Pawn Structure 101: Sicilian – Scheveningen

The pawn structure journey continues, and we are now headed to one of the most exciting destinations: the Sicilian – Scheveningen structure!

Whether you are an aggressive and sharp player who likes to meet 1.e4 with the Sicilian defense, or have already realized that it is important to study pawn structures even if they are not a part of your opening repertoire, stick around and get ready to enter this world of possibilities.

This structure has a reputation for creating exciting and dynamic possibilities for both sides and leading to sharp and complex middlegame positions, where often creative ideas will be around the corner.

This is an accurate description of it, but remember that even if you consider yourself to be a more positional and calm player who does not like to face complications, pawn structures are at the heart of deep chess knowledge, and you will always benefit from learning them.

Let’s get started!

What does the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure look like?

Diagram 1a: The Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure.

This is our starting position, and the one we will keep coming back to all along. As you can tell, White’s pawns are placed on a2, b2, c2, e4, f2, g2 and h2, while Black’s stand on a7, b7, d6, e6, f7, g7 and h7.

An experienced chess player will be able to tell you in the blink of an eye that this position came from a Sicilian defense. Why? Well, because the main factor that distinguishes an open Sicilian structure is the fact that White’s d-pawn has been exchanged for Black’s c-pawn.

From this basic statement, we can already gather a lot of information about the position: White has exchanged one of his two central pawns, which gives Black a majority in the centre. Given this advantage, Black will aim to breakthrough in the centre either with d6-d5 or e6-e5, choosing the right moment to do so. We will cover this in detail in the next sections.

To compensate for that, White has a semi-open d-file.

Specifically in the Scheveningen Sicilian, when Black’s pawns are already advanced to d6 and e6, play along this file trying to weaken the d6 pawn will be of great importance for White, especially by attacking it with major pieces.

That being said, Black also has the c-file to explore on his own, and you will catch a glimpse of happiness in the eyes of any Sicilian player when they have this file to play on.

Many tactical themes can arise from this, like a Rook being sacrificed for a Knight on c3 or a powerful Black Knight coming into c4 to weaken the b2 pawn. The b2-c2-c3 complex can be exploited by Black in many different ways. Take a look at the diagram 1b, extracted from the game Torre-Espig from 1977, to see these ideas in practice.

Diagram 1b: Torre – Espig, 1977: Position after 18.f4.

The grandmaster Eugenio Torre’s next move was to sacrifice the exchange on c3 to weaken the b2-c2-c3 complex (in red) and prepared his Knight to jump to the c4 square, where it will be ideally placed.

These are the fundamentals of many pawn structures which come from the Sicilian defense, but we shall now focus only on the Scheveningen structure and see what shapes its character, and how we can learn to play it with mastery.

Ideal setup for White

Diagram 1c: Ideal setup for White.

Here’s a diagram for you to understand White’s plans visually. The ideal setup for the pieces, even if it depends on the particularities of each given position, would be to place a Rook on d1, a Queen on d2 and a Bishop on e3. This way, White can put pressure on the d6 weakness while at the same time attacking on the Kingside.

Ideal setup for Black

Diagram 1d: Ideal setup for Black.

Black rightfully deserves a diagram of his own ideal setup. As we’ve seen, the most crucial points of Black’s plan are to play on the c-file and push the pawn to d5. These are the main ideas regardless of what White chooses to play, but a few details depend on each given position, such as the King’s placement (in the middle or castled on the Kingside) and the g7-g5 idea. You can find good examples of this by studying the commented games on the previous section.

How do you reach this pawn structure?

If you’ve already been roaming the chess streets for a while now, you may know that the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure actually shares its name with the name of a chess opening: the Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian.

While there are several move orders to reach this variation, the most classical one goes as follows:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 e6
Diagram 1e: The Scheveningen Sicilian.

In Sicilian pawn structures, it’s quite important to pair our strategic studies with some opening theory and general chess knowledge in order to understand them as deeply as possible – as you may know, the Sicilian is one of the most theoretically developed openings in chess.

Just to give you a brief overview about the Scheveningen Sicilian’s history, it can be said that its name came from a tournament in the village with the same name, in The Netherlands, which took place in 1923. After that, many great players have showcased this opening in their games, one of them being the former World Champion Garry Kasparov.

