This post is concerned with the line 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e5 3.c3, or Line B in the series. See the introductory post for this series for Line A, as well as an explanation of the entire variation and some database statistics.
This is part of a larger series on meeting anti-Sicilian lines with …e5. In a previous post, I covered how this move can successfully be employed against the Rossolimo Siclian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5).
In the introduction to this series on ..e5 against the anti-sicilians, I point out that Black needs to take care of d5, anticipating moves from White such as Nc3-d5, Na3-c4, and c3 followed quickly by d4. The move Bc4 also introduces pressure against f7. Black should be on guard for moves like Ng5 (which in the initial position is not possible due to Qxg5).
1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e5
F) 3.Nf3 (Followed by c3, O-O, d3, or b4)
This post has been vastly expanded, as part of blog renovations described in an earlier post. If you would like to see the original analysis, please email/contact me.
By playing the pawn to c3, White signals his intentions of d2-d4, which potentially threatens to undermine Black's pawn structure (depending on how Black responses). As I mentioned in the introduction to the …e5 system, trading on d4 after such a move is usually not advisable for Black, as his D-pawn will be left backwards. Therefore, Black needs to react properly.
There are three different responses I will cover here. First, 3…Nf6 (Line B1) is a principled counter-attacking reply, taking advantage of the fact that 3.c3 deprives White of the natural Nc3 to defend the e4 pawn. To bolster the defense of the e5 pawn, which could quickly come under fire, Black might also try 3…Nc6 (Line B2) or 3…d6 (Line B3). These lines are likely to transpose / interpose.
There are also some alternative moves, which are likely not as good.
3…Bd6 4.d4 Nc6 and either capture (dxc5 or dxe5) leaves Black with an awkward pawn structure.
3…g6 4.d4 Bg7? 5.dxc5 What does Black get for the pawn? Not much, except for the illusion of playing a Catalan!
B1) 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e5 3.c3 Nf6
3…Nf6 is the natural way to take advantage of the move 3.c3; now, White cannot play 4.Nc3 to defend the e-pawn. Instead, White can take several different approaches: counterattack the weak f7 spot with 4.Qb3, to which Black can response passively with 4…Qe7 (Line B1.1) or gambit a pawn with 4….d5 (Line B1.2). White can also first defend the e4 pawn with either 4.Qe2 or 4.d3 (Line B1.3), or choose more counterattacking alternatives such as 4.d4 (Line B1.4), which is the point of c3, 4.Nf3 (Line B1.5), which invites a trade of e-pawns, or continue in Kings Gambit style with 4.f4 (LIne B1.6).
B1.1) 4.Qb3 Qe7 5.Nf3 Nxe4 6.Bd5 Nd6 7.O-O Nc6
Careful play is required from Black to equalize. White has a slight pull, although by no means a winning advantage; the closed nature of the position, coupled to Black's central control, means that it will be hard for White to make inroads. A solid approach (7…Nc6) is called for by Black.
Black should not open position by the provocative (but very Bad) push 7…e4, upon which White could play 8.Re1 Qf6 9.d4 Be7 10.Bg5 Qf5 11.Bxe7 Kxe7 12.dxc5 and Black is busted
B1.2) 4.Qb3 d5! 5.exd5 Bd6
Black will play temporarily down a pawn, taking advantage of the poor harmony of the White pieces to either win the pawn back, or gain superior central control. 5…Bd6 aids Black's development, defends e5, and most importantly prevents annoying d5-d6 pushes, which could uncover a nasty discovered attack against f7.
6.d3 Nbd7 7.Nf3 O-O
Another way to undermine the d5 pawn is 7…a6, intending b7-b5. White can cross these plans with 8.a4 Rb8 9.Na3 (9.a5)
Sacrificing another pawn, but with the intention of winning back the d5 pawn with greater central control and better development. I like Black after this move, even if he remains a pawn down. The position looks like fun to play!
