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This month features updates to two of my recommendations from last month: Morris-Alekseenko updates Grieve-Bobras, and Dragnev-Carlsen updates Nguyen-MVL.

Download PGN of November ’23 Anti-Sicilian games

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Carlsen Variation 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2 g6 6.b3 Bh6 7.f4 Nf6 8.Bb2 e5 [B23]

We kick off with Willow, J- Mendonca, L. English IM Jonah Willow has been making strides recently (including in the ongoing Hastings tournament) and among his notable recent games was an entirely theoretical draw in the Carlsen variation. Most of the drama takes place in the notes, with the critical position coming after 10...Re8:

If White wants to play for a win then 11.Bg2 is more interesting, while after 11.Kb1 it is not ridiculous for Black to consider 11...d5!?, keeping the game alive.

Rossolimo with 3...e6 4.0-0 Nge7 5.Re1 Nd4 [B30]

Fresh off the back of last month’s update in the 5.Re1 line we saw it tested at the very highest level in Dragnev, V - Carlsen, M. While I continue to back my recommendation of 9...Bd6, Carlsen chose differently and they reached the following position after 12...Bf6:

Probably White’s safest move is 13.Bd2 here, while after 13.Bb2 there was a brief window for Black to equalise. As things turned out (and echoing the Bjerre game which I discuss in the 1.e4 ... column) Carlsen had to bring every ounce of his practical strength to bear to save a game which, in the 4th hour of play, looked like going very pear-shaped.

Rossolimo with 3...e5 4.0-0 Bd6 5.a4 Nf6 6.d3 [B30]

The other update from last month is that, in a position we discussed in Grieve-Bobras, a very strong grandmaster chose a new move that I did not consider in the form of 11...Kh8:

Preparing ...f5 is arguably the most logical thing for Black to do (especially if they don’t subscribe to the Italian dogma that challenging White’s LSB with ...Be6 is the best thing since sliced bread) and could have led to equality. Rather than the 12.d4 of Morris, J - Alekseenko, K it is perhaps better for White to consider the positionally challenging 12.Nd2!?. At the same time, it is unwise to nitpick too much on a performance which saw the talented Australian overcome a 233-point rating gap.

Rossolimo with 3...g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.d3 e5 [B31]

Strictly speaking our next two games aren’t all that interesting from the perspective of concrete theory, as Black goes into lines generally thought of as ‘+/=’, but are fascinating from the perspective of Black’s various thematic equalising tries.

For starters, consider the very typical position which arose in Giri, A - Le, Q after 12.Nc4:

Black immediately has to choose between the e8-c7 knight route and the 12...Nh5 one. The latter (heading to f4) looks more dynamic, though in many cases it doesn’t create real tactical threats. A significant theme in the lines that follow is that sometimes Black has a ...Nd5 motif, a sophisticated way of exchanging pieces that eliminates White’s slight bind on the central squares.

Rossolimo with 3...g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Qc7 6.0-0 Bg7 [B31]

A second try which has not necessarily received theoretical approval is 5.d3 Qc7, delaying the development of the g8-knight in particular and inviting speculation about whether Black intends something altogether more exotic, such as long castling, or ...f5, or ...Nh6 ideas. It was perhaps not a big surprise in this case to see who was took Black in the encounter Anton Guijarro, D - Fedoseev, V. The key position for our opening understanding arises after Black’s (delayed) 8...Nf6:

Here White opted to reply with the safe 9.h3, which may vindicate Black’s approach. I think the ...Qc7 variation loses enough time that White should try for a more direct exploitation.

Delayed Alapin with 4.e5 d4 5.d3 [B40]

Another test of this topical line and this time it’s the redoubtable Hans Niemann on the White side, choosing 5.d3 (one assumes to avoid any further thrust of Black’s d-pawn.) An interesting position arose after 7.bxc3:

There is certainly an argument to be made that, with White delaying the kingside fianchetto, Black can in turn delay the development of their queen’s knight until (at least) they have posed White some problems to do with the d3-pawn. There are a couple of ways to do this, of which a very strong player chose 7...Bd7 in Niemann, H - Aronian, L. The even more ambitious 7...b6 also deserves mention. This was on balance a very controlled game by the vibrant American youngster, and after a minor exchange of mistakes in the endgame, he went on to convert.

Moscow with 3...Nd7 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bd3 [B51]

Finally, a game which emphasises the deep links between this column and the Spanish/Italian. The game Petrosyan, M - Tabatabaei, M saw the subtle idea 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bd3 played, suggesting to Black that their inclusion of ...Nd7 is not just a developing move but could even turn out to be counterproductive in some cases. The key moment of the opening arose after 8...Rc8:

White has a choice between forcing through their intended structure with 9.Na3, or aiming for a Maroczy one instead with 9.d4. The latter choice is tempting, but perhaps allows Black to equalise more easily. A very interesting fight, which in the end was decided by Black’s central majority.

All the best, Daniel

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