2 c3 Sicilian: 2...Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 [B22]
The majority of c3 exponents nowadays prefer the move order 1 e4 c5 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 Nf3, rather than the older 4 d4. This generally leads to more combative positions, not least after 4...Nc6 5 Bc4 Nb6 6 Bb3 c4!? 7 Bc2 Qc7 8 Qe2 g5, which has received a fair amount of coverage on ChessPublishing, as one would expect from such a topical website! A more solid choice is 6...d5 7 exd6 Qxd6, as we'll examine in Kobalija - Khismatullin:
After 8 Na3 Black is OK from a theoretical perspective, but I have little doubt that the white position is both the easier and the more fun to play.
A very respectable alternative for Black is to eschew the classical 4...Nc6 for the more modern 4...d6, after which 5 Bc4 e6 6 d4 cxd4 7 cxd4 (a position which can arise from a number of move orders) 7...Nc6 8 0-0 Be7 has seen White trying a number of different ideas over the years:
Having taken a long, hard look at the most recent games in this variation, I was quite disappointed by how unoriginal many white players were. However, I might be being too harsh: it might just be the case that this fairly theoretical variation is getting rather played out. In Gashimov - Moiseenko White tries 9 exd6 Qxd6 10 Nc3 and in Bruzon - Zapata the more common 9 Qe2 is preferred, but Black emerges with a comfortable position in both cases. Check out especially some model anti-IQP play from Moiseenko.
2 c3 Sicilian: 2...e6
Tiviakov - Radjabov was always going to be an interesting theoretical tussle or at least so I thought when I first logged on to view the game live. Unfortunately, White's play was not especially critical and Black comfortably equalized with 1 e4 c5 2 c3 e6 3 d4 d5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Nf3 a6!?:
I rather like this approach, which currently seems to be in quite good theoretical shape. Tiviakov certainly never got anywhere and it's been noticeable of late that he is employing 2 c3 much less often that he used to: the Rossolimo having been added to his repertoire.
2 c3 Sicilian: 2...d5
For a long time 1 e4 c5 2 c3 d5 was in the shade of the more theoretical 2...Nf6, but over the past couple of years that situation has begun to change. It's about time too really since 2...d5 is by no means a weaker move! We begin by examining Tiviakov - Andres Gonzalez in which Black tries the flexible 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Nc6, but after the critical 6 dxc5 is destroyed in a mere 19 moves!
Do, though, check out the notes to see why exchanging queens offers Black much better chances of a good position than Gonzalez's meek 6...Qxc5.
Tiviakov also shines in Tiviakov - Spoelman, which features 4...Nf6 5 Nf3 Bg4 6 Nbd2!?. White wins after a spectacular attack, but again I feel that Black's position out of the opening was not too bad at all.
One variation that has recently become quite topical is the more risky 4...Nc6 5 Nf3 Bg4!?, which, indeed, I advocated in Fighting the Anti-Sicilians. Certainly in Khamrakulov - San Segundo Black never experienced any real problems.
Finally, we turn our attention to another fashionable line, namely 4...Nf6 5 Nf3 g6, although after 6 Qb3! White always kept a nagging pull in Adams - Jones:
Summing up, I'm afraid that the c3 Sicilian hasn't grabbed me as I hoped it might. It is by no means a bad opening, and Sicilian players most certainly neglect it at their peril, but White is in need of an injection of new ideas or methods in a number of critical lines. One can play 2 c3 and rely on one's greater experience of the typical middlegames, and a number of grandmasters do just that, but objectively Black is fine in several ways and so I can't see the opening returning to the table of the elite for some time to come.
Next month I'm delighted to reveal that Grandmaster John Shaw will be along with, I hope, some ideas to cheer up all you Anti-Sicilian fans! Richard