Black's chief alternative is 8…Nb6, preparing to either win the Bishop pair or the central pawn on d5. This is likely not as good as 8…b5 (at least, I prefer the text move)
After 8…b5, White is forced to capture with either 9.Qxb5 or 9.Bxb5. Either move has its drawbacks, and will allow Black to win back the d5 pawn (or more!). Note that this is really a consequence of White's sixth move, since d3 is cutting off the Bishops retreat.
The other capture, 9.Bxb5, is clearly not as good. Black can pin the Bishop with 9…Rb8, threatening to win the Bishop with 10…a6. Attempting to unpin with 10.Qc4 runs into 10…Nb6 11.Qh4 Nbxd5 (Revealing the attack on the Bishop) 12.Ba4 Ba6 13.Ne1 (13.Rd1? is a questionable choice due to 13…Bxd3! 14.Rxd3 e4! 15.Rxd5 Nxd5, when Black has a Rook and a pawn for two minors pieces, and is better developed. Note that 16.Ng5 h6 brings White nothing but headaches.
Rb8 10.Qa4 Nb6 11.Qb3 Nbxd5
Taking advantage of the discovery on White's Queen. I'd prefer Black here (especially in Blitz), despite White's pawn advantage. Admittedly, Black's compensation is probably only just good enough for the pawn, not much more. Play would probably continue 12.Qc2 Bg4 13.Nbd2 or 12.Qc2 Bf5.
B1.3) 4.d3 d5!
The pawn push is an aggressive but risky way to play. Also possible for Black is the solid 4…Be7, after which play will probably continue 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bg5 O-O 7.O-O h6 and Black should be fine. A balanced and closed position has been reached. If he can, Black should play ..d5, either immediately or after preparation following 4…Be7.
5…Nxd5 is simply bad. White can attack d5 and b7 (and f7 indirectly) with 6.Qb3, and 6…Be6 7.Qxb7 is terrible for Black. This is why Nxd5 need to be prepared in some fashion.
White even though it costs a tempo, White might try 6.d4 cxd4 7.cxd4 exude 8.Qxd4 O-O White is drifting dangerously behind in development, and will probably have to give up the extra pawn to survive. Black has a number of options here, either for a direct attack or attempts to pick up the pawn (or both, in some lines). I'd prefer Black here. White's best try is probably 9.Ne2, to get castled as quickly as possible. Other moves are likely to be inferior.
For example, 9.Nf3 Bg4 is annoying, since 10.Nbd2 Re8+ 11.Be2 puts White in an awkward situation. developing the other Knight with 9.Nc3 Nc6! 10.Qh4 Re8+ 11.Ne2 Ne5 gives Black enough activity to compensate for the material deficit. Development of the Bishop with 9.Bg5 doesn't help White much either. Black then has the choice of 9…Re8+ 10.Ne2 Be5, or even
6…O-O 7.O-O b5!?
This is probably the only way to justify the earlier loss of a pawn. This wins back the advanced pawn on d5 (in exchange for the b-pawn) and gives Black some open lines. The compensation is probably insufficient, but alternatives just lead to a cramped, suffering position for Black.
For some reason, most of my engines rate this as terrible for Black. While White probably has an advantage, I still think that Black's position is tenable. But then again, I'm not a computer or a grandmaster!
B1.4) 4.d4 cxd4
Declining this exchange with 4…d6 is not to be recommended, since after 5.dxe5 dxe5 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Qxd8 the Queen is lost
5.cxd4 Nxe4 6.Qh5
The direct attack with 6.Qh5 is superior to the alternatives, since Black's Knight stands very actively on e4. White might also try 6.dxe5 Bb4+ 7.Nd2 d5 8.exd6 Nxd6 9.Qe2+ Qe7 10.Qxe7 Kxe7 11.Bd5 Re8 and the game is probably in Black's favor.
6…d5 7.Qxe5+ Be6 8.Bb5+ Nc6
White's aggression has bore no fruit, and Black is equal, if not slightly better.
