It certainly seems to be the sort of move a beginner might play if he did not know that 3 d4 enters the Open Sicilian. The thing is that the strange bishop move has been played by many top class players, including such a regular in the world’s top ten as English grandmaster Michael Adams. It is well worth a go, especially if you might be able to insert d4 at a later stage to transpose to a favourable line where Bc4 is useful, such as in the Fischer-Sozin Attack. Here is a recent game to demonstrate that it can be a powerful opening weapon:
Natasa Bojkovic-Rocio Vasquez Ramirez Dresden Olympiad, 2008
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bc4
The bishop out works well against 2...d6 from the experience of hundreds of games. This is partly because it takes Black longer to organise ...e7-e6, followed by ...d6-d5. If Black had played 2...Nc6, then 3 Bc4 comes quickly up against the pawn advance in the centre ...e7-e6 and …d7-d5. 3...Nf6 4 d3 If you are really keen on the Olympiad, then you might have noticed that the opening was also employed on the lower boards with limited success: 4 Nc3 e6 5 0–0 Be7 6 d3 0–0 7 a3 (White wants to provide the bishop with an escape square upon ...d6-d5, but 7 Bf4 has also been suggested) 7...Nc6 8 Nd2 a6 9 f4 b5 10 Ba2 Qb6 11 Kh1 Bb7 12 Nf3 Rad8 13 h3 a5 14 Be3 d5 when the threat of a pawn fork with …d4 gave Black the advantage in R.Jones-R.Rajapakse, Dresden Olympiad, 2008. 4...e6 Also possible is 4...Nc6 5 c3 and now: a) 5...Bg4?? (This is a blunder, but it also reveals the peril of following an old, bad recommendation.) 6 Qb3! (The queen attacks b7 and also targets the f7-pawn; when this queen move appears on the board it seems obvious that White is better. However, in the same position, N.Resika-C.Balogh, Budapest 2000, went 6 h3 Bxf3 7 Qxf3 with a level position. Unfortunately, this is the game that Black was following.) 6...e6 7 Qxb7 Qc8 (7…Rc8 8 Bb5 Qd7 9 Qxd7+ Nxd7 10 Nbd2 and White is a pawn up) 8 Ba6! (White is very precise in pursuing the advantage) 8...Ne7 9 e5 dxe5 10 Qb5+ Qd7 (10...Qc6 does not help after 11 Nxe5 Qxb5 12 Bxb5+ Kd8 13 Nxf7+ Kc7 14 Nxh8 winning) 11 Nxe5 1–0, L.McShane-R.Molander, Stockholm 2000. b) 5...g6 6 Bb3 Bg7 7 0–0 0–0 8 h3 b5 9 Nbd2 a5 10 a3 a4 11 Bc2 (White’s set-up reminds me of a Closed Ruy Lopez; yet again evidence that knowing many openings can be useful in completely different lines) 11...e5 12 Re1 Nd7 13 Nf1 Nb6 14 Ng3 with roughly equal chances, D.Chuprov-D.Kokarev, Khantiy Mansiysk 2008. 5 0–0 Be7 After 5...a6, the main line runs 6 Bb3 Be7 7 Re1 Nc6 8 c3 0–0 9 Nbd2 (the ploy of slowly building up a kingside attack lures the silicon opponent into complacency. In other words, Black just gets on with his own plan and ignores White’s.) 9...Bd7 10 Nf1 Qb6 11 Rb1 Na5 12 Bc2 Rad8 13 Bg5 (White is improving his pieces and the bishop is now available to take on f6 if the defender of h7 needs to be eliminated) 13...h6 14 Bh4 Nc6 15 Ne3 Qc7 16 Rc1 (Adams wants to play d3-d4, but once again is disguising his intentions so the computer does not respond accurately) 16...b5 17 Bb1 a5 18 d4 (after eighteen moves White reveals his plan of advancing the central pawns) 18...Qb6 19 e5 dxe5 (instead 19...Ne8 20 Qc2 g6 21 d5! is clearly winning.) 20 dxe5 Nd5 21 Nxd5 exd5 22 Qc2 (the threat of checkmate on h7 is difficult to safely resist) 22...g6 23 e6! Bxh4 24 Nxh4 Bxe6 25 Rxe6 1–0, M.Adams-Pocket Fritz, Mainz 2001. 