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The Sicilian Four Knights: A good practical opening?

  • #1
    My personal experience in the sicilian four knights has been really positive. It's my favorite line because I always get a playable and active position out of the opening.
    The reason is that at my level most of the players don't play the critical line 6. Ndb5 (with the idea 6. ...d6 7. Bf4 e5 8. Bg5 transposing into the complicated sveshnikov) which isn't surprising since only people who know theory would play Ndb5. I'll discuss it later. 
    So most of the players play a developing move like Bc4 or Be3. The reason why I like this opening is that because black didn't play d6 he is able to develop his bishop actively to b4 pressuring the center.
    Sometimes Qa5 can be played but most important is the fact that black can push d5 in most of the lines. In no other sicilian it is so easy to push d5. Black gets active play and good winning chances.
    The reason why I think that the sicilian four knights is a good opening is that only really strong players who know the theory will move their knight a second time with Ndb5 thus playing the critical main line. Here I would suggest Bb4 instead of d6 because the sveshnikov is really complicated and to be honest I don't understand a lot of the positions which arise out of the sveshnikov.
     
    After 6. ... Bb4 7. a3 Bc3:+ 8. Nc3: d5 9. ed ed you get a IQP-position which is maybe a little easier to handle if you already play IQP-positions. I had this variation only once against an IM in a local rapid tournament and he destroyed me (Never in my life I lost so brutally.happy.png). But I don't think it was because of the opening.
     
    Another critical line I saw in a book was 6. Nc6: bc 7. Ne4. To be honest I don't know much about this line and I didn't studied it in depth nor did I encounter it online or OTB. 
    My first impression is that the position are slightly uncomfortable with black.
     
    Maybe you have some advice?
     
    Long story short: I think the sicilian four knights is a good practical weapon which offers active piece play and the possibility to play the thematic sicilian pawn break d5 most of the time.
    It doesn't take much time to prepare it, it's not so theory heavy. After a few games you can familiarize yourself really quickly with the typical plans and ideas.
     
    The only problem I see is in the main lines. But I don't encounter them in most of my games but it can't hurt to have something in store for these critical lines. As mentioned above I recommend Bb4 against Ndb5 because the sveshnikov is too much theory.
    Against Nc6: ... well maybe you have some ideas.
     
    Have fun!

     

  • #2

    I think that the acid test are the sharp and complex lines after 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4. Things are not very clear in those lines, e.g. 8...Rb8!? is virtually unplayed (just four ICCF games), and yet, there is plenty of ideas and plans for both sides.

    6.Ndb5 Bc5!? is another very interesting line, in place of the more common 6...Bb4 and 6...d6.

  • #3

    I think the Sicilian Four Knights is a good way to avoid mainstream theory. At the tournaments I've been at, I rarely ever see it played as everyone prefers the Najdorf, some form of the Dragon, or the Schevenigen. Basically any ...e6 Sicilian seems to be played far less, at least for amateurs.

     

    Regarding the 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 line, I think Black can hold his own. If White isn't careful, Black sometimes has ...Ba6! followed by ...Qa5+ tricks to exchange off his bad bishop. The resulting positions can be very unrelated to traditional Sicilian lines, but Black's extra center pawn and queenside activity should not be underestimated. Just my thoughts.

  • #4
    eehunt94 έγραψε:

    I think the Sicilian Four Knights is a good way to avoid mainstream theory. At the tournaments I've been at, I rarely ever see it played as everyone prefers the Najdorf, some form of the Dragon, or the Schevenigen. Basically any ...e6 Sicilian seems to be played far less, at least for amateurs.

     

    Regarding the 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 line, I think Black can hold his own. If White isn't careful, Black sometimes has ...Ba6! followed by ...Qa5+ tricks to exchange off his bad bishop. The resulting positions can be very unrelated to traditional Sicilian lines, but Black's extra center pawn and queenside activity should not be underestimated. Just my thoughts.

    Black's main structural problem is precisely his extra central pawn. Presuming that Black is able to exchange light-squared bishops, AND play ...f6-f5 to lure white playing exf6, (e.g. white with a,b,c,f,g and h pawns, Black with a,c,d,e,g and h pawns) so that his center can be mobilized, his central pawns are targets, even if expanded at d5 and e5. White's secret is quite simple: He must keep the queens on the board, while not minding about minor piece exchanges. 

