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Hi folks,
This month, we'll take a look at the favourite systems of two online blitz specialists (GMs Zhigalko and Martinez Alcantara, for Black and White respectively) and also analyse some rare tries for both colours in the Alapin variation. We'll update the state of theory in some modern Rossolimo tabiyas, check out a way for Black to keep the game complex in the Prins Variation, and see more h2-h4 ideas in the Anti-Sveshnikov. Enjoy!

Download PGN of February ’23 Anti-Sicilian games

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c3-Sicilian: 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Nf3 d6 5 Bb5+!? [B22]

We'll kick things off with the game Narayanan, S - Muradli, M from the World Blitz Championship, where White tried an unusual idea that has come into fashion recently, namely 5 Bb5+!? in the below diagram:

This is a sneaky idea which could be useful for players who aren’t planning to meet 4...Nc6 with 5 d4 and need an alternative to 5 d4 if Black tries some move-order trickery with 4...d6. The concept is similar to a line of the Grand Prix Attack. With 5 Bb5!? White provokes 5...Bd7 in order to be able to attack the Black Knight after 6 Bc4, preventing ...d6xe5 in response. 6...Nb6 can be met by the scary-looking 7 Bxf7+!?, which is presumably why Black players have been largely avoiding this, and the possibly stronger 7 Bb3. I have analysed both of these possibilities in detail in the notes. In the game, Black chose 6...e6 and White apparently mixed up his analysis by playing the immediate 7 Bxd5?! exd5 8 0-0, which already gave Black the edge. I think Narayanan probably intended to include 7 d4 cxd4 before capturing on d5, which is far more dangerous, but probably still OK for Black. In the game, Black had no problems out of the opening and successfully punished some over-ambitious play by White. Black appears to be doing fine after 5 Bb5+, but it's a very fresh and interesting new battleground to test out.

c3-Sicilian: 2 Nf3 e6 3 c3 d5 4 exd5 exd5 5 d4 c4?! [C22]

The game Abdusattorov, N - Sanal, V, also from the World Blitz Championship, featured a very unusual line that has been a favourite of Gata Kamsky over the years.

5...c4?! avoids the traditional IQP structures which usually arise after d4xc5 from White but also spends a tempo taking all the pressure off d4. White should be able to achieve an edge but he needs to play concretely to do so. 6 b3! Looks like a good place to start. Instead, the Uzbek talent opted for the less challenging 6 g3?! and Black should have been able to equalise. After a couple of inaccuracies from Black, and some inspired Knight manoeuvres from White, White achieved a decisive advantage. However, Black managed to cause enough confusion to reach an equal Rook ending, which he eventually won due to an instructive blunder from White. In general, 5...c4?! isn’t very reliable, but might be a useful choice to take Alapin players away from the standard IQP positions they’re used to.

c3- Sicilian: 2 Nf3 e6 3 c3 d5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 d4 Nf6 6 Na3 a6 7 Nc4 Nbd7 8 Be2 [B22]

Next, we'll check a high-level encounter in another solid line of the Alapin between Giri, A - Erigaisi, A from the 13th Hainan Danzhou tournament in December.

White chose to allow ...b7-b5 by calmly developing with 8 Be2. After 8...b5, White retreated with gain of tempo by playing 9 Ne3 (the alternatives, 9 Na5 and 9 Nfd2!? are examined in the notes). Black chose the safest retreat, 9...Qc6, whereas Gary Lane already covered 9...Qd6?! in the archives twenty years ago! Giri tried 10 a4, while in the notes I make a case for playing 10 0-0 instead, as this gives White the option of playing c3-c4 against Black’s most popular move-order. In any case, Black should be able to secure his share of the chances with precise play. Erigaisi tested Gary’s recommendation of 10...Bb7!, and aside from an inaccuracy on move thirteen which White failed to exploit, he had no problems at all out of the opening and steadily increased the pressure on White’s position. It looks like Black can successfully solve his problems after 8 Be2 b5 regardless of which Knight move White goes for.

Kopec System/Irregular Alapin: 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 c3 Nf6 4 Bd3!? [B22]

Our next game features a favourite system of online blitz specialist GM Martinez Alcantara:

White’s choice of 4 Bd3!? in the above diagram should not have come as a surprise to Black in the game Martinez Alcantara, J - Ivic, V from Titled Tuesday last month. The Peruvian GM has essayed this line twenty-eight times, scoring a whopping twenty-four wins, three draws and one loss! Despite being blitz encounters, most of these games were against other strong GMs and therefore I think this impressive statistic should be taken seriously.

The odd-looking Bishop move is far more common in the analogous position after 2...d6 from Black, and its current incarnation is new for our site. In the notes, I showcase what looks like the most testing way for Black to meet this idea. Ivic went for the logical 4...d5!? There followed 5 e5 c4 6 Bc2 Nd7, and I also make a decent case for 6...Ng4!? here. White played 7 e6!? fxe6 8 b3!, which led to double-edged play. White was slowly outplayed and did well to survive to an exchange-down ending, when the usual blitz-finish nonsense kicked in, with White ultimately emerging victorious. There’s nothing particularly wrong with White’ opening choice, and it’s somewhat underestimated by the engines, making it a useful surprise weapon.

