24 March 2014

Sicilian Najdorf 6.h3

After Resurrecting an Online Chess Database, I decided to take the software for a test drive. In the ongoing 2014 Candidates Tournament there have been several Sicilian Najdorf games -- 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 -- with 6.h3. I haven't played the Najdorf for several years and I wasn't aware that this old move also played by Fischer was in vogue. What was its recent history within the SuperGM crowd?

I went to Chesslab, found 99 recent games by players rated over 2700, downloaded them to my PC, and loaded them into SCID. Using SCID (see Frontend and Backend for more about SCID), I put together the following analysis.

The first question involved the three games with 6.Be3. After using SCID to locate those games, I discovered that they all started 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bc1 Nf6 8.h3, a transpositional nuance of the Najdorf that I had forgotten about. No real surprise there.

The second question was when the GMs' attention turned to 6.h3. It turns out that after a few games by other players in the early 2000s, a certain GM Carlsen played it four times in 2008, achieving a +2-0=2 result. His first recorded use of the move was against GM Gelfand during that year's Amber Blindfold event, when the 17-year old Norwegian was rated 2733. Carlsen won the game. After 2008, he played the move only once, in 2012 for his game in Mexico against 'The World'.

GM Anand has also played 6.h3 a couple of times, starting in 2012. Perhaps we'll see the move in Carlsen - Anand II, which appears to be the most likely result of the Candidates tournament, where he is leading by a full point after nine rounds. He also has the tiebreak advantage over the only other player with a plus score, GM Aronian, having won their minimatch with +1-0=1. With only five games remaining, that's a huge advantage for the Indian GM.

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