However, in the last few years and mostly at top level, this move order has decreased in popularity.

That happened due to a sharp and dangerous variation White can employ, which is called the Keres attack. In this line, White advances the pawns very quickly and presents Black with an undesired set of problems right from the earliest stage of the game.

The Keres attack can be reached continuing from the above diagram:

  1. g4 h6
  2. h4 Nc6
  3. Rg1
Diagram 1f: The Keres Attack – Position after 8. Rg1.

White can afford to be so aggressive from early on as the e6 pawn is blocking the c8 Bishop from reaching the light squares, especially g4, and the main plan will be to harass the f6 Knight with the move g4-g5, condemning it to inactivity.

If you have the Black pieces and your opponent goes for this variation, the first thing to do is not to panic when you see pawns being launched forwards. A good idea to counter White’s plans, and the main theoretical move after 6.g4, is to reply with 6…h6. This move prevents White from playing g5, which is the natural continuation after g4.

Many chess players feel uncomfortable facing such a sharp variation, especially against well-prepared opponents, so they have looked for another way to play their beloved Scheveningen Sicilian while avoiding the Keres attack.

To do so, they have moved from the Scheveningen Sicilian classical move order into a different one, starting from the Najdorf variation.

The “pure” Najdorf sees Black playing e7-e5 more often than e7-e6, but players who prefer the Scheveningen will choose their favorite structure – however, e7-e5 is also a perfectly good move. They are just two distinct ways of playing the same position, and often Black will even strive to play e7-e5 later on, transposing to a Najdorf structure. We will cover the e7-e5 advance in greater depth in the article on the Sicilian – Boleslavsky pawn structure.

The main difference between the Najdorf and the Scheveningen is that the Najdorf includes a very early a6 for Black – however, in most positions of the Scheveningen this is an useful move. In fact, a6 is played almost always after the first introductory moves of this opening – just not as early as it is in the Najdorf Sicilian.

This move order, while avoiding the Keres attack, gives White a whole set of different options, many of which are also dangerous for Black.

We can reach the same structure in this way:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 a6
  6. Be3 e6
Diagram 1g: The Scheveningen pawn structure, Najdorf move order – Position after 6…e6.

Please note that White has a great deal of options on move 6 – placing the Bishop on e3 is one of the most popular ones, intending to pursue the English Attack, but many others are possible, such as 6.Bc4, 6.Bg5, 6.Be2 or 6.h3.

The English Attack can be as threatening for Black as the Keres Attack in many situations. White’s ideas are simply to castle long and attack on the Queenside, which also leads to extremely sharp positions.

This comes to show that there is rarely a way to avoid a variation without running into other dangerous possibilities: it’s up to the player who has the Black pieces to decide which lines he feels more comfortable facing.

You might be wondering at this point exactly why do chess players choose to play the Sicilian when it is such a dangerous opening – the truth is that it is an opening that is full of counterchances, and in many occasions Black will also have the possibility of attacking the enemy King. When he doesn’t, he focuses on the fact that White’s pawn storm attacks expose his position too much, and tries to exploit potential weaknesses.

Now that you know exactly how to find your way from the opening, and have even learned a little bit of theory, it’s time to sit back and discuss the position in greater detail, to try to figure out what is really happening on the board when this pawn structure is reached.

What are the characteristics of this pawn structure?

From the first two sections of this article, you have certainly come to understand that the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure really does present any chess player with a rich world of challenges and possibilities.

Moreover, you now know that the way to reach it is with the Sicilian defense, whether it may be with the classical Scheveningen move order or the more modern Najdorf move order.

However, these few things that you already know are useful, but clearly they are not enough to truly come to a description of the position – there is still a lot more to learn about this structure.

As you have read before, structures that come from an open Sicilian have a common characteristic: White’s d-pawn has been exchanged for Black’s c-pawn.

You already know that this does shape the character of the position, given that much of White’s play will happen along the d-file, whereas Black will try to put as much power as possible on his own territory, the c-file.

A common theme that will accompany you in your pawn structure journey all along is that it is almost always impossible to define who is better in a given position by considering only the placement of the pawns.

