Complete c3 Sicilian, The

The Alapin Variation by its Greatest Expert

Evgeny Sveshnikov

Reviewer: John Donaldson
New In Chess
574 pages

The Complete c3 Sicilian by Evgeny Sveshnikov is an opening book that will long be remembered for both its erudition and bulk. The size of a large city phone book, this is the life’s work of a player who has given his name to a major opening system in the Sicilian but who arguably has done even more to advance the theory of the 2.c3 Sicilian.

Only someone with Sveshikov’s experience and reputation would be qualified to state “Black has only two good replies (to 2.c3) – 2…d5 and 2…Nf6.” That after 1.e4 c5 2.c3 e6 White’s most promising approach is to transpose into the Advance French (3.d4 d5 4.e5) or that “the only drawback to the 2.c3 system is that with correct play Black can draw the game. But this matter is mainly of the theoretical importance and in practice the c3 Sicilian gives good results.” Clearly this is not an author that beats around the bush!

Sveshnikov’s candid approach is not the only thing that makes this book unique. At close to 600 pages the only way to describe it is massive. One might think a big opening book would be slow going but in fact this tome is quite readable. This is partly because of the author’s lively writing style but also a result of how the book is structured. The table of contents gives the first hint that The Complete c3 Sicilian is something different as it is not set up like a repertoire book or standard opening treatise. Instead the student finds chapters on typical endings, strategical ideas and exercises to solve, not to mention many annotated games – many annotated games!

PART I – 2…d5 and other moves
Chapter 1 – Historical Over view 13
Chapter 2 – Basic Plans and Ideas 24
Chapter 3 – The Typical End game with a White Queenside Majority 40
Chapter 4 – Important Games by Variation 56
Chapter 5 – Exercises 211
Chapter 6 – Conclusion Part I 253 
PART II – 2…Nf6

Chapter 7 – Historical Over view 261
Chapter 8 – Basic Plans and Ideas 273
Chapter 9 – Important Games by Variation 285
Chapter 10 – Exercises 518
Chapter 11 – Conclusion Part II 556
Index of Games and Fragments 563
Index of Variations 569

The Complete c3 Sicilian is an outstanding work, one that all 2.c3 adherents will wish to have, but I would be remiss if I did not mention one area the author didn’t devote enough attention to. As mentioned before, Seveshnikov feels strongly that 2…Nf6 is clearly Black’s best answer to the 2.c3 Sicilian and his coverage reflects this with over two-thirds of the book (over 400 pages) devoted to it. Almost all the attention on 2…d5 is associated with lines with …Bg4 (1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4) and …e6. (1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 e6). There is not as much on the flexible (1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6), which rules out 6.Bd3 (6…Bg4) and takes the poison out of 6.Na3 as …e6 has not been played.

After 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 the continuation 6.dxc5 is one of White’s most challenging tries and the choice of noted 2.c3 expert Eduard Rozentalis in his 2002 book on the subject with Andrew Harley. Sveshnikov makes it clear that 6…Qxc5 is not the way to go with several crushing wins for White given as evidence, but surprisingly little attention is given to 6…Qxd1+, the preferred choice of Richard Palliser in his Fighting the Sicilians (Everyman Chess, 2007). On page 32 in the chapter Basic Plans and Ideas, Sveshnikov gives 6…Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1 (The result of this sacrifice is unclear; e.g.- E.S.) 7…e5 (7…Bg4!?) 8.b4 Bf5 9.Bb5 (9.Bc4 a5) 9…0-0-0+ 10.Ke2 Be7 11.Be3 Nd5!? unclear, Sermek-Wirthensohn, Bad Worishofen 1993.

In chapter 4, pages 136-142 the line is covered in more detail with 6 well annotated games given. Unfortunately five of them are with the inferior 6…Qxc5, only the model game Sermek-Wirthensohn, Bad Worishofen 1993, examines the superior 6…Qxd1+. There, after 7.Kxd1 e5 (7…e6?! and 7…Bg4 get a quick look) 8.b4 Bf5 9.Bb5 0-0-0+ 10.Ke2 Be7 (E.S. says 10…Nd5!? fails to solve all of Black’s problems but does not examine the move at length giving 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12. Bd2 f6 of Blatny – Gross, Trinec 1988, as unclear – Palliser quotes G.Gottardi – A.Grahl, Corr. 1989 which went along a similar path as acceptable which seems to be the case as Black’s strong center and two Bishops compensate for the sacrificed pawn.) 11.Be3 Nd5 (11…Rhe8 12.Re1 Nd5 13.Kf1 Bf6 unclear was more cautious, E.S.) 12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Nxe5 Rhe8 !? (13…Bxb1 14.Rhxb1 Nxc3+ 15.Kf1 Nxb1 16.Rxb1 Rde8 17.Nxc6 is better for White – E.S.) 14.Nxf7 was played in the aforementioned Sermek – Wirthensohn game (and later Eschenko – Malakhako, Kiev (ch) 2000 – both ending in an early disaster for White) but E.S. gives the move a question mark, preferring 14.Nxc6! Bg4+ 15.f3 when the author believes White emerges with a stable advantage no matter how Black replies. There is much that is left unanswered here.

First, in practice Black has chosen 10…Nd5 much more often than 10…Be7 (it was played as recently as this year by noted 2.c3 expert Joel Benjamin) and Sveshnikov does not show to obtain an advantage against it. Also 10…Be7 11.Be3 Rhe8 may well be playable as the author himself indicates.

