Moscow Variation [B52]
This variation has a reputation for being drawish at the highest levels, but for most players it is hard to face because White develops very fast and tries to open the centre before Black is fully ready. From a theoretical perspective, Black has many satisfactory answers here, and personally I think both 3...Nd7 and 3...Nc6 are fully adequate responses if Black knows what he is doing. However, the most reliable approach for Black begins with 3...Bd7 4.Bxd7 Qxd7:
Now White has two main ideas- to build a centre with c3 and d4 or to setup a Maroczy bind with c4 and d4. There are other ideas with b3 or d3 but these tend to be fairly tame.
The first question concerns the next move. White tends to castle or else play 5.c4. In both cases I recommend 5...Nf6.
After 5.0-0 Nf6 White has to deal with the attack on his e-pawn. 6.Nc3 and 6.d3 are relatively harmless because they don't create any pressure in the centre. If White plays 6.Re1 you can be pretty confident that he is not planning to play for a Maroczy bind but it is worth being careful with your move order. Now it's time to play 6...Nc6 because if you choose 6...g6 then 7.e5!? has a little sting and if 6...e6 then White might revert to 7 c4!? and Black may not want to play ...e6 so early in the Maroczy structure.
Now White tends to play 7.c3:
Instead, 7.b3 is playable, when Black should reply 7...g6. Then Adams has tried 8.c3 but after 8...Bg7 9.d4 cd 10.cd d5 11.e5 Ne4 12.Bb2 0-0 13.Nbd2 Nxd2 13.Qxd2 Rfc8 intending ...Nd8-e6! (not weakening the dark squares and helping to defend the kingside) Black's position is absolutely fine, for instance in Adams - Anand Dortmund 2001.
7.c4 is possible, but Black can, if he wishes, prevent a Maroczy structure with 7...Ne5!? which is thought to be fully adequate.
So 7.c3 is critical, but then the resulting positions begin to resemble the advanced French, with Black having fewer space problems and no bad bishop to worry about on c8. The usual continuation is 7...e6 8.d4 cd: (there is a school of thought that thinks this is inaccurate (preferring 8...Ne4) because it gives White the option of Nc3, but I have always been of the opinion that you shouldn't prevent your opponent from playing bad moves.) 9.cd d5 10 e5 Ne4 11.Nbd2 (11.Nc3 is also possible, but as long as Black takes care on the kingside, he has good long term chances on the queenside after taking on c3.) 11...Nxd2 12.Bxd2 Be7 and as far as I can tell, Black is completely ok, though I would advise not underestimating White's potential to attack on the kingside, and being ready with ...f6 if necessary.
So 6.Re1 is not a big deal, and 6.Qe2 is similar. A good example of how to deal with this is given in the notes to the game Kasimdzhanov - Topalov, Tripoli 2004.
That leaves 6.e5!? which Black should take seriously, even though I don't think it is particularly dangerous. I believe the most accurate response is 6...de 7.Nxe5 Qd6! Immediately putting pressure on the knight:
White has various ways to play the position, but as long as Black is a little careful over the next few moves he can look forward to a steady middlegame, and perhaps even a very slight structural advantage, especially if White feels inclined to play f4. Sandipan - Bakre, Indian Championship 2004, and Bauer - Kempinski, Bad Zvesten 2004, give further pointers.
That brings us to 5.c4 which tends to be favoured by the strongest 3.Bb5+ proponents, including Rubelevksy and Ivanchuk. Again Black can play 5...Nf6! and after 6.Nc3 it is important not to develop your knight on b8 for a while, however tempting it might seem. The main point of this move order for Black is that after 6...g6 7.0-0 Bg7 8.d4 cd 9.Nxd4 0-0 White really wants to play a set-up with f3 and Bg5 but if he plays 10.Bg5 then 10...Nc6 threatens Nxe4 and after 11.Nde2 Black can even play 11...Qe6 So for this reason White players used to play 10.f3 and now after 10...Nc6 they play 11.Nde2 followed by Bg5. However, Ivanchuk discovered that after 10.f3 Black can play 10...Rc8! attacking c4, and after 11.b3 (the only convenient reaction) there is the surprising 11...d5!! Which solves all of Black's problems:
See Yandmirov - Najer, Russian Team Championship 2004.
White might be able to get round these problems by playing an early f3 and Nde2, but even in those cases Black has little to fear, as Gelfand has demonstrated. Absorbing the following games and notes should help to put all of this in perspective: Vokarev - Motlyev, Russian Team Championship 2004 and Ivanchuk - Dominguez, Calvia Olympiad 2004.
And if all of that makes sense to you, you need never fear 3.Bb5+ again!
2 c3 Sicilian [B22]
Tiviakov - Van Wely, Dutch Championship 2005 features a fairly important line of the c3 Sicilian, but Van Wely's approach looks very solid and I don't think White ever had a serious advantage.
2 Qh5 [B20]
Nakamura - Volokitin Lausanne 2005 features a return of 2.Qh5 but it gets the treatment it deserves and the US champion was soundly beaten.
I chose to have a quick look at Macieja - Jakubiec because in the July update I suggested that this line might be underestimated for Black:
The move-order issues make a full theoretical study of this line difficult, so the best way to deepen your understanding of the line is just to look at as many games as possible and try to pick up significant ideas.
2 Nf3 & 3 Bc4 [B50]
McShane - Gelfand European Club Cup 2005 is not very theoretical, but Gelfand shows that there is sometimes merit in the restrained ...b6:
when most Sicilian players would instinctively want to play for ...b5.
Bye for now! Jonathan