However, in which concerns the Sicilian structures, it is commonly believed that Black has more potential in the centre.

It is very clear why this happens: White has exchanged a central pawn, which left Black with more presence on this crucial area of the board.

While Black’s centre in the Scheveningen structure can appear to be quite modest, as the pawns are not very further advanced, this is actually not only a rather solid setup, with the increased control of the d5 and e5 squares, but it is also an extremely flexible one.

Black will keep his chances out in the open, as he might advance either d5 (the main plan to breakthrough in the centre) or even e5, depending on the situation, proceeding with rapid development full of counterchances and piece activity.

Diagram 1h: Black’s central breakthrough chances.

From White’s point of view, the position also offers many chances for sharp and creative play.

As you have seen from the ultra-aggressive Keres attack, White will often try to grab an even bigger space advantage from early on, while putting Black’s pieces in an uncomfortable, passive position, and threatening a direct attack to the King.

The plan of playing g4-g5 is not the only aggressive setup White can adopt: f4-f5 and e4-e5 are other dangerous way to pursue the attack. For each of these pawn pushes, White will have to assure that the timing is right: this basically means that there are no breakthroughs in the centre for Black, especially that the move d6-d5 is not possible.

The g4-g5 setup is more aggressive and direct, and can be played right from the beginning of the game, while f4-f5 and e4-e5 are more positional ideas that have to be prepared for a few moves.

Again, it comes down to taste: players who are theoretically well-prepared and enjoy the sharpest of positions will feel very much at home playing g4-g5, while ambitious, yet careful chess players will most likely prefer to prepare an f4-f5 or e4-e5 attack, not showing their intentions too early.

As naturally White already enjoys an advantage in space and development, these plans have to be carefully met by Black, who will have to know what he is doing if he does not want to be trapped in muddy waters right from the beginning of the game. This essentially means that Black will have to know some opening theory (for instance, h6 against the Keres attack, as we have mentioned in the previous section) and have good calculation and tactical skills, to spot all of White’s threats and defend against them.

At this point, it is fair to pause the analysis to ask the most important question: knowing all of this information, who stands better in this pawn structure?

The answer is it depends, of course.

Each side has its own arguments to claim an advantage and its own strengths and weaknesses.

It comes down to the evaluation of each individual position – and also to each player’s personal taste!

Perhaps if you are a sharp and aggressive player you would prefer to have the White pieces in this structure, as there are more chances to attack – Black will not have the chance to attack the King in every position. If you are a positional player, you are not forced to attack, and there are also calmer ways to play with White. If you are the kind of player whose goal is to invite the opponent to come forward to then present him with many counterchances and problems, then you definitely should consider playing the Sicilian defense with Black!

Pawns provide us with great amounts of basic information, but of course pieces are of extreme importance. There are also other important aspects in the position, such as King safety and strategic concepts like space, initiative and central control.

The Sicilian – Scheveningen structure is a rather untouched one, as not many pawns have moved forwards or been exchanged.

Due to this, its character is hard to define with accuracy, as many distinct plans can be carried out for both sides: there are more positional, calmer ways to play, and there is aggressive, sharp, attacking play.

Something that will help define which type of play we are going to encounter is to analyze White’s King position.

In this structure, it is possible for White to castle both to the Kingside and Queenside, while Black will most likely castle Kingside, since the c-file is open and he will not want to expose his King in such a way.

If White castles Queenside, then certainly he will have venomous intentions of entering an opposite-side castling position – and he will try to produce a pawn storm on the Kingside to threaten Black’s King. On Black’s end, pawns will also be pushed to attack White’s King on the Queenside (with moves like a5-a4, b5-b4). The following diagram shows how the opposite forces plan to attack each other.

Diagram 1i: Madl – Summermatter, 1988: Opposite-side castling attacks.

If White castles Kingside, then the play will certainly not be as direct or aggressive.  While there is still a possibility to build a dangerous attack towards Black’s King, the player with the White pieces will have to be careful not to expose his own King too much. On diagram 1h, you can see how Black, even after sacrificing an exchange, has great counterchances against the exposed White King. The Bishops are ready to attack, the Rook is ready to occupy the second rank, and the pawn can advance to e3 posing all sorts of threats.

