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This time we will focus on some rare theoretical lines and early innovations. We can see the growing popularity of the Four Knights, and also the exciting encounter Caruana - Abasov.

Download PGN of September ’23 Open Sicilian games

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Kalashnikov 6.c4 Be7 7.Nac3 a6 8.Na3 f5 [B32]

Teimous Radjabov is one of the leading Kalashnikov experts, and he went for a relatively uncommon line with 8...f5 in Erigaisi, A - Radjabov, T. In the position after 11...Nf6:

White played 12.Bg5 with the intention of occupying d5 with one of his knights. As the route of the game shows, this plan isn't very effective, although after the inaccurate 17...Qf7?! Black came under definite positional pressure. The critical moment of the game came on move 24, when Arjun unnecessarily weakened his king with 24.g3?! and allowed Black to develop counterplay along the f-file.

In general, 12.Ne3 seems to pose Black more problems in this line.

The Four Knights 6.Ndb5 Bb4 7.Bf4 [B45]

Our next game, Caruana, F - Abasov, N, was played in a must-win situation for Fabiano, who was defeated in the 1st game of the match. He chose a relatively rare move order with 6.Bf4, followed by 10.0-0-0!?:

Seemingly, the surprise effect did its job, and his opponent immediately went astray with 12...Qf6? that most likely was still part of Caruana's home preparation. Even so, the technical task wasn't easy for White despite Caruana's precise play.

Undoubtedly, Abasov's play can easily be improved and we will see more practical tests of 10.0-0-0!? soon.

The Four Knights 6.a3 Be7 [B45]

The next game, Asis Gargatagli, H - David, A, saw GM David come up with the important novelty in one of critical lines with 6.a3, 11...d6!:

This is a certain improvement over Black's play in the preceding game, but after 16.f4! I still somewhat prefer White's practical chances in this complex middlegame. Instead, 16.Bd3?! let Black fully consolidate and obtain excellent play against White's king. The further spectacular play was full of mutual mistakes, but Alberto got luckier.

Although 11...d6! worked well in this game, I am not sure it is the best way of handling the position. Possibly, Black should search for deviations on move 10.

Taimanov 6.Be3 a6 7.Qf3 Nf6 [B48]

In Firouzja, A - Carlsen, M Black took a major risk by deviating from known paths with 9...h5?:

White reacted with a decent innovation 13.Qe3! which seems to put Black in a critical situation. Indeed, had Alireza found the calm 16.Qb3! it would have been very hard for Carlsen to stay in the game. Luckily for Magnus, his opponent not only spoiled his advantage with 16.Rd4?, but also missed 18.f4! and got into big trouble. As usual, Carlsen's technique was impressive at the end.

Scheveningen 10.a4 Qc7 11.Kh1 Bd7 [B85]

The game Praggnanandhaa, R - Erigaisi, A saw White play 3.Be2, but later the players enter a classical Scheveningen. Instead of the usual 11...Re8 Arjun opted for the risky 11...Bd7 12.Nb3 Na5?!:

It was perfectly refuted by 13.e5! when Black found himself with poor piece coordination because of his king's knight. The decisive mistake came on move 19, when 19...Bd5? allowed White to make final progress with 20.b3! followed by 21.c4 and score a nice win.

Although Black was convincingly defeated in this game, 11....Bd7 still looks playable, but 12...b6 is a clear improvement.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.a3 [B94]

In Vidit, S - Vachier Lagrave, M White played the rare 7.a3!? that was recently covered in Vidit - Kantans. MVL responded with 7...g6, but it hardly came as a surprise for GM Vidit, who already faced it vs Svidler not long ago. This time he introduced an important novelty 9.f3!:

and after 9...0-0?! White reached a promising attacking setup a-la Yugoslav attack vs the Dragon. After committing a few more mistakes Maxime got into big trouble and should have lost, but the dramatic 34.Kb2?? turned the tables, and eventually Black even won.

At the moment 9.f3! seems to pose Black some problems, although 9...b5 is probably acceptable.

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

The next game, Jakubowski, K - Markowski, T, saw a theoretical discussion in one of the sharp lines with 6...Nbd7. The position after 13.Nc6 was previously covered in Piorun - Duda.

Tomasz deviated from that with 13...Nf6, followed by 15...d5! In response, Krzysztof came up with an interesting novelty 21.Bf1!? that let White liquidate into a comfortable endgame. Even so, if GM Markowski hadn't erred with 28...h4? the game would most likely end in a draw.

Najdorf 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.e5 [B98]

The last game, Mamedov, R - Nihal, S, saw Rauf demonstrate deep preparation in the rare theoretical line with 8.e5!?:

Most likely Sarin didn't expect this line and got somewhat confused, but he reacted correctly. The critical moment came on move 14, when the impulsive 14...Nc6?! followed by 15...bxc6?! let White quickly develop a strong attack by pushing the h-pawn. Despite the mutual mistakes, Rauf's energetic play in this game is impressive!

Even so, objectively 8.e5!? doesn't offer White anything special, though it can be used as a surprise weapon from time to time.

See you next month, Michael

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