B1.5) 4.Nf3 Nxe4
Of course, 4…Nc6 transposes to a line covered elsewhere.
This move is almost forced from Black, to cover the f7 square. The only alternatives that achieve this objective, 5…d5 and 5…Ng5, are inferior.
5…d5 6.Qa4+ and it is impossible for Black to cover all the threats and vulnerabilities. If 6…Nc6, even the simple 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.Qxc6 Bd7 9.Qxd5 Nd6 nets White two pawns. Similarly, 6…Bd7 or 6…Nbd7 fails to 7.Bxd5.
5…Ng5 6.d4 d6 (6…Ne6 fails due to 7.d5!) 7.Bb5+ Nd7 8.Nxd7 Bxd7 9.Bxd7 Kxd7 10.Qg4+ Ne6 11.d5 and the Black Knight is lost.
6.Qe2 Be7 7.Bd5 O-O 8.O-O Nc6
White's bind on d5 is annoying, but Black is solid and should be able to hold the balance. I would say the position is equal.
B1.6) 4.f4 Nxe4
Taking the pawn isn't forced (but it is good). Black should be fine playing a King Gambit Declined variation.
For example, 4…Nc6 5.Nf3 (Threatening Ng5) exf4 6.e5 (Now if 6.Ng5, Black responses Ne5 and holds everything) Ng4 7.O-O d5 8.exd6 Bxd6 and Black will castle next move and be OK. Castling can be delayed, but not prevented, as in 9.Re1+ Ne7 10.d4 O-O.
Even the capture of the F-pawn is good for Black; 4…exf4 5.Qe2 (If 5.e5, Then 5…d5 equalizes at once. Also, 5.Nf3 transposes to the text) d6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.d4 Be7 8.Bxf4 O-O 9.d5 Na5 leaves White with some space advantage, but his Queen is not well placed on the E-file and relocation will cost him some time. In addition, White has a gaping hole on e5 (thanks to the loss of the F-pawn) I'd slightly prefer Black here, who has as a Benoni-style plan of playing some combination of Bg4, Nd7-e5, Bf6 and Re8.
In this position Black has several options. For starters, 5…exf4 6.Qe2 d5 (or even 6…d6, hoping to transpose to the above note) 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Bxd7+ Nxd7 9.d3 Qe7 should be good enough for a balanced game. White cannot get away with winning the piece by 10.dxe4 dxe4 11.Nfd2 because 11…e3 12.Nc4 Qh4+ 13.g3 fxg3 14.O-O (Not 14.Qxe3, when the eventual g2+ is devastating.) gxh2+ 15.Kh1 O-O-O 16.Bxe3 since Black ends up with too many pawns and too much pressure against the King on h1.
Even 5…Nd6 should be fine, as it covers the important squares c4, e4, and f7 (which is more important when White threatens Ng5).
6.Bb5+ Nd7 7.d3 Nd6 8.Bxd7 dxd7 9.fxe5 Nf5 10.O-O Be7
An even game with chances for both sides.
B2) 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e5 3.c3 Nc6
This is probably Black's best approach. It is a flexible, developing move that defends e5. White has several options in this position. He/She can place pressure on e5 with 4.Nf3 (Line B2.1), 4.f4 (Line B2.2), or the most direct (and risky) gambit move 4.d4, to which Black can take the pawn with 4…cxd4 (Line B2.3) or decline the offer with 4…d6 (Line B2.4). Finally, White can take advantage of the lack of control over d5 with 4.Qb3 (Line B2.5). Note that this move against Nc6 is might be stronger than against Nf6, since it prevents the …d5 defense (although it does permit the Na5 defense).
B2.1) 4.Nf3 d6
4…Nf6 is not a good attempt at a transposition, since 5.Ng5! creates some problems for Black.
