A Leading Expert Shares His Best Anti-Sicilian Weapon...

A Leading Expert Shares His Best Anti-Sicilian Weapon...

GM Illingworth

Would you like to learn the 'secret' Anti-Sicilian weapon I've used as White to amass a 9/10 score against 2500+ FIDE strength players (on average) in blitz?

This variation is the best performing one in my White repertoire - my performance rating with this move is over 3100 in Chess.com blitz. That's 250 points above my current blitz rating, which at the Grandmaster level, is a stratospheric jump from 'strong GM' to the top few players in the world!

I deeply analyze this weapon (including, sharing several important novelties for both White and Black) in my new course, 'Attacking the Sicilian' - the launch of which closes at 11:59pm on Wednesday 24th September, GMT+7 (Vietnam) time!

Click here to master my Grandmaster Anti-Sicilian Repertoire for White!

In fact, I'm sharing my practical experiences with this powerful, dangerous Anti-Sicilian weapon here, in this email, so that can also set big problems for Grandmaster opposition in your games!

This weapon is so effective, that one GM (whose name I will obviously keep a secret) has told me he is using my 'Attacking the Sicilian' repertoire in his next major tournament, where he will compete with many other strong Grandmasters!

To add the icing on the cake - this weapon also happens to be against the very best moves Black can play against the Anti-Sicilians!

Here are the basic theoretical conclusions from my research:

However, after 3...Nd7, my weapon is the move 4.Ba4! (see the position below), anticipating the attack on the White bishop with ...a6, so that we can reply c4 and get a Maroczy Bind structure:

The leading expert of this variation is clearly the world's no.1 blitz player on Chess.com and the FIDE Blitz ratings, Hikaru Nakamura. He's scored an incredible 16/17 (!!) from the diagram position as White in online blitz, against many of the world's best blitz players (including Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja and Fedoseev).

This proves that the deeply prophylactic 4.Ba4 is very unpleasant to face in a practical game, even for the world's best players!

Many other strong GMs also successfully employ the move 4.Ba4 in their games. For instance, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is one of the world's leading Najdorf experts as Black. Therefore, the fact he has played 4.Ba4 in several games against his own Black repertoire is a very significant seal of approval!
Two other successful exponents of 4.Ba4 are the top British GMs Gawain Jones and Michael Adams. In fact, Michael Adams (pictured below, credit to Wikipedia) used this 4.Ba4 move to win an important last-round game against GM Stephen Gordon at the 2019 British Championship, winning the British Championship title by half a point as a result.

Click here to study Adams's title-winning game, and much more, in 'Attacking The Sicilian'!

Credit should also be given to GM Pavel Eljanov, a strong Ukranian GM who is the most loyal exponent of 4.Ba4, though his results are less impressive than those of the other main experts.

What you will notice about all the above names is that they are active professional chess players - therefore, they are going to keep their novelties and ideas secret, so that they can use them to defeat other strong Grandmasters!

However, I stopped playing in over-the-board competitions over a year ago, and this allows me to openly share all my experiences and my 'secret' novelties and analysis with you - backed up by powerful chess engines, and a thorough database of engine and top-level correspondence games, where the players have spent several days of analysis to determine the best moves!

Here are the ten games I played with 4.Ba4 in online blitz, in ascending chronological order - sit back and enjoy the ride!

Game 1: GM Max vs. IM DragonB70 (2450-2500 FIDE blitz strength)

After 4.Ba4, my opponent played 4...Ngf6 5.0-0 Nxe4?!, grabbing the 'poisoned' pawn on e4. This is what most of my opponents play (even several GMs), falling into my trap!

After 6.Re1 Ngf6 7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 e6, White has a very strong initiative, and I actually came up with a strong novelty over the board with 9.Nc3! (improving on the old 9.Nb5), but after 9...Be7 (see diagram below) we reach the critical moment:

I lacked the courage to play the incredible novelty I discovered when researching 'Attacking the Sicilian', which gives White a very strong attack. Instead, I played the inferior 10.Ndb5?, missing 10...0-0!, with the idea of 11.Nxd6 Nb6, and I was extremely lucky to win from this very bad position.

