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This month: An Esserman Special!
Have you ever heard of Marc Esserman? If you're a Morra Gambit player, you surely have. He's basically THE leading expert these days, so much so that he wrote the only decent book on the opening a couple of years ago. Unfortunately for him, his book and his fans, the one big problem with the Morra remains that Black can simply decline it and transpose to a 2.c3 Sicilian without any concessions. So the question remains: Why not just play 2.c3?
Sadly for Morra fans, this is an unsolvable problem. On the other hand, three recent games of Esserman's demonstrate what I've been saying for over 15 years: The 2.c3 Sicilian is an attacking weapon, if you play it right!

Download PGN of March ’16 Anti-Sicilian games

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2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6 Main line 6 Bc4 [B22]

All three of our Esserman games, against three GMs, came about via 2.d4, but it makes more sense to classify them here. In Esserman - Djukic, Black tried to complicate things and create winning chances through the interesting 7...g6!?:

I think this isn't a bad surprise weapon as there is a decent chance of catching White out with this rare option. However, Esserman was up to the task and played what is definitely White's most convincing rebuttal.

2.c3 Sicilian 2...Nf6, ...e6/...d6 system [B22]

The next two games concern a critical main line of the 2.c3, as it's recommended for Black by Kotronias. Esserman - Vovk was a very impressive win by White against his much higher rated opponent.

Vovk played down Kotronias' analysis but mustn't have known the big novelty 16...Nb8!, which equalises immediately. Instead of Marc's 16.Bf6, which looks more dangerous than it actually is, I recommend White try 16.Qh4 - see the notes.

Esserman then rounds off an impressive month with a draw with one of the chess world's giants! Esserman - Anand saw White get a completely dominant position after Vishy deviated with the dubious but natural-looking 13...Rd8?!:

After this move, according to my analysis the best Black can hope for (against someone who reads my columns!) is to enter an endgame a pawn down. Not much fun! Also be sure to check out the note to 13...Bd7, which Kotronias says in his book is an equalising alternative. This is a very rare error by the great theoretician, because Black will be hard-pressed to survive after this move, as White quickly gains a clear advantage.

Universal Rossolimo (Moscow/Rossolimo Hybrid) 5.c3 Nf6 6.d4 [B51]

Once again, Kotronias proves that he's better at naming variations than me! I like his name for this line and so I'm adopting it. Sutovsky - Aravindh sees the dangerous Israeli GM try out one of the sharpest gambits around in the 3.Bb5 lines:

It's worth paying attention to this line as it's a potentially tender spot in Kotronias' repertoire in my opinion, although I haven't worked out a clear way to an advantage. The note to 7.Re1 is a good place to start your own investigations; note in particular the excellent novelty 9.Bf1!, which once again demonstrates Kotronias' thoroughness in finding novel improvements for both colours!

Universal Rossolimo (Moscow/Rossolimo Hybrid) 7.Bc4 [B51]

But having flattered him enough in this column, I have to now launch a bit of criticism. Guseinov - Rasulov is definitely worthy of your full attention as it covers a very tricky sideline that is not even mentioned in the new repertoire book!

I'm quite surprised that Kotronias wasn't aware of it, especially as I've covered it a few times on this site, and because I genuinely think it's a dangerous weapon. The move 7.Bc4 looks odd at first but has a very clear point that the black queenside pawns can become targets if they advance too quickly, which was demonstrated in Cornette - Pap after 9.a4!:

After 9...b4 10.d4! White was already better. Remember this stuff, guys! This variation is potentially going to be quite a strong weapon for the prepared white player thanks to this glaring omission from the new book.

Moscow 3...Nd7 4.d4 cxd4 [B51]

The all-French battle Maze - Vachier Lagrave takes us back into more mainstream waters, although White still found a way to head off-road by repeating Anand's dubious sideline.

Unfortunately for him, his colleague was more than up to the task, and Black had equalised after a dozen moves with little trouble. But check my notes to 11.a4 to see whether you like White's position after my suggested improvement. If it suits your style, then I recommend going back and checking my notes to Anand-Topalov, which will prepare you to use this surprise weapon for maximum over-the-board impact.

Zaitsev Variation 4.Qxd4 [B53]

Finally, we finish with a super entertaining battle that you won't want to miss: Balogh - van Foreest. It also takes the longest to truly become an anti-Sicilian, which only came about in this game when Balogh played 5.Qxd4. However, we've seen this line (which usually features the queen recapture on move four) several times before, and regular readers will not be surprised by the voluntary retreat 10.Qd3:

This is the modern way of playing this variation, and the resulting positions are quite reminiscent of an open Sicilian, particularly the Richter-Rauzer variation of the Classical Sicilian. Still, don't let that put you off! This variation is incredibly sharp and probably objectively balanced after 10...Qa5, though in this game after the natural 10...0-0 my notes to 14.f4 seem to suggest that White may just be better! Anyway, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, as this game will keep you on your toes until the very end.

Cheers, Dave

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