! Alexey came up with the natural novelty 16...Bd7, but then immediately went astray with 17...Rf7? Luckily for GM Sarana, White immediately returned the favor with 19.Qxe4? (when instead, 19.Bxe4 was winning!), so Black managed to stand the pressure and eventually saved the half point.

In general, 13.Bd3!? is worth attention, though it doesn't seem to pose Black major problems.

See you next month, Michael

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