A Primer for the Sicilian - Najdorf variation. Very basic, but very good

A Primer for the Sicilian - Najdorf variation. Very basic, but very good

Jul 6, 2016, 11:19 PM |

If you are reading this you are interested in learning about the Sicilian Defense - Najdorf variation, the Cadillac of Chess openings.  

The first thing I would say is that this line is best used by people who like lots of tactics, are aggressive, and are ok with high risk high reward payoffs.

Every article I have read on openings, published by a GM, states that "the first thing you should do is learn the pawn structure of the opening and the second thing is to not just play memorized lines.  you need to understand what is going on."

I wish some of the primer books I have read had given more color around the why behind the first series of opening moves and more on the pawn structure. So I am going to do that for you right now.



The Scheveningen pawn formation is one of the major pawn formations you will come across in many chess games.  It is also the backbone of the Najdorf.  Because of this, there are a couple of things to keep in mind about this pawn formation that will help you understand what you are trying to do, and what your opponent is trying to do.

Im just going to copy straight from Wikipedia about the major ideas of attack and defense based on the Scheveningen (trying saying that 10 times, let alone typing it once with out mistakes) for both sides:

Themes for White: Pressure on the d file, space advantage, e4-e5 break (often prepared with f2-f4), f2-f4-f5 push, g2-g4-g5 blitz (see Keres Attack).

Themes for Black: Pressure on the c file, minority attack (and counterplay in general) on the queenside, pressure on White's pawn on e4 or e5, d6-d5 break, e6-e5 transposing into the Boleslavsky hole.

It is often unwise for White to exchange a piece on c6 allowing the recapture bxc6, because the phalanx of Black's center pawns becomes very strong.


Ok I hope you got that but if you didn't, this is what is being said, write it down:

  1. White is going to try and put pressure on your d-file (to prevent you from going d6-d5 and having a pawn in the center. As it is right now white controls the center because he has a pawn there and he is not about to share that space with you!
  2. White is going to try and push his e4 pawn to e5.  He who controls the center is ready to go after the king but not before you control the center with a pawn presence
  3. White is going to attack KINGSIDE most likely with a pawn storm using the f and g pawns.
  4. You will want to do what you can to safely get your d6 pawn into the center at d5
  5. Do what you can to prevent white from going from e4-e5
  6. You will want to attack QUEENSIDE with a minority attack, but first priority should be to control the center before you play on the wings or atleast keep it locked up.

Now do you see why its so important to know your pawn structure first!?  It basically tells you what your game plan is!

With all this in mind let's now look at the "why" behind each move in the opening's first 5 moves after that you start to get into lots of different lines and variations but I think if we can understand what our plan is from the pawn structure and understand how to evaluate the why's you should be able to hold your own somewhat with out having lots memorized.

I have to pause and mention one thing before going further. I am going to be using GM Melikset Khachiyan's 7 Elements of Evaluation, adapted from Steinitz, to aid us.  Those 7 Elements are:

  1. Pawn Structure - Weak and Strong Squares
  2. Center and Space - Who is better in the middle?
  3. Development - Whose pieces stand on better spots?
  4. King Position - Is your king safe?
  5. Open Lines - Diagonals, Files, Ranks.  Seek to control those
  6. Material Balance
  7. Dynamics/Tactics - Concrete Checks, Captures and Threats

"Before you do ANYTHING you need to UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON" - Meli Khachiyan

Ok, lets begin

  1. Pawn Structure - As Black you will want to control e5, which I think of as a weak square here because there is no defense for it and it is a spot that e4 wants to go to at some point (recall the part on pawn structure themes). The e4 pawn is hanging at the moment, no defenders and has exposed the King.
  2. Center and Space - White controls the center because he has a pawn there and also has a space advantage at this time
  3. Development - Not really anything at this time.
  4. King Position - Each side is still safe but remaining in the middle for too long can be dangerous.
  5. Open Lines - The f1-a6 diagonal for the White white-squared bishop is now open. This is important to be aware of as the bishop will want to go Bb5+ if he can, at some point.  The d1-h5 diagonal is now open for the White Queen
  6. Material Balance - Equal
  7. Tactics - You can Nf6 threaten the e4 pawn but we are dealing with the Sicilian here.

