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Closed Sicilian: 2 g3!? d5!? 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 Nf3 Bg4 5 Be2!? [B20]
Our first port to call is the game Salgado Lopez, I - Vasquez Schroeder, R from the BICAPAWN Grand Prix in Spain last month. Salgado chose an unusual move-order to reach the Closed Sicilian, namely 2 g3!? The most recent game reference to this line in the archives is from 1996! White’s idea is to delay the development of the Queen’s Knight in order to retain the option of playing c2-c3 and developing the Knight to either a3 or d2. However, this allows Black to strike in the centre immediately with 2...d5!? After the subsequent 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 Nf3 Bg4:
the real surprise came when White unleashed 5 Be2!? The most common reaction is 5 Bg2, when 5...Qe6+!? 6 Kf1! is a mutually compromising continuation that is relatively well-known. The engines rate both Bishop moves equally and Salgado’s choice leads to relatively unexplored positions. The game itself was a back-and-forth affair, with White missing a chance to gain a huge advantage early on, Black missing several subsequent wins, and both sides missing chances at the end before the game was agreed drawn. I’ve analysed all the relevant games in the notes and provided some very original suggestions. See what you think!
Closed Sicilian: 2 Nc3 followed by 3 g3 [B25]
We’re now going to analyse some recent games in the traditional Closed Sicilian lines, where White goes for 2 Nc3 (preventing ...d7-d5!) and follows up with 3 g3, regardless of Black’s response. This system received heavy coverage in the early days of our site, but there haven’t been too many developments recently. Therefore, I’ve taken the game Sjugirov, S - Iljiushenok, I from the 21st Karpov Poikovsky tournament as a recent instructive example, with a couple of other outings from strong players embedded in the notes. I’ve placed emphasis on the early middlegame ideas that crop up in these lines, as the opening itself is unlikely to be considered theoretically critical ever again. Still, it tends to lead to double-edged struggles where the stronger player (or whoever is more familiar with the ideas) is likely to come out on top. In the main game, White went for a standard Kingside pawn storm, and a move-order mix-up from Black on move fourteen allowed Sjugirov to pick up the two Bishops, after which the position proved too difficult to defend for Black in practice:
16 f6! was a very powerful idea from White. This system is a reasonable choice if the White player wants a day off from theoretical lines without sacrificing objectivity.
c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Bc4 Nb6 5 Bb3 Nc6 6 Nf3 g6!? [B22]
Next, we’ll investigate a line which isn’t rated highly by the engines, but scores very well in practice between strong players. The game Kuzubov, Y - Sarana, A, also from the BICAPAWN event, featured a somewhat unusual move-order from both sides: 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Bc4 White decides to delay developing his King’s Knight or playing d2-d4 for the moment. 4...Nb6 5 Bb3 Nc6:
I analysed 6 d4!? in the July update, but here White opts for 6 Nf3 and Black in turn goes for the fourth most common move, 6...g6!? After the subsequent 7 d4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Bg7, the position bore a heavy resemblance to certain Alekhine lines but with the c-pawns already exchanged. I’ve analysed all of White’s alternatives on move nine, and I think only one of them guarantees an edge. The issue from Black’s point of view is the move-order: if White goes for 6 d4, Black’s direct attempt to transpose to the game doesn’t work (see the note to White’s sixth move) and I can’t see another way to do it. Therefore, Black still needs an alternative option to supplement Sarana’s choice. Anyway, the game followed along theoretical lines until move sixteen, when Black unleashed a novelty, which was unlikely to be home preparation as Black was fine already. In any case, he soon took over the initiative and White’s position collapsed shortly.
c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Bc4 Nb6 5 Bb3 d6 6 exd6 Qxd6 7 Na3 a6 8 Ne2!? [B22]
The game Delchev, A - Saric, I from the October Bundesliga weekend featured the same move-order as in Kuzubov - Sarana, but Black went for the more mainstream 5...d6. This was followed by 6 exd6 Qxd6 7 Na3 a6. This position is usually reached a move later, with White’s King’s Knight developed to f3 and Black’s Queen’s Knight on c6 already.
White decided to take advantage of this omission by playing 8 Ne2!? This is a clever, engine-inspired idea, which aims to exploit the Black Queen’s position on d6 to gain further time for development with a subsequent d2-d4 and Bc1-f4. Bizarrely, Delchev later neglected to do this when he had the opportunity and simply transposed back into the 8 Nf3 lines, where, as we’ll see, Black is completely fine. However, I think Black should still be OK in a number of ways even if White follows through with his idea. The game itself was a balanced struggle until Delchev miscalculated and transposed into a lost opposite-coloured Bishop ending. In any case, this variation appears to be very healthy for Black.
