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I never thought I'd say this, but: Thank goodness for exhibition games!
Last month, two of the world's 2800-strength heavyweights, Caruana and Nakamura, took part in the 'Saint Louis Showdown'. This was an exhibition match of such a weird commercialized format that it can only be described as mickey-mouse chess. But on the other hand, we got to see the players engage in three excellent anti-Sicilian battles that figure in this month's column. Not only that, but one of the 'side events' also gives us a game. All in all, I guess I have to concede that half of this article is based on the spectacle!

Download PGN of December '15 Anti-Sicilian games

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2.c3 Sicilian 2...d5, 5...Bf5 [B22]

First however, is one of my own games - from the black side!

I've spent so many columns analyzing the ...Bf5 variation for you guys that I thought I should put my money where my mouth is and try it out myself in Hoare - Smerdon. My young opponent played very sensibly and managed to hold on to a drawn rook endgame, but unfortunately for Amy, the time spent to get there proved costly in the end.

Rossolimo Variation 3...Nf6 4.Bxc6 [B31]

The first of our Caruana - Nakamura games saw Hikaru try out 3...Nf6:

You won't encounter this variation too often if you play 3.Bb5 with white, so an easy solution for the lazy-minded is Fabi's 4.Bxc6. Objectively, as in all of these variations, Black should be able to maintain equality, but with the choice of both the a3/b4 queenside plan and the Nh2,f2-f4 plan at White's disposal, the first player definitely has an easier time of things. In this game, Caruana effortlessly gets a dominant position, but don't miss Nakamura's fantastic 21...e4!! to turn the tables.

Rossolimo Variation 3...g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bg4 [B31]

Our next two games feature different variations by Black, but the same counter by White as above: 4.Bxc6!?. I guess there's something to be said for aiming for the same type of structures as part of White's repertoire. In fact, Giri - Shirov could even have transposed to Caruana-Nakamura above, even though it followed 3...g6.

Again, White's position essentially played itself, and Shirov got positionally crushed.

Hybrid Variation 4.Bxc6+ bxc6 5.e5 [B51]

On the other hand, at least he lasted until move 30, which is more than can be said for the second, bizarre Caruana - Nakamura game.

This is one game Hikaru is going to want to forget. In the diagram, he's just played 6...f6??. I'm sure you can spot the refutation yourself!

Moscow Variation 3...Bd7 4.Bxb5+ Nxd7 [B52]

Our final Caruana - Nakamura game was a 4...Nxd7 Moscow where Nakamura decided to fianchetto (unusual for him in this system) and trot out the interesting move 7...Bh6!?:

This is a nice idea but perhaps a little too clever, as I definitely prefer White's position afterwards.

Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 4.a4!? [B51]

Speaking of clever ideas, Giri - Vachier Lagrave saw the tricky 4.a4!?, which isn't as daft as it looks:

Giri even gets a little edge with no difficulty, but the Frenchman's defence is too solid for a decisive result.

Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 4.0-0 a6 5.Bd3 [B51]

Svidler - Papaioannou takes us back into mainline waters:

No crazy 6...g5 this month, which allows Svidler to show off some nice technique in pressing home his slight space advantage.

Zaitsev Variation 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd7, 10.Qd3 [B53]

Finally, Hou - Negi sees us consider a rare 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 c4 4.Qxd4, which can also come about via the 3.Bb5 d6 hybrid, and actually arose via yet another move order in this game:

This is an older line that these days is considered quite harmless, but Black's 10...Qb6!? from the diagram shouldn't be repeated. For starters, Black isn't even really threatening ....Qxf2 and so 11.Kb1 just makes Black look silly. Hou instead chose 11.Rhf1 and got a small edge that she quickly turned into a much larger endgame advantage.

Merry Antis! Dave

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