Plan for Black:
  • White will want to establish a dual pawn center if he is allowed; therefore, Black will want to directly or indirectly contest the control of the center by placing a pawn there or by preventing a dual pawn center from happening, and since we know we are dealing with the Sicilian...
  1. Pawn Structure - e5 is still a square we want to control as black. And with 1... c5 we leave behind two weak squares d6 and b6 "You are obligated to protect your weak squares" - Meli Khachiyan.  At this time they arent under attack and have pawn defenders. The d4 square is now under attack, but more imprtantly is that c5 is now hanging defenseless.
  2. Center and Space - White still controls the center but space control is now somewhat even.
  3. Development - Non existent
  4. King position - unchanged
  5. Open Lines - We have now opened the d8-a5 diagonal for our queen, in addition to the f1-a6 diagonal and the d1-h6 diagonal
  6. Material Balance - same
  7. Tactics - none

Plan for White:
  • White will still want to occupy the center with a dual pawn setup but if he did so now, the d4 pawn will be captured with limited recapture options immediately available for White. Recapturing with the Queen is a possibility but not advised as White would be kicked around allowing Black to gain in development. Better is to add a defender to the d4 square first and also add protection to the critical e5 square...
  1. Pawn Structure - no new weaknesses or critical squares from pawn movements. Main concern is that c5 is hanging and remember we are obligated to protect unprotected pawns and pieces if we can.
  2. Center and Space - White still controls the center with a pawn presence and controls more central space now with Nf3.
  3. Development - White is now more developed than Black, a dangerous advantage for white if he can maintain that edge.
  4. King Position - No change, both kings are still in the middle, but white's king is a little exposed with the e4 pawn move.
  5. Open Lines - No new open lines than was listed above. The one we need to be concerned the most with is the f1-a6 diagonal.
  6. Material Balance - Equal
  7. Dynamics/Tactics - No checks captures or threats

Plan for Black

  • All weak squares MUST be protected, so ...

  1. Pawn Structure - With d6 Black has created a weak square on e6 now, but is now adding pressure to the e5 square also. There is now a 1:1 defense vs attack ratio on the e5 and d4 squares. The e4 pawn is still hanging. Remember from the pawn structure stuff above that at some point our goal will be to push d6 to d5 into the center but we can't at the moment because of the e4 pawn and going straight there with d5 first causes us to move our Queen out too soon and open to be kicked around losing tempo, allowing white to create an even bigger lead in development. Also note that Bb5+ is an option.
  2. Center and Space - No change, white still controls the center and has an edge in space in the center with his knight.
  3. Development - White is ahead.
  4. King Position - Still in the middle for both sides; although, now both kings are a little exposed Black moreso than White. Fun fact: If you can keep the enemy king in the middle you should try to do so.
  5. Open Lines - a4 - e8 is now open creating the Bb5+ option for white at some point. The c8-h3 diagonal is also open.
  6. Material - Equal
  7. Dynamics/Tactics - Bb5+ for white i available but easily defended against advisable to not play it at this time. e4-5 is also an option but not advised as our pawn structure suggests we get to a point of supporting the e4 pawn with f2-f4 befor we do.

Plan for White:

  • Avoid the Bb5+ and e4-e5 for now, better is to establish the dual pawn center d4 since defense vs attack will be 2:1, Queen and Knight vs pawn, and if Black takes d4 we can recapture with tempo and move the knoght on f3 to an even better central square.


  1. Pawn Structure - With d4 white has created the dual pawn center which in no way can be allowed to exist. PERIOD. Critical Squares at this point are still the e5 and d5 squares
  2. Center and Space - White is in real control of the center if he is allowed to maintain a dual pawn presence.
  3. Development - White is still in the lead, this tends to be one of the draw backs of the Sicilian, white tends to have and maintains a lead in development and central control for a while.
  4. King Position - Kings are still in the middle but now white's king is even more exposed.
  5. Open Lines - e1- a5 diagonal is now open.
  6. Material - Equal
  7. Dynamics - Checks: Black can go Qa5+ but that can be easily defended and opens the Queen to be kicked around. Captures: cxd4


Plan for Black

  • The dual pawn center must not be allowed to exist or it will be the bane of your existence.


