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With Sam busy enjoying some chess (and sun!) in California, I've taken a look at a number of lively struggles this month. Look out especially for Corrales Jimenez's novel handling of a standard Maroczy position.

Download PGN of December '11 Anti-Sicilian games

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The 2 d3 Sicilian 3 f4 [B20]

I'm not sure whether this sub-section should be titled 'The Improved Grand Prix' for White has been doing fairly well with the untheoretical 1 e4 c5 2 d3 Nc6 3 f4 of late. Of course he doesn't have any advantage, but the position after 3...g6 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Be2 is not so easy for Black to handle compared with, say, a standard main line Closed Sicilian. In Jones - Slavin Black hits back in the centre with 5...d5 and after 6 0-0 e6 (I still prefer 6...Nf6, despite a loss with it against Gawain) 7 c3 Nge7 8 a4! the position takes on certain reversed Classical Dutch characteristics:

Black's position is fully viable, but I would rather take White here and my fellow columnist goes on to conclude a model game with a brutal attack.

Less pleasant viewing for ChessPublishing fans is Jones - Kempinski, although here too I would rather have been in White's shoes after 3...e6 4 Nf3 Be7 5 Be2 d5 6 0-0 Nf6 7 e5 Nd7 8 c4!:

The Jones Variation [B30]

I could hardly mention Gawain and then not give a game with the so-called Jones Variation, 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bb5, a line known as the Tiviakov Variation on the continent. Following 3...Nd4 I'm not overly convinced by 4 a4, unless Black exchanges on b5, and 4...a6 5 Bc4 e6 6 Nge2 Nf6! just looks quite comfortable for the second player:

White tries 7 d3 d5 8 exd5 exd5 9 Ba2 in Predojevic - Cvitan, but this is hardly the most active bishop one will ever see and Black enjoyed easy equality after 9...Ne6!?.

Nimzowitsch Variation [B29]

After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Black can avoid transposition to the Open Sicilian with 3...Nc6 4 d4 d5!?:

White settles for outplaying his lower-rated opponent in Open Game style after 5 dxc5 in Kravtsiv - Kantans, but the critical test must be 5 exd5 Nxd5. Here White has chances for an edge after all of 6 Nxd5, 6 dxc5 and 6 Bb5, but in each case Black's position looks solid enough and I'm a little surprised that this variation isn't more popular.

The critical test of the Nimzowitsch is, of course, 3 e5 and after 3...Nd5 4 Nc3 e6 5 Nxd5 exd5 6 d4 Nc6 7 dxc5 Bxc5 8 Qxd5 an important position is reached:

Theory rather likes White's chances, but in practice his position is not so easy to handle and, rewinding the clock by a year, we find that Kantans enjoyed much better success in Socko - Kantans.

The 4 Qxd4 Variation [B53]

The Polish Grandmaster Bartlomieji Macieja is a leading exponent of 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 and likes to meet 4...a6 (one of Black's best defences in my view) with 5 c4 Nc6 6 Qe3. After 6...g6 7 h3 Bg7 8 Be2 Nf6 9 0-0 0-0 10 Nc3 Be6 11 Rd1 Nd7 12 Rb1 Rc8 quite a standard-looking Maroczy position is reached:

Just note, however, how Black curled up into a Hedgehog-like ball in Macieja - Corrales Jimenez with 13 Bd2 Re8 14 Nd5 f6! 15 b4 Bf7, refusing to give away any targets ahead of unravelling to win a game which can but create a strong impression.

The Prins Variation 5 f3 [B54]

Mastrovasilis - Naiditsch sees two experts on 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 f3 clash, with Black opting for a critical test in 5...e5 6 Nb3 Be7 7 c4 a5!:

After 8 Be3 Naiditsch holds back the further advance of his a-pawn for a move, but in any case Black's disruptive play appears to give him decent counterplay.

That's all for this month. Happy New Year! Richard

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