Diagram 1j: Torosyan – Gabrielian, 2016: Position after 35…Bxc5.

All of this being said, let’s try to summarize everything we have learned so far and make a list of the most important characteristics of this pawn structure:

White’s position

  • Generally, White enjoys a lead in development and space;
  • The d-file is half open and d6 is a potential weakness. White can exploit this by placing major pieces (Rooks and Queen) on this file to put pressure on the weak pawn;
  • There are many possibilities to advance the Kingside pawns and generate a dangerous attack;

Black’s position

  • Black has two pawns versus one in the centre, which grants him the possibility to break through with either d5 or e5;
  • The c-file is half open and there are potential weaknesses on the c2-b2-c3 complex;
  • If White relocates his King to the Queenside, there is a possibility of building an attack by advancing the pawns, especially with a5-a4 and b5-b4.

This knowledge is valuable, but all of these characteristics are of no use without plans – in the next section, we will discuss exactly how to exploit each of these.

Now that we have a clearer outlook on the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure, time has come to discuss how the position should really be played, and to analyze White’s and Black’s chances in practice.

How do you play in this pawn structure?

As you have extensively read by now, the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure rings the following few words: sharp, aggressive, complex, among others.

While all of this helps us roughly know which kind of position we are getting to, in chess strategy it is a crucial to be able to build a good plan, while anticipating our opponent’s main options.

It is now time to find out exactly how to do so in this pawn structure.

Firstly, it is important to keep our strengths and weaknesses list in mind, as exploiting them will be the ultimate goal of our plan.

Let’s start by taking a look at what White can do.

As we now know, White will often adopt an aggressive setup, either by going for g4-g5 from early on, or by preparing f4-f5 or e4-e5 – in any case, attacking the enemy King is the main goal. As you may remember from the previous section, White has to ensure the move d6-d5 is not possible for Black before launching an attack, and g4-g5 is usually played earlier on in the game, while f4-f5 and e4-e5 need more preparation. This happens because they are closer to the centre, and it’s best to safeguard the King and develop the pieces before playing them, as Black may be able to counterattack with d6-d5 more easily.

The best way to see these attacking chances in practice is to study a few top level games – and we will start by studying a game between the Chinese grandmaster Yu Yangyi and his fellow countrywoman Hou Yifan, the top women’s chess player nowadays.

This game took place in the Gibraltar open tournament of 2015.

Diagram 1k: Yangyi – Hou, 2015: Position after 9.0-0-0.

After the first few introductory moves, we have reached the position in diagram 1i, where White has played natural development moves, already looking to launch the Kingside pawns forward: f4, Qf3 and long castling. Playing f4 is a natural move because it helps expanding on the Kingside, and f3 is a good square for the Queen because it supports both the f4-f5 and g4-g5 advances, while allowing the King to castle.

It’s important to develop the pieces and protect the King before launching the pawns forward, as leaving the King in the middle would leave it even more vulnerable to d6-d5 breakthroughs by Black.

On the other hand, Black has also developed in natural Scheveningen style: the Bishop to e7, the Queen to c7 and the Knight to c6, preparing to castle and start his own attack towards the White King. It must be said that e7 is the only good square for the Bishop, given that there is a pawn on d6 for the time being. The queen goes to c7 as it will be occupying the open c-file, and the Knight on c6 has prospects of going to a5 and e5, keeping an eye on the c4 square.

The game continued:

  1. 0-0-0 a6
  2. g4 Nd7
  3. g5 b5

Diagram 1l: Yangyi – Hou, 2015: Position after 11…b5.

We see the attacking ideas beginning to gain shape at this point, and how White is already further advanced on the Kingside than Black is on the Queenside.

Please note that White decided to push the g-pawn instead of the h-pawn as h4 would allow Black to block the position by playing h5.

When Black gets the chance to play h5, it’s usually wise to take it: it prevents White from pushing either g4 or h5 himself, and drastically reduces his attacking chances.