  • #5
    pfren wrote:
     

    Black's main structural problem is precisely his extra central pawn. Presuming that Black is able to exchange light-squared bishops, AND play ...f6-f5 to lure white playing exf6, (e.g. white with a,b,c,f,g and h pawns, Black with a,c,d,e,g and h pawns) so that his center can be mobilized, his central pawns are targets, even if expanded at d5 and e5. White's secret is quite simple: He must keep the queens on the board, while not minding about minor piece exchanges. 

     I've actually never carefully considered the consequences of a queen exchange (or lack thereof) with that particular pawn structure. With "White's secret" in mind, that would help explain why many endgames I've gotten after a Sicilian Four Knights tend to favor Black.

  • #6

    @pfren thx for the Bc5 line. Seems like a good idea. To be honest my stomach hurts after the mainline with Bb4 where white forces me to give up the bishop pair with a3. With bc5 i don't have to exchange it.

     

    @eehunt94 thank you too! That maneouver you're talking about (Ba6, Da5+) Can it be played directly after Ne4?

    Maybe it is premature because White didn't move his king's bishop yet. But does this tempo matter?

  • #7

    @bulletchesser There is no tactical refutation against 8...Ba6 that I know of/can see. However, the vast majority of games from that position continue with 8...Qc7; the idea is to force White into 9. f4 (loosening his position) so that Black has more targets to have counterplay against. I would suggest you look up some games in a database to get an idea of how play tends to proceed.

  • #8

    @eehunt94 thx I'll look it up.

  • #9

    8...Ba6 can be met either by 8.Bxa6 or 8,c4- totally different approaches, well tested, and not very rewarding for Black.

    I suggest looking at 8...Rb8. There is no theory at all on it, so it's just you, your engine, and your analytical skills. IMO white has no way to a meaningful advantage.

  • #10

         As a kid I was obsessed with Sicilian and tried everything(side note , nothing worked).

       I had some nice wins with Sicilian 4 knights but I also had some bad defeats.I rejected it mainly because 6.Ndb5 d6 leads to Pelikan , 6.Ndb5 Bb4 7.a3 forces Black to play the isolated pawn position without the important dark squared bishop(very difficult technical position for people with quite high positional understanding) and 6.Ndb5 Bc5 7.Bf4 leads to a positional disaster/catastrophe.Till then I am with the impression that 6...Bc5 is a bad move and now I saw Pfren suggesting it and I was very surprised(almost lost my appetite , and that very rarely happens).

       So what Black does after 6...Bc5 7.Bf4?

    Isn't this highly unpleasant?And how one can avoid it?

    A possible alternative is 7...e5 but it is very unpleasant too.

    I have the feeling this is very bad for Black.

    What am I missing?

  • #11
    DeirdreSkye έγραψε:

     

    What am I missing?

    The first position is actually quite OK if Black keeps the Queens on (10...Qd8). White has tried almost any reasonable move (11.0-0-0, 11.Nc7, 11.Be2, 11.Qd2 etc) without achieving much. Look at this one:

     

    It looks very one sided, until you realize that after 16...b5! Black is more than OK, since 17.Kb1? loses a piece to 17...b4. Black delayed this one move, which was enough to get into an inferior position.

  • #12
    pfren wrote:

    8...Ba6 can be met either by 8.Bxa6 or 8,c4- totally different approaches, well tested, and not very rewarding for Black.

    I suggest looking at 8...Rb8. There is no theory at all on it, so it's just you, your engine, and your analytical skills. IMO white has no way to a meaningful advantage.

    What is the idea of Rb8? At first glance I can see that the b2 pawn is attacked so the bishop cannot be developed without a pawn move. Maybe black wants to provoke b3 which would weaken the dark squares like 8. ... Qc7 as suggested by eehunt94. A combination of both ideas could be interesting. Rb8 seems like a useful waiting move to me.

    All in all I like the positions that arise in the four knights. They aren't so ultra-sharp like some lines in the najdorf (I recently saw some najdorf-games from MVL. It's just insane if you look at the analysis afterwards. The funny thing is that the games ended in a draw but the analysis the forced lines didn't appear on the board because both sides were able to avoid them.)

    What I'm wondering is, was that all prepared or do they figure/calculated some of the things over the board. Because the forced lines in the analysis/sidelines are just crazy.

    That's why I play the four knights with quite decent results except against strong opposition. Most of tournament games with Ndb5 which aren't that many I lost horribly.

    Anyway thanks for the nice input. I got some new ideas and I'll try to improve my play in the main lines especially that line with Bc5 and the one with Rb8

     

  • #13
    pfren wrote:
    DeirdreSkye έγραψε:

     

    What am I missing?

