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2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6 delayed d4 [B22]
First, though, let's take a look at new developments after 2.c3. Adams - Wojtaszek sees a high-level clash involving one of the main lines of 2...Nf6 where White delays d2-d4. Black has recently favoured avoiding the complications of taking the e5 pawn in favour of 'safer' alternatives, such as 7...d6 or 7...d5:
However, as I've showed in the past, accurate play by White should lead to a small but persistent edge. Adams misplays the opening slightly and allows his opponent to equalise, but instead with 12.Rd1! White should still be for choice.
2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6 mainline 6 Bc4 [B22]
Emms - Pert from the recent British Championship was nice to see. John tried out the tricky sideline I suggested last month with 11.Bxe6!?:
Ultimately this should lead to a draw, like most variations of the 2...Nf6 mainline, but there's a good chance to catch your opponent off-guard - as happened here.
2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6 ...e6/...d6 system [B22]
Lin - Nguyen sees a very rare line in the popular 2...Nf6 variation with ...e6/d6.
White played very unambitiously for a draw, which is hardly theoretically critical of course, but could be a useful strategy against a stronger player (as was the case here). The approach was immediately successful in this game, which prompts the question: Can White practically force a draw from move nine? It might not be interesting for all players, but it's worth remembering, because I believe the answer is "Almost certainly yes".
Rossolimo/Moscow Hybrid 9...e6 [B51]
Our next game is also a short but important draw. Important, in this case, because it features my recommendation for our black anti-3.Bb5 repertoire in action by the very strong Ukrainian GM Alexander Moiseenko.
The game itself only lasted four more moves from the diagram before White offered peace, but I've included some extra analysis on our previous discussions of this line to demonstrate that Black really seems to face no real problems at all, see Zhigalko - Moiseenko.
Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 4.c3 [B51]
Right; now on to the heavyweights! A common theme in our discussion this month will be the similarity between these variations and closed variations of the Ruy Lopez. There are both good and bad reasons for why you might like this transposition, but the main factor to consider is: How familiar are you with these structures as compared with your opponent? For example, if you play the Spanish regularly for White while your opponent has never played 1...e5 in his life, such a transposition could be a very smart practical choice indeed.
Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave is our first example:
Fabiano got us here by employing 4.c3, which to be honest is probably not the most testing line. However, MVL is a player devoted to 1...c5 and so perhaps Fabiano thought he could outplay his opponent thanks to his better Spanish experience. However, in this game that proved not to be the case and a draw was a fair result.
Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 4.d4 [B51]
Then Anand - Topalov took us into the more familiar (and less Spanishy) waters of 4.d4. Actually, we're more used to seeing Anand on the black side of things (e.g. his games with Carlsen), but here Anand makes use of a rare idea with White: 10.Nd2!?
Like most 'new ideas' in this variation, objectively it's not enough for a real edge, but practically it can make life a little uncomfortable for Black.
Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 4.0-0 a6 5.Bd3 [B51]
Finally we move on to the most fashionable stuff: 4.0-0 intending to retreat with Bd3. Nakamura - Grischuk was an impressive display by the American. Grischuk deviated from a Spanish structure by eschewing 8...e5, but to his peril; Black's slow kingside development made his life a little difficult.
Eventually, the typical Grischukian time trouble played a decisive role.
Topalov, on the other hand, got straight into his kingside development in Carlsen - Topalov, but in a highly original way, with the powerful novelty 7...g5!
While I analysed it a year ago on this site, it hasn't received any attention since then. However, there's hardly a better advertisement than beating the World Champion with Black! I believe that 8.cxb5! is best, with decent chances to secure a slight advantage for White. However, Magnus was clearly shocked by 7...g5 (doesn't be subscribe?) and quickly went wrong. Remember this one!
Til next month, Dave
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