The Sicilian Defense


The Sicilian Defense is a chess opening when the following moves are played:

The idea behind the Sicilian Defense is: White has played e4 at the first move, trying to fight for centre since the very beginning of this open game.

Black responds by moving the c-pawn, also controlling the important central d4-square and creating an asymmetrical position.

The Open Sicilian Defense is divided into four major variations based on Black’s response, although there are many other less-played options to be explored.

  • The Najdorf variation
  • The Dragon variation
  • The Classical variation
  • The Scheveningen variation

In the Najdorf variation, Black plays a6 to avoid the possible Bb5+ move and prepares the ambitious advance e7-e5.

In the Dragon variation, Black fianchettoes his f8-Bishop to gain the control of crucial dark squares.

In the Classical Variation, Black develops the b8-knight earlier than in the other variations, and challenges White’s d4-Knight.

In the Scheveningen variation, Black sets a “small centre” by playing e6.

How To Counter The Sicilian Defense?

So how do you counter the Sicilian Defense?

There are two ways:

  1. Use Niche Lines Against the Sicilian
  2. Choose lines that will lead to positional or tactical games

Use Niche Lines

The Sicilian Defense is one of the most complicated and difficult openings to learn and master.

It is not possible to study and master the hundreds of different sidelines of the Sicilian.

So to counter the Sicilian, what you could do is specialize in a niche line that most people playing the Sicilian Defense don’t know and use that as your weapon of choice.

A niche line of the Sicilian is a side line of the Sicilian that is not typically played.

So if you know a niche line well, you can counter the Sicilian Defense extremely well.

This is what is done at the highest levels of chess.

For example, in a game played between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and number one contender Fabiano Caruana, Magnus wanted to play a Sicilian accelerated dragon opening.

This opening is very commonly played and Magnus knows a lot of theory and made a lot of preparations for it.

Knowing this, Fabiano Caruana, played a niche variation of the Sicilian called the Rossolimo Variation.

This move is a good move of the Sicilian that is uncommonly played and can give you a nice edge against your opponent (since they are most likely unprepared for it).

You can also see this in another World Championship match, this time by the former World Champion, Garry Kasparov against Anatoly Karpov.

That time the niche variation (called the Sicilian pin variation) was played.

Steer the board toward positional or tactical lines

If you are better tactically, choose lines that aggressively attack your opponent.

For example, if your opponent plays a Sicilian Dragon, you’d want to play the most aggressive attack -- which is the Yugoslav attack.

But keep in mind:

  • If your opponent is playing the Sicilian Dragon, they are probably very tactical -- since the Sicilian Dragon is the sharpest defense in chess.
  • So if you play tactical lines against someone worse than you -- you could just make one mistake and lose the game.

In these cases, you may want to choose to play more positional games.

So against the same Dragon, you choose to play the more positional Classical Variation --- where you castle on the same side, retreat your Knight to b3 (which opens up the d5 square for your queen) and launch a less aggressive kingside attack.

Now let's say you are playing against an Accelerated Dragon.

This, in contrast, to a regular dragon, leads to games that are extremely positional and strategic.

The typical idea is for White to fight and keep the Maroczy Bind positional advantage over Black.

A Maroczy Bind is white pawns on c4 and e4 -- Where Black doesn’t have control over d5.

If you are:

  • Playing someone more skilled positionally than you or
  • You are better tactically than positionally

You could launch a Yugoslav Attack.

This aggressive tactical attack (not normally used against an Accelerated Dragon) could put your opponent in uncomfortable positions.

What is The Sicilian Defense?

The Sicilian Defense is the most commonly played response against the move 1. e4.

It happens after the move: 1. e4 c5

You can see what it looks like below.

How To Reach The Sicilian Defense

  1. First, White has to move the King’s pawn two squares (1. e4)
  2. Then, Black should respond by moving the light-squared Bishop’s pawn also two squares (1… c5)

See what it looks like below.

Why Play The Sicilian Defense

The Sicilian Defense is the most common response to 1. e4.

By advancing the c-pawn at the first move, Black creates an asymmetry in the pawn structure.

This leads to an imbalanced position that gives Black higher chances to win.

Besides this, the move 1… c5 controls the important d4-square.

This means that White will not be able to maintain a pawn on d4 controlling the centre together with e4.

White will need to play the move d4 in order to develop his pieces.

This happens in the open sicilian: for example after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4.

After these moves, Black will take the d4 pawn (3… cxd4) which allows him to exchange his Bishop-pawn for a more central one.

How To Play The Sicilian Defense

Najdorf variation

How To Reach It

The Najdorf variation is a chess opening that begins with the following moves:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 a6

See these moves played out below:

Why play the Najdorf variation

The Najdorf variation is the most popular line of the Sicilian defense.

The main idea behind this line is to prepare the move e7-e5, which offers Black a majority in the centre and lots of ambitious attacking ideas.