However, Black should only play this if White plays h4 instead of g4 – if the pawns are still on h2 and g2, White can still break open with h3-g4. The best way to avoid an unpleasant h5 is to do as Yu Yangyi did: play g4 as soon as the attack begins.

A few moves later, we see White taking all of the pawns into the enemy land successfully:

  1. Bd3 Nc5
  2. Kb1 Bb7
  3. h4 Rc8
  4. h5
Diagram 1m: Yangyi – Hou, 2015: Position after 15.h5.

The h-pawn has joined the party, and White now enjoys a great advantage in space as all of the pawns are cramping up Black’s Kingside.

Of course, it must be said that it was intelligent for Black to leave the King in the middle. While that is often unadvisable due to central breakthroughs that can occur, in this position His Majesty is safer there, a little bit further away from White’s pawn storm. Each position is a different one, and you must know how to evaluate the risks of leaving your King in the middle of the board. However, it can be said that if there is a big pawn storm going on on the Kingside, it will most likely be safer there.

In the meantime, while White’s pawns strolled forwards, Black has also played consistently and improved his position by bringing the pieces out to their best squares: the Rook to c8, the Bishop to b7 and the Knight to c5.

It’s clear that the Rook must go to c8, as the c-file is Black’s access route to the enemy King. The Bishop needs to move out of the way so that the Rook can go there, and b7 is the most natural square, as it also maintains pressure on the e4 pawn – the same goes for the c5 Knight, which also puts pressure on this pawn and on other relevant squares, such as a4, b3 and d3.

The position is probably fairly equal at this point, but it surely is more dangerous to play with Black, as many deadly threats can come from White’s end.

A few moves later, White achieved the goal of his attack:

15… Nxd4

  1. Bxd4 b4
  2. Ne2 e5
  3. Bxc5 Qxc5
  4. g6!
Diagram 1n: Yangyi – Hou, 2015: Position after 19.g6.

Playing g6 is the ultimate goal of this kind of attack White can carry out –  and that’s because now Black’s pawns near the King are questioned, especially the vulnerable f7, and Black has not advanced his pawns further enough to present his own threats.

Hou Yifan managed to present tenacious defense and hold the game down to a draw, but in this position White certainly enjoys an advantage and the best chances to win the game are on his side.

Another game where we see this g6 idea in practice was Muzychuk – Kosintseva, from the Women’s Grand Prix of 2013 in Dilijan.

The position in diagram 1o was achieved:

Diagram 1o: Muzychuk – Kosintseva, 2013: Position after 16.g6.

This position might not appear to bear a lot of similarities with diagram 1n: Black’s King has castled, and White’s pawns are not as further advanced.

However, g6 was an extremely well-played move in both cases, as the main goal of any attack is to provoke weaknesses on the enemy field, and that’s exactly this move does.

Here, it threatens to destroy Black’s pawn shield, and if it gets taken with the f-pawn, Bh3 will be a very strong move, targeting the e6 weakness. Black did not manage to find a way to deal with the pressure in this game, and eventually lost.

If it gets taken with the h-pawn, White gets a strong chance of playing h5 and opening the h-file: if this happens, deadly threats with Rook and Queen can come up.

At this point, there is already not much Black can do to counter this dangerous attack – what he should do before is try to get his own attack to be as threatening as possible. The Rook should already have gone to c8 before, and the pawns should have been advanced further.

A different way to attack for White, as we have mentioned before, would be to play f4 followed by e5 – this is a rather distinct kind of play, as the attack will more often be played by maneuvering pieces.

This is not as exposing as the g4 push, hence why some players prefer to go for this slower attack. By playing e5, White is seeking to counter Black’s centre and challenge the f6 Knight. Also, White gets the e4 square for a piece, most likely a Knight, which may even jump to d6 supported by the e5 pawn.

If this happens, as we will see in the next few games, Black should most likely try to close the centre with d5. If he can do this, White’s attack will not be as dangerous and the e4 square will be covered.

Also, more often than not, White’s King also castles Kingside and finds a safe spot on the h1 square.

Let’s take a look at this illustrative position, extracted from the game Kotsur – Kurnosov, from the Russian Championship of 2002.

Diagram 1p: Kotsur – Kurnosov, 2002: Position after 15.e5.

