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Hi all,
We will mostly focus on recent top-level online events, though 1 exciting game played by Magnus is left over from Wijk aan zee. This time we have a few side lines, where most of the games saw an uncompromising battle.

Download PGN of March ’21 Open Sicilian games

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Sveshnikov 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 [B33]

We start with Shankland, S - Grischuk, A, where the players entered the sharp and fashionable position after 12...h5:

At this point Samuel deviated from the previously covered Carlsen - Gelfand with 13.Be2!?, and it looks like his choice came as a real surprise for Alexander. In fact, he soon committed a serious mistake, 15...f5?, and his king came under strong pressure. GM Shankland was very close to winning the game, but in the ending he went astray with 34.Ra6? and let his opponent achieve a draw.

Regarding the opening, I am not sure if Alexander's innovation 14...e4 is the best way, as it looks like 14...a6 15.Nc3 b5! offers Black sufficient counterplay.

The Four Knights 6.Ndb5 Bb4 7.a3 Bxc3 8.Nxc3 d5 [B45]

The game Giri, A - Mamedyarov, S again illustrates the deep theoretical preparation of Anish Giri. In the position after 11...e5:

that was seen on our site a long time ago in Ponomariov – Korchnoi, White came up with a deep strategic idea 12.h3! Re8 13.b4!, heavily limiting Black's counter-attacking possibilities. Black reacted with the natural 13...Nd7, but after 14.f4 followed by 16.b5! White quickly obtained a clear positional advantage. The further interesting play was full of mutual mistakes, but White's victory is the logical result: Shakhriyar was under strong pressure throughout the game.

Undoubtedly, the ball is now in Black's court in this line.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 6.Bg5 g6 7.Bxf6 exf6 [B60]

The game Aronian, L - Dubov, D saw an interesting theoretical discussion in the rare line with 6...g6 that was recently employed several times by the Russian Grandmaster. In the position after 10...Bg7:

Levon came up with a natural novelty, 11.Nf4, that seems to pose Black major problems. However, he soon chose the harmless 13.Rd1, and after 13...f5 Daniil managed to overcome his difficulties. Even though Black didn't handle this endgame precisely, he still managed to achieve a draw.

In my opinion, 13.Bc4!? might offer White a pleasant advantage, but we need to see more practical tests.

Classical Richter-Rauzer 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f4 Be7 10.Nf3 b5 [B68]

Another relatively rare idea was seen in Aronian, L - Vachier Lagrave, M, where Levon played 11.Kb1:

I guess this was analyzed by MVL in detail, since GM Aronian had already employed it before with success. Indeed, on move 14 Black improved over the previously played Aronian - Le Quang with 14...exf5!, inviting White to show his cards. The dynamic balance was kept till move 19, when White went for the over-optimistic 19.h4?! and Maxim managed to fully outplay his opponent, but the impulsive 26...a4? and 27...Nxf3?! drastically changed the route of the play, and eventually White won.

Najdorf 6.Rg1 b5 [B90]

The next game, Vachier Lagrave, M - Ding Liren, saw the rare and sharp 6.Rg1 b5 7.a4, which was previously analyzed in Motylev - Kokarev. The Chinese grandmaster was the first to deviate with the ambitious 8...Nxe4, and soon the players entered the critical position after 11.c3!?:

At this moment Black chose the timid 11...Be7?, allowing White to regain the pawn in a favorable situation. GM Ding Liren soon committed another mistake with 15...0-0? and was eventually crushed by a direct attack. A masterpiece from MVL!

Despite such a defeat, 8...Nxe4 seems to offer Black acceptable play, but he has to accept the pawn sacrifice with 11...bxc3!

Najdorf 6.Qd3 [B90]

The only 'offline' game in this update, Carlsen, M - Grandelius, N, saw Magnus employ the minor line 6.Qd3, which was only seen a couple of times before on our site. Nils reacted with the natural 6...e6, but after 7.a4 his choice seems suboptimal:

It looks like 7...Nc6 allows White to comfortably host his queen on g3 and seize the initiative. This is actually what happened, but the inaccurate 17.Na4?! made it possible for Nils to activate his pieces with 17...d4 followed by 18...c5! In general, it was a well-played game by Nils, but unluckily he failed to withstand the pressure right up till the end, and the impulsive 35...Qa1? eventually allowed Magnus to decide the game in his typical style.

Najdorf 6.Bc4 e6 7.Be3 [B86/B90]

Our next game, Aronian, L - Ding Liren saw an interesting mix of the Be3 and Sozin systems. The rare theoretical position after 9...0-0 already occurred in Levon's practice before:

but the aggressive 10.h4!? most likely came as a surprise to the Chinese Grandmaster. Still, he managed to handle the position well, and after the impulsive 15.g5? Black was able to take over the initiative. Moreover, had he played 21...Nc4 White's position would most likely collapse at once. Instead, the impulsive 21...Rxc3? followed by 25...Kxh7? allowed Levon to decide the game with a direct attack.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Nbd7 8.Qe2 Qc7 9.0-0-0 b5 10.a3 Be7 [B96]

The last game, Pichot, A - Giri, A, saw White employ the rare 11.Bxf6!? that was only tried in 2 games so far. Anish reacted well with 13...Rb8!:

and after the straightforward 14.h4 b4 Black got sufficient play on the q-side, to say the least. The critical moment of the game came when White played 21.Qf7+, and the desertion of the queen from the q-side left White's king too exposed. Instead, had White played 21.e5! he would be able to maintain the balance.

In my opinion, 14.Qe1!? is more promising, and I expect further practical tests of 11.Bxf6!?

See you next month, Michael

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