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The Sicilian Defense

FM Thomas Wolski Avg Rating: 1704 Openings

This course contains 41 challenges chosen from all of the important systems in the Sicilian Defense and is suitable for players of all levels. You will learn all of the basic opening principles for both White and Black and also come across many original ideas and novelties. Players with Elo ratings up to 1800 and perhaps even higher will benefit from this course module. Novices may have some difficulty with these challenges, but will gain a good introduction to the Sicilian and the main strategies for both Black and White.

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  • The Open Sicilian

    The Open Sicilian has become the most popular opening in recent years. It is attractive to players of all levels because it offers both sides chances for active and uncompromising play. However, with the advancement of chess theory, it can also be dangerous to play a sharp, highly theoretical line against a better prepared player.
  • The 2...Nf6 Sicilian for White

    We usually reach this starting position following 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6. The first question White should address is how to react to Black's provocative knight move.
  • The 2.f4 Sicilian for Black

    The 2.f4 Sicilian is one of the less popular approaches against Black's Sicilian defense. But since it doesn't require White to remember much opening theory and will lead to a normal position with balanced chances, White often chooses this line when he feels that his opponent is very well prepared in the main lines of the Sicilian. Often White will be happy to draw if his opponent is much higher rated and will look for a line where he can exchange many pieces early on. To avoid such "unsportsmanship",...
  • The 6.Bc4 Najdorf for White

    The 6.Bc4 variation was Bobby Fischer's favorite weapon against the Najdorf. Since he played this for White, theory has advanced substantially and added new ideas for both sides. White usually aims for a quick attack against Black's castled monarch on the kingside. He will usually try to place his king on the kingside as well since castling on the queenside often gives Black realistic chances for a successful counter attack on that side of the board. In general, Black's strategy in this system is...
  • The 6.g3 Najdorf for White

    The 6.g3 system against the Najdorf appears a bit eccentric at first glance. Why would White want to move the g-pawn now when there are so many other good options available at move 6? Is it worth spending this extra move to fianchetto the f1-bishop to g2, when this bishop already has promising options on c4 and e2? White's goal is to reach a position where he has a firm grip on the d5-square and where he can choose between playing for a kingside attack(!) and positional play on the queenside. Often...
  • The 6.f4 Najdorf

    Following the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6, White has just played 6.f4. Is White threatening to push the e-pawn to e5 immediately?
  • The 6.Be3 Najdorf

    Following the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6, White has just played 6.Be3. Black has a few popular options here that will lead to very different positions.Goal = Openings
  • The English Attack for Black

    The English Attack is named after a group of strong English players who made this attack popular in the 1980s. The main plan is to attack Black's kingside with a pawn formation of e4, f3, g4 and h4 on the kingside. This is the same attacking idea that White often employs against the Dragon where Black has a bishop on g7. But since Black usually reaches the starting position trying to play a Najdorf, he will not be too keen to fianchetto the kingside bishop to g7. Having played an early ...a7-a6 is...
  • The Closed Sicilian for White

    The Closed Sicilian has been a popular opening on the tournament level for over 40 years. Made popular by former World Champion Boris Spassky, it leads to very different positions than the Open Sicilian. White will not try to open the position with an early d2-d4 pawn advance and often no pieces are exchanged for over 10 or 15 moves. White will usually try to gain a space advantage on the kingside and try to attack Black's castled king. Sometimes White may even opt to castle on the queenside, though...
  • The 3.f4 Closed Sicilian for Black

    We have looked at the 3.g3 Closed Sicilian for White in another challenge. We are now looking at the other main branch featuring 3.f4 from Black's point of view. By playing an early f2-f4, White sets out to gain space on the kingside right away and will typically attack Black's king after both sides castle kingside. This system can be quite unpleasant to play for Black and often doesn't promise great winning chances either. We will therefore suggest a hardly tested line as a possible improvement...
  • The 3.c4 Sicilian against 2...d6

    Following 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6, White usually follows up with 3.d4 and reaches an Open Sicilian position. If White instead plays 3.c4, his intention often is to open up the center with d2-d4 soon after and reach a Maroczy bind position with pawns on c4 and e4. Play would then be of a positional nature with White having a space advantage.
  • The 5.f3 response against the 2...d6 Sicilian

    Our starting position is usually reached with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3. Sometimes Black gets rudely awakened from his dreams of playing a regular Najdorf or Dragon position when White protects the attacked e4-pawn with 5.f3 instead of the almost mandatory 5.Nc3. The main idea of this move is to play c2-c4 next before moving the b1-knight to c3. Thus White hopes to establish a strong pawn center and space advantage in the center. Play could become similar to the maroczy bind, but...
  • The 3.Bb5+ System for Black

