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The Responsibility of the Open Sicilian

The Responsibility of the Open Sicilian

backrankbrawler
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18

Early in 2020, I changed from my trusty 1.d4 to start playing 1.e4. In my youth, I used to play 1.e4 but mainly played gambits and off-beat openings. This year, I wanted to play 1.e4 "properly" and learn the Ruy Lopez as White and play the Open Sicilian. Against some of the other options for Black after 1.e4 such as the French and the Caro-Kann I've opted for less theoretical variations as my task in the Ruy and Open Sicilian was daunting enough. My adoption of the Ruy Lopez has been fairly smooth sailing, scoring 61% with the White pieces in the Spanish.

My score in the Open Sicilian is not horrible, but not quite as positive as I scored just 51% with the White pieces after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3. This includes a 17/40 (43%) score against the Najdorf and 2/5 (40%) against the Sveshnikov - admittedly a small sample size against the 2nd opening mentioned. There are a few more interesting statistical tidbits I discovered, but I will bring them up in context with some other thoughts I had.

In a recent episode of Sunday Night Fights on Chess Dojo's Twitch Stream (twitch.tv/chessdojolive), GM Jesse Kraai was looking at one of my games and asked if I had prepared the opening, which ended badly for me. I hadn't, and although he didn't press on the point much further, it started to make me realize that if you play the Open Sicilian, you have a responsibility to learn it well or find yourself in bad positions often!

What do I mean by this? Well, there are certain openings that are more forgiving. For example, I sometimes play the Colle (1.d4 and pretty much after whatever Black plays you can play 2.Nf3, 3.e3 and 4.Bd3) and the move order doesn't really matter too much. If you don't play the "theoretical" move, you can pretty much play the typical Colle ideas and be okay. Maybe not great, but okay. 

This is not so in the Open Sicilian. Not only does Black have a ton of options on how to combat it - e.g. The Najdorf, Dragon, Scheveningen, Kan, Sveshnikov, etc., but each of these options have their own subsets of options based on both how White and Black play. There are some ways to winnow the tremendous amount of theory in front of a player daring to take on the task, but it is very difficult to cut it down without resorting to one of the Anti-Sicilians such as the Alapin (1.e4 c5 2.c3). 

Unless "system" openings such as the Colle or the London, having a general idea of the plans behind the opening aren't often enough. Some slight change in move order can cause you to abandon plans you were prepared for and find yourself in a sharp or complex positions that your opponent is more familiar with. Such was the case in the following game. My opponent was much higher rated than me, so her victory was not a surprise, but part of her skill was getting me out of any opening preparation I might have had at the time.

With all of this "responsibility" and challenge in playing the Open Sicilian, why should an amateur player tackle it? There are many options after 1.e4 c5 that lead to rich positions that don't require the knowledge needed in the Open Sicilian. Well, here are a few reasons that I came up with:

First, the Open Sicilian often leads to exciting games with attacking chances. It's hard to generalize a lot with an opening with such broad options, but it is true. Here is a favorite game of mine in the Sozin Variation of the Najdorf. I offer it here without comment (but I've created a video on my Youtube Channel commenting on this game).

Second, even though the theoretical burden is greater than with other openings, the burden is present for BOTH PLAYERS! That means if you are playing players mainly around your strength, it is quite possible that you will both be lost if you leave theory. Of course, part of getting stronger is learning from these experiences, and eventually you won't be lost. Therefore, if you commit to it (and I've decided that I want to commit to it for myself), then eventually you will become more familiar with most of the options that Black can throw at you. The key is to be patient with yourself and enjoy the process.

Finally, even though you are playing the Open Sicilian, you don't have to play the main lines in every variation. There are many cases where you can play another option that gives you very rich and interesting play without having to stick to the main lines (which undoubtedly your opponent would have spent more time studying than more off-beat lines). 

One recent example of this is my switch from playing the Maroczy Bind against the Sicilian Kan - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.c4 - to a less theoretical option - 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be2. Although the sample size is small, the statistics are very interesting. In Maroczy Bind positions, I've scored 1/7 (14%). With my new set-up, I've scored 3/5 (60%). There's still a lot for me to learn in these lines, but it's much less daunting than the popular Maroczy Bind. 

Here is my most recent game in this line. A miniature, but an interesting one. This particular games shows just how sharp the Sicilian can be from the openings moves. Typical "thematic" moves such as ...b5 and ...d5 that my opponent plays need to be analyzed for tactical soundness. My play isn't perfect, as I missed a couple early knockout blows, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

I hope you will consider trying out the Open Sicilian if you play 1.e4. It is definitely not easy, and carries with it a heavy responsibility of commitment and effort if you wish to play it successfully. However, the rewards can be quite enjoyable.