Opening surveys in ChessBase Magazine 131

by ChessBase
8/25/2009 – We are once more publishing one of the 11 classical opening articles from ChessBase Magazine as a freebie. The subject is a line of the Najdorf Variation with 6.Bg5; namely the black move 7…Nbd7 and the extremely venomous reply 8.Bc4. What is special about it is that if Black plays "normal" Sicilian moves, he regularly collapses. 8.Bc4 could even be described as a trap, because the player with Black must know what to do; the correct move order will hardly be found over the board. The Israeli grandmaster Evgeny Postny explains to you exactly how White can be successful against almost all moves by Black... and of course what the single correct move is.Complete overview of ChessBase Magazine 131Postny: Najdorf with 7…Nbd7 8.Bc4

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Not the refutation of the Najdorf Variation

by Evgeny Postny

The topic of current survey is the following variation: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Nbd7 8.Bc4

If Black is afraid to enter the sharp "poisoned pawn" variations which arise after 7...Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2, then 7...Nbd7 is normally preferred. In this case the main line is 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0. The resulting positions are less forced than the "poisoned pawn variation", nevertheless rather sharp as well. However, in our present survey we will concentrate on a less common, yet quite venomous continuation, 8.Bc4. Obviously a normal developing move, though rarely seen in combination with 6.Bg5. White is mixing up some ideas of the Najdorf and Sozin systems, meanwhile retaining the option of castling to either side, according to the circumstances.

As a whole, this line is not new at all. The pioneer of 8.Bc4 was the great Paul Keres, back in 1954. Since then the line appeared in practice from time to time in the 60's and 70's, but without real success for White. In our days the interest in this line has reawakened once more. Recently White has been achieving excellent results with 8.Bc4. Moreover, a considerable number of games, including those played in grandmaster tournaments, ended in an opening disaster for the second player who got caught unprepared.

The point of 8.Bc4 is quite clear - White is intending to press against the e6-pawn by f4-f5 in order to force the ...e6-e5 advance which will give him full control over the key d5 square. Quite often the bishop sacrifice on e6 is possible and dangerous for Black. The typical e4-e5 breakthrough in the centre has always to be watched out for. If the second player is not careful enough, one of the above-mentioned ideas might finish him off before he even reaches move 20! Black has a wide choice of replies on his 8th move, but most of these replies are just bad! Therefore, his next move is already an important one. It is well known that the precise order of moves is highly important in the Sicilian Defence, especially for the second player.

Now let us proceed to concrete, move by move, variations in this fascinating line.

A) 8...Qc7?

It is hard to imagine a move more natural than this one, but it's already a mistake! After 9.Qe2 b5 10.Bxe6! fxe6 11.Nxe6

White's attack was too strong for Black to survive in the game Nataf,I - Mohota,N 1-0.

B) 8...Qa5?

Another natural move, and a mistake as well. White's plan is simple: 9.Qe2 h6 10.Bxf6 Nxf6 11.0-0-0

and he is far ahead in development. The decisive breakthrough in the centre will come soon, as in the game Savchenko,B - Zubov,O 1-0.

C) 8...b5?!

This continuation is also risky. Black should be ready for the piece sacrifice 9.Bxe6! fxe6 10.Nxe6 which is typical for this line. Out of the two possible queen moves, 10...Qb6? fails to 11.Nd5! Nxd5 12.Qxd5

and Black is going down in flames. He has to give up a full rook in view of the threat 13.Nc7+! followed by the mating 14.Qe6+. Check the game Savchenko,B - Kuzubov,Y 1-0.

So, only 10...Qa5 is left. Black pins the knight, but allows White to grab another pawn for the sacrificed piece. The following moves 11.Nxf8 Rxf8 12.Qxd6 Qb6 13.0-0-0 Qxd6 14.Rxd6 lead to the position in the diagram below:

The position is materially balanced, but White is in possession of the initiative even after the exchange of queens. My impression is that Black's defensive task is rather difficult. The recent game Sjugirov,S - Van Wely,L 1-0 confirms my view.

Before proceeding to the strongest continuation, I would like to mention one more option: 8...Nc5? 9.e5 h6 10.Bh4 g5

11.fxg5 dxe5 12.Nf3 Qxd1+ 13.Rxd1 hxg5 14.Bxg5 Nfd7 15.Nxe5! - White wins a pawn and is clearly better as in the game Zhigalko,A-Jakubowski,K/Warsaw 2008 ;

D) 8...Qb6!

This is the main and the strongest continuation.

a) Previously White tried to sacrifice the b2-pawn by playing 9.Qd2. Obviously, Black should accept the challenge with 9...Qxb2. After 10.0-0 the most precise reply is 10...Qb4! which reveals the main difference between this line and the "poisoned pawn" variation: here Black could bring his queen back into play by attacking the white light-squared bishop on the way. White's compensation is sufficient for equality at best, as in the game Vuckovic,B - Lesiege,A ½-½.

b) 9.Bb3 is the most natural reply. After 9...Be7 10.f5 White is pressing against the e6-pawn which Black can protect only by 10...Nc5

Black is just in time to eliminate the dangerous bishop. In the encounter Radjabov,T - Gelfand,B ½-½ the attempt 11.fxe6 fxe6 12.Na4 provoked massive simplifications and total equality.

Later on, the first player switched to 11.Qf3. After 11...Nxb3 12.Nxb3 Qc7 we witness the following position:

In the game Kurnosov,I - Areshchenko,A ½-½ Igor tried short castling 13.0-0, but was fighting for a draw for the most of the game. The more natural castling to the queenside 13.0-0-0!? is yet to appear in practice. However, against correct defence White gets no more than equality in this case as well.

c) Another fresh idea for White is 9.Bxf6!? Nxf6 10.Bb3

The idea of voluntarily giving up the dark-squared bishop is to distract Black's queenside knight from the c5 square, thus keeping the other bishop alive. Later on White is hoping to press on the light squares by the advance f4-f5. So far, he was successful in the game Naiditsch,A - Sjugirov,S 1-0. However, Black's position contains numerous possible improvements along the way.

Conclusion: Summarising, I must disappoint those who expected to find in this article a one-sided refutation of the whole Najdorf system. The line starting with 8.Bc4 might suit well as a surprise weapon, but in fact does not yield White an advantage. My research confirms that after 8...Qb6 Black does achieve a decent position, and at the moment this is the verdict on the whole line.

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