Addressing the Sicilian

Jun 19, 2008, 4:17 AM |

In my blog post "Rebuilding the Repertoire", PeterKirby and I had an informative exchange about the goals of an opening repertoire.  Sometimes disparate goals can be reconciled; sometimes they can't (in which case you have to prioritize).

To revisit, the goals I set for my repertoire were:

  1. To consistently yield better positions against lower-rated players
  2. To consistently yield at least equal positions against players of my own strength, and
  3. To consistently yield positions that give me a fighting chance (as well as drawing opportunities) against players stronger than I

PeterKirby correctly points out that optimizing a repertoire to satisfy the last two goals can produce the third as a by-product.  However, of course this depends on the individual variations chosen since those resulting in highly simplified positions may increase your chances of achieving goals 2 and 3, those same openings can work against your results when facing lower-rated players.

For example, a repertoire featuring early Queen exchanges may help to get you equal or slightly better against equal and better competition -- however, they allow weaker players to "catch up" by simplifying the game and giving them less opportunity to go astray.

This was precisely the case against my heretofore suggested Sicilian solution, namely 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. d3 where the queenless middlegame resulting from 4. de Qxd1+ 5. Kxd1 statistically favor white. Against 2...Nf6, I was looking to play again 3. d3, with the idea being that 3...d5 could result in 4. e5 Nd7 5. d4 Nc6 6. Be3 Ndb8 7. Nf3 Bg4 8. Be2 cd 10. cd Qb6 11. Qd2 (D) with a slight edge to white.

White also has the option of foregoing this route and playing entirely different via 5. f4, which harmonizes nicely with a player whose repertoire contains 1...d6 versus 1. d4, as this position (with colors reversed) arises quite frequently (1. d4 d6 2. c4 e5 3. Nf3 e4 4. Nfd2 f5). In this Sicilian instance, white's c3 move is thoroughly consistent with how black would play in the 1...d6 counterpart.

However, the issue comes back to dealing with lower rated players who play 2...d5 against the c3 Sicilian.  3. d3 is not really an inspiring option, so with that in mind I began to research the c3 lines for a more workable antidote to 2...d5.  My main source was Joe Gallagher's excellent book (appropriately titled) "c3 Sicilian"

The treasure trove of ideas I found surprised me.  I purchased this book as a consequence of playing the Smith-Morra, where the declined lines frequently transpose into c3 Sicilian variations.  The narrow sequences I played within the Smith-Morra never necessitated that I explore the rest of the book -- thus, I never have.  And I've been missing a few things!

What I found, to make a long story short, is that in fact, the white options after 2...d5 are rich enough to be played both against strong and weak players alike, making it a natural fit into my new repertoire.  No need to incorporate different lines to optimize for different goals!

After 3. ed Qxd5 4. d4 there are two main pathways for black:

  1. To play ...Nc6, looking to free his game via a timely ...e5
  2. To play ...Nf6, and after Nf3 by white play ...Bg4

It looks like white secures an advantage against the first, while he has a number of non-mainline courses against the second that allow him to mix things up.

Against the first, the advantage-path seems to be 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. ed Qd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Nf3 cd 6. cd e5 7. Nc3 Bb4 8. Bd2 Bxc3 9. Bxc3 e4 10. Nd2! (D)

White's idea is hitting the queen again with Bc4.  Of course, 10...Nd4 falls to 11. Qa4+ Nc6 12. Bxg7.

After 10...Nf6 11. Bc4 Qg5 12. d5 there are a number of variations the reader can research, but the complications favor white.

Against black's 2nd plan, white has some room for innovation with 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. ed Qxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Qa4+!?

If black interposes with 6...Nc6 or 6...Nbd7, white gets an advantage in the lines following 7. Bc4.  As an example, after 6...Nc6, play follows 7. Bc4 Qe4+ 8. Be3 Bxf3 9. Nd2! Bd1! 10. Rxd1 Qxg2 11. Ke2! cd 12. cd e6 13. Nf3 with nice attacking chances for white.

If black interposes with 6...Bd7 then the main line goes 7. Qb3 cd (white does fine in the endgames ensuing from 7...Qxb3) 8. Bc4 Qe4+ 9. Kf1 e6 10. Nbd2 Qc6 11. Nxd4 Qc7 12. N2f3 Nc6 13. Nb5 Qb8 14. Be2 (to prevent ...Na5) a6 15. Nbd4 Nxd4 16. Nxd4 Bc5 17. Bg5 Ne4 18. Be3 Bxd4 19. cxd4 and there is dynamic equality with play for both sides.

So, with respect to the new repertoire I now consider the Sicilian locked down.  So long,'ll be missed.  Cry