Anti-Sveshnikov: 3...e5 4 Bc4 d6 5 d3 Be7 6 h4!? [B30]

Last month, we studied a very dangerous line of the Anti-Sveshnikov, involving an early h2-h4 from White, in the game Pein-Bates. The issue with that line is that Black's traditional move-order of 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 4 Bc4 d6 (or 4...Be7 5 d3 d6; I’ve also checked the Carlsen-approved 4...g6 in the notes, as the lines are thematically similar to the main game) 5 d3 d6 avoids the Nf3-g5 and h2-h4 idea. Well, that wasn't enough to deter Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, who unleashed the immediate 6 h2-h4!? in the below diagram:

This definitely isn't as dangerous as the line with White's Knight on g5, but it could transpose if Black isn't careful. By threatening a potential Nf3-g5, White hopes to provoke ...h7-h6 from Black and launch a pawnstorm on the Kingside with g2-g4 after suitable preparation. In the game Christiansen, J - Elsness, F from the Norwegian Rapid Championship, Black reacted correctly with 6...Bg4!, exploiting the temporary hole on g4. White went for 7 Nd5!?, preparing Nd5-e3 to dislodge the Bishop and support a later g2-g4 advance. This worked a treat in the game, with White achieving a nice advantage and winning well in the end, but I think Black should be fine if he is familiar with all the subtleties. Still, this is a fresh way to pose problems in a line where the main tries have been analysed to death.

Rossolimo Variation: 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 Nc3 Qc7 5 0-0 Nd4 6 Re1 a6 [B30]

We'll now analyse a line that we haven't checked in a while, which is a speciality of GM Zhigalko from the Black side:

In the game Xiong, J - Zhigalko, S, from Titled Tuesday last month, the young American talent chose the modest 7 Bf1, whilst in the notes I make what I think is a rather convincing case for the more aggressive 7 Bc4!?, which can lead to very complex positions, where Black constantly has to watch out for sacrificial attempts from White. In the case of either Bishop retreat, Black can respond with the tricky 7...Ng4!?, but in this game, after 7 Bf1, Zhigalko chose 7...e5!?, and White developed a nice initiative after the direct 8 Nd5!? Nxd5 9 exd5 d6?! 10 b4!, while there are other promising options for White as well.

The middlegame was generally one-sided, with Xiong keeping control until a slip on move twenty-five let Zhigalko right back into the fight. In the end, White was lucky to win after all. However, despite Zhigalko’s staunch support for this line, I think there are several ways for White to secure an edge.

Rossolimo: 3...g6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 d3 Bg7 6 h3 Nf6 7 Nc3 Nd7 8 Be3 b6 9 Qd2 h6 10 0-0 e5 [B31]

Next up is an overdue look at one of the absolute mainlines of the Rossolimo:

In the game Gadimbayli, A - Sjugirov, S from the World Rapid Championship, White chose the most challenging retreat, 14 Be3!, whereas Sam most recently covered 14 Bg3 a few years ago. Black responded with the natural 14...Nd4 (I’ve also briefly checked a suggestion from the archives, 14...c4!?) and the game continued 15 Rae1 Be6 White has a few different tries here. In the game, Gadimbayli improved on his own choice of 16 Bf4?! from a previous game with Gukesh by playing 16 e5!?, which may well be the most challenging move for Black to face. 16...Nf5 has been the Correspondence-approved choice and I’ve analysed this in the notes. Sjugirov chose 16...Bxe5 instead, but soon faltered after 17 Bxh6!? Nf5??, which allowed 18 Rxe5!, with a winning position for White. I’ve covered alternatives for Black on move seventeen and the potentially stronger 17 Ng4! for White in the notes as well. This line with 14 Be3 still seems like a pretty good try for an advantage for White overall.

Prins Variation: 5 f3 e5 6 Nb3 Be7 7 c4 a5! [B55]

Finally, we’ll check a combative way for Black to avoid the simplifying (and equalising!) 6...d5 line of the Prins Variation:

In the game Popov, I - Murzin, V from the Dvoretsky Memorial, Black chose 7...a5!, hoping to cause some disruption for White’s Knights on the Queenside. Play continued 8 Be3 a4 9 N3d2!?, which deviates from Carlsen’s choice of 9 Nc1 in his famous final Playoff game against Karjakin from the 2016 World Championship Match (covered by Sam in the archives). Black went for the most common move-order, 9...Qa5?!, but the resulting positions look more pleasant for White. Instead, I think Black should prefer 9...0-0!, as it’s not clear where the Queen on d8 is best-placed yet. White continued with 10 Nc3, and I’ve discussed the different move-order subtleties between this choice and the similar 10 Be2!? in the notes. In any case, White should be slightly better, and the notes also showcase several typical manoeuvres and ideas for both sides that will repay careful study. The game was a well-played draw with White always pressing but Black defending stubbornly. I’d be interested to see if 9...0-0! gains more popularity, as it really does seem to be a better direction for Black.

See you next month, David

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