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Hi folks,
This month, we’ll take a look at several rare and interesting ideas in some of the mainline Anti-Sicilians. We’ll also cast a critical eye over some recent well-known repertoire recommendations and put their analysis to the test. Enjoy!

Download PGN of July ’22 Anti-Sicilian games

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c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Bc4 Nb6 5 Bb3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 cxd4 d6/d5 [B22]

We’ll begin by taking a look at a relatively rare line of the Alapin, where White delays moving both his King’s Knight to f3 and his d-pawn forward. The game Korobov, A - Donchenko, A from the recent French Team Championship saw White employ a disruptive pawn sacrifice:

After 7...d6 in the above diagram (we’ll also take a look at 7...d5 8 Bc2!?, which has recently gained the attention of some strong players), White went for 8 e6!?, which tends to score quite well in practice. Korobov’s interpretation of this position involved meeting Black’s Kingside fianchetto with the h2-h4-h5 advance as quickly as possible. This gave Black some chances to break in the centre with ...e6-e5, but when Black didn’t go for this, White quickly achieved a decisive initiative. Food for thought!

c3-Sicilian: 2...d5 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 g6 5 Nf3 Bg7 6 Nbd2!? [B22]

Next up is a quieter encounter from another topical Alapin line. In Tiviakov, S - Iglesias, J (also from the French Team Championship),

White went for the rare 6 Nbd2!?, aiming to prevent ...Qd5-e4+ in response to a subsequent Bf1-c4. Black followed a recent recommendation of Anish Giri until White deviated from Giri’s analysis by trading Queens on move ten. Black could have equalised with precise play, but after mutual errors, an opposite-coloured Bishop ending with a slight edge for White arose, and Tiviakov was able to put his trademark technique to good use. The opening requires precise play from Black and deserves more tests.

c3-Sicilian: ...Qxd5 Mainline 6 Na3 Nc6 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nb5 Qd7!? [B22]

In the game Shankland, S - Vidit, S from the Prague Masters, Black chose a rare move in a line we’ve previously considered several times on this site:

9...Be7 White followed an old suggestion of Dave Smerdon which forces Black to give up castling rights, but the Black position proved to be incredibly solid in any case, and he drew without difficulty. I’ve explored some other tries for White in the notes, and also provided some updates on 8...Qd8 as well.

Carlsen Variation: 2 Nc3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Qd2 Nf6 6 Nc3 e6 7 b3 d5!? [B23]

The game Tabatabaei, M - Donchenko, A (apologies to Alex for featuring two of his losses this month!) from the Stepan Avagyan Memorial showcased a topical line of the Carlsen Variation, where Black elects to immediately strike back in the centre with 7...d5 in the below diagram:

Sam was previously quite enthusiastic about this line in the archives, but this was before Gawain’s Coffeehouse Repertoire book recommending this line for White was published. Therefore, I’ve taken a fresh look at it and updated the analysis. White has a critical choice of three options on move ten that lead to very different types of play. Tabatabaei’s choice in the game was very interesting, as he advanced his a and b-pawns in front of his castled King and managed to keep the Queenside relatively closed, denying Black any counterplay. There seems to be plenty more to discover here, but the best way for Black to play has not been tried in practice yet.

Rossolimo Variation: 3...e6 4 0-0 Nge7 5 Re1 h6!? [B30]

We took a look at some new ideas for Black in this line last month and now we’re going to check out another fresh and interesting approach for Black, namely

5...h6!? In the game Vachier-Lagrave, M - Giri, A from Norway Chess, Black equalised effortlessly with this very rare approach. Since there have only been a handful of games in this line (including correspondence chess!), I’ve given a complete survey of the current theory and provided many new suggestions for both sides. Lots of original ideas can be seen in the notes. More tests are needed!

Moscow Variation: 3...Nd7 4 d4 cxd4 5 Qxd4 a6 6 Bxd7+ Qxd7!? [B51]

The game Naiditsch, A - Maghsoodloo, P from the French Team Championship featured a rare recapture, which Sam has previously checked a couple of times in the archives:

6...Qxd7!? actually makes a good deal of sense. The game continued 7 Nc3 e5 8 Qd3 (see the notes for coverage of 8 Qb6!?, which looks promising) 8...Qc6 and now 9 Nd5 which is a new move for our site. Black has many options here. In the game, he sacrificed first one, and then even two pawns, achieving excellent compensation. The game was exceptionally hard-fought and well-played by both players. It was only due to a late blunder in the endgame that Black was eventually defeated. This is another interesting line for both sides that deserves more practical tests.

Moscow Variation: 3...Nd7 4 a4!? Ngf6 5 Nc3 g6 [B51]

Next, we’ll take a look at Wesley So trying out his own recommendation from his Chessable Lifetime Repertoires Course on 1 e4 for White in several Titled Tuesday games. He was generally quite successful, but I’ve taken So, W - Corrales Jimenez, F, his only loss, as our main game, because Black played a version of the critical plan:

9...b5!? In this position, this appears to be the best way to create counterplay for Black. After 10 axb6 Black chose not to recapture immediately, although perhaps he should have. 10...Bb7 was played, allowing the strong 11 Nd2! with an edge for White. Later on, So mistimed the advance of his f-pawn and Black created strong counterplay in the centre, playing very accurately despite the short time control. Corrales Jimenez converted his advantage nicely and finished the game with a beautiful Queen sacrifice to force mate. This line remains a fresh battleground for both sides to explore.

Zaitsev Variation: 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Bb5 a6!? [B53]

Finally, we’ll finish off with a high-profile game from the recently concluded Candidates tournament in Madrid. The game Rapport, R - Firouzja, A featured a line of the Zaitsev variation that has gained some traction among strong players recently:

Instead of the automatic 5...Bd7, Firouzja opted for the immediate 5...a6!? Despite the continued popularity of 4 Qxd4, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the usual 5...Bd7, but there’s no harm in having a low-theory alternative available if it works well! Black was fine out of the opening despite having a weak pawn on c6 to defend. However, Firouzja tried to play too aggressively and landed himself in a difficult position. Finally, he managed to create enough play to swindle Rapport in a lost Rook ending. The opening looks fine for Black if he knows what he’s doing.

Until next month, David

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