Los Angeles Times
Choosing an anti-Sicilian
Bobby Fischer once audaciously declared that the move 1.e4 was “Best by test.” Apparently a lot of masters have tacitly agreed. In the Chess Base online database containing millions of recorded games, 1.e4 is by far the most popular first move.
Facing that move as Black, Fischer chose the super-aggressive Sicilian Defense starting with 1...c5. That approach too has become a mainstay for most players. The Sicilian has grown to be an extremely well-analyzed opening. Toplevel mastering of its hundreds of key lines and variations would be like taking chess as a major in college.
So what is a 1.e4 player to do when facing trained Sicilian specialists? The answer for many is to narrow the battlefield by playing an “anti-Sicilian” opening containing a comparatively smaller number of lines.
One used quite often is called the Alapin, which aims for an immediate pawn-occupation of the center (1.e4 c5 2.c3!). Known for being somewhat drawish, it tends to blunt a Sicilian player’s natural aggressiveness. An opponent with black who insists upon attacking, though, may choose the line displayed in this column’s game. World No. 2 and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik shows how straightforward positional play can undo such a foe.
Another major anti-Sicilian is the Canal-Sokolsky Attack (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+). It limits Black’s replies, thereby accomplishing White’s objective of sidestepping the myriad of major Sicilian lines. When Garry Kasparov played against the World online in 1999, he chose to dodge mankind by playing in this manner.
If Gambits are your forte, the Smith-Morra Sicilian might be for you. Ken Smith, a Texas Senior Master, would abandon a pawn for space and piece activity. Sicilian players just making natural moves can lose quickly: 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nc3 d6 5. Bc4 Nf6 [natural but awful] 6. e5! dxe5? 7. Bxf7+; the queen drops.
Game of the week Kramnik, Vladimir-Piket, Jeroen Amber-rapid Monte Carlo, 1995
1.e4 c5 2.c3(A) d5(B) 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nc6 5.Nf3 cxd4 6.cxd4(C) e5 7.Nc3(D) Bb4 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 e4(E) 10.Ne5 Nxe5 11.dxe5 Ne7(F) 12.Qa4+ Bd7 13.Qa3(G) Bg4 14.h3 Bh5 15.g4 e3(H) 16.Rh2 Bg6 17.fxe3 Qf3(I) 18.Qa4+ Nc6 19.Qf4(J) Qd5(K) 20.Rd2 Qc5 21.h4 h5 22.0–0–0(L) Rc8 23.Rd5 Qb6 24.e6! 0–0(M) 25.Rb5 Qa6?(N) 26.Rxh5!(O) 1–0
A) Semyon Alapin, a 19th century Russian Master, created this and many other opening variations which still bear his name. Currently, 2.c3 is the 3rd most popular move, 2.Nf3 and 2.Nc3 being 1st and 2nd. B) Top choice these days, but 2...Nf6 may be a better test for White to pass. C) Oftentimes in the Alapin White ends up with an isolated d-pawn. On the other hand, White’s pieces all flow freely, and he can gain time by attacking Black’s exposed queen. D) 7.dxe5? Qxd1+ 8.Kxd1 Bg4 9.Bf4 0–0–0+. White has an extra pawn, but an inferior position. E) 9...exd4 10.Nxd4 Nf6 11.Be2 0–0 12.0–0 Re8 13.Bf3 and White, with his two bishops, is better. F) 11...Qxd1+ 12.Rxd1 with White well ahead in development. G) A cute maneuver activating the queen while preventing Black from castling [Qxe7]. H) 15...Bg6 16.Rd1 Qc6 17.Rd6 Qc8 18.e6 0–0 19.Rd7 Nc6 20.Qd6. Note that taking the e-pawn is disastrous: 20...fxe6 21.Rxg7+ Kh8 22.Rxg6+ e5 23.Bxe5+ Nxe5 24.Qxe5+ Rf6 25.Qxf6 mate. I) What follows next is a typical Kramnik maneuver. He is a pawn ahead, so ... J) he offers a queen trade which would straighten out his pawns and produce a winning ending. K) Offer refused!
L) The White men are all in formation, ready to strike. M)Another sad option would be 24...fxe6 25.Qg5 Be4 26.Rd6 Rh6 27.Bc4 Rd8 28.Rxd8+ Nxd8 29.Qxg7 Nf7 30.Rf1 Rh7 31.Qg8+ Ke7 32.Bf6+ Kd6 33.Rd1+ Kc5 34.Bd4+ Kxc4 35.Bxb6. N) Better but still hopeless is 25...Qc7 26.gxh5 Qxf4 27.exf4 Bh7 28.Rd7 Rcd8 29.exf7+ Rxf7 30.Rxf7 Kxf7 31.Rxb7+ Ne7 32.Bb4 Re8 33.Bc4+ Kf6 34.Bc3+ Kf5 35.Bb5 Rf8 36.Rxe7. O) Black resigned, depriving us of enjoying 26.Qxa2 27.Rh8+ Kxh8 28.Qh6+ Kg8 29.Qxg7 mate.