Rossolimo Variation: 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 e6 4 0-0 Nge7 5 Re1 Nd4 [B30]
We’ll take a break from the side lines to discuss what seems to be a modern theoretical tabiya. The game Nihal, S - Plazuelo Pascual, J from the Spanish Team Rapid Championship featured a topical line of the Rossolimo:
In this position, we’ve considered several unusual options for Black recently, involving ...b7-b6 in various guises and even ...h7-h6. However, 5...Nd4 has always been a common try for Black. After the subsequent 6 Nxd4 cxd4 7 c3 a6 8 Bf1 Nc6, White employed 9 b4, which is the second most common move here and scores very well for White (see the archives for alternatives for both sides from moves six to nine). Black also responded with the second most played move, the odd-looking 9...Bd6. In general, Black has some difficulties completing his development in this structure, and White has reasonable hopes to secure an edge. In the game, Nihal played the early middlegame fairly accurately, although I think the Correspondence alternative on move thirteen is stronger. An inaccuracy on move eighteen gave Black a chance to equalise, but he instead miscalculated and allowed a transposition to a winning ending, which the young Indian talent converted in exemplary fashion. In general, I’m not convinced that Black can equalise after 5...Nd4 and he made need to consider the other alternatives.
Moscow Variation: 3 Bb5+ Nd7 4 d4 cxd4 5 Qxd4 a6 6 Be2 [B51]
Our next game features a line which became quite topical a few years ago,
namely 6 Be2 in the above position. The game Sethuraman, S - Raja, H from the MPL Indian Chess Tour was one of a couple of unsuccessful online outings from the strong Indian GM in this line with the White pieces. 6...Ngf6 7 0-0 followed, and Raja’s choice in the main game was 7...e5! which I think is the most reliable approach for Black (I’ve also analysed 7...g6!? in the notes based on another recent Sethuraman game). Black has many reasonable options on moves nine, ten and eleven, and I’ve analysed all of them in the notes. Black’s choice in the game, 11...a5?! gave White the opportunity to execute an instructive Knight manoeuvre to maintain an edge. Sethuraman went for a different strategy and ultimately achieved a winning position before a couple of errors turned the tide in Black’s favour. There are still many possibilities in this line for both sides, but it feels like Black can guarantee equal chances in a number of ways.
Moscow/Rossolimo Hybrid: 3 Bb5+ Nc6 4 0-0 Bd7 5 Re1 Nf6 6 c3 a6 7 Bf1 [B51]
Our next game features two strong GMs battling it out in a critical line of the Moscow/Rossolimo Hybrid Variation. Kryvoruchko, Y - Fedoseev, V from the Spanish Team Championship:
featured 9...d5 from Black, which is one of the two most popular continuations (the other being 9...e5). White responded with 10 Nc3, which is less common and generally considered less critical than both of White’s legal moves with the e-pawn, although it soon transposes to 10 exd5 in the game. I think it’s also a reasonable try for an edge. Once again, I’ve drawn on Correspondence games to get a clearer picture of best play in this line. Often, a mutual IQP position arises, with White having the two Bishops in this symmetrical structure. Generally, Black’s position is quite solid, but White definitely has a pull. In the game, Kryvoruchko expanded on the Queenside, but this failed to put any pressure on Black. He then played over-ambitiously and pushed the d-pawn to d5, allowing Black to favourably change the structure with ...e6-e5, when his Kingside pawn majority gave him attacking chances. The struggle was more or less balanced, with White missing a couple of decent defensive options before blundering in the end. Despite the result of this game, I think the Hybrid Variation is still under a theoretical cloud at the moment, and White has excellent chances of securing an opening advantage with accurate play.
Hungarian Variation: 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 [B54]
Our final game features a line that looks completely harmless, but still seems to score well for White. The players in the game Hovhannisyan, R - Zwirs, N from the Hoogeveen Final 4 went right down the old mainline of the Hungarian variation (via an unusual move-order which I’ve discussed in the notes), with White playing to win a pawn on move ten by ceding his dark-squared Bishop for a Knight:
10 Bxf6!? looks completely harmless, especially because Black can regain the pawn by capturing on e4 after 10...Bxf6 11 Qxd6 Qxd6 12 Rxd6 Bxc3 13 bxc3 However, White still manages to win games here, even if some of them are online encounters. As can be seen from the notes, Black has nothing to fear if he plays precisely, but White also isn’t risking anything. In the game, Black went wrong and ended up in a lost position very quickly. Despite further errors, White eventually won. This line could well be worth a try as low-risk surprise weapon.
Until next month, David
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