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The Openings Explained

Abby Marshall


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Off the Beaten Path in the e6-Sicilian [B40]

This month I take a look at a rare option for White in the mainline e6-Sicilian.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6

This is just one of many moves Black can play, whether anticipating White playing the Open Sicilian (3.d4) or something else.


This move order is considered off the beaten path. More usual is 2.c3 and if 2...e6, then 3.d4 rather than 3.Nf3. Here there is less to learn for both sides. By playing 3.c3 White avoids certain lines such as 2.c3 Nf6 and 2.c3 d5.


On nearly any other move White will play 4.d4.


The Openings Explained
[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pp3ppp/4p3/2ppP3/8/
2P2N2/PP1P1PPP/RNBQKB1R b KQkq - 0 4"]

The point of this move order is to transpose to an Advanced French: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3.

4.exd5 exd5 5.Bb5+ is another way to play and a little more popular.


Playing against this move is what I am really interested in this month. Black declines the transposition to the French and gains space. The main battle will be around both sides defending their advanced center pawns.

4...Nc6, or any other move, provides the transposition White is aiming for. 5.d4 White is banking on Black not being as well-prepared for this line since the game began with a Sicilian move order.


A strange move, but logical. White prevents the advance of the black d-pawn to d3 and is ready to castle. The bishop will go to e4 and then White will play d3 to develop the other bishop.

5.cxd4 Quick moves to win the d-pawn do not work: 5...cxd4 6.Bb5+ Bd7 This is the best for Black and fine. 7.Nxd4 Bxb5 (7...Qg5 is tempting for Black and has been tried in a couple games. My impression is that it is risky and neglects development. 8.Nf3! Qxg2 9.Rg1 Qh3 10.Rg3 Qh5 11.Nc3 White can chase the black queen around with the rook and create trouble on the queenside with the queen gone.) 8.Nxb5 Nc6 It will be hard to defend the e-pawn. Playing 9.d4 is bad because of 9...a6 and once the white knight moves then the d-pawn is lost.


Black has a couple alternatives to the plan of ...Ne7 and ...Nbc6.

5...dxc3? 6.dxc3 Why is this position so good for White? Some strong players have played this position as black, so I hesitate to give it a question mark, but it solves White's problem of getting the c1-bishop out. In addition, both of Black's bishops are blocked by pawns. White can easily develop, play the rooks to the center, and use the extra space afforded by the white e-pawn to squeeze Black.

5...Nc6 will transpose to 5...Ne7 6.0-0 g5 This has been played in a handful of games. White seems to do well when playing the bishop to e4 and eliminating the c6-knight, which is attacking the e5-pawn. (6...Nge7 transposes to the main line, but without ...Ng6. 7.Re1 a6 8.Qe2 b5 9.Be4 We pick this up in the first illustrative game.) 7.Be4 g4 8.Bxc6+ (8.Ng5 Nxe5 Black did well in games where White let the e5-pawn go like this.) 8...bxc6 9.Ne1

The Openings Explained
[FEN "r1bqkbnr/p4p1p/2p1p3/2p1P3/3p2p1/
2P5/PP1P1PPP/RNBQNRK1 b kq - 0 9"]

Black has weakened a lot of squares on both the queenside and kingside, while White has every piece on the back rank. White will play to take advantage of the light-squared weaknesses.

5...Bd7 This plan gets the bishop active at the price of taking away good squares from the black queenside knight. 6.Qe2 In the lines with ...Ne7-g6 White has to be careful about moving the queen here, since the black knight could jump to f4. In this position, this is obviously not a concern. (6.0-0 The center-busting technique in this game worked out well for White. 6...Bc6 7.Re1 White develops the kingside before any queenside pieces move. Once the e-pawn is secure, then the rest of the pieces can be developed. 7...Ne7 8.b4

The Openings Explained
[FEN "rn1qkb1r/pp2nppp/2b1p3/2p1P3/
1P1p4/2PB1N2/P2P1PPP/RNBQR1K1 b kq - 0 8"]

