Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Grand Prix with a3

One of the main lines of the Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 (to avoid the messiness of 2.f4 d5!) 2...Nc6 3.f4 g6 (3...e6 is also played, with a "delayed French set-up" as Gary Lane calls it) 4.Nf3 Bg7. White now typically develops the King's Bishop, generally with the tactically minded 5.Bc4 (which Lane discusses in Opening Lanes #60 at ChessCafe) or the more sound and positional 5.Bb5 (which is discussed in two wonderful archived articles by Zoran Ilic, titled Grand Prix Attack with f4 and Bb5, Part One and Part Two from the defunct Inside Chess site). White can also transpose to the standard Closed Sicilian with 5.g3 and 6.Bg2, likely side-stepping some of Black's best lines against that system. But there is one other move that is occasionally seen: 5.a3!? I have posted some analysis on The Grand Prix with a3 on the Kenilworth site, but it requires some introduction to appreciate.

What's the point of this apparent waste of time? Well, one idea is to play a sort of Delayed Wing Gambit by 6.b4!? - trying to exchange Black's c-pawn for the b-pawn (or even for the d-pawn if Black foolishly plays 6...d6? 7.bxc5 dxc5 8.e5 with advantage). And if Black mistakenly accepts the proferred pawn, he is going to get in big trouble following Ba3 and Nb5!


The Delayed Wing Gambit
Can Black safely win the b-pawn now?

But if Black is smart and declines the gambit, you have a completely different game. I noticed that in the very recent game Halpen-Moylan, City of Sidney Ch 2006 (documented at The Closet Grandmaster site), Black smartly declined by 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. a3 e6 6. b4 b6! ("Why give him what he wants?") 7. Rb1!? d6 8. bxc5 bxc5 9. Bb2 Nge7 = and the game eventually ended in a draw, though likely White could have played differently.
A secondary idea of the early a3 is to prepare a retreat square at a2 for the Bc4, a concept that was well illustrated in the game Menashe-Quant, Jersey 1997 annotated by Hans Ree where this light-squared Bishop becomes entombed at a2 only to emerge later with significant effect along the b1-h7 diagonal. One idea you can take away from this game, which actually began 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.f4 a6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 e6 6.a3, is that White might be able to exploit an early ...a6 and ...d6 by Black by playing the a3 and Bc4 set-up, when White has made no more wasteful pawn moves than Black has.
In any event, there is still plenty of room for your own explorations in this line and, as White, you are bound to catch lots of opponents out in blitz (where, in my experience, 4 out of 5 opponents cannot resist the pawn). Meanwhile, if you play these lines as Black, be warned about the Grand Prix with a3 and prepare accordingly....

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