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Hi folks,
This month, we’re going to look at new tries for White in some of the main Anti-Sicilian tabiyas and some forcing attempts by Black to equalise completely.

Download PGN of December ’22 Anti-Sicilian games

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c3-Sicilian: 2 c3 d5 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Bg4 6 Be2 e6 7 h3 Bh5 8 c4 [B22]

We’ll kick things off with a rare idea for White in the Alapin, namely the plan of playing 8 c4 followed by 9 d5!? in the following position:

This is a relatively rare choice for White players, but it has been adopted by noted Alapin experts such as Rozentalis, Godena and Kosteniuk in the past, and it scores very well for White. The game Aravindh, C - Shahil, D from the Asian Continental a few weeks ago saw White offering a trade of light-squared Bishops, which Black declined in favour of exchanging White’s active King’s Knight before it landed on f5. White achieved a favourable Benoni-style position with a strong passed pawn on d5. Black drummed up some play against White’s King, which ended up going for a walk, sacrificing an exchange along the way. With his King safe, White’s then connected central passed pawns carried the day. Black needs to play very carefully to neutralise White’s opening idea and I expect to see more tests soon.

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

The next game, Mamedov, R - Navara, D from Stage 5 of the Grand Prix in Romania, featured one of the absolute mainlines of the Alapin which we covered in the August update:

In the game Muzychuk - Roebers, we looked at 12...Rd8! which I felt was the most reliable choice for Black. However, Navara’s 12...a6! is also very solid. Black’s idea is to recapture with the Queen on c6, whereas in the 12...Rd8 lines, he usually captures with the pawn. Since Black hasn’t castled yet, his Queen isn’t necessarily needed on the Kingside for defence. Black simply plans to play either ...Nb6-d5 and/or ...Bf8-e7/b4 and place the King on f8 if necessary. I’ve checked no less then eight separate tries for White on move fourteen and haven’t been able to find a trace of an advantage anywhere. Mamedov’s 14 Qg4 (after 13 Bxc6 Qxc6) was met by the calm 14...g6! which Navara presumably prepared in advance. White tried to spice things up with 15 d5!? but shouldn’t have had more than a repetition if Black had defended correctly. Navara played well until a blunder on move twenty-one could have left him in a very difficult ending, but one hasty move from Mamedov was enough to allow a rare occurrence of castling Queenside causing resignation! An unfortunate end for White, but Black's opening idea looks bulletproof in any case.

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

Once again, we’re treated to an early novelty in a line we’ve checked recently (see Idani - Cornette from the August update). The game Van Foreest, J - Samunenkov, I from the same Grand Prix event in Romania featured an unusual idea in what has become the critical mainline of the 3 Bc4 variation:

9 h4!? deviates from the usual 9 d4 and poses some interesting questions for Black. I’ve checked three different responses in the notes and compared them to the regular 9 d4 lines which are featured in Idani - Cornette. In particular, Black’s choice in the game, 9...h6!? easily lends itself to comparison with the mainline after White’s subsequent 10 d4. The most unique difference is that Black’s Queen is often well-placed on h7! White recaptured with the wrong piece on d4 on move twelve and had to fight for equality, which he managed to do successfully. Indeed, White was even able to generate some initiative, and Black defended very well for a long time. After mutual errors later in the game, Black missed a few chances to draw and eventually went down. This line is yet another fresh battleground to explore!

Rossolimo Variation: 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nd4 4 Nf3 e6 5 0-0 a6 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 a3!? [B23]

The game Guseinov, G - Zajic, M, also from Stage 5 of the Grand Prix featured a major tabiya that we’ve checked a couple of times recently:

We’ve looked at both the new trend 7 Nd5!? and the more common 7 b3 in recent updates, but Guseinov chooses a third, rarer option in this game, namely 7 a3!? with the idea of playing a delayed Wing Gambit with b2-b4 next. This gambit approach seems to work against most of Black’s seventh move alternatives and there are other strategies available to White as well. Black’s choice of 7...g5?! in the game works a lot better against the more common 7 Re1, as the Rook then deprives the White King’s Knight of a retreat square on e1. Indeed, Guseinov’s 8 b4! was fully justified and White effortlessly drummed up excellent compensation. After White’s crushing piece sacrifice on move thirteen, there was no coming back for Black. This version of the Wing Gambit certainly seems like one of the more promising ones for White!

