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Unusual Second Moves 2 Qh5 [B20]
We start off with two Richard Rapport games, always guaranteed to provide opening entertainment. And the talented young Hungarian doesn't disappoint, chalking up two very easy victories against two strong opponents. How does he do it?!
In Rapport - Laznicka, Rapport closed out the blitz tie-break in a most entertaining match against the strong Czech grandmaster with the outrageous 2.Qh5?!:
As many of you would know, this move is a Hikaru Nakamura speciality, but honestly, it's just shocking. In the notes, I'll show you how Black can start immediately pushing for an opening advantage.
Unusual Second Moves 2 Na3!? [B20]
Rapport - Donchenko saw 2.Na3!? tried out in the first round of the German Bundesliga. This is a far more respectable second-move alternative in my opinion. White of course cannot hope for an opening advantage against best play (but in what variation CAN he?), but the move has its points. One continuation of the quirkiness that isn't without some logic is that 2...g6 can be met with a second thrust on the board's edge, 3.h4!?:
We'll see in the notes that, as you might expect, Black can equalise with accurate play. But accuracy wasn't seen in this game, and Rapport was already winning with very natural play by move 14!
2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6 mainline ...d6 [B22]
Okay, back into more orthodox Antis territory. First off, we turn to the godfather of the 2.c3 Sicilian in Sveshnikov - Shirov.
The diagram sees White try a new move in a very popular tabia of the main-line 2...Nf6 variation with 13.Qf3!?. The good news for White is that he has plenty of different lines he can try on move 13 in this variation, and each needs to be met precisely. The bad news is that in each of them, objectively, Black should be able to equalise. This game quickly transposes back into a main variation that usually commences with 13.Be3, and the game heads into an equal middlegame. However, some misguided ambition by Shirov sees Sveshnikov reach a winning endgame, only to bungle it at the critical moment and see the game end in a draw. Exciting stuff, but from a theoretical perspective, the most important moment might be move 15, where 15.Rfd1 seems to give White a very slight pull, playing for two results with decent practical chances.
2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6 ...e6/...d6 system [B22]
S.Zhigalko-Ghaem Maghami is perhaps one of the more important theoretical finds this month. The ...e6/c6 system with ...Nb6/Na6 is reasonably popular and considered to be theoretically sound, but White's play in this game really puts that assessment to the test.
Here, istead of the more usual 11.Bc2 or even 11.Bb5+, White plays the endgame with 11.Be2!. I did some work on this obscure line some years ago and concluded it was quite dangerous, but never got the chance to try it out in practice. Sergei, lucky for him, did get the chance to try it out, and scored a very comfortable win over his strong grandmaster opponent. After the strong 11.Be2, White is guaranteed a pleasant endgame advantage, and in this game White was already clearly better after only fourteen moves.
Closed Sicilian New Main Line 6 Be3 Rb8 [B26]
More and more often I'm seeing grandmasters use the Closed Sicilian to good effect - we even took a look recently at Magnus' efforts at the recent Olympiad. Nigel Short had a fantastic tournament win at the recent PokerStars Isle of Man competition, and our next game was pivotal to the victory. Both players take us down one of the main lines, before Alon comes up with a strange and, dare I say it, dubious novelty: 9...Ba6?!
Black has plenty of acceptable alternatives on move 9, most of them revolving around securing the loose knight on c6. This move, however, doesn't impress me at all, and White could have claimed a significant opening advantage with the accurate 12.a3!. Nigel plays a little too timidly for my tastes, but have a look through the rest of the game anyway, if only for entertainment value. The endgame is incredibly interesting, and in my analysis I found an incredible drawing resource for Black on move 76 - check out Short - Greenfeld!
Rossolimo 3...g6 4 Bxc6 [B31]
Moving into 3.Bb5 territory now, Wei - Muthaiah from the recent World Junior Championships has three distinct similarities to the last game: White could have got an overwhelming opening advantage (in this case, mate in 13!), let his opponent off the hook, and then managed to swindle a win in a tricky rook-versus-pieces endgame! From a theoretical standpoint, though, the opening is almost a textbook example of how White should handle the popular 8...Nd7:
Black can of course play better, but even after the stronger alternatives on move nine and eleven, White has excellent attacking chances.
Moscow/Rossolimo hybrid 6/7.Bc4!? [B51]
Smerdon - Hall saw me get the opportunity to try out the quirky 6.Bc4!? that we looked at last month in Baklan-Mamedov.
While I was very lucky to win this one, the theoretical consensus still seems to be that this offbeat try gives White very serious prospects of securing an advantage. And I can chalk this down as another win that came as a result of writing this column - Thanks, ChessPub!
Moscow 3...Nd7, 5.Bd3 [B51]
Finally, a super-heavyweight outing for the now-established 5.Bd3 variation. In Svidler - Grischuk, our newest member of the 2800 club played the strong 6...b5!, which I suggested way back in analysing Svidler-Ushenina.
Grischuk himself tried this out last year against Radjabov, but in this game he deviated first with 8...e6. As you'll see in the notes, with best play the game should end in a forced draw, so this line is worth remembering if you ever need to secure half a point in a hurry. Objectively, however, White can't hope for an opening advantage here, and so I suggest trying Carlsen's 6.Re1 b5 7.c4!? as perhaps the best avenue to surprise your opponent.
Til next month! Winter is coming! Dave
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