1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 h6!?:
What is the point? Well, the idea is similar in mnay ways to last month's O'Kelly Variation. Should White play in Open Variation style, Black will play a quick ...e5, much as in the Sveshnikov or Najdorf, but this time he is hoping that ...h6 proves more useful than ...a6 - White's annoying positional plan of Bg5xf6 is stopped.
First, what if White goes along with the plan by 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5:
In Game One White tried 6 Nf5!? d6 7 Ne3 which is enough for a small advantage.
6 Ndb5 is critical and after 6...Nc6 we have transposed to an obscure Sveshnikov sideline where White should play 7 Nd6+ as in Game Two when he can hope for an edge, although he does have several other possibilities: 7 Be3 is seen in Game Three, and 7 f4!? in Game Four.
Black can also choose another, related route by playing 6...d6, bringing the queen's knight to d7 instead, to help fight for control of d5, and this would be my choice, see Game Five.
Black can also play in 'Lowenthal style' by 4...e5 5 Nb5 h6!? allowing 6 Nd6+ Bxd6 7 Qxd6:
The point is that ...h6 looks more useful for Black than ...a6, see Game Six. Note that White often prefers 6 N1c3 which transposes to the Sveshnikov material in games 2-4.
In terms of ECO coding some of these lines are not strictly my brief, but it is important to compare them all to get a proper evaluation.
Can we reach a conclusion about these Sicilian variations involving an early ...h7-h6? Let's try: 2...h6?! is tricky and confusing, a psychological attack. However, I think White must be better after both 3 c3! and maybe 3 d4 cxd4 4 c3! as well. After 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 Nc6 we have an unusual Lowenthal, if White goes in for 6 Nd6+ then ...h7-h6 proves quite useful. Otherwise White has nothing better than 6 N1c3 Nf6 when we are in a sideline of the Sveshnikov which is tried occasionally with reasonable results for Black.
Ultimately all these lines are excellent for the club player, but for professionals and Internationals my own feeling is that they are not 100% sound, although as a surprise weapon, not too bad
I hope you enjoy the contents. Andrew