6 Bb3 Nc6 Black can also try a) 6...0–0 7 c3 Nc6 and now: a1) 8 Qe2 (another way for White to defend the e4-pawn when contemplating advancing the d-pawn) 8...e5 9 Na3 h6 10 Nc2 Nh7 11 Bd5 Bg4 12 b4 offers equal chances) a2) 8 Re1 a21) 8...b6 9 Nbd2 Bb7 10 Nf1 d5 11 e5 Nd7 12 d4 cxd4 13 cxd4 Bc8 14 Bc2 the bishop has retreated to c8 sending a clear message that the plan is to follow up with ...f7-f6 and if White exchanges pawns then ...Nxf6 would allow the bishop to defend the e6-pawn. Armed with this knowledge White uses predict-a-move to set-up a trap 14...f6? 15 Bxh7+! Kxh7 16 Qc2+ Kh8 17 Qxc6 1–0, I.Ionescu Brandis-G.Trofim, Baile Tusnad 2001. a22) 8...b5 9 Nbd2 b4 10 Nf1 (White is content to get on with the job of activating her pieces behind a wall of pawns. She has slightly more space compared to Black, which gives her an edge) 10...d5 11 e5 Nd7 12 d4 The pawn chain for White is similar to the Advance French) 12...Re8 13 Ng3 g6 14 h3 Bb7 15 Nh2 f6 (a typical ploy to lessen the impact of the pawn chain. The only snag is that Black ends up with a backward e-pawn) 16 exf6 Bxf6 17 Be3 Na5 18 Ng4 Nxb3 19 Nxf6+ Qxf6 20 axb3 e5 21 dxc5 Qc6 (the big threat is ...d4 with a discovered attack against g2) 22 f3 bxc3 23 bxc3 Nxc5 24 b4 Nd7 25 Qb3 Nb6 26 Ne4! led to equal opportunities in J.Houska-A.Matnadze, Aviles 2000. b) 6...b5 7 a4 c4 8 Ba2 (or 8 dxc4 bxc4 9 Bxc4 Nxe4 10 Bb5+ Bd7 11 Re1 is slightly better for White) 8...cxd3 9 cxd3 bxa4 10 Nc3 gives White a slight edge. 7 c3 Bd7 8 Re1 Ne5 9 d4 There is nothing to be gained by taking on e5 because the doubled e-pawns are hard to undermine and cover important squares that are of benefit to Black. 9…Nxf3+ 10 Qxf3 cxd4 11 cxd4 e5
There is no need to challenge the center by advancing the e-pawn until the rest of the black pieces are well placed. After all, the bishop on b3 is now enhanced as an attacking weapon by bearing down on f7. A safe alternative is 11...0–0 with a level position. 12 dxe5 dxe5 13 Bg5 0–0 14 Nc3 Bojkovic can easily develop her pieces to central squares and with her queen on f3 can coordinate the rooks. White is doing marginally better. 14...Rc8?! A possible improvement is 14...Qb6 to avoid the pin on the d-file that occurs in the actual game. Maybe Black was wary of 15 Bxf6, which invites a fork on d5, but 15...Qxf6 16 Nd5 Qg5 allows Black to survive with roughly equal chances. 15 Rad1 The pin on the bishop makes you soon think of some mouth-watering tactics. This is aided and abetted by the bishop on g5, which can exchange a defender of d7 by taking the knight on f6. 15…Qe8 16 Qg3! The attack on the e5-pawn is irritating for Black and it also increases the options for a kingside attack, because now Bh6 is possible. 16.…Bd8 Instead 16...Rc5 certainly defends the pawn, but 17 Nd5 gives White the initiative. For instance, 17...Nxd5 18 exd5 Bxg5 (18…f6? 19 d6+ wins) 19 Qxg5 f6 20 Qe3 when the passed d-pawn gives White good chances. 17 Nd5 Nxd5 18 Rxd5 Be6?
This all seems very logical because up to now the struggle has been about the safety of the e-pawn. Black is waiting for 19 Rxe5 Bc7 to appear on the board, but White is inspired. 19 Rxd8! The start of an immense checkmate sequence that relies on Black’s poorly placed pieces huddled on the back rank. 19...Rxd8 20 Bh6 g6 21 Qxe5 1-0
Black gave up in view of 21...f6 to stop checkmate on g7, when play might continue 22 Bxe6+ Kh8 23 Qc7, threatening checkmate again on g7, 23...Rg8 24 Bxg8 with a massive advantage.