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In this edition, I'm going to put a little focus on one of my least favourite Antis: the Closed Sicilian. I used to play it as a kid, attracted to the one-dimensional idea of throwing my kingside pawns at my opponent's king, but it didn't take long for the honeymoon effect to wear off. A second reason why I usually neglect it in this column is because it's not a particularly theoretically important variation, and there aren't many critical lines that require a sharp memory. Nonetheless, particularly for those of you who've never studied it, I'll try and give a brief overview and review some recent games.
First, however, the obligatory 2.c3 game...

Download PGN of February '14 Anti-Sicilian games

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2 c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6, ...e6 & ...d6 [B22]

Istratescu - El Debs is an incredibly exciting, topsy-turvy battle in one of the main and most popular lines of the past few years.

As I've said before, despite its innocent nature, the diagrammed position contains a lot of venom for the second player, and in fact Black is already worse in my opinion unless he plays 14...b6 - and even then, he remains in serious danger of getting blown off the board. El Debs instead plays the most popular move, 14...Bd7, but Istratescu lets his opponent off the hook. Check out the notes for some crazy variations; serious fun to play with the white bits!

Closed Sicilian Nge2 vs ...Nf6 [B25]

We then give some overdue attention to the Closed Sicilian, and particularly the young Karpov's favourite method of Nge2 and launching a pawn storm on the kingside. This attack can be quite potent against the unsuspecting opponent, a threat compounded by the fact that computers often underestimate the strength of the white force until it's too late. Don't be fooled by your engine in these lines!

From the black perspective, the key piece to concern yourself with is the g8-knight. Sometimes Black decides to leave it at home and launch a quick queenside offensive via the b-pawn; however, I've always felt that neglecting castling for so long feels a bit funny. On the other hand, quite a safe approach is to put it on e7, using a scheme designed to control f5: Black puts pawns on c5, d6 and e6, plays g6-Bg7, Nc6 and Nge7, castles, and prepares to meet White's f4/g4 with her own ...f5. This is a very decent system, but we're going to focus instead on plans for Black involving ...Nf6.

The wrong approach, but surprisingly common, is to plonk it on f6, castle, and then blindly focus on the queenside. White will use the knight as target practice by rolling through g3-g4-g5 and f4-f5 (and sometimes f5-f6!)

We have a look at this common storyline in Jobava - Duda, a recent all-grandmaster clash from the Tata Steel (Wijk aan Zee) Challengers event. The diagram, after White's 11th move, is a typical example of both sides naively following their own plans with little attention paid to their opponent's - with the key difference that White's plan involves checkmating the king! In the end, Black is forced to bail out into a horrible endgame in order to stave off mate, but manages to swindle a draw after some acrobatics.

Amin - Gopal looks at a different approach for Black in a pseudo-Closed (where White plays c3 instead of Nc3 - [B20]), but the ideas are similar in a pure Closed. Black plays ...Nf6, but makes sure to follow it up with ...e5 and a quick ...Re8:

The idea is to dissuade White's f4 by responding actively in the centre. In the game, this scheme works a treat, and the notes show that Black had even better ways of achieving his objective.

Kritz - Le Quang Liem was another recent high-level Closed Sicilian. Black uses a third system with ...Nf6, but one that Nimzowich himself might have preferred.

You can see that Black has pre-emptively withdrawn his knight to d7, simultaneously making space for his own f-pawn. Indeed, 9...f5!? is even possible here in the diagram. The Vietnamese grandmaster instead prepares the advance by fianchettoing his c8-bishop and playing ...e6, after which the subsequent ...f5 gives him a very promising position that he duly converts.

So there you have it: multiple systems for Black to deal with a Closed adversary. Just take care of your king's stallion!

Moscow/Rossolimo Hybrid 4 0-0, 7 Ba4 [B51]

Turning to more theoretical variations, Andriasian - Novikov allows us to consider for the first time 9.h3, White's most popular reply to 8...Bg4.

I think White has great chances to get an opening advantage after this move; in addition to immediately grabbing the bishop pair, White plans on applying serious pressure on the queenside before Black gets a chance to finish development. Pay close attention if you're a regular 3.Bb5 or 3.Bb5+ addict.

Moscow/Rossolimo Hybrid 4 Bxc6+ [B51]

Vulevic - Van Kampen, on the other hand, shows what not to do with the white pieces in this line. White straight away avails himself of the opportunity to double Black's c-pawns, but this gives Robin plenty of flexibility in achieving the optimal set-up. White's attempts to enter a strategic battle go awry as Black soon displays aggressive intentions:

White's position is virtually resignable after just 15 moves, see the diagram.

Anti-Sveshnikov 3 Nc3 e5, 6 Nd2 [B30]

So - Gelfand from the recent Tata Steel tournament saw a rare high-level clash in the early 3...e5 line. Instead of the usual 8.f3, the young Filipino grandmaster drew our attention to the high-scoring sideline 8.Qd2!?:

While objectively Black should always be fine in these lines, White made life very difficult for his experienced opponent by delaying Ne3 and thus preventing Black's usual ...Bg5 resource. This is of course a risky strategy as White's king must stay in the centre for a long time - indeed, So didn't castle until move 22! - but positionally there is some justification. An interesting game to study, although in the notes I suggest that theoretically Black still seems to be doing fine.

Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 4 0-0 [B51]

Finally, Van Kampen-Wojtaszek is the main event in this week's selection. In the important 5.Bd3 line of the Moscow variation, Wojtaszek (probably) shows off some of Anand's World Championship preparation, uncorking the powerful novelty 6...b5!?:

Time will tell just how important this novelty is for the longevity of 5.Bd3, but Black's comfortable victory in this game is certainly a good advertisement. But check out my suggested 13.Qe2! in the notes for potential areas of improvement.

Till next time, Dave

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