This is the way to play if you want to go for a f4-e5 kind of attack: safeguard the King on h1 to avoid potential threats on the open a7-g1 diagonal, which will be open after the move f4, and maneuver the pieces, especially the Bishop to f3.

At the same time, White has a major idea that has already been played in this position: to bring a pawn from a2 to a4 and then to a5, putting pressure on Black’s queenside and forcing him to create weaknesses, namely on the b6 square.

By playing simultaneously on both sides of the board, White will try to achieve a controlling positioneven if it doesn’t seem so, these plans fit in with each other because, for instance, if the attack fails to deliver him a material advantage or end the game with checkmate, he can still try to play for a positional edge on the other side of the board – look at diagram 1q.

Diagram 1q: Alsina Leal – Thomassen, 2013: Position after 19.a5.

The a4-a5 advance weakens the whole a7-b7-b6 complex for Black, and White can now attack knowing that if he fails, he will have these weaknesses to exploit, for instance by bringing a Knight from a4 to b6.

This does not happen on the pawn storm attack we have just seen. If that kind of attack fails, White will be in trouble, as he will be very exposed and Black will have his own dangerous threats going on.

Diagram 1r: Zuse – Pansalovic, 1993: Position after 22.Nd4.

Diagram 1p is a great example of how things can go wrong for White in this kind of direct attack. Black has managed to exchange the g4 pawn and now has a majority in the Kingside, as well as an open h-file he will be able to occupy with a Rook.

In addition to this, the c2 pawn is evidently weak, and the Knight on d4 does a great job of attacking it at the same time as it attacks White’s Queen.

Black’s Rook is also ideally placed on c8, and the Queen and a6 Knight are also ready to join the attack.

After looking at the plans White will carry out on this position, you might be thinking they are too dangerous to deal with and run away from this pawn structure – but keep on reading, as it’s time to allow Black to put in a word for himself.

From our list of Black’s position main characteristics, you might recall that a relevant thing in this pawn structure is Black’s stronger control of the central squares, having a majority of pawns in this area of the board.

As in most Sicilian defense positions, there is a central breakthrough that, if done under good conditions, could help Black find the best squares for his pieces and activate them as much as possible: and that is the move d6-d5.

You might be thinking that it is not worth playing the Sicilian if you have to react to dangerous attacks and your best shot is to play d6-d5: but the truth is that if you achieve this move, you will have excellent winning chances.

That’s what distinguishes the Sicilian from other openings: it invites the opponent to come forward and then presents him with questions and problems. As you have seen in diagram 1o, it is easier than it seems for White to get overexposed with his attack, and that’s when the fun will start for Black.

In comparison with other openings, such as meeting 1.e4 with 1.e5, the Sicilian presents Black with more winning chances because the game is more double-edged. Some players simply aren’t made to strive to make a draw with Black, and those who believe they can grab a full point are well-suited to play the Sicilian!

In which concerns the d5 move, you might have already read in a chess strategy book somewhere that when your opponent aggressively attacks on one of the wings, you must search for the right way to breakthrough in the centre.

A central breakthrough is so important when the opponent is attacking because it can lead to their pieces being disconnected and senseless, as the attack will not be as fruitful without central control.

In addition to this, all of Black’s pieces are standing behind the d6 pawn, especially the Bishop on e7, waiting to be released with this move.

There is also another point to the d6-d5 breakthrough: we have seen before that the d6 pawn could be a potential target for White to exploit with control of the d-file. By playing d5, this weakness disappears forever.

As often White will attack aggressively on the Kingside, it is of vital importance to keep this idea in mind.

A game that illustrates this idea in perfection is Rosito – Valerga, from the Clarin Grand Prix tournament of 1997.

The position from diagram 1s was reached after 14 moves.

Diagram 1s: Rosito – Valerga, 1997: Position after 14.f4.

This position was reached via the Keres attack, with the g-pawn later being exchanged for Black’s h-pawn. However, White’s last move was overexposing and allowed Black to go for a strong and timely continuation.