White does not have to do this, but it is worth keeping this weapon in mind. 8...cxb4 If Black does not take the pawn, then White can push it to b5 and force Black to give up the bishop for a knight. 9.Nxd4 Nd5 10.Be4 Be7 11.a3 bxc3 12.dxc3 0-0 13.Qc2 h6 14.Nd2 Qa5 15.N2b3 Qc7 16.Qd3 Qd8 17.Qh3 Black did not play the best moves and now cannot prevent the kingside attack. 17...Re8 18.Bxh6 Bg5 19.Bxg5 Qxg5 20.Nc5 Nf4 21.Qh7+ Kf8 22.g3 Nd5 23.c4 Nb6 24.Nxb7 Bxe4 25.Rxe4 Nxc4 26.Nf3 1-0, Vysochin,S (2533)-Laurusas,T (2409)/Wroclaw POL 2012) 6...Bc6 7.Be4 Bxe4 8.Qxe4 Nc6 9.0-0 Nge7 10.c4 This is an interesting idea. White closes the center in order to gain space on both sides of the board. 10...h6 11.d3 g5 12.h4 Bg7 13.h5 Nc8 14.b4 Nxb4 15.Ba3 White ended up winning this complicated game after opening up lines on the queenside. 1-0, Kamsky,G (2729)-Svidler,P (2727)/Dresden 2008 (68).


White completely develops the kingside and will play Re1 soon.


After looking through dozens of games, it seems to me that Black does well by getting this knight here early. Now Qe2 is bad because of ...Nf4 and there is already pressure on the e-pawn.


The Openings Explained
[FEN "rnbqkb1r/pp3ppp/4p1n1/2p1P3/
3p4/2PB1N2/PP1P1PPP/RNBQR1K1 b kq - 0 7"]

7.Be4 is a standard plan for White, since it prepares d3 to develop the dark-squared bishop. The drawback is now Re1 will not defend the e-pawn. 7...Nd7 8.Qa4 This is the only way to defend the e-pawn, by pinning the black knight. 8...Be7 9.cxd4 0-0 This is good. Black knows he will soon get the pawn back or be very active. 10.Nc3 (10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Qc2 Nxe4 12.Qxe4 Bd7 Black, despite being down a pawn, is better because of the bishops in the open position.) 10...cxd4 11.Bxg6 dxc3 12.Bb1 cxb2 Now I like White again. Taking in the other direction would not let the dark-squared bishop defend the e-pawn and get in the center. 13.Bxb2 Re8 14.Qe4 Nf8 15.Bd4 Qc7 and now 16.Bd3 to get out the a1-rook looks much better for White.


The knight attacks e5 and defends d4. The light-squared bishop on c8 will have a hard time developing as in the French.


This is a good move for a couple reasons. It takes away f4 from the black knight so that White can play Qe2, and it makes moving the pawn to h4 possible so White can kick the g6-knight.

8.Na3 White can also play this move first. The point is to go to c2 and attack d4. We will look at this in the second illustrative game.


8...Qc7 9.Qe2 a6 10.b4 dxc3 This is not as good as capturing on b4. We get to see a new structure that is good for White. 11.bxc5 c2 12.Na3 Bxc5 13.Nxc2 b5 14.Be4 Bb7 15.d4 The d-pawn is easier to defend than the e5-pawn, so this pawn structure in the center is very good for White. Black will have trouble finding time to castle and attack the center. 15...Bb6 16.h4 There is nothing Black can do about h5/h6.


Since White has more space on the kingside and the black knight is on g6, the pawn push to h4 is one of White's main ideas.


This is nearly forced.

9...Qc7 Delaying ...f6 is not a good idea. 10.Qe2 Bd7 11.h5 Nf8 12.Na3 a6 13.Nc2 dxc3 14.dxc3 0-0-0 15.b4 Opening lines on the queenside when Black has no kingside attack prospects is very good for White.

10.exf6 Bxf6 11.Be4

The Openings Explained
[FEN "r1bqk2r/pp4pp/2n1pbn1/2p5/3pB2P/
2P2NP1/PP1P1P2/RNBQR1K1 b kq - 0 11"]

White has a slight edge because of this powerful bishop and the fact that the black bishops will have a hard time finding play.


