An interesting idea in the Alapin Sicilian: Releasing the Tension with dxc5

There is an idea which I think is a wonderful bit of knowledge to have for the c3 player. It is advocated by both Rosentalis and Hartley in their tome on the c3 sicilian, as well as Sveshnikov in his recently released manual on the c3 Sicilian. It has been my experience that of the two most common replies to 2.c3, 2…Nf6 and 2…d5, the latter is by far the most common. The idea involves offering an early exchange of queens with dxc5. One line which I have seen in practice is 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 and now 6.cxd5!? giving us the following position.

Here, if black accepts the exchange of queens, then he seemingly enters an ending down a pawn. However, this ending is actually the most testing, since after Qxc5, white will win tempo off the queen to develop rapidly and bring pressure to black’s queenside immediately. One miniature, which I played in a tournament recently, followed this pattern to a quick conclusion.

When I first started playing the c3 sicilian, I was worried that it would allow weaker players to easily draw against me. As the above game demonstrates, that is not the case. My opponent in that game was around uscf 1600, though I think he wasn’t adequately prepared for this line. Naturally, this game isn’t representative of a strong try for black in the 6…Qxc5 line, and that move certainly is playable if black immediately plays a6. However, black has a much more interesting line available here after 6…Qxd1. Rozentalis gives the following as the mainline in this variation:

The arising positions are complicated. White’s advantage lies in the fact that his queenside majority is far advanced and supported by his king, which allows him the privilege of welcoming exchanges. As pieces come off the board, white’s advantage will become more pronounced on the queenside of the board, and the only way for black to fight back is to advance his kingside pawns, in particular his e and f pawns must be advanced in order to have equal chances in the ending.

Below, find a collection of games involving this variation, demonstrating some of the themes for both sides.