14… Qxd4

  1. Qxd4 Nxd4
  2. Rxd4 d5!
Diagram 1t: Rosito – Valerga, 1997: Position after 16…d5.

Due to the Bc5 threat, attacking both Rooks, this move is especially strong in this position – but only the fact that it completely disconnects White’s pieces and exploits their overexposure would have been enough to justify an advantage.

The Rooks are simply senseless on d4 and g1 now. The d4 square would be great for a Knight or even a Queen, but the Rook is simply restricted by the d5 and e4 pawns there. On g1, the other Rook has no attacking prospects, as Black’s King is still in the middle.

Last but not least, the piece that stands worse is the Bishop on g5: it simply has no diagonals to play on, as both f4 and h4 are restricting it.

Another possibly successful way of putting this idea into practice is to close the position with d6-d5 once White has chosen e4-e5 as their attacking plan.

To see this happening, take a look at diagram 1u.

Diagram 1u: Sutovsky – Timman, 2003: Position after 15…d5.

The position was extracted from the game Sutovsky – Timman, dating from the year of 2003. White had just played e5, only to be surprised by Black closing the position with d5.

This was actually an incredibly smart idea from Grandmaster Jan Timman. With White’s pawns being awkwardly placed on e5, f4 and g5, posing any direct threats to the Black King will not happen for the time being.

It may seem that White still has an attack by playing the Bishop to d3 and the Queen to h5: but the point is that Black can block with g6 at this point, and the dark squares around the King shouldn’t worry him because he still has the dark-squared Bishop to defend him.

Black’s attack will simply be far quicker than White’s. He will have the open b-file to play against White’s King without having to worry about his opponent’s attack.

A few moves later, we see how well this worked out for Black.

  1. Bd3 Rb8
  2. b3 Nc5
  3. f5 Nxd3+
  4. Rxd3 Ba3+
  5. Kb1 c5
Diagram 1v: Sutovsky – Timman, 2003: Position after 20…c5.

While it may not seem so clear, White simply has no access route to Black’s King. The pawn is not on h4 yet, which doesn’t help him play the g6 move we had previously covered, since Black will be well-prepared to take with the h-pawn.

Black is simply quicker than White in this position, because the Knight on d4 is under attack. If White retreats it, then the c-pawn quickly jumps forward to join the attack, which means that c4 will happen before White has time to reply on the Kingside.

With the power of the Queen, Rook and Bishop, Black ended up grabbing a material advantage and claiming victory in this game.

You can conclude that d6-d5 is a strong idea to keep in mind – but be careful not to do it too early, as it might expose and disconnect your own pieces, as well as leave weak squares behind.

Diagram 1w shows a great example of when not to play this move.

Diagram 1w: Leko – Movsesian, 2003: Position after 12…d5.

It was far too early in the game to breakthrough in the centre, because Black’s pieces are still not well-developed: the Bishop should already be standing on e7 and the King should have castled in order to play this move.

White’s natural response, e4-e5, is in fact a very good move in this position, as Black’s Knight has no other square than its original g8, where it will stand underdeveloped and disconnected from the game.

This comes to show that you will need to know how to find the perfect timing to carry out your plan, and be aware of what could go wrong if you don’t.

Even if you have to wait to play d6-d5, if you eventually make it happen under good conditions, it will bring you excellent counterchances and you will have a word in the decision of the game.

As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no other opening against 1.e4 that allows Black to have such great winning chances – but the price to pay for that is that you will have to be patient and precise.

There are some other ideas in Black’s position, and we have briefly mentioned one of them: exploiting White’s potential weaknesses on the Queenside by occupying the c-file.

One of the most interesting plans to create weaknesses in this field is to bring a Knight, from either a5 or e5, into the c4 square.

Here, the Knight attacks the b2 pawn, which, on its own, will most likely be defending a White Knight on c3 – connected with a Rook on the c-file and a potential b7-b5 advance, things can get difficult for White if he has not managed to achieve anything concrete on the other side of the board.

On the game Votava – Stohl, from 1999, Black has chosen to go from this plan from an early stage in the game, which resulted in an enjoyable position.

Diagram 1x: Votava – Stohl, 1999: Position after 9…Ne5.

