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Hi folks,
Happy New Year to everyone! There has been a wealth of interesting games played over the past few weeks, with many high-profile events taking place featuring various time controls. I’m looking forward to exploring these over the next couple of updates. This month, we’ll see Olexandr Bortnyk scoring 7/7 on the White side of the Alapin Sicilian! We’ll also take a look at a fashionable Alapin line for Black involving an early ...e5 and a very dangerous Anti-Sveshnikov system. Enjoy!

Download PGN of January ’23 Anti-Sicilian games

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c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 cxd4 d6 7 Bc4 dxe5 8 Nxe5!? [B22]

This month, I’m going to devote a couple of games to answering a subscriber request to cover a particular line of the Alapin, which has been advocated by Shankland for Black in his Chessable Classical Sicilian course. The game Bortnyk, O - Abasov, N from Titled Tuesday a number of weeks ago showcases the variation in question:

This is already an established line for Black that has been featured in the archives, but Shankland suggests a novel approach that was only recently favoured by the engines after White’s critical reply, 8 dxe5 (see the next game in this update). However, Bortnyk decided to go for 8 Nxe5!?, which isn’t covered by Shankland and tends to lead to standard IQP positions. The game continued 8...e6 9 0-0 and Abasov chose the active 9...Bd6!? I've also covered the solid 9...Be7 in the notes. Bortnyk’s response was the unpretentious 10 Nf3!?, simply electing to play a typical IQP position. 10 Qh5!? is another line which forces Black to play accurately to equalise.

The game soon reached another typical structure, that of the Isolated Pawn Couple (White pawns on c3 and d4) and Bortnyk decided to break with d4-d5 to pose direct problems for Black. This was indeed pretty dangerous for the second player, but Abasov could have defended with accurate play. Instead, he took a hot pawn and was soon forced to give up his Bishop for insufficient compensation.

I think 8 Nxe5!? is a reasonable option for White to “get a game” without learning a whole lot of theory, and there are a couple of potential “one game” ideas in the notes that Alapin practitioners can incorporate into their repertoires.

c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 cxd4 d6 7 Bc4 dxe5 8 dxe5!? [B22]

We’ll now take a look at White’s critical recapture, 8 dxe5!? This was the continuation of Khamrakulov, D - Stearman, J from New York a few weeks ago. Black’s Knight sorties to b6 and b4 have been explored extensively in the archives, but Shankland’s idea is to play 8...Be6!?, which is also endorsed by the engines. The game continued 9 0-0 (I also cover 9 Na3!? as an alternative in the notes) and now 9...g6!? continues to follow Shankland’s recommendation. The bizarre 9...Nc3!? is also quite possible! After Stearman’s choice in the game, I was unable to find an objective edge for White, but Black generally must be happy to play with doubled e-pawns after 10 Ng5 Bg7! 11 Nxe6 fxe6:

White has a number of tries on the previous two moves to pose Black practical problems. In general, I have found ways for Black to equalise against all of them, but the arising positions won’t be to everyone’s taste. White’s choice in the game, 12 Nc3 was immediately met by the inaccurate 12...Nxe5?! leaving White with a persistent initiative after 13 Bxd5! exd5 14 Nxd5 e6 15 Qa4+! Black was ultimately unable to cope with the pressure. Theoretically, Shankland’s recommendation holds up to engine scrutiny, but the arising positions aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.

c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 cxd4 d6 7 Bc4 e6 [B22]

Our next game features one of the absolute mainlines of the Alapin Sicilian:

namely 10 Rd1 in the above diagram. Olexandr Bortnyk amassed a tremendous score from the White side of this position online recently, and our featured game Bortnyk, O - Lamaze, S, from a recent Titled Tuesday event, is typical of his endeavours. Black has a plethora of options here and I’ve covered several of them in the notes. In this game, Black went for the critical 10...Na5, hunting down White’s light-squared Bishop after 11 Bd3! Nb4 Bortnyk was unperturbed and simply continued developing with 12 Nc3! Nxd3 13 Rxd3, arguing that the potential Rook lift along the third rank and Black’s offside Knight on a5 still add up to a strong attack for White. This appears to be the case and it’s far from easy to equalise for Black here. The game continued with 13...b6, whereupon 14 b4! would have been very dangerous for Black. Bortnyk’s choice of 14 Qe4?! wasn’t so accurate, but it worked a treat in the game. This being an online blitz game, both sides exchanged blunders before White’s attack crashed through on move twenty-two.

In general, this line looks quite promising for White, and perhaps Black would be better served looking into the alternatives on move ten, some of which have been covered in the archives.

c3-Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cxd4 5 cxd4 e6 6 Nc3! [B22]

Our next game features a major upset (albeit in online blitz!), where the experienced IM playing the White pieces managed to break down the defence of the top Polish player. In Vlassov, N - Duda, J from Titled Tuesday earlier this month, White chose 6 Nc3! in the position below:

and this appears to be very promising for White with the other Knight still on g1. Black’s move-order is designed to reach the line with ...e7-e6 and ...b7-b6, but while White still has the ability to play f2-f4, this set-up is actually quite treacherous for Black. In fact, I think there is only one clear way to equalise (see the note to Black’s sixth move). Duda’s choice of 6...Nxc3?! already left him on the back foot after 7 bxc3 b6 8 f4!? Bb7 9 Nf3. Black could still have achieved a playable game with the accurate 9...Qc8!? Duda instead chose the dubious 9...Be4? and after the natural 10 Bd3! Bxd3 11 Qxd3, White had a very promising attacking position, with f4-f5 already on the cards. White didn’t make the most of his advantage and Duda equalised before misjudging a pawn sacrifice from his opponent, allowing White to open the f-file with decisive effect.