  1. Pawn Structure - The dual pawn center has been destroyed and the black d4 pawn is now hanging.
  2. Center and Space - Black now has a pawn in the center, White is not eager to share center control
  3. Development - White is still in the lead.
  4. King Position - Nothing new to discuss
  5. Open Lines - The c file is now semi-open and  the d file is semi-open.  The only thing missing from creating the Scheveningen pawn formation is Black e6! And now we confirmation that we are dealing with the Scheveningen pawn formation!
  6. Material - Black is up a pawn... for now.
  7. Dynamics - Check: Bb5+ (not advised), Captures: Nxd4 (advised, free pawn recapture and move to better square) Qxd4 (not advised, will just get your Queen kicked around and lose your lead in development), No serious threats to consider.


Plan for White:

  • Can't allow a Black pawn in the center and recapturing for free with out putting yourself in harms way and developing to an even better square?  Nxd4, Yes and yes.


  1. Pawn Structure - Black's d4 pawn is now toast, e4 pawn is still hanging and e5 and d5 are still the hot squares to follow.
  2. Center and Space - White is now back in control of the center and has even better space control.  White had movement on 4 ranks and Black has movement on 3 ranks.  Another drawback for the Sicilian a weaker space advantage.  Black will want to trade pieces if he can ever get anything developed, White will not. If you are ahead in space control you want to avoid trades to keep your enemy cramped.
  3. Develpment - White still has onlly one piece out but is on a really good square so white is still ahead in development. 
  4. King Position - Still the same
  5. Open lines - the c and d files are now semi-open.  We will want to control the c file at some point.
  6. Material - Equal
  7. Dynamics - Checks: Qa5+ (not advised), no captures, Threats: Nf6 (add pressure to e4 since e4-e5 next turn would be met by dxe5. Also adds defense to our d5 hope pawn break square), d5 (not advised) Nc6 (is an option but not part of the Najdorf at this point and it better to add more pressure on e4 and defend d5 right now)


Plan for Black:

  • Nf6 to add pressure on e4 since e4-e5 next turn would be met by dxe5. Also adds defense to our d5 hope pawn break square. remember we must defend our weak squares.
  1. Pawn Structure - Undefended e4 is now threatened, d5 has a defender, e5 is undefended.
  2. Center and Space - Center is under attack and in danger of losing control if black is allowed to capture e4.
  3. Development - Black is now equal as far as pieces on the baord is concerned but White's night is still better placed overall for space control so White has a little edge still in development.
  4. King Position - Nothing new
  5. Open Lines - Nothing new
  6. Material Balance - Equal
  7. Dynamics - No Checks or captures, Threats: Nc6 or Ne6 (bad idea)
Plan for White:
  • It is critical that White maintain his central control with pawn presence as he doesnt have the d pawn anymore as back up. So advised is Nc3 to defend the e4 pawn and add pressure on the d5 square, which has 2 attackers and 2 defenders with the Queen being a defender should d6 -d5.


  1. Pawn Structure - e5 is still under control for now, we will want to be thinking of ways to add another defender to d5 (hint e6 is really looking like the Scheveningen).
  2. Center and Space - Firmly under White's control at this point.
  3. Development - Once again white is ahead
  4. King Position - Still in the center but Black is safer than white
  5. Open lines - Black should really be worried about the Bb5+ idea given that b5 has both knights as attackers and defenders right now is white's bishop wanted to go there.  
  6. Material Balance - Equal
  7. Tactics - no checks, captures: Nxe4 (not advised, you'd be hanging the knight), threats: Qa5 to pin the knight (the thing about this kind of pin is that it is easily broken, so this is not advised) Bg4 (not advised at this time: remember from the pawn structure stuff at the beginning our play is on the Queen side and not the King side for long term success)


Plan for Black:

  • a6 to do two things.  One, prevent Bb5+ and two, to prepare for b7-b5 begining the minority attack at some point.  This is more important than e6 for now.  But in the next move with some variations e6 is the next advisable move.
I hope this was beneficial and that you keep doing that 7 step evaluation around our themes and if you do then you should be better prepared to understand the opening lines and variations instead of just memorising them.
Please let me know if you thought this was useful as I may do more of them in the future if they were.