2.c3 Sicilian [B22]
In the main line 1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.cxd4 d6 7.Bc4 Nb6 8.Bb5 is not very popular nowadays because after thousands of games Black is not considered to have many problems. However, winning chances are scarce for the second player and it's no surprise that ambitious players like the look of 8...Bd7!?:
This retains some tension without taking too many risks. See Provotorov - Kokarev.
On the American Swiss circuit, IM-elect Marc Esserman is well known for his excellent preparation in the Morra Gambit. In Esserman - Ramirez, Black takes the practical road and plays 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 Nf6. I always thought this to be very sensible, especially as White is clearly committed to lines with d2-d4 (not that that is anything remarkable, but it's something). After 4.e5 Nd5 5.Nf3 d6 6.cxd4 e6 the game continuation 7.Nc3 seems inaccurate to me because of Ramirez's 7...Nxc3 8.bxc3 Qc7 9.Bd2 Nd7 with a kind of accelerated Gallagher system.
A seemingly quiet system for Black beginning with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.d4 Nf6 6.Be3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Bb4+ is actually a rather ambitious attempt to get a good knight vs. bad bishop situation by trading light-squared bishops after 8.Nc3 0-0 (another modern concept is 8...Bd7 9.Bd3 Bb5) 9.Bd3 b6 10.0-0 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Ba6:
In Manik - Navara this worked remarkably well.
Logic in chess can be a strange thing. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Nc3 Qc7 Black avoids doubled pawns. After 5.0-0 a6 Black puts the question to White's bishop, much like White does in the 4.Qc2 Nimzo Indian. 6.Bxc6 White captures the knight to gain time:
Now 6...dxc6 looks remarkably inconsistent, but it is actually a logical move! See the fascinating heavyweight struggle Shirov - Ivanchuk.
Moscow Variation 3...Nd7 [B51]
The trend towards the early capture on d4 continues and in A.Ivanov-Ehlvest we look at 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4 a6 6.Bxd7+ Bxd7 7.Nc3 Rc8 8.0-0 e5 9.Qd3 h6 10.Nd2, which is more direct than White's play 10.Rd1 Nf6 11.h3 as we've looked at before. A very sharp games ensues and the game remains in dynamic balance in a complicated ending until an ill-timed capture hands the initiative to Black.
Black can also keep the position closed with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.d4 Ngf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bxd7+ Nxd7:
Hastily releasing the tension with 7.d5 looks worse than the recipe we have seen with 7.0-0 e6 8.d5! The strategic differences and a nice illustration of Black's chances can be seen in can be seen in Muzychuk - Tiviakov.
I have warned against the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.0-0 Bd7 5.Re1 a6?! Before on this site. In Safarli - Sharafiev White does not seek immediate punishment and plays 6.Bf1. In this game I highlight move order issues for both sides en route to an uncommon position where White deals with the strategic issues better than his opponent.
Zaitsev 4 Qxd4 [B53]
Last month we looked at 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4 Bd7 6.Bxc6 Bxc6 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Bg5 e6 9.0-0-0 Be7 10.Qd3. I still recommend 10...Qa5! here, but in Balogh - Drenchev Black plays 10...0-0 11.Nd4 Qa5 12.h4 (12.f4 is probably better) 12...Rfc8!? and scores an upset with a cute finish.
Until next month, David