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Easy Guide To The Grachev Sicilian
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Easy Guide To The Grachev Sicilian

Illingworth
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Easy Guide To The Grachev Sicilian

Are you looking for a chess opening that mirrors the Najdorf but with a significantly reduced amount of theory? The Grachev Sicilian is your answer. It's a practical alternative that allows you to play like the Najdorf but with a fraction of the theory. Keep reading to discover more about this intriguing variation

Do you remember the old 'SOS' (Secrets Of Opening Surprises) books by New In Chess, where a master would explain some unusual and exciting opening variation (with some tricky points)?

This article resurrects that same spirit, introducing the Grachev Sicilian - a unique opening named after the Russian GM Boris Grachev, who is the leading authority on the unconventional 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 variation. This opening, which caused me no small amount of trouble online last month, is sure to keep your opponents on their toes!

Play through the key variations on the board here:

A - 5.Nf5

5.Nf5 is an ambitious attempt to punish Black's move order. We can leverage the absence of ...Nf6/Nc3 with 5... Bxf5 6. exf5 d5!?, intending to meet 7.Nc3 with the 7...Bb4 pin. Such an approach deserves more practical tests.

B - 5.Nb5

5.Nb5 (in the Sveshnikov style) is not so critical as after 5...a6 6.N1c3 Nf6 7.Bg5 Be7 8.Bxf6 Bxf6, Black plays around the d5 hole with 9.Nd5 Be6 10.Bc4 Nd7 11.0-0 Rc8 12.Qe2 b5 13.Bb3 Nc5 for reasonable counterplay.

C - 5.Nf3

5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Nc3 is common but not especially critical. The most common is 6...Be7, but an 'SOS-style' alternative is the prophylactic 6...h6!?, preventing Bg5. We keep the pieces on the board with 7.Bc4 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Be6, basically playing a Najdorf without ...a6. While this is marginally better for White, we avoided a ton of theory and still have a reasonable game.

D - 5.Nb3

5.Nb3 is the 2nd most common move in Mega Database 2024. After 5...Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7, we play it like a Classical Sicilian, where we improve on the 'Najdorf' ...a6 by playing ...a5 in one go if White prepares long castling. But after something natural, like 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 Be6 9.Be3 Nbd7, we can use the tempo saved on ...a6 to prepare ...d5 with ...Nb6, equalising the chances.

E - 5.Bb5!


5.Bb5! is, of course, the critical test. You may recall that in Round 1 of the 2024 FIDE Candidates, Nakamura played 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Bb5 Nbd7 against Caruana, intending 7.Nf5 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bb3 Nc5 for a slightly worse position that can be held. While this is objectively best, it doesn't give Black much hope to win the game.

That is why I am going with Grachev's 5...Bd7 6.Bxd7 Qxd7, when we reach a final fork in the road:

E1 - 7.Nf3

7.Nf3 is not so dangerous - we pressure the e4-pawn with 7...Nf6 8.Nc3 Qc6 9.Qe2 and now 9...h6, preventing the annoying Bg5. White has only a slight edge after 10.0-0 Be7 11.Rd1 Nbd7, and that's only if he keeps playing good moves (a rare case in the few moves after someone leaves their 'book' knowledge).

E2 - 7.Nb3


7.Nb3 can be met in a few ways; I like the move order with 7...Nc6 when we meet 8.0-0 with 8...Nf6. Play it like a Classical Sicilian, or spice things up with 8.Nc3 f5!?, not making it so easy for White to castle long and pawn storm the kingside like in a normal Najdorf. White is somewhat better, but we keep the scope to outplay the opponent.

E3 - 7.Nf5

7.Nf5 is the most natural and common move, but gives us our main trick - 7...Nf6 8.Nc3 (else ...d5) 8...Nxe4!, removing the defence of the f5-knight. Since 9.Nxe4 Qxf5 10.Nxd6 Bxd6 11.Qxd6 Nc6 and ...Rd8 give excellent piece play; Whit normally flicks in the intermezzo 9.Nxg7 Bxg7 10.Nxe4, but now 10...d5 gives Black a very strong centre. Both the automatic 11.Ng3 Nc6 (followed by ...0-0-0) and the tricky 11.Bh6 0-0 12.Bxg7 Kxg7 are not worse for Black.

E3 - 7.Ne2!

7.Ne2! is the supposed 'refutation', although Grachev still made things tricky for me after 7...Nf6 8.Nc3 by playing 8...Qg4, forking the e4-pawn and g2-pawn. I sacked the pawns with 9.Qd3 Qxg2 10.Rg1 Qxh2 11.Bg5 and after 11...Nbd7, mixed up my move order with 12.0-0-0?! Qxf2 13.Bxf6 losing my advantage and only winning by swindling my opponent later (I am the 'Swindler' on the Chess Personality Quiz, after all).

But of course, this is not playable against a prepared opponent, as 12.Bxf6! leaves Black with either a strategically lost position after 12...gxf6, or in the case of 12...Nxf6 13.Qb5 Nd7 14.Qxb7 Rb8 15.Qc6!, White obtains a decisive attack, as Black's king cannot escape the centre.

Conclusion


To conclude - the Grachev Sicilian is very tricky, and if your opponent isn't prepared for it, you'll likely get a fine position in the spirit of the Najdorf, but with hardly any opening study (allowing you to focus more on calculation, understanding the middlegames and so on).

But it only works as a surprise weapon - don't blame me if your opponent also follows my posts, and bashes out the refutation!

What's your take on the Grachev Sicilian?

Would you try it yourself?

Or are you just glad to know how to meet it?

Next Steps

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