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While doing my spring cleaning, I came across an old book claiming to give a good opening chance for black. It's called the "Barcza-Larsen opening" and it is characterized by 2 .. c5:

[fen ""]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 c5

I am very skeptical about this opening. It seems that after 3. d5 exd5 4. exd5 d6 white is already significantly better, due to the considerably weak black pawn on d6 and limited options for activating the bishops. Moreover, black will struggle to castle and will find himself in major trouble when white puts a rook on e1 and the queen on e2.

However, I found a top GM game from 2019 featuring this opening, in which the white pieces (played by Kirill Alekseenko no less) lost!

[fen ""]
[White "Alekseenko, K. (2704)"]
[Black "Salgado Lopez, I. (2605)"]

1. d4 e6 2. e4 c5 3. Nf3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 d6 6. f4 b5 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. Be3 Nd7 9. Qf3 Nc5 10. a3 Nf6 11. O-O Be7 12. Rae1 O-O 13. g4 Nfd7 14. g5 Rc8 15. h4 f5 16. Kh2 e5 17. fxe5 Nxe5 18. Qh3 Ncxd3 19. cxd3 Nxd3 20. exf5 Nxe1 21. Rxe1 Qd7 22. Ne6 Rf7 23. Bd4 Bf8 24. h5 Rc4 25. g6 Re7 26. gxh7+ Kh8 27. Nxf8 Rxe1 28. Qd3 Rh1+ 29. Kg3 Qc6 30. Qe2 Rxd4 31. Ng6+ Kxh7 32. Nf8+ Kg8 33. Ng6 Rg1+ 0-1

What is today's view on this opening? Is it still playable, or is its only value an effect of "surprise" as white does not usually expect 2. .. c5?

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    That game says nothing about the theoretical value of the line, as Alekseenko made the practical decision to avoid black's preparation with 3.Nf3 -- transposing to a normal Sicilian usually reached with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4. – RemcoGerlich Mar 25 at 8:07
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    @RemcoGerlich Thank you. But I wonder why Kirill avoided the d5 move, if it was so good for white. – Klangen Mar 25 at 8:19
  • Other than the Sicilian, play may also run in the direction of a Modern Benoni (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6) without c4 having been played. – Annatar Mar 25 at 8:50
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You need to realize that just because someone gave it that name on move two, that it is certainly going to transpose to another opening with a different name. When determining what opening is played, classification takes place from the end of the game, and moves backward so the last known opening position is considered the opening that was played. If you start 1.c4 Nf6 2.d4, it is already no longer an English opening, for example.

So that Alekseenko-Salgado Lopez game is actually ECO B54, a variation of the Sicilian, listed as "unusual lines" only because black refrained from Nf6. Had he chosen that move on move 6, which was the most common move there, it would have just been a mainline Scheveningen.

After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5, you are going to get a mainline Sicilian, or a Benoni (the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5 3.d5 ed 4.cd). If black plays Be7 it is a Schmid Benoni, or a regular Benoni if black plays g6 and Bg7, but where white played the less-common exd5, which is probably a minor win for black, but I have always enjoyed those positions with white.

For the record, in both Benonis, the pawn on d6 is not as big a weakness as you seem to think it is since the d-file is not open, and the only pieces that can typically get at it is a B on f4, and a Nc4/e4, but it is still easily defensible.

There is nothing wrong with this move order as long as you are willing to play the Benoni and Sicilian, but that seems odd considering the offer of playing the French on move 1...e6.

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    Thank you for your informative answer – Klangen Mar 25 at 13:26
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    You are very welcome. I am always glad to help. Thank you for accepting the answer, and upvoting. – PhishMaster Mar 25 at 13:33
  • "the only piece that can typically get at it [d6 pawn] is a B on f4", in many lines N on c4 attacks the d6 pawn as well, f3 -> d2 -> c4 is a pretty common maneuver in Benoni. – Akavall Mar 25 at 20:22
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    @Akavall Of course. Thank you, but in this line c4 is still not accessible since there is a pawn on it, so while possible that Ne4 could attack it, it is unlikely since Nf6 would trade it off. I did edit my answer, but it does not change the base assessment that it is easily defensible. – PhishMaster Mar 25 at 21:10
  • Is it really a Benoni with the pawn on c2? – BlindKungFuMaster Mar 26 at 16:08
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I've toyed with this idea in the past but never played it seriously. If you're okay with the transpositions there is nothing wrong with it at all.

After 1.e4, e6 2. d4, c5 white has three main choices (3. dxc5, Bxc5 is obviously really bad for white)

  1. Nf3, cxd4 transposes to an e6 Sicilian. There's nothing wrong with that

d5 is a Franco-Benoni. Black can end any transpositions to the modern Benoni with 3...exd5 or play more flexibilty with 3...Nf6. White is better but I don't think the position is particularly bad for black. There is some practical value in the fact that it's not that common.

c3 could go a few different directions but I think black is pretty close to equal here.

One advantage for black is that you can narrow your rep by playing 1...e6 vs. 1.d4 too. Although you still have to figure out 1.d4, e6 2. c4.

I don't think it's objectively worse than most mainstream openings and it does have a lot of practical value. The only question is if you're comfortable in the Franco-Benonis and e6 sicilians.

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