11...Bd7 12.d3 0-0 13.Ng5 Bxg5 14.Bxg5 Qe8 15.Nd2 Qf7 16.Qe2 h6 17.h5 Nge7 18.Bxe7 Qxe7 19.Nf3 dxc3 20.bxc3 Qf6 21.Rac1 Rad8 22.Nh4 b6 23.Ng6 Rfe8 24.f4 White has taken advantage of Black's weaknesses to have much better pieces and can work on the kingside or queenside. 1-0, Torre,E (2530)-Illescas Cordoba,M (2535)/Novi Sad 1990 (49).

12.d3 Nxf3+

Black has succeeded in getting rid of White's active knight and gets the g6-knight out of the h-pawn's reach.

13.Qxf3 Ne5

13...dxc3 14.bxc3 The black bishop is okay, but this is a very difficult situation for Black. The e-pawn is isolated, the bishop on c8 is still stuck, and the king is not really safe anywhere.

14.Qe2 0-0

14...Nf7 so that the bishop defends d4 is an interesting idea.


It makes sense to get the d-pawn all alone here.


15...Qxd4 16.Be3 Qd6 17.Rc1.


The Openings Explained
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/pp4pp/4pb2/4n3/3pB2P/
N2P2P1/PP2QP2/R1B1R1K1 b - - 0 16"]

Again the power of the light squares gives the advantage to White, especially considering Black's light-squared bishop is so out of play. Overall, I like White's chances when Black plays 4...d4. White's move order is not challenging, so Black should either do something else against 2.Nf3 and 3.c3 or play into the Advanced French.

Korneev, O (2608) - Astasio Lopez, D (2321)
XXI Elgoibar Magistral ESP (4.2), 17.12.2011

In this game Black focuses entirely on queenside development and White gets a strong attack on the kingside.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 d5 4.e5 d4 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.0-0 Nge7 7.Re1 a6

The Openings Explained
[FEN "r1bqkb1r/1p2nppp/p1n1p3/2p1P3/
3p4/2PB1N2/PP1P1PPP/RNBQR1K1 w kq - 0 8"]

This is too slow and sets Black back the whole game.

8.Qe2 b5 9.Be4

This is the familiar set-up. White has defended the e-pawn all he can and is ready to develop the queenside.


9...Rb8 is a little better since it gets out of the pin and frees up the c6-knight to defend d4. 10.cxd4 Nxd4 In the game Black has to take with the pawn, which leaves it weak.


White takes the opportunity to practically isolate a black pawn on d4.

10...cxd4 11.d3 Qb6

I dislike this plan for Black. Black focuses too many pieces on defending d4 while not developing the f8-bishop.

11...Ng6 12.Nbd2 Be7 13.Nb3 0-0 Black finishes development while not really challenging White's space advantage and strong bishop in the center.

12.Nbd2 Rd8 13.Ng5 h6

This is the first drift. Black cannot delay development any longer.

13...Ng6 14.Ndf3 Bb4 15.Bd2 White's game is still easier and can think about h4/h5.

14.Nh7 Nd5

14...Nb4, to trade off White's strong bishop, is Black's most interesting chance. 15.Nxf8 Kxf8 16.Bxb7 Qxb7 17.Ne4 Qd5 Of course the d6-square is now a prominent weakness for Black.

15.Nxf8 Kxf8 16.Nf3 Rd7

The Openings Explained
[FEN "5k1r/1b1r1pp1/pqn1p2p/1p1nP3/
3pB3/3P1N2/PP2QPPP/R1B1R1K1 w - - 0 17"]


Gaining more space.


This is natural to stop White pushing to h5. However the weakness on f6 is what loses the game.

17...Ke7 18.Bd2 Rc8 Getting the rook out of the corner would give Black a chance.

18.Bd2 Kg7 19.Rac1

Naturally taking over the open file.

19...a5 20.Qd1 Ncb4 21.a3 Na6 22.Nh2 Ne7

The Openings Explained
[FEN "7r/1b1rnpk1/nq2p1pp/pp2P3/3pB2P/
P2P4/1P1B1PPN/2RQR1K1 w - - 0 23"]

It is always interesting how the side with less space, in trading off pieces, actually makes their situation worse. Black's pieces become completely inactive.