In Game 3 - GM Max vs. a 2100 player on a competitor's site that we'll conceal here - I actually repeated this 10.Ndb5? error, which goes to show that even GMs sometimes fail to learn from their games, and repeat the same mistake several times! Luckily for me, my club player opponent collapsed with 10...d5? 11.Bf4 0-0 12.Bc7 Qe8 13.Nd6 Bxd6 14.Bxd6, after which I won the exchange and soon the game.

This experience is why, in 'Attacking the Sicilian', I strongly recommend that you immediately start playing the repertoire in your own games. You can learn the key ideas in the 'Level 1' section to start using the repertoire within half an hour of study!

By playing the opening BEFORE you have learned or remembered the detailed theory, you'll build up important practical experience, learn from your mistakes, and remember the moves and ideas so much more profoundly, because you have your own powerful, emotional experiences to 'anchor' the moves and remember the key ideas.

You can be sure that I will never forget the best move for White on move 10, because I have the strong emotional experience of missing 10.Ndb5? 0-0! and feeling like a complete beginner against this IM!

Game 2: GM Max vs. FM Ivan Yeletzky (2550 FIDE blitz strength)

When I played this game, I was still using 4.Ba4 without knowing the theory, which was still in its nascent stages of development.

For this reason, after the main continuation of 4...Ngf6 5.0-0 a6 6.c4 g6 7.Nc3 Bg7, I had forgotten the important Zherebukh-So game that started the whole 4.Ba4 trend, and instead of the correct 8.d3!, played the overambitious 8.d4?! cxd4 9.Nxd4 0-0, when we have a Maroczy Bind where the bishop looks rather silly on a4. Probably 10.h3 or the novelty 10.Bb3!? was best, as 10.Be3?! Nb6 11.Bb3 Ng4! gave Black some initiative, and my eventual win was due to being a stronger player on the day, rather than the strength of White's position.

Here's the PGN of the moves, in case you need the board to follow along: 
My next two games with 4.Ba4 are very embarrassing, but I am sharing them anyway, so that you can see that I didn't start out as an expert in this Anti-Sicilian! My mastery comes from practicing the variation as early as I can (even before learning the theory deeply), being willing to mess up at the start, and then learning from the mistakes!

Game 4: GM Max vs. IM (now GM) Zhamsaran Tsydypov (2650 FIDE blitz strength at the time)
In this game, it felt great to catch my opponent in another trap within 4.Ba4 - after 4...Ngf6 5.0-0 Nxe4?! 6.Re1 Nef6 7.d4, Tsydypov played 7...e6?! 8.d5 e5, only to find that 9.Nxe5! (see the game below) is a big shot:
The obvious point (in hindsight!) is that 9...dxe5 is not possible due to 10.Rxe5 Be7 11.d6, crashing through on e7 thanks to the pins.

Therefore, my opponent played 9...Be7, after which I played the solid 10.Nf3 0-0 11.c4, keeping a pleasant edge with my space advantage. However, my opponent later outplayed me when I underestimated his ...a6/...b5! counterplay, and I was very lucky to swindle a draw from a totally lost position later.

Now I know two (!) strong novelties on move 10 that give White a bigger advantage, and I cover them in my 'Attacking The Sicilian' course.

Game 5: GM Max vs. IM Nikolai Papenin (2550 FIDE blitz strength)

Some of you may recognise my opponent's name - he was the world's strongest correspondence player in the early 2010s, surging to a peak rating of 2733 - which is basically the Magnus Carlsen of correspondence!

This was admittedly a bullet game, but I did promise to share my stupid mistakes as well as my brilliant wins!

The game went 4.Ba4 Ngf6 5.0-0 g6, and here I 'forgot' that I should continue with 6.Re1 and c3/d4 when Black plays ...g6 plans, to 'kill' the fianchettoed bishop on g7. (I used this personal lesson to win a nice game yesterday - more on that later!)

