Before I started really delving into the English Opening Theory, I think I was most scared of the Reversed Grand Prix set–up after
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5
If unprepared, White can actually get in a lot of trouble and lose rather quickly. I was actually so scared of this line that I switched to 1. d4 for a short period of time. The honest truth is that 2… f5 is a positional mistake, and at the grandmaster level white scores really well.
While I don’t play this line anymore, I used a Fritz engine to help me come up with this line. Its ECO code is A21, but that covers a vast amount of Reversed Sicilians, so I call it the Steincamp Attack instead.
3. d4! There are not too many games in this line according to the Mega Database, probably because 2… f5 hyperextends too quickly. Black’s main cookie–cutter attack is to play into a Closed Sicilian/Grand Prix structure and attack with …f5–f4. This can be a very annoying threat, and can sometimes be decisive. By playing 3. d4! White takes away this idea and makes the game more dynamic for white.
Black has a few options here: 3… e4, 3… exd4, and 3… d6. Since each line has a fair amount of theory, I will start with 3… e4 for Part 1.
3… e4?! This is the natural move, but according to the computer, White is already slightly better (+0.50), which is pretty good considering its only move 3. White wants to exploit the dark squares on the c1–h6 diagonal, and get a knight onto f4 or g5.
4. Nh3! Surprised? This is the most natural square for the knight, and its clear that the hole on f4 is good for white. GM Ivanchuk has played this line in a tournament before with a good result.
4. Nf6 5. Bg5 Taking advantage of the pin. Nd5 is a very strong threat, making f6 and potentially c7 weak squares in Black’s camp.
Black has a few lines here that White should be prepared for (5… Be7, 5… Bb4, 5… h6, and 5… Nc6)
THE 5… h6 LINE
- 5… h6?! the immediate test for white. Fritz does not see this move as a legitimate defense. 6. Bxf6 Qxf6 7. Nd5
- Black’s queen has two moves: the natural but losing 7… Qd8, and the computer move 7… Qd6. 7… Qd8? 8. e3 g6 (8… c6?? 9. Qh5+ g6 10. Qxg6#) 9. Be2 c6 10. Nc3 Na6 11. Nf4 Kf7 A necessary concession. 12. h4 h5 13. Qd2 Be7 14. g3 Nc7 15. d5 cxd5 16. Ncxd5 Nxd5 17. Nxd5 Bf6 18. Nxf6 Qxf6 19. 0-0-0 Black has no clear plan, and his development is very poor, White should be able to hold on to his positional advantage here.
- The other line to consider, 7… Qd6 isn’t easy to play either. 8. e3 c6 9. Nc3 Na6 10. Nf4 g5 (Note that if 10… g6, 11. c5 give white good play after 11…Qf6 12. Bc4) 11. Qh5+ Kd8 12. Ng6 Rg8 13. Nxf8 Qxf8 14. c5 Black is at a loss to find any space. His light squares are disturbingly vulnerable. 14… b6 15. Bc4 Rh8 16. h4 g4 17. 0-0-0 Black’s position offers limited play, and his early attempts to gain space have been proven fruitless.
THE 5… Bb4 LINE
5… Bb4 Since attacking the bishop is not good for Black, I think this is Black’s most aggressive option. I only got to play this opening once in a tournament, so I’ll show the opening of that game.
Steincamp – Kannan (Scholastic State Championships 2014)
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. d4 e4 4. Nh3 Bb4 5. Bg5 Nf6 6. Qb3 Bxc3+
7. bxc3 If white is playing this Nc3 line in the English, he should already be comfortable with this doubled pawn structure. White’s goals are to use his queen on b3 to have future threats on f7.
7… h6 8. Bxf6 Qxf6 9. Nf4 Qf7 10. e3 Nc6
11. Be2 The one thing you’ll love about this Be2 idea is that Bh5 is really strong, and the g6 square is extremely weak if you can play Bh5+. Also c7 is very weak, so Nd5 is always a possibility to use in conjunction with a bishop on h5.
My opponent had used 35 minutes of the G/60 time control, so I opted for 12. c5 trading queens and going into a slightly better endgame. Let’s taker a deeper look at some of the other possibilities for Black:
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. d4 e4 4. Nh3 Nf6 5. Bg5 Bb4
6. e3 This line is actually better than the line I played in the game. Note how by playing e3 now, I don’t have to wait for Bf1-e2 to threaten a check on h5.