Second, while almost all of the top players to essay 6…Qxd1+ have followed up with 7…e5 (Moiseenko, Benjamin, and Malakhatko), Black has an interesting alternative in the relatively untested 7…Bf5 which was extensively analyzed in Richard Palliser’s Fighting The Sicilians and later recommended by John Emms in his Starting Out: The c3 Sicilian (Everyman Chess, 2008). This move, intending to castle as quickly as possible, is not analyzed by Svesnikov. It also retains the possibilities for playing …e6 or dispensing with moving the e-pawn at all in the variation 8.Be3 0-0-0+ 9.Kc1 (the recommendation of IM Sam Collins and Rozentalis/Harley) 9…Nd5 10.b4 g6!

Palliser does not mention it, but 7…Bf5 can transpose to 7…e5 after 8.Bb5 0-0-0+ 9.Ke2 e5 10.b4 Nd5 which does seem to be a critical position for this variation. This being the case it is not clear to this reviewer which move, 7…e5 or 7…Bf5, gives less White fewer options to avoid the position reached after 10…Nd5.

To add to the confusion, White has the option of capturing on c5 on move 5. This can be reached after both 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.dxc5 and 4…Nc6 5.dxc5. Sveshnikov has experimented with both variations often transposing into lines reach after the delayed capture on c5 on move 6. For example 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nc6 5.dxc5 Qxd1+ 6.Kxd1 Bf5 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Nf3 0-0-0+ 9.Nbd2 e6 10.Bb5 Nd5 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Ne5 Nxe3+ 13.fxe3 Bxc5 with equal chances in Sveshnikov – Martynov, Val Maubuee 1990, a game not given in his book. Note the transposition possible after 8…0-0-0+. White could have played 9.Kc1, the Collins/Rozentalis/Harley recommendation against 7…Bf5 (after 6.dxc5).

Yes, these transpositions are rather tricky and might explain why in the diagram on the bottom of page 570 there is a position given after 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nc6 5.dxc5 which is not analyzed on that or surrounding pages. Where one can find it is on page 30 and 119-123. The information provided comes to the conclusion that again Black should proceed in gambit fashion with 5…Qxd1+. Unfortunately I could not find the sequence 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.dxc5 in Sveshnikov’s book. Palliser considers this the one instance where Black is probably doing just fine in capturing on c5 as he has not committed his queen knight yet, for example: 5…Qxc5 6.Na3 a6! 7.Nc4 Nbd7 followed by a kingside fianchetto.

Last, but certainly not least, this reviewer was hoping The Complete c3 Sicilian would shed some light on the game Stevic – Topalov from the Olympiad in Khanty Mansiysk earlier this.

This event, where he lost 17 rating points, is one Topalov will want to forget. Signs that it might be a difficult event occurred early when he faced the Croatian GM Stevic. Watching this game as it was going on I couldn’t help but wonder what was up as this variation has a bad reputation for Black – Stevic often plays 2.c3 and Topalov is known for his opening preparation. Unfortunately looking in Sveshnikov’s book provides no help as 12…Bb4+ is not analyzed – only 12…Nc2+ (see page 101). A quick glance turned in Mega DataBase turns up 17 games (including Topalov’s – which was played after the book went to press). One learns there 14.Be3 was the normal move and likely Topalov, who loves materially imbalanced positions, had something prepared but Stevic beat him to the punch with 14.f4! after which Black was forever struggling – he could have regained the Exchange later but only to head into a worse ending.

Stevic (2607) – Topalov (2803), Khanty Mansiysk (ol) 2010 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Nc3 Bxf3 8.gxf3 Qxd4 9.Qxd4 Nxd4 10.Nb5 e5 11.Nc7+ Kd7 12.Nxa8 Bb4+ 13.Kd1 Ne7 14.f4! Rxa8 15.fxe5 Rd8 16.Bh3+ Ke8 17.Be3 Nd5 18.Bxd4 Nf4 19.Kc2 Rxd4 20.Bf1 Ne6 21.Rd1 Rf4 22.Kb1 Ke7 23.Bg2 b6 24.Rhf1 Bc5 25.Rd2 h5 26.Bd5 g5 27.f3 a5 28.Rfd1 Rf5 29.Be4 Rxe5 30.Rd5 Rxd5 31.Rxd5 f6 32.Kc2 Bd6 33.Rd2 Bf4 34.Rf2 f5 35.Bd5 Nc5 36.Re2+ Kf6 37.Kc3 b5 38.Kd4 Bd6 39.Bg8 g4 40.fxg4 hxg4 41.Kd5 Ne4 42.a4 bxa4 43.Rxe4 fxe4 44.Kxd6 Kf5 45.Bc4 Kf4 46.Be2 g3 47.hxg3+ Kxg3 48.Kc5 Kf2 49.Bh5 Ke1 50.Kb5 Kd2 51.Kxa4 Kc2 52.Ka3 e3 53.Be2 a4 54.Ba6 Kc1 55.Ka2 Kc2 56.Bc4 Kc1 57.Bb5 Kd2 58.Kb1 e2 59.Bxe2 Kxe2 60.Kc2 Ke1 61.Kc3 Kd1 62.Kb4 Kc2 63.Kxa4 Kxb2, ½–½.

These shortcomings aside, The Complete c3 Sicilian is a very fine book that will serve all 2.c3 Sicilian players well.

Strongly recommended.