White's move-order is particularly dangerous for fans of the ...e6 and ...b6 lines. I think Black is definitely better off learning a different line to play or reacting with the very specific solution I outlined in the notes.

c3-Sicilian: 2...e5!? 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 Bc4 Nf6!? [B22]

Next up is a very sharp line that has recently come into fashion, mainly in Correspondence play. The game Kosteniuk, A - Kozak, A from the European Rapid Championship in Poland last month featured a sharp, Two-Knights style approach to the Alapin:

Black played 4...Nf6!? inviting 5 Ng5 d5 6 exd5 Nxd5 7 Qh5 with immense complications. I’ve covered earlier options for Black, such as 4...Be7!? and 6...Na5!? in the notes as well, along with the alternative try, 7 d4!? for White. The game continued with the critical 7...g6 8 Qf3 Qxg5 9 Bxd5 Nd8 10 0-0. White’s position looks very promising, but matters are not so simple after the critical 10...Qe7!

Black unfortunately forgot the theory and played the natural 10...Bg7? allowing 11 d4! with a fantastic position for White. Kosteniuk never really let the advantage slip after this and won the game in grand style. However, this line is quite playable for Black and deserves more tests.

c3-Sicilian: 2...d6 3 d4 Nf6 4 dxc5 Nc6 5 Qd3!? [B22]

Our final Alapin encounter for this month features a rare solution to one of Black’s less-popular tries on move two.

In the game Oberoi, S - Gazik, V from the Spice Cup last month, White uncorked 5 Qd3!? in the above position. This is a new move for our site and it looks fairly promising for White. Black chose to play the standard gambit idea, 5...d5, although White seems well-placed to meet this here, and perhaps Black should prefer the less adventurous 5...dxc5 in future, which I’ve analysed in the notes.

After the subsequent 6 exd5, Black should seriously consider capturing with the Queen, because with the game’s 6...Nxd5, I have been unable to find equality for Black after White’s 7 Nf3. In fact, Black played the passive 7...e6?! and after 8 b4, White was already clearly better. Black gambled even more over the following moves, winning an exchange on a1 but ending up in a lost position. The game was eventually drawn after many mistakes from both sides. In any case, 5 Qd3!? looks like a fresh and interesting way for White to pose Black problems in this line.

Anti-Sveshnikov: 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 4 Bc4 Be7 5 d3 Nf6!? 6 Ng5 0-0 7 h4!? [B30]

Our next game features a very dangerous Anti-Sveshnikov line that I recommended in a video course for White a couple of years ago. I’m sure the experienced English IM playing Black soon regretted his move-order in Pein, J - Bates, R from the January 4NCL weekend.

The standard way to continue is 5...d6, and after 6 d3 Nf6, White is deprived of the line he employs in the game. Instead, Black chose 5...Nf6!? The point of Black’s idea is to delay playing ...d7-d6 in the hopes of meeting an early f2-f4 from White with ...d7-d5 in one go. However, after 6 Ng5 0-0, instead of playing into Black’s hands with 7 f4 d5!?, White unleashed 7 h4!? which was brought into focus when Dubov beat Gelfand in a rapid game back in 2016.

Having analysed this line extensively, I think Black is better off avoiding it altogether by sticking to the traditional move-order with 5...d6. While it is possible to achieve equality, the practical problems facing Black are immense, especially if the Black player is caught by surprise. Black initially reacted well with 7...Na5!, but after 8 f4, it is imperative for Black to strike in the centre with 8...d5! when he can hope to eventually equalise if he really knows his stuff. Instead, the natural 8...Nxc4? was played, but after 9 dxc4, White had excellent attacking chances, and after the subsequent 9...exf4 10 e5!, White was already winning. White finished off the game in style. This line with 7 h4!? is a very dangerous practical try, provided that Black actually allows it!

Carlsen Variation: 2 Nc3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Qd2 g6 6 b3 Bh6 7 f4 Nf6 8 Bb2 0-0 9 0-0-0 a5 10 a4 Qb6!? [B23]

Our final game for this month features a rare move for Black in one of the mainlines of the Carlsen Variation, namely 10...Qb6!? in the diagram below:

This has only been played four times in total, but it appears to be perfectly playable. The game Vallejo Pons, F - Idani, P from the World Rapid Championship in Almaty last month saw Black generate fantastic counterplay on the Queenside.

White chose the accurate 11 Kb1!, whereupon Black went for the OTB novelty 11...Nb4!? following a previous Correspondence game. White’s response, 12 h3?! proved to be too slow, as Black was able to break in the centre immediately with 12...d5! meeting the over-optimistic 13 exd5? with 13...Bf5! Black followed up with a not-so-typical Sicilian exchange sacrifice on c4 (as opposed to c3!) and generated a crushing attack, which should have won the game in short order. However, this being a rapid game, White missed a very difficult chance to secure equality later on having survived a lost position and ended up going down without a fight.

Black’s opening idea definitely merits further investigation, as I have been unable to find any advantage for White thus far.

See you next month, David

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