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Hello everyone,
This update focuses mainly on the Najdorf, covering the major lines. This time we have one relatively short draw, but it was an exciting game where White came up with an original novelty in a well-known theoretical position.

Download PGN of June ’17 Open Sicilian games

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

Our first game, Mista, A - Azarov, S, saw the rare and strategically risky setup with 11...a5, that was already tried by Sergei before. This time his opponent was well-prepared for it and went for an aggressive way of handling the position with 12.g4!:

I have to admit that this natural idea was underestimated in our earlier updates, and now the position can no longer be assessed as playable for the second player. Indeed, Alexander was able to convert his powerful attack into a full point quite convincingly.

Well, the whole setup with 11...a5 looks suspicious for Black now.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 7...a6 8.0-0-0 h6 9.Nxc6 [B66]

In the next game, Rodshtein, M - Dorfman, I, the players entered into one of the sharpest lines of the Rauzer, which has recently gained some popularity on the high level. In the theoretical position after 12.Qe3:

Iossif chose the dubious 12...Qa5? and soon got into big trouble. The first critical moment came on move 21, when Maxim wrongly rejected the natural 21.Qxf6 and allowed Black to keep the extra pawn. Luckily for him, his experienced opponent also made a serious mistake, 24...Rfd8?, so the advantage came back to White's side. At the end of some spectacular play with mutual mistakes the higher-rated opponent was able to win the game.

Regarding the opening, 12...0-0 should be preferred, but I still do not fully trust Black's setup.

Najdorf 6.Bd3 [B90]

The next top-level game, Nakamura, H - Vachier Lagrave, M, saw White employing the well-forgotten line 6.Bd3 e5 7.Nde2, followed by the important novelty 10.Nd5!:

Maxime's reaction was not bad, so had Black played 15...f5, the position would have been perfectly playable. Instead, he exposed the b5-spot with 15...a5? and was brilliantly outplayed by Hikaru.

In general, 6.Bd3 definitely deserves further practical tests, even though Black has a wide choice of interesting possibilities, such are 6...g6!? or 9...Re8!?

Najdorf 6.h3 e6 7.g4 h6 [B90]

The above-mentioned short draw took place in the encounter Baklan, V - Donchenko, A, where Vladimir came up with the interesting novelty 9.b3!?:

The real critical moment came at move 13, when GM Baklan went for the tempting piece sac 13.Ndb5, but the complications ended in an approximately equal endgame. It looks like Vladimir could have posed Black more problems had he played 13.f4!?

Black can also deviate at an early stage with 9...Bd7!?. Anyway, I expect further practical tests of 9.b3!?.

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

An interesting theoretical discussion took place in Gharamian, T - Rodshtein, M.

In the diagram position after 10...Rc8 Tigran followed the previously played 11.f5, and later employed the unsuccessful innovation 14.Qd3?! This allowed GM Rodshtein to seize the initiative and gain strong pressure along the g-file. The next critical moment came on move 24, when Maxim wrongly played 24...Qc4? and lost his advantage. However, White made a big blunder on move 29 and quickly lost.

At the moment this line looks acceptable for Black, but 11.Be3!? might be more challenging.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.h3 Be7 9.f4 [B90]

The next game, Chigaev, M - Cheparinov, I, also has significant theoretical value. In the position after 12.g3 Ivan came up with an original new idea 12...Qc8, intending to push ...d6-d5 at the proper moment:

It looks like the real test for this innovation would occur had White played 13.Rh2!, but finding this manoeuvre is a tough task. Instead, the more natural 13.Bg2 d5 allowed Black to activate most of his forces. The really critical moment of this game came on move 16, when Maxim played 16.Rf1?, leaving his king in the centre for a long time. Even though GM Cheparinov didn't manage to play precisely either, he made less mistakes, so his victory is logical.

Possibly the previously played 12...d5 is safer, but 12...Qc8 has to be checked more.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 h6 8.Bh4 g6 [B94]

Our next game, Kasimdzhanov, R - Zhu, Yi, saw another effective novelty. In the well-known theoretical position after 12...b5:

Rustam went for the spectacular exchange sac 13.Rxd7!? Nxd7 14.Nd5. The surprise effect was so big that his opponent immediately made a serious mistake, choosing the wrong square for his queen. Despite some inaccuracies, White was able to make use of development advantage and score a convincing victory.

Possibly this sacrifice might pose Black serious problems and even refute the whole setup, but at the moment 14...Qb8! looks acceptable for the second player.

Najdorf Poisoned Pawn 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.a3 [B97]

In our last game, Nakamura, H - Nepomniachtchi, I, White employed the rather rare and well-forgotten 8.a3:

It looks like Ian wasn't perfectly prepared for it, so after a few moves White got decent attacking prospects on the k-side. The main critical moment came on move 14, when the cold-blooded 14...h5 would offer Black acceptable play. Instead, Black played 14...Kh8?, allowing Hikaru to develop a powerful attack and win in great style.

Despite such an impressive victory, 8.a3 doesn't look promising for attacking players - there are many ways of improving over Ian's play. For, instance, 8...Nbd7!? might be the simplest solution.

Till next month, Michael

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