Instead, I played the careless 6.d4? cxd4 7.Re1 Bg7 8.Nxd4 0-0 9.c4 Nc5 10.Bc2 Ne6, ending up in an even worse Maroczy Bind than against FM Yeletzky - Black didn't even lose a move on ...a6! I was completely lost, but managed to swindle a draw by playing faster than my opponent - he flagged a few moves before checkmate.

Not long after this game, I took a break from playing online blitz for six months, and when I returned to blitz 'seriously' in March 2020, I was mostly playing moves other than 1.e4.
However, my results are currently much better with 1.e4 than any other first move, and a large part of that is thanks to my fantastic results against the Sicilian, where my extensive experience with Black as well as White gives me an 'unfair advantage'!

Game 6: GM Max vs. 'GroovyKettle' (FIDE 2550 blitz strength)

When I played this game, in May 2020, I was still mainly a 1.d4 player, but I remember that my opponent had crushed my London System, and I realized that I needed something more aggressive to put him under pressure!

After 4...g6?! 5.0-0 Bg7, I remembered from my past painful experience that we should kill the g7-bishop right away, and I played 6.c3! Ngf6 7.Re1 0-0 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4, obtaining a pleasant advantage with the extra space in the centre. Then 9...e5 (see diagram below) is a critical moment, where we can learn about the 'practical' component of setting problems for the opponent:

In this position, my move 10.d5?! is objectively a mistake, as the arising KID structure is quite playable for Black when the bishop is weirdly placed on a4.

However, I played this move because, in earlier games against this opponent, he always played classical ...d5-based systems in reply to 1.d4, and therefore I knew he would be very uncomfortable in a more dynamic King's Indian structure.

Indeed, my opponent immediately faltered with 10...a6?! 11.Bc2 Nb6? - such a slow approach is completely wrong for this type of position, and I won the game very convincingly.

By the way, you'll learn what 10th move I should have played in one of my later games!

Game 7: GM Max vs. GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami (2575 FIDE blitz strength)

This game was an important turning point for me, as I had already started working on the 'Attacking The Sicilian' repertoire, and a win would also see my blitz rating go back over 2900 after many struggles grappling with my 'failure' to perform to my capability at the 2020 FIDE Online Olympiad for Australia.

The game saw yet another Grandmaster fall for the 'trap' with 4.Ba4 Ngf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 Nef6 7.d4, but here my opponent threw me a curveball with 7...a6 8.c4 e6 9.d5 b5!?, returning the pawn to complicate the position and create counterplay.

At this point, thinking too much about the 2900+ rating I dreamed of, I completely choked and lost control, only winning the game because my opponent took too much time on his opening moves, meaning I could flag him despite being a full piece down.

As I show in my course, I should have played 10.dxe6! fxe6 11.cxb5 Nb6 12.Ng5!, after which Black's king is simply too exposed down the e-file, and Black's lack of development will most likely cost him the game.

As you can see, I've been winning with 4.Ba4 a lot, even when misplaying the opening in most of my games! That's because you don't need to play well to win a chess game - all it takes is playing better than the opponent! Or faster, if you're in a time scramble with no increment.

In the last couple of days, having finally finished this 'Attacking The Sicilian' course, recording nearly 20 hours of videos, I knew it was time to unleash this Grandmaster repertoire on my next opponents!

Game 8: GM Max vs. GM Deepan Chakkravarthy (FIDE 2500 blitz strength)
In this game, my opponent didn't seem prepared for 4.Ba4 at all, as he played the committal 4...e5?!, steering play towards an improved Ruy Lopez for White after 5.0-0 Ngf6 6.Re1 Be7 7.c3 (as I shared with 'Attacking the Sicilian' student Corniek le Poole recently, White should typically meet ...e5 with c3 and d4 in the Moscow Variation, to take over the centre) 7...0-0 8.d4 (see diagram below), and this is what I call a magic trick:
Thanks to our Moscow Variation with 4.Ba4, we have move ordered our Sicilian opponent into a Spanish structure!

