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Dear chess friends,
Once again there were so many interesting and theoretically important games this last month that selecting just 8 was a tough task. I decided to mainly focus on the World Cup, which is certainly the most attractive event this year. Only half of the games were decisive, but you shouldn't worry too much as all the battles were fascinating.

Download PGN of September ’19 Open Sicilian games

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The Four Knights 6.a3 [B45]

We start with Anand, V - Giri, A where the former World Champion took the game into unexplored paths with 8.Nf3:

This continuation definitely doesn't set Black serious problems, but offers interesting play for both sides. The first critical moment came on move 11, when Anish went for the dubious 11...a5?! and came under strong positional pressure. Moreover, the careless 17...Rxa6? allowed Vishy to quickly develop a crushing attack, but starting with 20.c3?! White also started to err. In general, it was a very tough game for GM Giri, who managed to survive at the last moment.

Taimanov 7.Qf3 d6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 [B48]

Our next game, Shirov, A - Ruck, R, saw the players enter a relatively rare theoretical position after 10...Bxc6:

At this point Alexei came up with the aggressive 11.g5 in order to interrupt Black's natural development. Robert responded with 11...Qb7, but thist seems inaccurate and he soon came under attack. Curiously, this time Alexei didn't manage to handle the position well, and after 17.Bf4+? his compensation for a piece almost disappeared. Luckily for him, though, his lower-rated opponent also eventually committed a few mistakes and lost.

Najdorf Defence 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 8.g3 Be6 9.Bg2 b5 [B90]

This important line was recently tested twice at a high level.

First, in Fedoseev, V - Matlakov, M, White came up with an interesting new idea in 10.Bd2:

As we can see in the notes, it hardly sets Black serious problems, but the surprise effect worked, and so on move 16 Maxim committed a serious positional mistake, 16...axb4?, and after 17.Nc1! found himself in a difficult situation. The further complex play was full of mutual mistakes, but I would like to mention the moment when Vladimir wrongly simplified matters with 26.Rxc5?, as instead 26.Qd5! would have kept a big advantage.

In my opinion, the game Santos Ruiz - Wei, Yi has exceptional theoretical value. In the position after 9...b5 Miguel played 10.a4!?:

which looks the most challenging as Black's pawn structure on the q-side is somewhat dicey. Undoubtedly it was analyzed by the Chinese grandmaster in detail, and on move 15 he employed the natural novelty 15...Nd7. Still, Miguel's brilliant positional play (especially 18.Be4!) set Black definite problems, and after 20...f5? GM Wei Yi was very close to losing the game. Luckily for him, Miguel missed 26.b4! and step by step allowed Black to solve the main problems.

At the moment 10.a4!? looks very promising for White, and so I expect more practical tests of this line.

Najdorf 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.Nd5 Bxd5 11.exd5 [B90]

The game Jakovenko, D - Martinez Alcantara, J saw Black employ a move that wasn't covered on our site in detail before, 11...Qc7:

Dmitry responded with the ambitious 12.0-0-0 that he had previously met on Black's side. In reply Jose Eduardo chose 12...Nb6, which seems inaccurate (even though it was tried in a few correspondence games). White obtained a small edge, and the careless 18...Ng4?! allowed Dmitry to develop a powerful attack. Even though GM Jakovenko's further play was far from perfect, his eventual victory is well-deserved.

In my opinion 11...Qc7 should be tested more often, while 12...Be7 looks like a certain improvement over 12...Nb6.

Najdorf 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 Be7 8.Bg2 b5 9.Nd5 [B91]

An interesting theoretical discussion took place in Matlakov, M - Abdusattorov, N, where Nodirbek played the 14...Nxd5 which was previously mentioned by me as a possible improvement over Ragger - Wojtaszek. However, on the very next move Black deviated from my recommendation of 15...Qb8!? and instead played 15...f5:

This didn't solve his structural problems, and he quickly came under strong positional pressure. The critical moment came on move 23, when Maxim played 23.h5?, which could have spoiled all his effort had Nodirbek played 23...Qc8! Another missed chance was missed with 28...Qa6? and eventually Maxim scored a victory.

In general this line looks somewhat annoying for Black, since his counter-attacking possibilities are very limited.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Qe2 h6 8.Bh4 g6 [B94]

The next game, Christiansen, J - Wojtaszek, R, was played under special circumstances, as Radoslaw had lost his 1st game of the match with the white pieces and so had to win with black at all costs. So, in the well-known theoretical position after 15.Na5:

GM Wojtaszek took a risk with 15...Bc5?! (the usual 15...Bb7 or 15...Bg7 didn't offer any winning chances), but it only invited big trouble. The critical moment came on move 21, when Radoslaw avoided the 21...hxg5 that could have led to a forced draw, and was eventually convincingly outplayed.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qc7 8.Qe2 [B96]

The last game, Cornette, M - Gharamian, T, saw the players enter a relatively uncommon line, where Tigran had definite previous experience. After 10.0-0-0:

GM Gharamian decided to deviate from his previous play with 10...Nxd4 11.Rxd4 Bd7, but this seems less flexible. Indeed, had White played 14.g3, Black's position would be rather unpleasant, whereas the game's 14.Nd1?! could have spoiled White's advantage. In general, this game was full of mutual mistakes, but Tigran certainly has to be happy with sharing a point, since his position was absolutely lost for most of it.

Regarding the opening, I believe that 8.Bxf6 is somewhat more promising than 8.Qe2.

See you next month, Michael

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