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Dear chess friends, I hope I find you well during this complicated period.
This time we have some interesting new ideas in a few long theoretical lines. Also, 2 top engine games are included in this update.

Download PGN of July ’20 Open Sicilian games

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Kan Maroczy 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Qc7 7.Be2 [B41]

We start with Shirov, A - Manzone, A, where in the standard hedgehog position after 7...b6:

Alexei employed an aggressive setup with 8.Be3!?, followed by 11.g4. A few moves later Alexei decided to deviate from his own play in a preceding game with 13.Rg1, but this innovation wouldn't have worked so well had Black played 16...Nc4! Instead, 16...Ng6? let Alexei quickly develop a strong initiative and decide the game. The plan with an early g2-g4 looks promising for White, but 13.Kf2!, as played by GM Shirov earlier, is much stronger.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 Nf6 8.0-0-0 h5 [B48]

The game Lobanov, S - Matlakov, M saw White employ the rare 9.Kb1 in one of the fashionable Taimanov lines:

Perhaps, the surprise effect (and the short time control) did its job, as Maxim soon went astray with 12...Ng6? and came under a strong attack. Luckily for him, Sergei failed to handle the position well, and his attack slowed down. Moreover, 19.Bc4? drastically changed the route of the play, and from then on it was White who should have lost! In general, it was a very dramatic struggle with mutual mistakes, but eventually Maxim was the last to err and blunder.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 Nf6 8.0-0-0 Ne5 9.Qg3 b5 [B48]

In the next game, Dominguez, L - Santos Latasa, J, Black came up with an early innovation, 11...Bc5:

This was never mentioned on our site before. Possibly Leinier wasn't surprised - he managed to handle this complicated position very well with 12.Be1! and 13.h3!, so Black's king soon came under strong pressure. In my opinion, the best attacking opportunity was missed on move 16, when Leinier could have acquired the bishop pair with 16.Qd3!. but he soon got another chance after 22...Rc5? The really critical moment of the game came on move 27, when 27.Bh4+! would have left Black's king in big danger, while 27.Be3? practically spoiled everything.

Richter-Rauzer 7.Qd3!? [B62]

The merits of the original setup with 7.Qd3!? were nicely illustrated in an engine game in the previous update. The game Alekseenko, K - Vidit, S saw Black deviate from that encounter with 8...a6, but after 9.Nxc6! bxc6 10.Qg3:

GM Vidit could have regretted it, the position, after 11...e5 looks dangerous for Black, but the timid 12.Bb3?! allowed GM Vidit to complete his development and consolidate. A few moves later Kirill inaccurately exposed his q-side pawn structure with 16.a4? and eventually it was Black who managed to develop a crushing attack.

Najdorf 6.Bd3 g6 [B90]

In the blitz game Karjakin, S - Clarke, B there was a big ELO difference (more than 300 points), but the better player was completely outplayed! In the important theoretical position after 12.Bh6:

Black employed the natural novelty 12...Qa5 and managed to confuse his great opponent. In fact, the timid 13.a3?! allowed Black to liquidate into a comfortable endgame, where White's pieces were quite passive. The critical moment came on move 20, when Sergey failed to find 20.a4! and was quickly defeated.

Despite such a success, I am not sure if 12...Qa5 is really a good idea. I expect further practical tests of 13.Bxg7, followed by h4.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qc7 8.Qf3 [B96]

The next game ,Hernandez Gonzalez, W - Karjakin, S, saw the players enter a relatively uncommon theoretical position after 9.0-0-0:

At this moment Sergey played 9...Bb7? Luckily for him, his lower-rated opponent missed a golden opportunity to immediately develop a powerful attack with 10.Bxf6 and 11.Qh5, and soon Black even managed to seize the initiative. In general, this game was full of mutual mistakes, but one dramatic moment must be mentioned: at the end White missed 31.Nxg7, with checkmate to follow, and eventually Black won.

Najdorf, Polugaevsky Variation 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 b5 8.e5 [B96]

I was happy to discover that the so-called Polugaevsky line with 7...b5 isn't really refuted! This time the critical position after 15.Nf3 was tested in LCZero - Stockfish:

Here Black went for the rare 15...Rxd3 that took the game into an inferior endgame, where Black didn't have real compensation for a pawn. Still, this position turned out to be defendable for the engine.

Even though Black managed to achieve a draw quite convincingly, I don't think 15...Rxd3 can be recommended to a human player.

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

We end with another engine game, Stockfish - LCZero. Black chose the well-forgotten old line with 13...Nc5, allowing White to grab a lot of space with f5-f6. In the theoretical position after 16...h5:

White played the prophylactic move 17.a3, which seems to pose Black major problems! In fact, 17...Qb7? was brilliantly met by 18.b4! and White soon obtained a crushing attack.

Even though I analyzed the position after 17.a3 very deeply, I still failed to find any attractive way to handle this position. So, maybe this is the reason why the old line is a rare guest in modern practice nowadays?

See you next month, Michael

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