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A double-header on the theme of the Moscow with c4, and a couple of sparkling new ideas from the Qatar Masters (pay special attention to Jain-Makarian.)

Download PGN of October ’23 Anti-Sicilian games

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Delayed Alapin with 3...Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 Nc6 [B22]

We kick off with Shimanov, A - Mousavi, S. The key point of the opening arises after 9...Nb4:

There are a variety of spins on this idea, which fundamentally seeks to trade off White’s good bishop and/or justify the knight’s presence on c6. In some cases, if White moves the bishop Black can react with ...dxe5 and trade queens. However, here White demonstrated the right path to an advantage with 10.Be4 d5 11.Bd3, before losing control in what turned out to be a chaotic tactical middlegame.

Rossolimo with 3...e5 4.0-0 Bd6 5.d3 [B30]

Next up, an encounter that took place on the next board to mine in Britain’s 4NCL league, namely Grieve, H - Bobras, P. I found this game instructive primarily for the thematic position that was reached after 11.c3:

Here Black should probably have considered the principled ...Be6, since in the game their strategy of trying to hold back d4, and then taking twice on that square, entirely failed to convince.

Rossolimo with 3...e6 4.0-0 Nge7 5.Re1 [B30]

I got a subscriber query about this position after White’s 5th move, and decided to annotate the game Nguyen, T - Vachier Lagrave, M in response. My recommendation for Black is 5...Nd4, while after the game’s 5...Ng6 a typical French structure soon arose:

It feels like White has a slight plus.

Sicilian Defence, Queenside Fianchetto 2...e6 3.b3 Nc6 4.Bb2 [B40]

Perhaps the most unusual game in this update is Jain, K - Makarian, R. In the rich position after 4.Bb2, the young Russian essayed the nearly novel, and definitely iconoclastic, 4...Nh6!?:

Displaying a good understanding of Anti-Sicilian culture, White played 5.Bb5 (now there is no ...Nge7!) 5...f6 6.0-0 Be7, and now it appears that the unusual 7.c3!? was the best bet for an advantage. I wonder if we have seen the last of this original-looking knight jump.

Sicilian Defence with 2...d6 3.c3 Nf6 4.Be2 e6 [B50]

Another game from the Qatar Masters was Dixit, N - Stearman, J. Black’s normal responses to this gambit line include accepting it (4...Nc6) and fianchettoing (4...g6), while in this game Josiah went for 4...e6 which was met by 5.0-0:

My impression is that 5...Bd7 would be the most consistent with the previous move and likely offers Black equality, while the game’s 5...Nc6 is a touch less stable. After achieving quite a large early opening advantage, White then sacrificed a pawn and followed up inaccurately, winding up almost lost by move 10.

Moscow Variation with 3...Bd7 4.c4 Nc6 [B52/B54]

The ECO system appears to have outdone itself here, with ChessBase classifying my two games in the 4.c4 Moscow under non-consecutive codes, and an intermediate code (B53) referring to something entirely different. Be that as it may, my first ever outing with the line was instructive from the perspective of what not to do as White: following the (likely inaccurate) response 4...Nc6 I immediately went for 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 g6, and it feels like Black has equalised. The key position is probably the one after 9...Bg7:

White has no serious tries for an advantage here, while Black has motifs like ...Qb6 and ...Ng4 around every corner. Faced with this rather impractical position, I got outplayed in the early middlegame in Fernandez, D - Martin del Campo, R. There are a couple more levels to this, though.

First of all, if White does not play 5.d4 but 5.Nc3 as in my second game, Fernandez, D - Rudd, J, then Black is in some sense move-ordered: White can still play d4 at a moment of their choosing, but may be able to force Black to choose a recapture on c6 first. This was what I did in the game: after 5...g6 (5...Nf6 has its own set of nuances) 6.Bxc6 Bxc6 7.d4 there is the prospect of a queen recapture on d4 with tempo.

It transpires that if Black captures on d4 White should nevertheless take with the knight, but in the game my opponent opted for 7...Bg7 anyway.

Secondly, it seems that by meeting 4.c4 with the more popular 4...Nf6, and then delaying castling in favour of ...Nc6 (at a critical moment where almost everyone castles!) Black can secure a transposition to Fernandez-Martin and thus mostly neutralise the line. Check the notes to both games, since this summary doesn’t do justice to the nuances.

Zaitsev Variation with 4...a6 5.Be2 [B53]

Finally, we check the game Aziz, H - Rasulov, V. White of course has numerous chances to play h3 and prevent ...Bg4/...Ng4 in this line, but in this instance opted to allow the former, arguing that in itself ...Bg4 is not an equaliser for Black. This argument seemed to hold water in the game, with White clearly winning the opening battle, but it is not clear how much of this was due to allowing ...Bg4, and how much was due to the experimental 9...Rc8!?:

I really liked White’s response of 10.Rd1 here, simple as it may look. It serves as a reminder that we are not bound by law to play b3 in the Maroczy complex as soon as there is a hint of a threat to c4. Indeed, in some cases that pawn can be sacrificed.

All the best, Daniel

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