5

The statistics at move 5 seem amazing for White, slightly better than Nc3. I was wondering how White can "get away" with the plan to play c4 before Nc3, achieving even more control of the center. So what exactly is White giving up? Black can try to break through before c4 is played by 5...e5 6. Nb3 d5, but this position does not seem very critical to me, at least less critical than some variations of the Najdorf (I may be wrong).

[fen ""]

1. e4 c5 Nf3 d6 d4 cxd4 Nxd4 Nf6 f3 e5 Nb3 d5 Bg5 d4 c3 Nc6 Bb5

If Black does not play ...e5 we get a cozy setup with Be3, Be2, 0-0, Qd2 and centralising the rooks incoming and Black cannot do much about it.

[fen ""]

1. e4 c5 Nf3 d6 d4 cxd4 Nxd4 Nf6 f3 e6 c4 Be7 Nc3
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    The simple answer is that the first line you give seems like black is playing suboptimal moves. Why should black push the d pawn forward instead of developing their bishop to e6 at move 7? Also, you seem overly concerned with black's position if white were to play c4. This setup for white (in general) is called the Maroczy bind, and it's quite well understood by top players nowadays to not be a refutation of the Sicilian. In this particular case, I don't see why black is worse at all after 5.f3 e5 6.Nb3 Be6 7.c4 Nbd7 etc. Black gets some solid counterplay against the pawn on c4. – Scounged May 22 at 16:42
  • 6...d5 was played in Topalov-Nakamura, Grischuk-MVL and Harikrishna-Giri, so I thought I should take it seriously, especially since it leads to one of the few lines where Black scores better than White. Also I am not claiming that c4 wins by force, but why would one not want to play c4 before Nc3 as White though? Are there drawbacks? – B.Swan May 22 at 18:00
  • What I'm referring to is not the ...d5 push, but the d4 push. The d5 push seems fine to me. – Scounged May 22 at 18:26
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    Looking at the line you gave, the d4 push does indeed score slightly better for black. But to my eyes it seems quite strategically risky to play in that manner by advancing the d-pawn to a square on which it may become weak. – Scounged May 22 at 18:31
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    As for drawbacks of the Maroczy bind, I'd say that it's normally not as critical as the main lines against the Najdorf. Sure, white gets a nice space advantage, but black doesn't get thrown into immediate danger, and manages to complete development normally. Then black has standard plans to break white's central grip by a timely pawn advance, and in the end most white players are not skilled enough positionally to demonstrate why the space advantage matters. – Scounged May 22 at 19:56
8

The move 5.f3 is an interesting one and worth a try for two reasons:

  1. Avoiding heavy theory.
  2. Tricking some Najdorf or Dragon players who are not keen to play the Maroczy bind with c4.

However, Black has a few ways to respond. One response seems very tricky by directly exploiting the weakness created by f3 (and avoiding the Maroczy bind).

[FEN ""]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3 e5 6.Nb3 a5!? 7.c4? (7.Bb5 {is better}) Nxe4! 8.fxe4 Qh4+ 9.Kd2 a4 {and Black wins back the piece with some advantage}

Black seems to be fine by playing e5 and d5, without pushing further to d4 as played recently by Giri, Nakamura, Areshchenko.

[fen ""]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3 e5 6. Nb3 d5 7.Bg5 Be6 8.Bxf6 gxf6 9.exd5 Qxd5 10.Qxd5 Bxd5 {and the pair of bishops offsets the pawn weaknesses.}

Update: If following the good arguments of @Scounged, Black is not afraid to enter the Maroczy bind, there is a favorable version. Black plays 5...Nc6 and if White continues by 6.c4 Black replies with 6...Qb6 disrupting White's play, followed by g6. Here is an illustrative game:

[fen ""]
[title "D'Amore, Carlo (2456) vs. Sutovsky, Emil (2664), EU-chT, 2001"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3 Nc6 6.c4 Qb6 7.Nc2 g6 8.Nc3 Bg7 9.Qd3 (9.Rb1 {is probably more promising for White but there is a fun variation} 9...Ng4!? 10.Qd2! (10.fxg4 Bxc3) Bxc3 11. Qxc3 Qf2 12.Kd1 O-O) 9...Nd7 10.Nd5 Qd8 11.Be2 Nc5 12.Qa3 f5! 13.exf5? (13.O-O) Bxf5 14.Nde3 Qb6 15.Nxf5 gxf5 16.Rb1 Nd4 17.Nxd4 Bxd4 18.Be3 Ne6 19.Bxd4 Nxd4 20.Qa4+ Kf7 21.c5 Qxc5 22.Qc4+ Qxc4 23.Bxc4+ Kf6 24.Kf2 Rac8 25.Bd3 e5 26.g4 fxg4 27.fxg4 d5 28.Rbd1 h5 29.g5+ Kxg5 30.Rhg1+ Kf4 31.Rg7 Rhf8 32.Bg6 Kg5+ 0-1
| improve this answer | |
  • There's a speculation in there That White might be willing to try if chaotic positions appeal: 6 Nb3 Nxe5 7 fxe5 Qh5. (Of course not 8. Ke2 Bg5+, and if 8. g3 then Qxe5+ attacking the R on h8) It's a far more interesting line when Black's pawn isn't on d6, but still, two pawns and White's King stuck in the center for Knight can be fun, eh? It's a reflex for me, whenever f3 or f6 in the opening, look at the N sacrifice. It's always a fun rabbit hole to go down. BTW, best not accept the N right away, try 7. Bb5+. – Arlen May 22 at 20:56
  • Thanks @Arlen. I also enjoyed this variation but two important points: 1/ Black wins back the Kb3 with a4 (that's even better) and White can't play Bb5 (after Nxe4) because the pawn is on c4! – Kortchnoi May 22 at 22:23
  • Um, I was talking Nxe4 on move 6 (instead of a5) so there's no pawn to move to a4, and no, there's no pawn on c4 in that variation, either, to stop 7 Bb5+. But, you're right, delaying the sac a move is also interesting, it makes Bb5, clearing f1 for the King, even more imperative. – Arlen May 22 at 22:39
  • Okay, my bad! That's too audacious for me:) – Kortchnoi May 22 at 22:45
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    Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread, so you're probably right to have avoided it. I think Black would probably lose my line against a computer or a Master+, but who knows? Playing the game is what's fun. "I wonder what will happen if I poke this?" is a fun way to play chess. – Arlen May 22 at 22:48

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