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Hi everyone,
This month offers us many interesting events. Some of them are over (Hasselbacken Open, Russian Team Championship, Stavanger), but the Individual European Championship has just started. I guess this update would definitely suit Najdorf players as this time 6 games saw the position after 5...a6. As usual, there were important theoretical innovations, uncompromising battles (this time only 1 draw!) and more. Enjoy!

Download PGN of May ’16 Open Sicilian games

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Taimanov 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.0-0-0 Be7 [B48]

Our first game Sethuraman - Blomqvist saw an interesting theoretical discussion in the fashionable position after 10....h5:

The Indian Grandmaster now came up with the relatively rare, but quite dangerous 11.Be2!?. It looks like Erik's response was correct, but he then committed a serious mistake on the next move and got into serious trouble. Even considering Black's unsuccessful play, Sethuraman's quick victory is very impressive. Regarding the opening, the critical position for the whole line seems to occur after 12...0-0! I expect more tests of the 10....h5 line.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 Nf6 8.0-0-0 Nxd4?! [B48]

Our next game, Fressinet - Stefansson, illustrates how dangerous the extremely popular setup with 7.Qf3 can be if Black is not properly prepared for it. The line with 8...Nxd4?! was covered in one of our earlier games, and I considered it to be dubious. Indeed, Laurent's convincing victory here definitely proves this assessment. The only critical moment of the game came on move 16:

, where Black had to give up an exchange in order to liquidate into a worse, but playable endgame. Instead, 16...Qd8? led Hannes to a painful loss.

English Attack with early 7...h5 [B80]

The game Caruana - Nakamura saw the quite rare, but typical restricting move 7...h5, which was already covered on our site in some old games. In my opinion, Fabiano's innovation 9.Bc4! is a significant improvement over White's previous play and definitely poses Black some strategical problems:

Still, after the somewhat premature 13.f4, the play became very double-edged, so Hikaru could be satisfied with his opening choice. The really critical moment came on move 24, when Hikaru committed a decisive mistake, 24...Qb4, when instead 24...Qxf2 would have kept decent drawing chances.

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

The next game Stukopin - Ludwig also has significant theoretical value. The Russian player proves that the setup with 8.h3 and 9.f4 requires very precise play from Black. Indeed, in the theoretical position after 15.Qe3:

Black went for the natural-looking 15...Qc7?! and was convincingly outplayed by the higher-rated player. Instead, it looks like 15...Re8! should offer Black reasonable counter-play in all cases, but we need more practical tests for a clear assessment.

Najdorf 6.Be3 Ng4 ... 11.Nf5 Bxf5 12.exf5 [B90]

In my opinion, our next game Najer - Artemiev poses Black serious problems in the quite rare line with 12...Nbd7. Indeed, the position after 15.Rb1! already looks unpleasant for the second player, since Black's counter-play is very limited:

No doubt Vlad's further play can be easily improved (already his next move 15...0-0?! seems dubious), but Evgniy's play still looks very impressive. Well, at the moment it looks like Black has no good alternative to the main 12...Nbc6.

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

The game Nepomniachtchi - Grischuk might be another cause of worries for Najdorf players. The players were following the spectacular game Demchenko - Gelfand (from the March Update) till move 13, when Ian was the first to deviate with 13.Nxc6:

In my notes to the above-mentioned game I stated that this way of handling the position might be promising. Indeed, as the analyses prove, Alexander didn't have any real counterplay at any moment. In general, Ian's play in this game was very powerful and illustrative. Well, the ball is definitely in Black's court now!

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.f4 Qc7 8.Qf3 g6?! [B94]

In our next game Oparin - Korobov the higher-rated player employed the rare and rather risky idea 8...g6?!, which was nicely met by the novelty 10.h4!?:

The further play was full of mutual mistakes, where both players missed their winning chances. However, the route of this game definitely proves that deviating from the main paths is extremely dangerous for Black in this line.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Qb6 [B96]

Our last top-level game Giri - Vachier Lagrave saw another well-prepared innovation. In the theoretical position after 13...g5:

Anish came up with 14.h4! gxf4 15.Be2! and forced his opponent, who is a great expert on this line, to spend lots of time solving difficult problems. Luckily for Maxime, his response 15...Rg8 wasn't covered by Giri during his preparation, and he failed to take advantage of his brilliant novelty - 16.Rdg1? was a serious mistake, which allowed Black to seize the initiative and score a quick win.

Anyway, this game proves that 9.a3!? is one of White's most dangerous weapons in the fashionable line with 8...Qb6.

See you next month! Enjoy! Michael

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