The Bishop b5 Sicilian System is a great alternative to the typical mainlines. The Rossolimo and Moscow Variations are good choices for those disinclined to learn the theory associated with Open Sicilians.Note that those wishing to use these systems would also require a response to the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6. These lines tend to lead to quieter and more closed positions than the ones associated with Open Sicilians. Positional nuance is likely to be more important that tactical prowess.
The Bishop b5 Siclian can be broken down into 2 systems:
- Rossolimo Variation
- Moscow Variation
The Rossolimo Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5
Starting position of the Rossolimo Variation
This line, named after the Russian Grandmaster Nicolas Rossolimo, is an important alternative to the Open Sicilian. White develops a piece, puts pressure along the a4-e8 diagonal, prepares to castle and leaves central issues very much open.
Preparing to fianchetto the king’s bishop is Black’s most popular response.
A logical choice. White castles before deciding on a course of action. That said, the immediate exchange with 4.Bxc6 has been growing in popularity.
Supporting the e4-pawn. The sequence 5.c3 Nf6 6.Re1 will transpose into the text, although White can also try 6.e5 Nd5 7.d4 cxd4 8.cxd4.
5…e5, preparing …Nge7, is also possible. White usually captures with 6.Bxc6, after which Black can choose to capture with either pawn.
A crucial move. White wishes to play d2-d4, but after …cxd4 White intends recapturing with the c-pawn, thus keeping two pawns in the centre. This strategy very much differs from that in Open Sicilians.
NOTE: Creating a pawn centre is an integral part of the Rossolimo strategy.
6…0-0 7.d4 d5!
It’s paramount that Black strikes back in the centre, otherwise he could risk ending up in a passive position. Black can, however, exchange on d4 first and only then play …d7-d5.
Gaining space in the centre. 8.exd5 Qxd5 9.Bxc6 Qxc6 10.Rxe7 leaves White a pawn up, but after 10…Be6! White will find it virtually impossible to extract his rook. One grim example from White’s point of view was 11.Ne5 Qc8 (threatening …Nd5) 12.c4 cxd4 13.Bg5 Ne4 14.Bf4 Bxe5! 15.Bxe5 Qc5 16.Qxd4 Rad8! and White resigned in Antunes-Neverov, Candas 1992.
Strategies in the Rossolimo
White has more space in the centre but Black’s pieces (especially the knight on e4) are very well placed. White will try to maintain his pawn centre and either exchange off or, in rare cases, try to trap the knight on e4. Black will sometimes try to destroy White’s centre with a timely …f7-f6.
Not really. There are quite a few different options for both sides, but no real critical continuations where one slip could mean disaster.
The Rossolimo looks to be an ideal choice for those wishing to avoid the theoretical Open Sicilians after 2…Nc6. In Mega Database, there were over 15,000 examples of the Rossolimo, with White scoring a healthy 57%. Its highest rated advocate is Garry Kasparov, although he has generally reserved it for rapid play games and simultaneous displays.
The Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+
Starting position of the Moscow Variation
The Moscow Variation has many similarities to the Rossolimo. If anything, the types of positions reached are generally even quieter.
3…Nc6 is an important alternative and can also be reached via the move order 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5. 3…Nd7!? is certainly playable but is rather risky as Black may fall behind on development. A sample line runs 4.d4 Ngf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bxd7+ Nxd7 7.0-0 e6 8.Bg5 Qc7.
The normal recapture. Black plans to put his b8-knight on the more active c6-square.
Aiming for a Maroczy Bind after d2-d4. The main alternative is to build a classical pawn centre with c2-c3 and d2-d4. An adventurous line is 5.0-0 Nc6 6.c3 Nf6 7.d4!? (7.Re1 e6 8.d4 cxd4 9 cxd4 d5 looks equal) 7…Nxe4 8.d5 Ne5 9.Re1 Nxf3+ 10.Qxf3 Nf6 11.c4 with some pressure for the pawn.
5…Nc6 6 0-0 Nf6
The immediate 6…g6 leads to similar play after 7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bg7 9.Be3 Nf6 10.f3 0-0 11.Nc3.
The move 7…e5 prevents d2-d4, but is not popular as it leaves Black with a rather passive bishop on f8, blocked in by its own pawns.
TIP: Look after your pieces!
8.d4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Bg7 10.Nde2
10.Be3 Ng4 is rather annoying for White, while 10.f3? Nxe4! wins a pawn in a typical Dragon way.
Play is very similar to the Maroczy Bind in the Accelerated Dragon. The general feeling is, however, that the exchange of one set of minor pieces has slightly eased Black’s task, as he has less chance of ending up in a cramped position. Play is generally slow with both players manoeuvring their pieces to their optimum posts. Both sides must be aware of opportunities for Black to break out with …d7-d5 (supported by …e7-e6) and …b7-b5 (supported by …a7-a6).
Certainly not. Play is of a quiet and positional nature, while plans and piece deployment are much more important than any particular moves.
According to Mega Database, The Moscow Variation is not quite as popular, nor as successful, as the Rossolimo. There were over 10,000 examples, with White scoring 51%. Also, the draw was the most likely result, occurring in 40% of the games.