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Hello everyone,
I am glad to introduce another Update which is full of spectacular Sicilian battles and theoretical discussions. This time almost all the games are selected from just one tournament (Aeroflot, one of the strongest Open tournaments in the World).
Well, the Candidates tournament has just started and we are looking forward to seeing more exciting novelties and top-level games. Enjoy!

Download PGN of March ’16 Open Sicilian games

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The Taimanov 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.f4 [B48]

Our first game Anand - Harikrishna saw a dubious attempt to deviate from the main lines with 8...b5?!:

As the route of the game shows, Vishy was well-prepared for this, and so Black got into trouble quite soon. White's play was quite natural and strong till the 20th move, when Vishy slowed down his initiative with 20.Bf2?! Even though Pentala's defence wasn't the most precise either, he was then able to achieve a draw quite easily.

Anyway, 8....b5?! is definitely not recommended, so Black should choose between 8...Bb4 and 8....Be7.

Najdorf with 6.Nb3 [B90]

We continue with 2 games of GM Mateusz Bartel, where he successfully employed the original idea 6.Nb3!?:

Being surprised at such an early stage of the first of these games, Vlad Artemiev failed to react properly and soon got into trouble. Most probably, 6...g6, switching to setup a-la Dragon is an adequate way of handling the position, but 11...Be6?! (Instead, 11...Ne5 or 11...b4 would offer Black normal play) made Vlad's position inharmonious. His further mistake 15...Qc7? was nicely punished by Mateusz, so he won the game quite convincingly.

Two days later, Boris Gelfand tried another logical plan with 6...Nc6 7.Be3 e6, and after 8.g4!? the players entered a very sharp, double-edged position. It looks like Gelfand's manoeuvre ...Nd7-b6-c4 was somewhat premature, so White was able to complete development and develop a strong initiative. At some point Bartel's position seemed winning, but the character of the play was very complex all the time. At the end, a draw was agreed on move 77, when both players had missed their chances, see Bartel - Gelfand.

In general, 6.Nb3!? should definitely be tested more in practice, though frankly speaking, it doesn't pose Black any serious problems.

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

Our next game, Demchenko - Gelfand, has significant value for theory. Indeed, in the theoretical position after 13.Rh3:

Boris came up with a new concept - 13...b4! 14.axb4 Nxb4 - which prevents White from castling, so the standard k-side attack by means of h4-h5 and g5-g6 becomes less effective. Anton's reaction 15.Nce2 wasn't bad, so the position remained balanced till move 23. Then the inaccurate 23.Rd8?! led White into a very dodgy situation where his king was stuck in the centre. Despite a serious mistake on move 27, Gelfand's play was quite energetic and powerful, so his victory is well-deserved.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 8.g3 [B90]

Another theoretical discussion took place in Pichot - Khismatullin. The position after 13...0-0 was already seen in Denis's practice before:

so it looks like Alan was perfectly prepared for it. Indeed, his way of handling the position, starting with 14.h4! heavily reduces Black's counter-chances. The really critical moment of the game came on move 21, when 21.Nxd6? (Instead, 21.Nec3! would put Black in a difficult situation) enabled Black to seize the initiative. Most probably switching to passive defending was a tough task from a psychological point of view, as Alan didn't put up much resistance at the end of game.

Najdorf 6.a4 Nc6 7.a5!? [B90]

Our next game Kamsky - Salem saw quite a rare idea, 7.a5!?, which was already used by Gata before. Accepting the challenge by means of 7...Nxa5 is an adequate measure, but after 8.Nd5:

Black should definitely get the knight back into play by 8...Nc6! This important position definitely needs practical tests. Instead, 8...e6?, as was also played in a couple of games before, led Black into a very difficult position, where his extra pawn only had a symbolic value. White's further play was very consistent and strong.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 ... 12.Rg1 [B90]

In the game Salem - Sjugirov the players entered into a complex and fashionable position after 21...Qxa5:

It looks like the real test for this line would have occurred had White played 22.c4 - and at the moment, I do not see how Black can solve all his problems after this. Instead, however, the new move 22.Bd3 led to a long positional battle with mutual chances. The critical moment came on move 37, when White exposed the long diagonal by means of 37.c4?, allowing Black to develop a decisive attack quite soon.

Regarding the opening, this line still looks perfectly playable for Black, but 20...Bd7 (Instead of 20...Bxd5) might be more precise.

Najdorf 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 [B91]

Our last game Lu,Shanglei - Sjugirov saw another theoretical discussion in the very quiet 6.g3 system. In the rare theoretical position after 12...Nf6:

the Chinese player came up with an important novelty 13.Nxe7! and got a small, but long-lasting positional advantage. Unluckily for him, Sanan was at his best, so Black was able to find almost all the most precise moves and achieve a draw. Still, it looks like 7.Nde2!? remains rather annoying for Najdorf players, so maybe 6...e6 or even 6...g6!? might offer more attractive positions.

See you next month! Enjoy! Michael

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