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The 2.c3 variation is regarded by many as the main anti-Sicilian. It is wildly popular at club level and frequently played at higher levels, at least until one hits the 2600+ level, when only a few specialists seem to be true believers.

Download PGN of January '11 Anti-Sicilian games

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2.c3 Sicilian [B22]

In this update I concentrate on what the best players are playing in the main lines of 2.c3. Thus the focus is what the top-rated 2.c3 specialists have played in the last year or so against 2...d5 and 2...Nf6. There are some interesting ideas in the games, for both sides, but as a very general conclusion, Black can equalize if he plays the careful versions of the main lines. The 2.c3 specialists deal with this problem by using their greater experience to win the middlegame fight.

The line 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.cxd4 d6 7.Bc4 e6 8.0-0 Be7 is one of Black's key lines against 2.c3:

In Zhigalko - Rosikhin, by transposition, White chose the standard 9.Qe2 line and won well against an inferior defence. In the notes an interesting sub-line for Black is mentioned.

In Stevic - Kozul White avoids the main lines with 9.exd6 when an IQP arises. It is not a major threat to Black, but an interesting middlegame often results.

Another popular defence for Black is 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 e6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Be3 cxd4 7.cxd4:

Now I am a huge fan of 7...Bb4+ as in Strikovic - Van Wely. In the game Black was tricked by an unsound sacrifice, but in general Black is very comfortable in this line.

I am much happier about White's prospects after 7...Nc6, as in Stevic - Sertic. Thus it is important to note the possible move order 6.a3!? which prevents Black from choosing the 7...Bb4+ line.

The line 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 d6 7.Bc4 Nb6 8.Bb5 dxe5 9.Nxe5 Bd7 10.Nxd7 Qxd7 is notoriously dull, but after 11.Nc3 e6 12.0-0 Rd8 Italian GM Godena has tried to spice things up with the unusual 13.Qg4!?:

Godena - Rombaldoni is the latest example.

Perhaps to avoid the potential dullness of the above line, many players leave the d-pawn on d2 with 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 c4 7.Bc2:

Black's sharpest and most ambitious reply is 7...Qc7 8.Qe2 g5, however then 9.Na3!? is a rather new and little-known idea that looks very dangerous. Godena - Kargin is a good example.

So far, so good for White in this line, but now we get to the problem. 7...d6 is perhaps not as exciting as the above line, but it is far more reliable in my view. In Parligras - Vachier Lagrave Black was quickly level.

Finally we look at one of Black's most respected defences 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4:

Several of the experts with White have been playing 6.Nbd2 Nc6 7.Bc4 Bxf3 8.Qb3 Na5 9.Qb5+ Qd7 10.Nxf3 Nxc4 11.Qxc4 cxd4 12.Nxd4:

White generally scores well, but the position should be fine for Black. Paridar - Gupta shows a strong and original equalizing plan for Black.

Regards, John Shaw

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