The Alapin Sicilian, also known as the Alapin variation or the “c3 Sicilian,” is an opening white can employ against the Sicilian Defense. The opening moves are 1. e4 c5 2. c3
White plays an early c2-c3, intending to follow up with d2-d4 to grab the center!
The Alapin Sicilian has the advantage of allowing white to grab the center without having to trade a central pawn for a flank pawn. For example, after 2…Nc6?! 3. d4!, white gets to maintain a full pawn center after 3…cxd4 4. cxd4.
If black is unprepared to play against the Alapin Sicilian and doesn’t react accordingly, white often implements this plan with great success!
The main downside of the Alapin is that the white knight is deprived of its natural post on c3 – something that black can exploit with active play. Black’s two main choices are 2…Nf6 and 2…d5.
In this line, black immediately attacks the e4 pawn.
It would be nice for white to defend the pawn with Nc3, but this of course is not possible! And d2-d3 would give up on the idea of pushing d4, which is the whole point of the Alapin Sicilian!
Instead after 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 cxd4 5. cxd4 d6 6. Nf3 Nc6:
We arrive at the following position.
At first this resembles one of the main lines of the Alekhine Defense, but upon closer inspection the c-pawns are missing from the board here. This should favor black, as the d5 knight is a lot more secure without having to worry about c2-c4!
White has a space advantage for now, but black has a nicely centralized knight and enough room to develop comfortably.
The game might proceed 7. Bc4 e6 (7…Nb6 is also popular) 8. 0-0 Be7 9. Qe2 0-0 10. Nc3 Nxc3 11. bxc3 dxe5 12. dxe5 Qa5
White has more pawn weaknesses here, and e5 and c3 could be targets. But the e5-pawn also provides white a space advantage which could be used to mount an attack. The video above gives a good sample line of how the game could go from here, and also delves into some of the nuances in this line.
This is a common story in the Alapin – white’s space advantage vs black’s better pawn structure!
Let’s take a look at how this story plays out in another line…
It’s often dangerous for black to play this bold grab for central space so early in the King’s Pawn Opening. White can often take on d5 and then play Nc3 to harass the queen, after black recaptures.
Here, of course, Nc3 is not possible, and black is exploiting that fact to challenge white’s center.
After 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6:
White is likely to incur an Isolated Queen’s Pawn at some point, after black exchanges on d4. Once again white will be left with more space, but an isolated pawn that could be a target later in the game!
In this particular position, white can find a creative solution to the plight of the b1-knight with 6. Na3!
The purpose is twofold. First, this knight might be heading to b5. In conjunction with a later Bc1-f4, the c7 square could become a target destination for this knight.
Secondly, the knight might head to c4. This becomes even more effective if black prevents Nb5 with 6…a6, as now after 7. Nc4, the b6 square could be vulnerable!
Black has other options within this variation too, of course. For example, black could free the light bishop with an early …Bg4 instead of locking it in with …e6, but this may come at the cost of surrendering the bishop pair. See the video for an analysis of these variations!
The Alapin Sicilian is often seen as way for white to take black out of their “comfort zone” within the Sicilian Defense.
Instead of being allowed to play their favorite variation in the main line, they’ll have to adapt to white’s ambitious attempt to take over the center and steer the game in another direction…or suffer the consequences!
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