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Hi folks,
This month, we’ll discuss some interesting theoretical clashes from the recently concluded Chennai Olympiad. We’ll take a deep look at some old and established mainlines, and also some new and rare battlegrounds. Enjoy!

Download PGN of August ’22 Anti-Sicilian games

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c3 Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Nf3 d6 5 d4 cxd4 6 cxd4 Nc6 7 Bc4 Nb6 8 Bb5 dxe5 [B22]

We’ll begin by taking a look at a very well-known line of the Alapin, which is considered to have a toothless reputation:

The game Muzychuk, M - Roebers, E from the Ukraine - Netherlands match in the Women’s Section reached this important tabiya. Black’s best move may well be 12...Rd8! forcing 13 Be3 from White. In the game, Black went for the other main move, 12...Be7. The game continued with 13 Qg4 0-0 and now I take a detailed look at the engine’s preferred 14 Bxc6, as well as the game move 14 Rd1. This line isn’t as harmless as its reputation, and I think White keeps a nagging edge after 14 Bxc6. In the game, Black allowed a winning Queen sacrifice from White, who in turn allowed Black unnecessary counterplay. Both sides missed some incredible wins in an absolutely fascinating endgame, and eventually ended up splitting the point. A great struggle.

3 Bc4 Sicilian: 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 e6 [B30]

The game Idani, P - Cornette, M from the Iran - France encounter in the Open Section featured an unusual line that Sam covered earlier this year, but one which continues to gain popularity:

It’s difficult for me to take this 3 Bc4 line seriously, but the idea certainly has some practical value. Black went for the critical 5...Nxe4!? and following 6 Rxe4 d5 7 Bxd5 Qxd5 8 Nc3 chose the move 8...Qf5!? which may well be the best option. White established a lead in development in exchange for giving Black the two Bishops, and was able to gain further time by kicking Black’s Queen around. White slipped up on move twenty and allowed Black the opportunity to simplify the position and gain an edge, but Black in turn blundered and gave White the chance to initiate favourable tactical complications. After a further pair of mutual blunders, White finished the game off very nicely. The opening remains an interesting choice for those who wish to explore new territory.

Rossolimo Variation: 3...Nf6 4 Nc3 Nd4 5 e5 Nxb5 6 Nxb5 Nd5 7 0-0! [B30]

Next up is an encounter from the Ireland - Egypt match in the Open Section between Murphy, C - Fawzy, A. My countryman, Conor Murphy, had a stellar debut for Ireland, racing to 7.5/8 and guaranteeing himself his second GM norm with a round to spare. His impressive win in this game secured the Irish team a well-deserved draw against the much higher-rated Egyptians. As for the opening, the following position is the main battleground of this line:

For a long time, the move 7 Ng5!? was considered to be something of a refutation of this risky line for Black. However, recent games and analysis indicate that this is far from being the case. Instead, Conor’s choice of 7 0-0! appears to be more dangerous. At first, Black responded accurately with 7...a6! 8 c4! Nb4 9 Nc3. However, the only good move for Black here is 9...d6! (I discuss this and Black’s other options in the notes). Black’s choice of 9...g6?? is already a fatal error, allowing an incredibly strong sacrifice of the Queen’s Rook (see the note to move ten). Conor chose 10 Ne4 instead, which was enough for him to win a pawn, although if Black had followed-up accurately, he would have been able to claim some compensation. He didn’t, and Conor played very precisely to squash Black’s counterplay and convert his material advantage with ease. Black still hasn’t shown how to equalise against 7 0-0 and the whole line seems to deserve its risky reputation.

Rossolimo Variation: 3...g6 4 0-0 Bg7 5 Bxc6 bxc6 6 Re1 Qc7!? 7 h3!? [B31]

Another incredible streak that was widely-publicised was the Indian prodigy Gukesh’s amazing run to 8/8 playing Board One for India 2 in the Open Section. We’re going to look at his eighth-round game, Caruana, F - Gukesh, D from the USA - India 2 match, which featured a line of the Rossolimo that Sam has considered previously:

However, Caruana’s choice of 7 h3!? is new for this site and for OTB chess in general, having only been played once previously in a Correspondence game. The idea is to wait for Black to play 7...d6 and meet this with 8 e5!? The surprise worked, and Caruana achieved a nice edge out of the opening. At some point, he didn’t play as aggressively as he should have and Gukesh generated decent counterplay. Later on, Caruana declined a repetition, before immediately going wrong and granting Black the advantage. A further blunder left the Indian talent with a winning position which he converted with some precise calculation. Despite the unfortunate result for White, Caruana’s choice seems to give White a pleasant position and definitely deserves more tests.