Putting the Knight on e5 is a way to invite White to come forward with f4, and then transfer it to c4, where it will stand on its ideal square. This is precisely what White has chosen to do, and the game continued for a few more moves:

  1. f4 Nc4
  2. Qe2 Nxb2
  3. 0-0 Qc7

Diagram 1y: Votava – Stohl, 1999: Position after 12…Qc7.

Black enjoys a comfortable advantage in this position, as he is far more advanced in destroying the Queenside than White is on the Kingside.

The weaknesses are evident here, as the b2 pawn was crucial in the defense of the Queenside – now the c2 pawn is a target, and the Knight does no longer stand well on c3.

It is also worth mentioning that attacking on the Queenside if White castles long, especially with the b5-b4 advance, is also an effective plan for Black on many occasions; this will of course lead to sharp opposite-castling positions which are similar to the ones we have been looking into.

Last but not least, there is another plan Black might carry out if the position allows it.

It is a plan that may seem dangerous and certainly is out of the box, but if you manage to play it in the right way, it can lead to solving all of your problems.

It is the move g7-g5.

While this may seem crazy, please note the following: most likely, there will be a White pawn standing on f4.

If this pawn is advanced or taken, the e5 square will no longer be controlled by any White pawn, which will allow Black to place a strong central piece there, preferably a Knight.

This is exactly the idea behind the g5 move: to incite White to come forward or take the pawn and then claim the e5 square. Often, there will also be a Bishop standing on g5, and Black can chase it with h6, and g5 once it moves to h4.

If you are not fully convinced yet, take a look at how well it worked out for the former World Champion Viswanathan Anand in this game against the strong Hungarian Grandmaster Peter Leko.

Diagram 1z: Leko – Anand, 2001: Position after 12…g5.

After playing g5, Anand played in simple, yet effective style: he took the pawn on f4, which was the main goal he wanted to achieve by playing g5, expanded with b5-b4, in order to pose threats to White’s King, and waited for the ideal moment to place his Knight on the e5 square. Since the b4 advance will chase away the c3 Knight, it’s best to wait to play Ne5, as many ideas could follow: either taking the Bishop on d3 to weaken the defense of the c2 point, or moving the Knight to c4.

Anand then went on to win a smooth game.

And that’s pretty much a wrap for the plans – now that you must be starting to feel like an expert on this structure, let’s take a few moments again to summarize what you’ve just learned.

It will help you to keep the most important things in mind, and if you ever need a fresh reminder of the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure’s plans, you can simply come back to this section of the article and go through our checklists.

White’s plans

  • Launch a kingside attack with g4-g5 h4-h5 followed by g6;
  • Play f4-f5 to put pressure on the e6 pawn and create play along the a2-g8 diagonal (or the h3-c8 diagonal, in some cases);
  • Play f4 and e5 to launch a kingside attack;
  • Put pressure on the d-file;

Black’s plans

  • Play d6-d5, the central break which will release the position and activate the minor pieces;
  • Play along the c-file and place a Knight on c4, to pressure the b2-pawn which will typically be defending White’s Knight on c3;
  • If White has castled long, then carry out a queenside attach with b5-b4 a5-a4 followed by b3;
  • If White plays f4, sometimes Black can play g5 to fight for the control of the e5 square.


Even if you feel like you have had enough of checklists at this point, there is always time for one more – and it will be the last one, as we have now reached the end of our coverage of the Sicilian – Scheveningen pawn structure.

These are the main conclusions we can draw:

  • If you want to improve as a chess player, namely in chess strategy, you must study pawn structures: they are at the very base of all knowledge;
  • The Scheveningen pawn structure is extremely interesting, and will often lead to sharp middlegames with chances for creative play, as most structures coming from the Sicilian defense;
  • Speaking of the Sicilian defense, that’s where you will find this structure: especially in the Scheveningen and Najdorf Sicilians;
  • This structure is characterized by an imbalance in the central pawns: Black has a majority in the centre while White has a majority on the Queenside;
  • White’s most important plan is, in general terms, to launch a Kingside attack, though there are many ways to do so;
  • Black’s most important plans are, in general terms, to breakthrough in the centre and play on the c-file.

If you’ve made it this far on your pawn structure journey: congratulations! Remember to stick around, as there is a lot more knowledge coming your way.

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