23.Qf3 Bxe4 24.dxe4 Ng8 25.Ng4 h5 26.Nf6 Nxf6 27.exf6+ Kg8 28.Rc8+ Rd8 29.Rec1 Nb8 30.R1c7 Qd6 31.e5 Qf8 32.Qb7 1-0

This was a mismatched contest and White took advantage of Black's slow play.

Sherbakov, Ruslan (2500) - Grebionkin, Vladimir (2426)
Izhevsk op (7), 21.07.2009

This game is a more even match-up, but similar to the last game in that if Black does not know a good plan, White can get a big edge.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 d5 4.e5 d4 5.Bd3 Ne7 6.0-0 Ng6 7.Re1 Nc6 8.Na3 a6

The Openings Explained
[FEN "r1bqkb1r/1p3ppp/p1n1p1n1/2p1P3/
3p4/N1PB1N2/PP1P1PPP/R1BQR1K1 w kq - 0 9"]

Even after getting the knights where they need to be, when Black moves slowly on the queenside, White is usually able to form a quick attack.

9.g3 Qc7

This attacks the e-pawn at the cost of not defending d4 anymore. White can strand a black pawn on d4.


Being able to play this move was one of the points of 9.g3. The e-pawn is well-defended.


This is consistent with 9...Qc7. Otherwise White will just attack d4.

10...Be7 11.cxd4 Nxd4 12.Nxd4 cxd4 13.b3:

The Openings Explained
[FEN "r1b1k2r/1pq1bppp/p3p1n1/4P3/3p4/
NP1B2P1/P2PQP1P/R1B1R1K1 b kq - 0 13"]


11.cxd4 Nxd4 12.Nxd4 cxd4 13.b3 Bb7 Now Black has some initiative. 14.Be4 Rd8.

11...Bb7 12.cxd4 cxd4 13.Nc2 Rd8 14.d3

White has everything he wants here. The bishop on e4, knight on c2, and pawn on d3.

14...Be7 15.Bd2 0-0 16.Rac1

Just like in the last game, once the d-pawn is traded, then this file becomes important.

16...Qb6 17.h4 Rfe8

The Openings Explained
[FEN "3rr1k1/1b2bppp/pqn1p1n1/1p2P3/
3pB2P/3P1NP1/PPNBQP2/2R1R1K1 w - - 0 18"]

I keep searching for moves for Black, but nothing comes to mind.

17...h5 looks crazy at first, because nothing can defend this pawn. But maybe it is not so bad, since it stops the advance of White's h-pawn and the f3-knight cannot move, as then the e5-pawn would fall. 18.Nh2.

18.h5 Nf8 19.h6

The position becomes very difficult for Black to defend. Maybe the best plan is to play ...Rd7 and ...Rc8 to get play on the open c-file.

19...Ng6 20.Kh2 Bf8 21.Bg5 Rc8 22.Ncxd4

22.hxg7 and going into f6 with the bishop is stronger.

22...Nxd4 23.Nxd4 gxh6 24.Bf6 Bc5

This loses right away. 24...Rxc1 and trading off as many pieces as possible would give Black a drawing chance. 25.Rxc1 Qxd4 26.Bxb7 Bg7 27.Bxa6 Rb8.

25.Bxb7 Qxb7 26.Rxc5 Rxc5 27.Qh5 1-0

The push of the h-pawn is powerful against what is one of Black's best plans, the ...Ng6 plan.

Lessons Learned

  • Black's best plan seems to be playing the knights to c6 and g6 and quickly developing. The biggest problem is the bishop on c8, which may make transposing to the French a better option.
  • White keeps an eye on the e5-pawn by playing Re1, g3, and Qe2. Then White can think about playing h4/h5 to dislodge the knight on g6. Another weapon White has is playing the pawn to b4 to disrupt Black's defense of the d4-pawn.
  • The worst thing Black can do is play slowly on the queenside and obsess over getting the c8-bishop in play. This lets White get an easy kingside initiative as we saw in both illustrative games.


  • Eugenio Torre has been a grandmaster for forty years. He is one of the top players from the Philippines.
  • Oleg Korneev is a strong grandmaster from Spain. He recently won the 18th HIT Open in Slovenia of last year.
  • Ruslan Sherbakov is a grandmaster and a trainer from Russia.

Further Reading

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