Rossolimo Variation: 3...g6 4 c3 Nf6 5 Qa4!? [B31]

We’ll now take a look at a brand-new line for this site (and for me!) from the game Kantans, T - Villagra Henriquez, C from the Latvia - Chile match in the Open Section. White met 3...g6 with the slightly unusual 4 c3, all but forcing Black to respond with 4...Nf6 and then went for the unorthodox 5 Qa4!?:

This idea is more-commonly known from the line 4 0-0 Bg7 5 c3 Nf6 6 Qa4, which I’ve also analyse for comparative purposes, as these two variations can easily transpose. White often plays d2-d4, sacrificing the e4-pawn, when the situation gets sharp and tactical immediately. Black has several different ways to play. The game featured 5...Qb6 6 Na3!? with an original position. Black wasn’t doing too badly until he committed a major strategic error on move twelve, closing the centre and giving White a free hand to attack on the Kingside. White won material and duly converted his advantage. This line could be a very useful surprise weapon for White.

Moscow Variation: 3...Nd7 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4!? [B51]

Sam has discussed this strange hybrid of the Moscow Variation and Open Sicilian several times in the past, but it continues to gain popularity. The game Erdos, V - Korobov, A, from the Hungary - Ukraine match in the Open Section, was a very short one with a lot of content. In the following position,

White chose 7 Ba4!? which is a new move for our site. Black responded with the very logical 7...g6 and followed up with a swift advance of the b-pawn. The typical sequence 10 c4 b4 11 a3 followed shortly after. White’s Queen’s Rook came into play along the third rank. Black over-ambitiously snatched the poisoned e4-pawn and almost got away with it, before an unfortunate blunder cut the game short. I’ve taken a look at all of Black’s alternatives on move seven and delved into some fascinating complications. Black should be ok if he plays precisely, but White’s idea is well-worth repeating.

Moscow Variation: 3...Nd7 4 0-0 a6 5 Bxd7+ Bxd7 6 c3!? Nf6 7 Re1 [B51]

The variation featured in this game, Mastrovasilis, D - Petkov, M, from the Greece - Bulgaria match in the Open Section, leads to a gambit that more commonly arises from a different move-order:

Black’s choice of 7...Bc6 allowed White to play 8 d4!?, a gambit idea that is well-known from the Moscow - Rossolimo Hybrid line that arises after 3 Bb5+ Nc6 4 0-0 Bd7 5 Re1 Nf6 6 c3 a6 7 Bxc6 Bxc6 8 d4!? Black also has the option of playing 7...e6 instead of 7...Bc6, which I take a look at in the notes. This gambit line isn’t considered to be White’s most promising option in the Hybrid variation, but considering that Black played 2...d6 and chose to meet 3 Bb5+ with 3...Nd7, it’s unlikely that he would be so familiar with the theory of this line. As it happens, Black reacted very well and achieved equality. After 8...Bxe4 9 Bg5, he chose to play the main retreat, 9...Bc6. I’ve taken a detailed look at 9...Bd5 as well. After 9...Bc6 10 Bxf6 gxf6 11 d5 Bd7, I’ve briefly looked at 12 Nh4 and given a detailed survey of Black’s responses to Mastrovasilis’s choice of 12 Nbd2. In the game, Black went for 12...e5 and a typical struggle arose between White’s Knight and better structure and Black’s Bishops and extra pawn. The game was more or less finely balanced until a late tactical blunder from White cost him a decisive amount of material. The opening variation in question leads to an interesting and unbalanced struggle.

Moscow: 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 Bxd7+ Nxd7 5 0-0 Ngf6 6 Qe2 e6 7 d4 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Rc8!? [B52]

Finally, we’ll take a look at an attempt by Black to prevent White from safely establishing the Maroczy Bind structure in the 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 Bxd7+ Nxd7 line. In the game Efroimski, M - Mammadzada, G from the Israel - Azerbaijan match in the Women’s Section, Black played 8...Rc8!?, reaching the position in the following diagram:

White’s subsequent 9 c4 was met by the disruptive 9...Qa5!?, attempting to hinder White’s Queenside development. 10 Rd1!? may be the safest move for White, as 10 Nc3 Qc5! and the game continuation, 10 b3 Qe5! both oblige White to sacrifice a pawn. However, White seems to achieve full compensation in both cases. I’ve taken a good look at all three of White’s alternatives on move ten. In the game, White developed decent compensation by kicking around the Black Queen and Black needed to play carefully in order to neutralise White’s initiative. Black went for an imaginative but dubious combination based on the vulnerability of White’s back rank, and White found an equally-imaginative refutation. White had good winning chances, but Black fought back well and the game finished in a draw. Overall, Black’s opening choice looks very sound, whether White “blunders” the e4 or c4-pawns, or not.

Until next month, David

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