    Most Sicilian players have their favorite system like the Najdorf, Dragon or Scheveningen. But often White deviates from mainstream play between moves 2 and 5 in order to take his opponent onto less explored and hopefully less prepared paths. We will be learning the basic concepts of all those less popular lines as well. The system with 3.Bb5+ has the advantage for White that it is quite simple to play and doesn't require a great deal of theory knowledge. Play is usually more of a positional nature...
  • The 4.Qxd4 for Black

    This position is usually reached after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4. Sometimes we may face a White player who at move 4 indeed recaptures on d4 with the queen and not with the knight. This is almost an insult to any serious Sicilian player who aims for a gory battle involving pawn storms against the opponent's king and mating threats developing by move 20. But there is nothing Black can do to prevent reaching this position if you play 2...d6. White's main goals in this opening are to gain a...
  • The Maroczy for Black

    The Maroczy can be reached from many different move orders and is different to all other Open Sicilians because White has played an early c2-c4. This gives White an extra pawn near the center and makes it harder for Black to get counter play with either ...d7-d5 or ...b7-b5 later on. On the other hand, White will rarely be able to launch dangerous attacks against Black's king on the kingside in the middle game. Play will usually be of a slower positional nature. One of White's main aims is to smother...
  • The 3.c3 System for Black

    Every player has his favorite systems that he prefers to reach. But your opponent will often have several options to direct play onto other paths into the first few moves. The 3.c3 choice against the 2...d6 mainline Sicilian is such a system. First considered a bit obscure, it has now become a respected attempt to play for an advantage. Instead of opening up the position with 3.d4, White aims for a more sophisticated plan of building a pawn center with 3.c3 and d2-d4 to follow. White generally aims...
  • The 3.c3 line with later pawn sacrifice

    Our starting position is usually reached after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.c3 Nf6 4.Be2 Nbd7 5.d3 b6 6.0-0 Bb7 7.Nbd2 g6 8.d4!? We have looked at the opening phase of the 3.c3 line against the 2...d6 Sicilian in another challenge and now want to examine in greater detail the possible consequences of the pawn sacrifice 8.d4. White will try to open up the position at the cost of a pawn to exploit his slight lead in development.
  • The 2.c3 Sicilian for White

    The 2.c3 Sicilian has become increasingly popular since the 1980s. By playing 2.c3, White will usually try to steer the game into positional channels, though it is not uncommon for White to try to attack Black's castled king in the early middle game. In general, both sides castle kingside in this opening. Black has three main responses to 2.c3. We will learn about 2....d5 from White's side in this challenge, while we examine 2...Nf6 from Black's point of view in another challenge. The third main...
  • The 2.c3 Sicilian for Black

    The 2.c3 Sicilian has become increasingly popular since the 1980s. By playing 2.c3, White will usually try to steer the game into positional channels. This is not in the interest of most Sicilian players. By playing the Sicilian Defense, Black's desire usually is to obtain good chances for active counter play. He doesn't mind a higher risk of losing if he will get reasonable winning chances in return for it. We have examined this opening from the White point of view in another challenge and will...
  • The Morra-Gambit for Black

    The Morra-Gambit is frequently seen on club level play, but rarely on grandmaster play. In the Morra-Gambit, White sacrifices a pawn early in the opening in order to gain an edge in development and pressure along the open d- and c-files. While Black has to play carefully, current consensus is that White does not obtain sufficient compensation for the pawn. The Morra-Gambit does well, however, when Black is not sure how to respond to White's aggressive setup.
  • The 2.b4 Sicilian for Black

    Sometimes White tries to confuse his opponent with obscure systems against the Sicilian Defense. There are different reasons for this. White may think his opponent is a much stronger player, is better prepared in main line openings and/or may slip in a little known variation that White has prepared in advance. The 2.b4 Sicilian certainly fits this description well. With 2.b4, White's main idea is to divert Black's c5-pawn to the queenside and get a nice pawn center with pawns on d4 and e4. Similar...
  • The Accelerated Sveshnikov

    The Accelerated Sveshnikov is not as popular as the normal Sveshnikov line (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5), but is very similar in many aspects and is absolutely playable for Black. By playing 4...e5 instead of 4...Nf6 first, Black is holding back the development of the g8-knight. Thus Black doesn't allow White to pin this knight with Bg5 (as is usually played in the normal Sveshnikov). White may later have the choice to transpose into mainlines of the normal Sveshnikov or to cement...
  • The Regular Sveshnikov

    The Sveshnikov is a common guest at play at all levels. There was a time in the 1980s and early 1990s when it was almost considered refuted, but advocates of the Black side have successfully made it playable again at the highest levels. In general, Sveshnikov positions leave White with control of the d5-square, while Black will have a weak d-pawn on the half-open d-file. In exchange for this positional compromise, Black often gets dynamic piece play in the middle game.
  • White's Antidote for the Accelerated Sveshnikov