There are 2 main lines to consider here for black: 6… c5 and 6… 0-0
- 6… c5 Black wants to complicate things here with this pawn push, but its a prepared white side that does the complicating. 7. dxc5! A move against principle, but the open position favors white more than a closed one. 7… Bxc3 8. bxc3 0-0 9. Be2 Na6 10. Bf4! A hard move to find, toggling the bishop to d6. 10… Nxc5 11. Bd6 Qa5 12. 0-0 (12. Bxf8 is also strong here, but the bishop on d6 puts so much pressure on Black’s position) 12… Re8 13. Nf4 Ne6 14. Nd5 Nxd5 15. cxd5 Nc5 16. Qd4 += Black’s c5 knight is very uncomfortable, and the c8 bishop isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The 6…c5 Benoni-style play is met with unorthodox tripled pawns to gain a significant central advantage.
- 6… 0-0 The more likely response from Black, if this is the case, he will not have many counterattacking possibilities. 7. Nf4 Bxc3 8. bxc3 d6 9. Qb3 Nc6 10. c5+ The easiest way to get rid of white’s only weakness. 10… Kh8 11. cxd6 Qxd6 12. Be2 Na5 13. Qb4 Offering the queen trade, should Black recapture, White will play for a minority attack on the queenside and control of the c–file. 13… Nc6 14. Qxd6 cxd6 15. Rb1
Black has sharp play in this line, but quick development makes counter play fairly difficult in the 5… Bb4 line. White is relatively better than black in all variations.
THE 5… Be7 LINE
Now that we’ve looked at some of the thematic ideas for white, its time to break down the most common response for black, according to the Mega Database.
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. d4 e4 4. Nh3 Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. Nf4
Here White should be prepared for 6… 0-0 and 6… d6.
- 6… 0-0 7. e3 d6 8. Be2 c5 9. dxc5 dxc5 10. h4 Nc6 11. Ncd5 Qa5+ 12. Qd2 Qxd2+ 13. Kxd2 h6 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Nxf6+ Rxf6 16. Kc3 Ne5 17. Rad1 += This is one of black’s best variations in the 3… e4 lines of the Steincamp Attack. White needs to control the light squares and with simple, solid play, white will have the initiative going into the endgame
- 6… d6 7. Qb3 Rather than transposing into a complicated line, this deviation can mix things up and make life difficult for Black. 7… 0-0 8. e3 c5 9. dxc5 dxc5 10. Rd1 Qb6 11. Qb5 If found, this move can really freeze Black’s position. His bishop on e7 is unprotected and his light squares on d5 and e6 are under siege. 11… Nc6 12. h4 Qxb5 13. cxb5 Ne5 14. Ncd5 A better game for white, 14… Nxd5 fails tactically to 15. Rxd5 Bf6 16. Bxf6 gxf6 protecting the knight 17. Rxc5
The main line is the most solid for black, but white still has ways to gain the initiative.
THE 5… Nc6 LINE
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. d4 e4 4. Nh3 Nf6 5. Bg5 Nc6 6. e3 Be7 7. Nf4 0-0 8. Be2 h6 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 10. Ncd5 Bg5 11. 0-0 d6 12. Rc1 Bxf4 13. Nxf4 g5 14. Nd5 Be6 15. Qb3 Rb8 16. f4 exf3EP 17. Bxf3 +=
White is slightly better in this line. The text above has Black’s best responses above, and there isn’t too much room for creativity for Black.
- When black plays 3… e4, it is very easy for white to seize control.
- White needs to develop rapidly, with very few pawn moves. After White sets up c4, d4, and e3, Black can’t really find play in the center.
- White’s g1 knight hops to h3 to find the f4 square after the Bishop is placed on g5. The f1 Bishop makes a quick move to e2 to later find Bh5, and the queen can sometimes go to b3. In a dream scenario, White’s c3 knight also goes to d5.
- To have an attack on the kingside, white usually sets up h2–h4. This also eliminates black’s kingside possibilities.
- If Black tries to be aggressive with Benoni like c7–c5 ideas, it can be advantageous to capture with dxc5 if White can control the d–file with ease.
How can Black avoid all this trouble? Not playing 2… f5. A lot of players rated 1400–2000 have the misconception that this is the correct move order since the Grand Prix Sicilian starts 1. e4 c5 2. f4 and is perfectly fine for white. However, since White has the extra tempo after 2… e5, 3. d4 is possible since White’s knight is already on c3. If Black wants to play the Reversed Grand Prix, 2… Nc6 will avoid complications.
However, I have seen this line played enough for black at the amateur level that I think that it might be a good idea to have the Steincamp Attack in your back pocket.
In Part 2, I’ll look at 3…exd4, the most challenging line for white.
Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!