Sunday, 8 July 2018

038. The Chigorin Sicilian

Black: RickF - all-play-all tournament,, 2018

Actually, Mikhail Chigorin has no Sicilian system named after him. Against 1 e4 the great Russian master played 1...e5 almost exclusively, and in the king's pawn openings his name is mainly associated with a formation in the Closed Ruy Lopez: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3 0-0 9 h3 Na5 10 Bc2 c5.

I'm not sure why Chigorin gets the credit for that either. He seems only to have played it a couple of times; his treatment in O.Duras-M.Chigorin, Nuremberg 1906, was quite "unthematic"; and Schlechter had already ventured this set-up against Tarrasch four years earlier. If it's because Schlechter lost and Chigorin won, Schlechter had his revenge – beating Chigorin from the White side in 1907.

Well, anyway, the Chigorin Ruy Lopez it became and subsequently developed a large complex of theory. One variation, amongst many, runs 11 d4 Qc7 12 d5, whereby White hopes to keep the a5-knight out of the game; for example, after 12...Nc4 13 a4 Bd7 14 b3 Nb6 15 a5 or 12...Bd7 13 b3 c4 14 b4 Nb7 15 a4. Note that, in the latter line, 13 a4 is somewhat premature in view of 13...c4!, controlling the white b-pawn and preparing to target the a4-pawn with ...Nb7-c5.

Despite that, 13 a4 is still seen occasionally. E.Hossain-J.Hjartarson, Turin Olympiad 2006, continued 13...c4 14 Be3 bxa4?! 15 Bxa4 Bxa4 16 Qxa4 Nb3 17 Ra3 Rfc8 18 Nbd2 Nc5 19 Qc2 Nfd7 20 Rae1 a5 21 Nxc4 and White was clearly better at this point (later going very wrong in time trouble and losing). Rather than exchanging on a4 so soon, Black should maintain the tension with something like 14...Rfb8 or 14...Rfc8, or an immediate 14...Nb7-c5.

If you're wondering what any of this has to do with the Sicilian, then watch... 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 a4!? (a harmless-looking move, played by GMs Bukhuti Gurgenidze, Bent Larsen and, more recently, Konstantin Chernyshov) 4...Nf6 5 d3 Nc6 6 0-0 e6 7 Re1 Be7 8 c3 a6 9 Bc4 0-0 10 Bb3 b5 11 d4 e5 (I once won after 11...Qc7 12 e5) 12 d5 Na5 13 Bc2 c4 (13...Qc7 was V.Kosenkov-M.Kletsel, 8th World Correspondence Championship 1975) 14 h3 Qc7 and somehow we've transposed to the diagram, duly making it a “Chigorin Sicilian”.

That was the surprising course of the game below. I tried Hossain's 14 Be3, my opponent replied with 14...Rfc8 and... nothing much else happened. There was one way I might have made it interesting: 29 Qf2 g6 30 Nh5!? gxh5 31 Bh6, but this fails to 31...Ne8! 32 Qg3+ Kf7 33 Nf3 Ke7 34 Nxe5 h4! 35 Qxh4 Ne6!, when Black emerges with the better chances while, most pertinently, White has no chances of more than a draw. It seemed simpler to swap things off and then just offer a draw. So that's what I did.

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