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Once again, once again the popular Najdorf takes centre stage, though the only other opening features a battle in the Classical Rauzer that has exceptional theoretical value.

Download PGN of March ’17 Open Sicilian games

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Classical 8...Nxd4 9.Qxd4 0-0 [B63]

We start with Dubov, D - Predke, A, where Daniil was able to expose a definite drawback of an early exchange on d4. In the theoretical position after 9...0-0:

he employed the rather rare 10.h4! However, it turns out that over-protecting the bishop yields White additional attacking possibilities. I have to mention that White's next move was inaccurate, so had Black played 12...d5!, his position would be acceptable. Instead, 12...a6?! led Aleksandr to an unpleasant position, where he was doomed to passive defense. In general, a well-played game by GM Daniil Dubov.

Najdorf 6.a3 [B90]

The modest-looking 6.a3:

was recently tried at the highest level by both Magnus Calrsen and Sergey Karjakin, so Ivan didn't mind checking this idea himself in Saric, I - Idani, P. In my opinion, both 6...e6!? and 6...e5 should offer Black acceptable play, but switching to Dragon paths with 6...g6?! isn't an attractive option. Indeed, after 7.f3! I failed to find an adequate way of handling the position for Black. Luckily for Pouya, his strong opponent was far from his best, so Black was able to achieve a draw quite easily anyway.

Najdorf 6.Nb3 [B90]

Our next game, Vitiugov, N - Artemiev, V, saw an interesting theoretical discussion in one of the most unexplored lines of the Najdorf. In the rare theoretical position after 9.h4 Vladislav employed the ambitious novelty 9...b5:

Nikita's unsuccessful reply 10.Bg2?! allowed Black to get the better position, but after the greedy 13...Nxb2?! the route of the game changed drastically. The next critical moment came on move 23, when Nikita missed a clear win and went wrong with 23.Qe2?, but luckily for him, his opponent was the last to err in this spectacular encounter.

Najdorf 6.h3 e6 7.g4 Be7 [B90/81]

The fashionable position after 12...b5 was checked in 2 important games in this update:

First, in Bromberger, S - Grandelius, N, White employed the aggressive new idea 13.g5, but Black didn't face any problems. Moreover, the over-ambitious 16.Qh5?! could have invited serious trouble had Nils played 18...Ne7. Alas, the game was affected by his terrible blunder here.

Another game, Antipov, M - Moskalenko, A, saw 13.Ne2, which seems more promising for White. The real test of this approach would be seen had Black played 13...e5!? - I definitely expect some practical tests in this position. Instead, 13...Nc5?! allowed White to develop a powerful attack and win in nice style.

Najdorf 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 b5 [B90]

Another fashionable theoretical line occurred in Narayanan, S - Kuzubov, Y. It looks like 7...b5!? is a good alternative to the main continuation 7...h5. Indeed, in the important theoretical position after 15.0-0:

Black's position would be comfortable had Yuriy played 15...0-0. Instead, the dubious novelty 15...Qc7?! could have invited trouble, but on his turn Srinath spoiled his advantage with the inaccurate 19.Qe3?! Most of the game the position was balanced, but at the end GM Kuzubov committed a few more mistakes and lost.

Najdorf 6.Be3 Ng4 with 11.Nf5 [B90]

Our next top game, Nakamura, H - Grischuk, A, saw a theoretical discussion in this long and well-explored line. In the theoretical position after 22.Qh5+ Black employed the important novelty 22....Ke7!, and so his problems were almost solved. However, Grischuk's inaccurate 36th move invited fresh trouble. The further complex play was full of mutual mistakes (including White missing a clear win on move 46) and ended in a draw.

In general, the ball is still in White's court in this line.

Najdorf 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 [B91]

In our last game, Predke, A - Korobov, A, Black successfully tried the realtively rare setup with 9...Be6:

In my opinion, White's natural reply 10.h3 didn't pose Black any problems, and Anton was able to develop serious counterplay on the k-side and achieve victory after a spectacular struggle with mutual mistakes.

Regarding the opening, the restrictive approach with 10.a4!? looks more promising for White.

See you next month, Enjoy! Michael

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