Sicilian-phobia Part Four - Alapin Variation

ogerboy
Mar 26, 2009, 12:00 AM |
2 | Opening Theory

According to the Gameknot database, the Alapin Variation is the third most popular reply to the Sicilian. Many top grandmasters have used sometimes during their chess playing career - giving Alapin a reputation of solid, and highly respectable.

It is charaterized by the moves 1.e4 c5 2.c3. The intention of the last move is clear - to build a big centre. Club level players favour this opening as it is an easy to understand system - with the amount of theory way less than other systems against the Sicilian, such as the Open Sicilian.

Another good thing is that black has only a few main replies after 2.c3, therefore, the white players playing the Alapin are usually never put off after black's second move. The same cannot be said for other systems, especially the Closed Sicilian.

As always - before we start wrapping up the main lines - let's see the Alapin Variation in action.

 

 

 

 

Main Line 2...d5

The white player have quite a few choices here. As you saw in the game Ullrich-NN, you can invite your opponent to transpose the Sicilian Alapin into an Advanced French. After 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5, white is will usually end up with an isolated pawn, however, the question of whether his slightly more control over the centre compensates for the isoloni is left for the players to decide.

I guess the only line if you do not like playing the Advanced French, is 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4. 4.Nf3 is playable too, but you're probably going to end up with an isolated pawn anyway.

At this point, black has several options to take. The two most popular are Nf6 and Nc6.

a) 4...Nf6 - This is the more popular move. 5.Nf3. 5...e6 is now the most popular move according to database - however, 5...Bg4 is not very far behind. In either case, 6.Be2, followed by castling kingside should work according to Fruit.

b) 4...Nc6 - The second most popular move - however, the idea on countering/playing against the move is mostly the same. 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Be2. This game between Alekhine and Podgorny should give you a pretty good idea of how to play against 4...Nc6. 

c) 4...e6 - 5.Nf3 is the move Fruit played - and it is also the most popular move according to database. A possible continuation could be 5...Nf6 6.Be2 Nc6 7.0-0 cxd4 if black chooses not to take the pawn, white can play c4. 8. cxd4 Be7 9.Nc3 with a tough middlegame - black will try to take aim at white's isolated pawn while white will use his/her current slight lead in development to his/her advantage.

d) 4...cxd4 - This move releases the pawn tension - however, gives white an isolated pawn. 5.cxd4 Nc6, this has been the most popular move. Other moves have also been played -
5...e6 6.Nc3 Qa5 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.Bc4 Nf6 9.0-0 when white's control over the centre and lead in development should compensate for the isolated pawn.
5...e5 has been played a few times, 6.Nf3 should give white an easy game. Whatever black does now can be met with 7.Nc3.

Back to the main line, after 5...Nc6 6.Nf3 e5 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 exd4 10.Nxd4 white should probably just aim to castle kingside. If black takes your knight, Qxd4 should be played instead of Bxd4 - after which white have the upper hand.

Main Line 2...Nf6

Moving the knight to f6 in the style of Alekhine's Defense is now the most popular respnse to 2.c3. There is no need to add that with the pawn on c5, and white's pawn on c file has already moved, the 'Alapin' Alekhine's is an improved version of the normal Alekhine's.

So how does white counter black's second move? The natural, the most popular is 3.e5 - however, looking into this variation, I see nothing spectacular for white. So, instead, I began looking at early deviations for white.

True, it was not long before I started to realise that the most popular move 3.e5 is not the most popular for no reason. Apart from 3.e5, there are few decent moves.

It was not until that I began flipping through randomly Play the Ruy Lopez by Andrew Greet for no reason that I started wondering about 3.Qe2!?. If it is playable for white in the Ruy Lopez, perhaps it could also be  
play

ed against the Sicilian?

Searching the

move on the Gameknot database, I was put off by the statics of the

move - out of 8 games played using 3.Qe2!?, only 1 games was won by white. Should I change the !? mark to ?!, or perhaps simply a '?' ?

Before you start to throw your drinks at me for giving a nonsense move against 2...Nf6, I'd prefer if you read the variations first, before even touching that thought! 

And, just for my own
safety,
I'd just like to point out that Russian GM Victor Kupreichik played this opening occasionally

:

After 3.Qe2!?,

whit

e is going to fianchetto his light squared bishop, his king's knight to f3, and usually castle on the kingside. Perhaps, an eventual kingside break with f2-f4 , or a central break with d2-d4 may prove useful.

After 1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.Qe2!?, three moves have been tested - 3...Nc6, 3...d6, and 3...e5, of which 3...Nc6 is the most promising (3...e5 has scored 100%, but it has only been played once).

a) 3...Nc6 has been the most popular move. 4.f4!? another untested move. The two moves which have been recorded in the Gameknot database are 5.g3 and 5.Nf3, however, I think it is important to have a solid pawn on e5 should black challenge the e pawn with d5.

a1) 4...g6 5.g3 d5 (also possible is the immediate Bg7, which can be followed up with 6.Nf3. Black is probably going to play d5 eventually anyway

) 6.e5 Nd7, also possible is 

i) 6...Ng4 7.Bg2 c4 (Bg7 allows white to win a pawn with 8.Qb5, however, should white accept the pawn sacrifice, the position is a bit too similar to Najdorf Sicilian - where black took the 'poisened pawn'. White should simply just aim to push the d pawn to d4 with 8.Nf3), white will first develop his pieces to castle, and then strike at the black pawn on c4 with b3(diagram on the left).

ii) 6...Bg4 7.Nf3, and like 6...Ng4, should black castle kingside, white will pawnstorm the kingside by gaining tempo on the black bishop on g4.