Rossolimo Variation: 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 e6 4 0-0 Nge7 5 d4 cxd4 6 Nxd4 Ng6 [B30]

Next, we’ll revisit a line which I covered in the notes to Fedorchuk - Gukesh from the October update. In the game Giri, A - Nihal, S from a recent event, White unleashed a novelty in the following position:

11 Qh5!? is very aggressive and didn’t take long to receive another outing (see the notes for the game Navara - Gelfand, played just days after this one). Nihal reacted well with 11...Bb7, and met Giri’s 12 Nxc6 with the accurate 12...dxc6! giving Black counterplay on the Queenside and along the d-file. This looks fine for Black and indeed Navara’s 12 Rd1 may objectively be more dangerous. That said, Black still must play accurately in any case, and Giri soon drummed up a strong attack on the Kingside, handling the tactics perfectly to win material. I’m looking forward to seeing more battles in this line over the coming months.

Rossolimo: 3 Bb5 g6 4 Bxc6 bxc6 5 0-0 Bg7 6 Re1 Nh6 7 c3 0-0 8 h3 f5 9 e5 Nf7 10 d4 cxd4 11 cxd4 Bb7 [B31]

Our next game features a very complex line of the Rossolimo which we covered most recently in the June update. In Hunt, H - Chatalbashev, B from the Guernsey Open:

Harriet chose the ambitious 13 d5, whereas we’ve usually checked 13 dxc5 in the past (and more recently, we saw the similar 11...c5 12 dxc5 in the September update). It feels like Black’s position is easier to play here, and Black has a significant plus score in practice, albeit over a small number of games. Both Black’s choice in the game, 13...e6 and 13...Rc8!?, which I’ve checked briefly in the notes, offer Black plenty of dynamic chances. Black expanded on the Kingside, locking White’s dark-squared Bishop out of play on h2, while Harriet manoeuvred her Knights effectively to c4 and d5. At one moment, White didn’t take measures to deal with Black’s ...Qc6-e6 manoeuvre to dislodge the Knight on d5, and the game turned sharply in Black’s favour. In general, I’m not a big fan of this line for White and it looks like capturing on c5 is a better try for an edge.

Rossolimo Variation: 3 Bb5 6 4 0-0 B7 5 c3 a6!? [B31]

This next game features a potentially useful shortcut for Black in the mainline 3...g6 Rossolimo. In Priasmoro, N - Melkumyan, H from Chiang Mai a few weeks ago, Black essayed 5...a6!? in the following position:

Losing a tempo this way makes some sense here, as after 6 Bxc6 dxc6, White’s weakness on d3 is exposed and d2-d4 doesn’t seem to lead anywhere for White immediately. Indeed, White’s choice in the game was the more restrained 7 d3!? and this should have led to a slight edge with accurate play. That said, Black’s position is quite solid and there’s nothing too dangerous that White can throw at him. The game proceeded quietly, with White only achieving d3-d4 when Black had already managed to get in ...e7-e5, leading to lots of exchanges in the centre and equality. White neglected to fight for the newly-opened d-file and played too ambitiously with his e-pawn, ultimately resulting in a lost pawn ending despite some inaccuracies from Black as well. 5...a6!? is a playable theoretical shortcut that I can see gaining more popularity in the future.

Kingside Fianchetto 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5 4 exd5 exd5 5 d4 cxd4!? [B54]

Finally, we’ll check a very concrete attempt by Black to equalise against the Wesley So-endorsed 3 g3 line of the 2...e6 Sicilian:

The game Dardha, D - David, A from Cap d’Agde last month featured the somewhat unusual 5...cxd4!? in the above diagram. This isn’t covered by So in his Chessable course for White, but it is a top engine choice and has claimed some high-rated victims in the past. After 6 Nxd4 Nc6 7 Bg2, Black continued actively with 7...Bc5! whereupon White doesn’t appear to have any trace of an advantage. The game was more or less balanced for a long time before descending into an error-strewn time scramble, with Black eventually coming out on top. I’m definitely keen to see more tests of this line as Black seems to have no problems at all here.

Happy Holidays everyone and I’ll see you in the New Year! David

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