    The first position is actually quite OK if Black keeps the Queens on (10...Qd8). White has tried almost any reasonable move (11.0-0-0, 11.Nc7, 11.Be2, 11.Qd2 etc) without achieving much. Look at this one:

     

    It looks very one sided, until you realize that after 16...b5! Black is more than OK, since 17.Kb1? loses a piece to 17...b4. Black delayed this one move, which was enough to get into an inferior position.

         Thank you.

      Seems I greatly overestimated(back then and now) white's chances and Black is ok.I still find Black's positions unfomfortable after  11.O-O-O a6 12.Nd4 Qb6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.f3 and he needs to be very precise after 11.Nc7 Rb8 12.Be2 b5 but the games show that he is ok.

     

     

  • #14

    The Sicilian Four Knights is a very good system,from the practical point of view.Another warning is that black must know what he is up to !Here is a sample of anallogous variations.

     

  • #15
    irahranchad έγραψε:

    The Sicilian Four Knights is a very good system,from the practical point of view.Another warning is that black must know what he is up to !Here is a sample of anallogous variations.

     

    May well be, but both the lines you've given after 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4 are nonsense.

    Especially 8...Rb8 9.c4 Nb6? practically loses by force.

     

  • #16

     I can imagine myself playing 8...Rb8 and losing because I don't know what I'm doing. What's wrong with 8...f5 here as played by Lasker? The engines don't like it but ehh...

     

     

    The engine likes the queen trade but maybe I need to leave it on for a day or something because almost no one is trading queens. Xiangzhi Bu won a game here albeit against a then much lower-rated opponent:

     

     

     

  • #17
    pfren wrote:
    irahranchad έγραψε:

    The Sicilian Four Knights is a very good system,from the practical point of view.Another warning is that black must know what he is up to !Here is a sample of anallogous variations.

     

    May well be, but both the lines you've given after 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4 are nonsense.

    Especially 8...Rb8 9.c4 Nb6? practically loses by force.>>>>

    I wouldn't consider playing it, with that gaping hole on d6. There are times when black can get away with it but here, if white knows his stuff, black is doomed to grovel and play a series of "only moves" just to get equal, if that's possible. Just play ...a6 and all is well. I play it on move 2. At the level I play at otb, I have to assume my opponents will know their openings and not be frightened of a Sheveshnikov or two. Higher up, it must be even worse. There are plenty of Sicilian variations that are sound.

  • #18
    penandpaper0089 έγραψε:

     I can imagine myself playing 8...Rb8 and losing because I don't know what I'm doing. What's wrong with 8...f5 here as played by Lasker? The engines don't like it but ehh...

     

     

    The engine likes the queen trade but maybe I need to leave it on for a day or something because almost no one is trading queens. Xiangzhi Bu won a game here albeit against a then much lower-rated opponent:

     

     

    In your game, Bu and Volokitin (currently both very strong Grandmasters) were some 12 years old.

    Black should try ....f5 sooner, or later, but 8...f5 is too soon. In any case, after 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Nd6+ Qxd6 11.Qxd6 his absolute priority should be to exchange the c8 bishop by 11...Ba6! 12.Bxa6 Qa5+ 13.Bd2 Qxa6 12.Bb4 or more simply 12.f3, when white has some advantage.

    Swapping queens does not solve his problems. As a matter of fact, after 11...Qa5+ 12.Bd2 Qd5 13.Bb4 Black is in serious difficulties.

    It does not seem that Black can achieve ...ba6 in some other way. look at this:

     

     

    8...Rb8 is not a plain waiting move- it has various ideas, one of them is implementing ...f5 the right way- e.g. 9.c4 f5! (8...Nb6 was suggested above, which deserves one and a half question mark after 9.Nd6+ Bxd6 10.Qd6 -the b8 rook is en prise- Ra8(b7) 11.b3 followed by Ba3, and Bc8/Ra8/Nb6 are spectators) 10.exf6 (10.Nd6+ Bxd6 11.exd6 Nb4! followed by ...c5 looks fine) Bb4+! 11.Bd2 Nxf6 (here is a point of 8...Rb8: The bishop at b4 is securely protected) 12.Bxb4 Rxb4 13.Nd6+ Ke7 and Black looks fine to me.

     

  • #19

    Interesting! I guess the only other move that I'd notice is 6.a3 since it's a cheeky way to avoid theory.

  • #20
    penandpaper0089 wrote:

    Interesting! I guess the only other move that I'd notice is 6.a3 since it's a cheeky way to avoid theory.

    After 6. a3 I would consider to play 6. ... d6 to transpose in to the main lines where white wasted a tempo on a3. Also pushing 6. ..d5 immediately is possiblyy an option.

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