Sicilian Defence

May 21, 2008, 12:00 AM |
4 | Opening Theory

The Sicilian Defence is a chess opening that begins with the moves:

1. e4 c5
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a4 __b4 __c4 __d4 __e4 plf4 __g4 __h4 __
a3 __b3 __c3 __d3 __e3 __f3 __g3 __h3 __
a2 plb2 plc2 pld2 ple2 __f2 plg2 plh2 pl
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At the master level and above, the Sicilian is the most popular and best-scoring response to White's first move 1.e4. "Indeed, most statistical surveys suggest that 1.d4 is the most successful first move for White, but only because 1...c5! scores so highly against 1.e4." Indeed, New in Chess stated in its 2000 Yearbook that of the games in its database, White scored 56.1% in 296,200 games beginning 1.d4, but a full two percent lower (54.1%) in 349,855 games beginning 1.e4. "The main culprit responsible for this state of affairs" was the Sicilian, which held White to a paltry 52.3% score in 145,996 games. One sixth (17%) of all games between grandmasters, and one quarter (25%) of the games in the Chess Informant database, begin with the Sicilian.

Grandmaster John Nunn notes that the reason for the Sicilian Defence’s popularity "is its combative nature; in many lines Black is playing not just for equality, but for the advantage. The drawback is that White often obtains an early initiative, so Black has to take care not to fall victim to a quick attack." The earliest recorded notes on the Sicilian Defence date back to the late 16th century by the Italian chess players Giulio Polerio and Gioachino Greco.

By advancing the c-pawn two squares, Black asserts control over the d4-square and begins the fight for the centre of the board. The move resembles 1…e5, the next most common response to 1.e4, in that respect. Unlike 1...e5, however, 1...c5 breaks the symmetry of the position, which strongly influences both players' future actions. White, having pushed a kingside pawn, tends to hold the initiative on that side of the board. Moreover, 1...c5 does little for Black's development, unlike moves such as 1...e5, 1...g6, or 1...Nc6, which either develop a minor piece or prepare to do so. In many variations of the Sicilian Black makes a number of further pawn moves in the opening (for example, ...d6, ...e6, ...a6, and ...b5). Consequently, White often obtains a substantial lead in development and dangerous attacking chances.

Meanwhile, Black's advance of a queenside pawn has given him a spatial advantage there and provides a basis for future operations on that flank. Often, Black's pawn on c5 is traded for White's pawn on d4 in the early stages of the game, granting Black a central pawn majority. The pawn trade also opens the c-file for Black, who can place a rook or queen on that file to aid his queenside counterplay.

Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson recently considered why the Sicilian is the most successful response to 1.e4, even though 1...c5 develops no pieces, and the pawn on c5 only controls d4 and b4. Rowson writes, "To my mind there is quite a straightforward explanation. In order to profit from the initiative granted by the first move, White has to make use of his opportunity to do something before Black has an equal number of opportunities of his own. However, to do this, he has to make 'contact' with the black position. The first point of contact usually comes in the form of a pawn exchange, which leads to the opening of the position. ... So the thought behind 1...c5 is this: 'OK, I'll let you open the position, and develop your pieces aggressively, but at a price -- you have to give me one of your centre pawns.'"

By ManUtdForever12

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