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One of the strongest European opens from pre-COVID times made a return, and provided us with no fewer than six out of this month’s games.

Download PGN of April ’24 Anti-Sicilian games

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Closed Sicilian with 2.Nc3 g6 3.h4 [B23]

From what I can see, 3.d4 continues to offer White good play, but for variety’s sake it’s also interesting to think about alternatives. One of these, 3.h4, was played in Kuhn, C - Chigaev, M. It is of course critical to consider the equal and opposite response 3...h5, but in the interests of dynamism Black chose not to go down this route, reaching the following position after the thematic 8...Nd4:

White has set up some respectable activity on the h-file, and succeeded over the ensuing 5-10 moves in making the case that probably Black should have gone 3...h5 and challenged White to show that the insertion of h-pawn moves was useful.

Rossolimo with 3...e6 4.Bxc6 bxc6 5.d3 [B30]

Half a world away from your author, and likely also from many of the readers, is the annual Doeberl Cup, the strongest weekender in Australia. I played it four times (2009, 2021, 2022, 2023) and played either very well, or very badly each time. In one of the more competitively important encounters from this year’s edition, two Australian IMs face off in Sardana, R - Morris, J. Both players have a very dynamic style and have upset some much higher rated players recently, so I was curious to see how this would play out. After 5.d3 Ne7 White went for 6.Nbd2:

In the long run Black may struggle to avoid a structure with doubled isolated c-pawns, so may as well consent to it immediately with 6...d6. In the game, Black opted for 6...Ng6 and soon ran into difficulties, though he was then able to bring the game back under control with the aid of a strong light-squared bishop.

Rossolimo with 3...e6 4.0-0 Nge7 5.Re1 [B30]

Back across to Germany for the game Saric, I - Horvath, D. Black demonstrated a relatively new concept in the form of 11...h5!?:

On a human level it seems that this move obliges White to play 12.h3 (avoiding ...Ng4 ideas) but as we will see, the inclusion of the h-pawn moves can turn out to be structurally favourable for Black, particularly if queens come off the board.

Rossolimo with 3...g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 [B31]

The encounter Fromm, M - Sjugirov, S looks to have been rather a deflating one for the higher-rated player, who was entirely bereft of any winning chances at any stage. The game continued 5...Qc7 6.0-0 e5 7.a4 (note this thematic push again) 7...f6 8.a5 Be6:

White has already accomplished a lot of what they want, and targeting the c5-pawn directly with 9.Nc3 seems to have been the ideal way to nurture the opening edge.

Delayed Alapin with 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 d5 4.e5 [B40]

The popularity of this system continues, even if there are a couple of relatively nice answers for Black, because they are not so easy to find or execute over the board particularly in light of the move-order subtleties. In many lines White is also sacrificing a pawn for the initiative, which can appeal to players who want excitement from their Anti-Sicilians. From a strong open in Fagernes, Norway we get two games which both reached the position after 4...d4 5.d3 Ne7 6.g3 Nbc6 7.Bg2:

First of all, in Jumabayev, R - Ghasi, A Black played 7...dxc3 8.bxc3 b6 9.0-0 and now the slightly inaccurate 9...Bb7, which seems to have allowed White to claim a slight edge from the opening with 10.Qe2 Qd7 11.Rd1. Generally speaking, this game was a very nice positional display from White.

The second game also featured a GM as White against an English IM, with the game Kulaots, K - Willow, J continuing 7...Ng6 8.Qe2 and now Black exchanged the d-pawn before adding any further pressure against the e5-pawn: 8...dxc3 9.bxc3 Qc7:

Well of course White still has to sacrifice the pawn and duly did so with 10.0-0 Ncxe5 11.Nxe5 Qxe5 12.Be3 ; there is sufficient dynamic compensation, but with correct play from Black, not more than that. The line compares not unfavourably with the immediate 8...Qc7.

Hybrid Variation with 3...Nc6 4.0-0 Bd7 [B51]

One of the critical positions of the 3...Nc6 Moscow arises after 10...Ng8:

The push 11.e6 is very tempting for humans, though a solid session with a cloud engine should be enough to allow Black to prepare it out to equality. Maybe the best response is actually the pedestrian 11.Nbd2. In the game Kruckenhauser, A - Bazakutsa, S, White went for the original 11.Re3, which is by no means silly and has the potential to cause trouble for Black on either flank. That being said, Black probably keeps equality with good play.

Moscow with 3...Bd7 4.Bxd7 Qxd7 [B52]

One line which has largely escaped my attention thus far is the one where Black meets 5.0-0 with 5...Nc6 6.c3 and now 6...d5:

The move has an appealing logic to it: get White to commit the d-pawn before deciding about things like ...e6 or ...g6 (or even ...e5 in some cases), and the g8-knight also sometimes has the option of going to e7 instead of f6. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s the consistent follow-up given that Black has chosen 5...Nc6. In the game Anton Guijarro, D - Engel, L White responded with the reasonable 7.d3 e6 8.Qe2 Nge7 and now an equally logical novelty, 9.h4. Black was reluctant to counter with ...h5 (perhaps because of problems with the g5-square), but may have later come to regret this choice.

Zaitsev Sicilian with 2...d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qe3 [B53]

This line is not the greatest try for an advantage, but in positions like the one reached after White’s 9th in Erigaisi, A - Vogel, R it is necessary for Black to come up with a coherent plan.

Personally, I like the idea of setting up a Hedgehog formation with ...a6, ...b6, ...e6 and ...Bb7. The absence of White’s queen from the d-file normally means that some scrambling will be necessary if White wants to exert any pressure on the d6-pawn which might be weak as a result. Instead, in the game there followed 9...Nd7 10. Rd1 Nb6 11.Bb3 and White was slightly better.

All the best, Daniel

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