Back to 6...Nd7

7.Nf3, white's goal is to push d2-d4. 

a1a) 7...Nb6 8.d4 cxd4 (c4 can be met with a later counter attack on the kingside, with moves such as Bf1-g2, Nb1-d2-f1-e3, g3-g4 etc) 9.Nxd4 Bg7 10.Bg2 White's plan is to pawnstorm the kingside, and the position has equal chances for both sides. 

a1b) 7...c4 8.b3 it is important to keep the black knight off d3. 7... cxb3 (b5 8.Ba3 and white keeps the c5 square safe. d2-d4 will be

eventually played to give way for the knight on b1) 8.axb3 Nc5 9.Nd4! Bd7 (of course not Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Nxb3?? 11.Qb5+) 10.Qe3 e6 11.Bb5 Nxd4 12.Bxd7+ Qxd7 13.cxd4 Na6.

a2) 4...d6 5.Nf3 e5 (e6 6.d4) 6.g3!? Rybka 2.2 suggested d3 instead, however, after playing 6.g3, its evaluation of the position is about the same. 6...exf4 (other moves can be met with Bg2, 0-0, Rd1 preparing d2-d4) 7.gxf4 g6 (Be7 is also apossible, however, white's rook can glare down at their king with Rg1) 8.

Bg2 Bg7(or Bh6 9.d4) 9.0-0, possible continuation could be 0-0 10.Na3 Re8 11.d3 Rb8 12.c4!? a6 13.Rb1 b5 14.b3 

b) 1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.Qe2 d6 4.f4 Nc6 simply transpose into line a2.

c) 1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.Qe2 e5 with this move, black threatens an immediate d5!. Therefore, moves such as g3 preparing f4, trying to transpose into line a2 only allows black to carry on with his plan. So, instead, I suggest a little change in the move order. 4.f4!?

White must fight fire with fire - he/she must disallow black from wrestling the initiative off him, that being so, white must force black to act against him move in some way, and in this case, either protecting the e pawn, or capturing the f pawn.

4...gxf4 4...d6 5.g3 results in similar play to line a2. 5.e5 Nd5 (Ng8!? 6.Na3 hopping for d6, if Qh4+, Kd1 and white's king is fine) 6.Qe4 Nc7 7.d4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Nc3 and white is fine. For example, 9...g5?! 10.h4 Ne6 (other moves can still be met with d5) 11.d5 Qa5 12.Ne2 Nc5 13.Qc2 white has sufficent compensation for the pawn. 

Main Line 2...g6

White player can expect a surge in popularity of this move, as it is the move GM Alburt, GM Dzindzichashvili (why can't people have shorter names?) and IM Perelshteyn recommend against the Alapin in their work Chess Openings for Black, Explained. The idea of the move is to allow to build the centre with 3.d4, only to strike back with d5 later.

And apparently, all the lines suggested are quite comfortable for black, except for one (!) which is a dead draw.

Would there be any chance of the authors missing something? The chance of that is similar to the chance of a midget (in this case, me) winning a duel against three, strong, muscular giant (in this case, the two GMs and the one IM).

3.d4 sadly, there really isnt any better moves. 3...cxd4 4.cxd4 d5 I looked up the database at this point, to see which move the authors have not covered. Fortunately, the authors only covered 4.exd5 and 4.d5. One move caught my attention. 5.Bb5+!?. Black has the option of 4...Nc6 and Bd7.

a) 5...Nc6 Only 1 game has been played featuring this as black's forth move in this variation. 5.Nc3 Now black can choose from either 5...a6 as played in the game or the untested (but suggested by Rybka 2.2n2) 5...Nf6

a1) 6...a6 The game continued: 

a2) 6...Nf6 7.e5 Ne4 All other knight moves are dubious. For example, Nh5 is plainly pointless as if black tries Ng7, white can simply play Bh6. Ng8?! is also pointless, as it will take quite a few moves to undermine the white pawn on e5 as the knight on c6 is pinned.

8.Nge2 Bg7 9.0-0 0-0 And any sensible continuation gives white a tiny edge. 

 

 

 

 

b) 5...Bd7 6.Bxd7+ Nxd7 (Qxd7 leads to almost similar play) 7.e5 e6 8.Nf3 Ne7 9.0-0 Bg7 and white is fine as long as the e5 pawn is well protected.  

2...d6

According to Wikipedia, this is a sharp line which often results in black gambling a pawn. White can accept the pawn with 3.d4 Nf6 4.dxc5 Nc6. Rybka believes that black may have compensation for the pawn. So instead, there is the quiet line that I will go towards should I be faced in a similar position (I give my credits to Wikipedia as I know nothing about this line),

3.d4 Nf6 4.Bd3.

Now black can tranpose into some sort of Dragon with cxd4 followed by g6. 4...g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.0-0 0-0 7.h3 and the position for white is solid. 

 

 

 

2...e6

This can be used as a tranpositional tool. Often, the game transpose into French Defence. However, white can disappoint the black player by playing 3.d4 d5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Be3. Rybka 2.2n2 evaluates the position as a tiny edge to white.

Bibliography

Fruit - Vice Computer World Champion 2005, had it not be a nuisance and somehow crashed halfway through writing this article, the full credit would have gone to it.

Rybka 2.2n2 - My lifesaver. After Fruit crashed, this is the only programe I used.

Chess Openings for Black, Explained - Book based on black's reportaire. This book recommends Sicilian against 1.e4, so this has been a major help when writing the Main Line 2...g6 section. 

Wikipedia - Ah, the good old Wikipedia - may you live forever my friend!

Gameknot - Used only for its database. The database contains only games played by players with a rating of 2000+

p.s. I am sorry for finishing it 1 million years after I started (hey look! Flying cars!), because you see, a new school year = homework + assignments + a lot more but I would not want to bore you to death by listing them all here!

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