This should basically equalize for Black. Alternatives include 5…Na5, and if White had tried to prevent the pin with a move like 5.h3, then there are several good options for Black. Although risky, Black might even be OK after 5.h3 f5!? 6.d3 h6 7.O-O Nf6
6.O-O h6 7.Nbd2
Black will eventually play Be7 and O-O (or, if he is feeling very frisky, Qd7 and O-O-O!) with more or less equal play.
B2.2) 4.f4 Nf6
While there are independent possibilities after 4.f4, the simplest move is to transpose to the note to line B1.6. After all, I've posted too many variations here to begin with!
B2.3) 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nf3
This can lead to Goring gambit type positions after 5…dxc3 6.Nc3, except Black still has the strong pawn on e5. I would prefer Black here. (Note that Black can try 5…Bc5, which is arguably stronger because it avoids the awkward 5…dxc3 6.Qd5!)
White can also try to gambit a pawn for some play against Black's pawn structure with 5.cxd4 Nxd4 6.Nf3 Nxf3 7.Qxf3 Nf6 8.Bg5 Be7 9.Nc3 and despite White's lead in development, Black should be able to make his extra pawn tell eventually.
B2.4) 4.d4 d6 5.Nf3
White has other options here. One is the enter an endgame with 5.dxe5 dxe5 6.Qxd8 Nxd8, although the game is balanced and it is likely to lead to a draw. One possible continuation is 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Bxd7 Kxd7 9.Nf3 f6 10.O-O and White may be able to generate pressure on the D-file, but I doubt it will be enough for a winning advantage. Black is just too solid.
Another choice is to push the pawn with 5.d5, but I doubt this will bring White much. In this type of Benoni-wall structure, White normally wants either a pawn or a Knight on c4, not a Bishop. Thus, you might see 5…Nb8 6.Bb5+ Nd7 7.Bxd7 Bxd7 8.a4 a6 where it is hard for White to secure the c4 outpost. Black is solid, although a little cramped (notice, however, that compared to the Benoni Black here has already less Queenside pieces to worry about). The best course of action for Black would be to try and exchange a second set of pieces, preferably the dark squared bishops with Be7-Bg5.
5…exd4 6.cxd4 Bg4
In addition to text move, White can also try 7.Qb3, when 7…Bxf3? is a terrible mistake (8.Bxf7 Kd7 9.Qxb7 is lights out). Instead, Black can answer 7…Qd7 8.dxc5 Na5 9.Qb5 Nxc4 10.Qxc4 dxc5 and Black should be fine. Note that the Knight is still pinned, as 11.Ne5 is met with Qd1#!
Probably better than 7…Ne5, because it controls the b5 square
8.Be3 Qa5+ 9.Nbd2 Nxf3 10.gxf3 Bd7
White has more space and development, but Black has a solid position and can eventually try to take advantage of some holes in the White Kingside.
Note that Black can play a riskier way with 8…Bxf3 9.gxf3 Qa5+ 10.Kf1, which might be good in Blitz.
B2.5) 4.Qb3 Na5
4…Qe7 is also possible. It's more passive but Black should still be OK. Note that the pressure on f7 can be ignored, since 5.Bxf7 Ke7 leaves White with two pieces en prise.
5.Qa4 a6 6.Be2 b5 7.Qc2
White is on the retreat! The position is slightly better for Black.
7…Nf6 8.d3 d5 9.Nf3 dxe4 10.dxe4 Bd6
Black defends e5, and White doesn't have much of an advantage to claim. After 11.O-O Bb7, I'd rather be playing Black, the side with better activity and more space!
B3) 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e5 3.c3 d6
This move accomplishes two things: 1) it develops Black's Light Squared Bishop, and 2) It defends e5. However, here White has a wide choice of moves, some of them transposing into other lines analyzed here.
The direct 4.d4 will transpose to Line B2.4 after 4…Nc6. Another direct approach (similar to above lines) is 4.Qb3 (Line B3.1), which attacks f7. However, this move is not that strong in this case because Black has many options for defense. White can also try 4.Nf3, which is transposes to Line B2.1 after 4…Nc6 and Line B1.5 after 4…Nf6.