White's Moves

Play the move Be3 to put pressure on the Kingside

The move 6. Be3 introduces a very popular line called the English attack.

White’s plan is to play f3, Qd2 and then possibly create a kingside pawnstorm.

Create a Kingside pawnstorm

White should expand on the Kingside and attack the opponent’s king.

Pin the f6-knight

The main line against the Najdorf variation is the move 6. Bg5.

This move discourages Black from going for the immediate e7-e5 plan.

Black's moves

The introductory move, 5... a6

This key-move controls the b5-square and stops White from going Bb5+.

Black should keep control of this square the whole game.

Gain space in the centre with e5

The main purposes of the Najdorf variation is to be able to expand in the centre with e5.

This move helps Black’s development because it gains a tempo on the d4-knight. Besides that, it helps Black to keep a stronger control of the centre and the d4-square, and it also provides more space for the pieces.

Place a rook on c8

Controlling the c-file gives Black lots of counterplay, especially while White is focused on attacking on the Kingside.

Dragon variation

How To Reach It

The Dragon variation is a chess opening that begins with the following moves:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 g6

See these moves played out below:

Why play the Dragon variation

In the Dragon variation, Black places his dark-squared Bishop on g7 to aim at the centre and the Queenside.

This variation often leads to opposite castles and sharp attacking games.

White's Moves

Play Be3 and Qd2 to support the move Bh6

Black’s g7 Bishop is very powerful and can block attacks.

Because of this, White try to exchange this piece by playing Be3 followed by Qd2 and Bh6.

Develop a kingside pawnstorm

One of the main plans for White in the Dragon variation is to launch a Kingside attack with moves such as f4 and g4.

Control the d5-square

Controlling the d5-square is very important for White in the dragon variation, since Black often wants to play the move d6-d5 to open the centre.

Black's moves

Fianchetto the f8-bishop

Play g7-g6, then Bf8-g7.

This two move sequence is called a Fianchetto and gives Black bishop a great control of the h8-a1 diagonal.

Counter-attack on the Queenside

Black should breakthrough on the Queenside to counter White.

Both expanding by advancing the a and b-pawns and controlling the c-file are great plans for Black.

Break in the centre with the move d7-d5

Playing d5 is a very common plan in the sicilian defense.

This pawn break is one of the most common ways for Black to fight for counterplay since it opens files and gives Black space in the centre.

It has also the power to disrupt White’s control of the position, because if he is too focused on a wing attack his pieces could be discoordinated and the centre could be left unprotected.

Since Black can manage to equalize or even get an advantage if this move is played.

Classical Variation

How To Reach It

The Classical variation is a chess opening that begins with the following moves:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 Nc6

It can also happen by this move order:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 Nc6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 d6

See these moves played out below:

Why play the Classical Variation

In the classical variation, unlike in the other Sicilian main lines, Black chooses to develop the b8-Knight before the f8-Bishop.

By doing so, Black puts lots of pressure in the centre and the d4-knight.

As in the other lines, the resulting positions will be imbalanced and full of opportunities for both sides.

White's Moves

Play Bg5 and double Black’s pawns

The move 6. Bg5 is the most common against the Classical variation.

This move threatens to double Black's pawns if the Bishop takes the Knight and prevents Black from fianchettoing his dark squared bishop.

Push the f-pawn

Advancing the f-pawn is a very common plan in many variations of the Sicilian since it allows White to grab some space on the Kingside.

Black's moves

Controlling the centre with the two knights

The main purpose of the introductory move of the Classical Sicilian, Nc6, is to put pressure on White’s centre since the very beginning of the game.

Counter-attack in the centre with d5

As in the other Sicilian variations, Black can get some serious counterplay if he manages to prepare the d5-break.

As you already know, this pawn break can give Black’s position a lot of activity, especially on the centre of the board.

Scheveningen Variation

How To Reach It

The Scheveningen variation is a chess opening that begins with the following moves:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 e6

See these moves played out below:

Why play the Scheveningen variation

The Scheveningen variation provides Black with a very flexible pawn formation.

The positions that arise from this opening are very interesting and full of ideas for both sides.

White's Moves

Controlling the centre with f4

Since Black has a central majority, the move f2-f4 can help White to control more central squares.

Launch a kingside attack

A typical plan for White in the Scheveningen is to develop a kingside attack, often by creating a pawnstorm on this side of the board.

Control the d5-square

Stopping Black from playing d5 is the big idea behind most Sicilian positions.

Black's moves

Break in the centre with e5 or d5

Central breaks can be very important to react to White’s kingside attack.

When White focuses too much of the attack of one side of the board, it is important to fight back somewhere that is less protected. The centre is usually a good option since if we manage to control it and place pieces there we will have the control of a great area of the chess board.

Counter-attack on the c-file

The semi-open c-file if very often a source of counterplay for Black.

Play h6 to prevent White’s Kingside expansion

The move h7-h6 can be very helpful to stop White from playing an early g5 which could result in a dangerous attack.

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