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Dear chess friends,
As we know this worldwide epidemic has forced chessplayers to switch to online play (mostly blitz). As a result, the games are full of nervous decisions, blunders, etc. However, it doesn't make them any less spectacular!

Download PGN of May ’20 Open Sicilian games

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Kan 5.Bd3 Bc5 6.Nb3 Be7 7.Qg4 g6 [B42]

We start with Erigaisi, A - Smirin, I, where White played the natural 8.Nc3!?, which is new for our site:

A few moves later Ilya prematurely played 10...0-0?! and quickly came under a strong attack. This game illustrates White's attacking potential well, even though Arjun's mistake on move 19 could have spoiled all his effort.

In general, 8.Nc3!? looks very promising, so I expect fresh practical tests of it to follow soon.

Taimanov 5...a6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.f4 [B46]

The next game, Zierk, S -Grachev, B, saw White employ the rare 8.Nxc6!?:

The first critical moment came on move 12, when Boris prematurely challenged the centre with 12...d6?! and found himself under strong positional pressure. GM Zierk was playing well till move 25, when the careless 25.Rbb7? allowed the black queen's activation. However, a few moves later he missed a golden opportunity to decide the game in nice style with 28.Qxe6!, and at the end it was even Boris who managed to exploit the vulnerability of White's king.

Taimanov 5...Qc7 6.Be2 a6 7.Nxc6!? [B47]

Another rare, but rather promising, idea was introduced in Karjakin, S - Cori, J. The early 7.Nxc6!?, followed by 8.Qd3! made it possible for White to liquidate into a comfortable endgame with pressure along the h-file. It looks like this endgame was analyzed by GM Karjakin in detail, so 11.g4!? allowed White to quickly expand on the k-side:

As a result of the premature 12...d4?! GM Cori got into a very passive position with clear strategic issues, but 23.Rf3? gave him a great chance to change the unfavorable route of the game. Luckily for Sergey, Black immediate returned the favor with 23...Be8? and eventually lost.

Undoubtedly, 7.Nxc6!? looks rather annoying for Black at the moment.

Scheveningen 6.Be3 Be7 7.f4 [B82]

In the next top-level game, Nakamura,H - Carlsen, M, Black surprisingly opted for a relatively rare setup with 7...Nc6 8.Qf3 e5 9.Nxc6 bxc6:

At this moment Hikaru deviated from the most challenging 10.f5!? and chose 10.Bc4, which allowed Magnus to quickly occupy the key e5-spot and solve all his problems. Moreover, the inaccuare 15.Rad1?! should have led to an inferior position, but Magnus returned the favor with a dubious pawn sacrifice on f7. The World champion definitely wasn't at his best in this game as on the next move he blundered the exchange, and the game lost its intrigue.

Regarding the theoretical part, 10.f5!? seems to pose Black definite problems.

Najdorf 6.h4 e5 [B90]

An interesting theoretical discussion in one of the rarest Najdorf lines took place in Steinberg, N - Chigaev, M. In the position after 9.f4:

Maxim deviated from the natural 9...b5!? and went for an interesting pawn sacrifice with 9...Nc6, followed by 11...d5! In my opinion, the real test of this idea would be seen had Black played 13...h6!, while 13...Rc8? made it possible for Nitzan to occupy the important e4-spot. White's play was quite consistent and strong till move 25, when he blundered to allow 25...Nxc2! when the position got very sharp. At the end, the Russian grandmaster was luckier.

Najdorf 6.Bd3 g6 [B90]

Another interesting new idea at an early stage of the game was shown in Karjakin, S - Duda, J. In the position after 8.f3 Black went for the original 8...Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6:

Sergey reacted with the natural 10.Nd5, but it looks like it was exactly what GM Duda was expecting. After the precise 12...Qa5! Black managed to quickly solve his space problems and achieve a draw.

At the moment I assume that 10.0-0!? Is White's best attempt to demonstrate any superiority.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 [B90]

The game Firouzja, A - Ding Liren saw the players enter one of the most complex lines in the Najdorf with ...h7-h5. In the position after 12...Rc8:

Alireza chose the rare 13.h3, and soon employed the somewhat unsuccessful novelty 15.f5 which gave Black the easier play on the q-side. GM Ding Liren managed to seize the initiative, but the careless 21...Bf8?! followed by 23...Rd4? allowed Alireza to develop a powerful attack. The critical moment of the game was when White missed the cold-blooded 31.Rd2!, exposed his king with 31.bxc4?, and was soon crushed by a direct attack.

In my opinion, instead of 13.h3 White should switch to positional paths with 13.Nc1!?, which was tested in a correspondence game.

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

Our last game, Ter Sahakyan, S - Grischuk, A, illustrates how risky it can be to deviate from the main theoretical paths in the Najdorf. Alexander chose the relatively rare 9...Be7, which was previously covered in Navara - Spoelman, White reacted with 10.Nf3!?, intending to play e4-e5 as soon as possible:

The real test of this concept would occur had Alexander played 14...Bb7, which seems to offer Black some counter-play. Instead, the ambitious 14...Rb8?! was nicely refuted by 15.Qe1!, neutralizing the activity of Black's pieces. The further play was full of mutual mistakes, but White's victory was definitely well-deserved.

See you next month, Michael

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