Another independent line after 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e5 3.c3 d6 includes the strange looking 4.b4 (Line B3.2), which doesn't get much. Finally, attempts to take advantage of the drawback of 3…d6, moves like 4.Bb5+ or 4.Qa4+ (Line B3.3), also fail to produce something tangible for White.
B3.1) 4.Qb3 Qc7 5.Nf3 h6
A simple and solid approach, stopping White's threats before developing counterplay. Eventually, Black can try to win the Bishop pair by playing …Nc6, …a6, and …Na5, taking advantage of the placement of White Queen.
5…Be7 doesn't work because of 6.Bxf7+
6.O-O Nc6 7.d4 a6 8.Bd5 Nf6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Bxc6+ Qxc6 11.Nxe5 Qc7
Despite the deficit of a pawn, Black should be alright here. White might still have a slight advantage, but as compensation for the material loss Black will gain play against the exposed Knight and Queen. For example, after 12.Nf3 Be6 13.Qc2 Bd6 14.Re1 Nd7 15.Be3 O-O Black does have better piece activity, and is ahead in development.
B3.2) 4.b4 cxb4 5.d4 Qc7
Crossing White's plans and pressure against e5 and f7 by hitting c4 and c3. This resulting positions should favor Black, or at least be equal.
Note that 4…Nf6 should be fine for Black as well. See the note to Line B1.
6.Qe2 Nc6 7.Nf3 a6
Black prepares to kick the Bishop and dominate on the Queenside. 7…Bg4, pinning the Knight with threats of dxc3 and Nxd4, is a good alternative which also equalizes.
8.cxb4 b5 9.Bd5 Nxd4
Black has a clear advantage in this position, threatening Nc2+ followed by Nxa1. However, White can prevent this with 10.Qb2, which saves the Rook for tactical reasons.
This can be seen in the following line: 10.Qb2 Nc2+ 11.Kd1 Nxa1 12.Bxa8 and thanks to White's 11th move, the Black Knight is trapped and White will end up ahead a piece.
Therefore, after 10.Qb2, Black should trade Knights with 10…Nxf3 11.gxf3 and contest the Bishop on d5 by playing 11…Bd5. Black's position is slightly better.
B3.3) 4.Qa4+ Nc6
This move attempts to take advantage of the natural drawback of 3…d6, but doesn't really end up doing anything at all.
4.Bb5+ doesn't do any better, as it just wastes a tempo with the Bishop.
Even a neutral move such as 5…Qc7 might be playable for Black, since 6.Ng5 can be met with 6…Nh6 when the position is more or less equal.
6.O-O Bd7 7.Qc2 b5 8.Bd5 Nf6 9.d4
This move attempts to hold the Bishop on d5 through tactical means. Other moves are probably inferior, as White has to either lose a pawn, give up the Bishop pair, and/or accept a space disadvantage and. For example, on 9.Bxc6 Bxc6 10.d3 Qc7 prepares the d7-d5 push (or Black can simply play 10…Be7 and O-O next move). 9.d3 immediately is probably worse, since after 9…Nxd5 10.exd5 Ne7 11.c4 Nf5 Black has a great square waiting on d4.
This holds the Bishop on d5 at least one move longer.
Instead, Black could have tried to take the Bishop immediately, but this either loses a pawn (9…Nxd5 10.exd5 Ne7 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Nxe5 or a piece for two pawns (9….Nxd5 10.exd5 Nd4 11.cxd4 cxd4). Black will still have chances, but should have played the text move.
10…Be7 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.Bxc6 Bxc6 13.cxd4 Rc8
This position should be in Black's favor (due to the Bishop pair). Play might continue 14.dxe5 dxe5 15.Rd1 Qe7 16.Nc3.
This line should be fine for Black, especially if he takes the solid approach. There are a few pitfalls to watch out for, but nothing that cannot be handled if the proper lines are known.