I have noticed that 1...c5 and 1...e5 generally represent two different 'camps' or styles - 1...c5 being the favourite move of the more 'dynamic' or 'tactical' players, while the more 'solid' or 'strategic' players typically prefer 1...e5. It's rare for players to have mastery of both the Sicilian and the Spanish for Black!

After my opponent's 8...Rb8!? (to prepare ...b5), I should have played the prophylactic 9.Bc2! (anticipating ...b5) 9...b5 10.d5 to get an improved version of the normal Spanish, as White has not needed to play h3, and he also reached the standard Closed structure while avoiding annoying lines like the Berlin, Marshall and other systems!

In the game, I 'played the man' with 9.dxe5!?, which gave Black the opportunity to activate his passive d7-knight with 9...Nxe5! for a slightly worse but very solid position. Instead, he continued with 9...dxe5?, allowing me to fix a highly favourable structure with 10.c4!, as White can easily play Nc3 and a later Nd5, whereas Black's knights are a very long way from the d4 outpost!

In fact, Black's fastest route is ...Nb8-c6-d4, but it's hard even for Grandmasters to 'admit our mistake'! Despite misplaying the middlegame from here, I went on to win, feeling great about my life.

Yesterday, I played a couple more games with 4.Ba4, and these games helped me turn around a 'rough patch' in my play and finish my blitz session on a big high!

Game 9: GM Max vs. GM Sanal (2600 FIDE blitz strength, picture below from Chess.com profile)
My opponent in this game is one of Turkey's most promising young players, with an extremely creative approach to the game. However, I've found that I generally do well against more creative opponents, especially when I play 'simple chess' in response!
In this game, my opponent feel for the same trap as GM Tsydypov, with 4.Ba4 Ngf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 Ngf6 7.d4 e6 8.d5 e5 9.Nxe5! - I could not believe my luck! However, after 9...Be7, I confused my theory - it turns out that my move 10.Nc6 is a very strong novelty if the moves 5...a6 and 6.c4 are inserted, but in this version, it is quite harmless.

Fortunately, even after this mistake, the position was still equal, and I was able to outplay my opponent in a very technical endgame. Checking the game now, I see I had 1 minutes and 15 seconds left at the end, from my initial 3 minutes - which in itself tells you how easy the 4.Ba4 positions are to play for White in practice!

Game 10: GM Max vs. IM Raja Harshit (FIDE blitz strength 245o)

This was an unrated game I played while recording a video of me playing 'The Chess Improvement Repertoire' for my Chess Improvement Group members. I was pumped for the game, as although I'm higher rated than my opponent, he's beaten me several times in the past, and I was determined to 'settle the score' this time!

This time, I learned from my game vs. 'GroovyKettle', and after 4.Ba4 g6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.c3 Ngf6 7.Re1 0-0 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4 e5, I improved with 10.Nc3!, keeping the central tension. My opponent, feeling the pressure and being reluctant to accept an isolated d6-pawn with 10...exd4 11.Nxd4 Nc5, blundered a pawn with 10...Nb6?. I grabbed the pawn with 11.dxe5 and went on to win easily.

This has been a long and very personal journey, and I congratulate you for making it to the end of the post with me!

However, this is actually just the beginning of your own success story, where you take your current struggles and frustration against the Sicilian, and transform them into the most dangerous opening weapons in your arsenal.

You can also see how the opening, when studied intelligently, is a very powerful learning tool, that makes us much better chess players! And my promise to you is that, by studying 'Attacking the Sicilian' and learning from your own experiences with the repertoire, you will understand this repertoire at a master level with White.

And if you learn the deep theory I cover in 'Level 3' as well, you'll make even Grandmaster opposition struggle in the early moves - just like I've done, several times, in the games I've shown you here.

Your Chess Trainer,

GM Max Illingworth