    There are quite a few players who are not keen to enter the positional battles of the Accelerated Sveshnikov after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5. Such players will usually play 3.Nc3 or 3.Bb5 on move 3 and delay or forego the option of advancing in the center with d2-d4. We have examined the consequences of 3.Bb5 in another challenge and will now take a close look at the line following 3.Nc3 e5. Other third moves by Black would allow White to transpose into normal Open Sicilians by playing...
  • The 3.Bb5 system against the 2...Nc6 Open Sicilian

    In the 1990s, White has developed another approach against the 2...Nc6 Open Sicilian. By playing 3.Bb5, White immediately forces Black to deal with positions that he rarely encounters in the Sicilian. White's unusual plan typically involves keeping the center closed for some time and exchanging the light-squared bishop for Black's knight on c6 at the right time. This position has a few similarities to the Ruy Lopez, although Black has played ...c7-c5 instead of ...e7-e5.
  • The Dragon for White

    The Dragon is one of the sharpest systems in the entire arena of chess. By playing 5...g6, Black prepares to fianchetto the f8-bishop to g7. This bishop is Black's most important minor piece in most Dragon games. For the greater part of the 20th century, White leaned towards castling on the kingside against the Dragon. Nowadays White will typically castle on the queenside most of the time in order to launch a quick attack on the kingside. On g7, the Dragon bishop will help defend the king against...
  • The Classical Dragon for Black

    In the early days of the Dragon White often castled kingside and tried to attack Black's castled position with an early f2-f4 and sometimes even g2-g4 to follow. But White's setup also allows him to play for a space advantage in the center. Black often has a slight space disadvantage and will typically seek counter play on the queenside while trying to get an equal share of the center.
  • The Scheveningen for Black

    The Scheveningen has been one of the more popular systems in the Sicilian Defense. While sometimes giving the appearance of being a bit passive, the Scheveningen is very solid and gives Black fine counter attack chances. White will often have to take significant positional risks in order to break through Black's line of defense. Should White fail in his pursuit, Black almost always reaches a won endgame due to his superior pawn structure. The Scheveningen became very popular in the 1980s after Gary...
  • The 4...Qb6 System

    This position is typically reached following 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Qb6. The early ...Qb6 move has become quite popular in several different Sicilian systems in recent years. Black's main goal is to disrupt White's development by eyeing the b2-pawn and to force White to do something about the attacked d4-knight. While Black's queen is not ideally placed on b6 for the long run, White has no direct means to exploit Black's early queen excursion.
  • The Richter-Rauzer for White

    This position is one of the most frequently encountered ones in the Open Sicilian. It features a mixture of tactical and positional schemes. Typical for this opening is that White castles on the queenside, while Black castles on the kingside. This often sets the stage for attacks on opposite wings, but unlike in other systems, there is often quite a bit of contact as well in the center.
  • The Richter-Rauzer for Black

    The Richter-Rauzer is a popular system and is characterized by White playing 6.Bg5 in the Four Knights Position. White will almost always castle queenside in this line, while Black's king will usually seek safety on the kingside. Surprisingly this system often does not promise direct king assaults. The main focus for both sides tends to be smooth piece development and gaining a fair share of the center.
  • The Velimirovic Attack for White

    The Velimirovic Attack is one of the most direct attempts to tear apart Black's Sicilian defense. White usually castles on the queenside, while Black either leaves the king in the center or castles on the kingside. As usual in sharp Open Sicilians, White must know well when he should make positional concessions or material sacrifices in exchange for getting tactical chances. Black's strategy is quite simple. He will try to hold together his king position, make sound positional decisions and has...
  • The Anti Velimirovic for White

    Since the late 1980s, Black has increasingly chosen to play 6...Qb6 against White's attempt to play the Velimirovic Attack. This is more due to personal preferences to play other types of positions instead of facing the Velimirovic. Black has done quite well with this line regardless of how White continues now.
  • The Sozin for Black

    The Sozin has been around for a long time and was a favorite of the active Bobby Fischer. Though both sides castle kingside, White will try to pressure Black on the kingside. Black's main task is to find satisfactory posts for all of his pieces and to reach a position with roughly equal chances. Besides neutralizing White's plans, Black will try to gain a fair share of central control.
  • The Boleslavsky for White

    The Boleslavsky is a positional approach and suits patient players well who find uncompromising kingside attacks too unnerving. Both sides will typically castle on the kingside. There will be some similarities to certain Najdorf positions (especially those systems with a White bishop on e2).White will try to use the d5-square, while Black typically seeks active counter play on the queenside.
  • The Paulsen for Black

    Following 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6, White usually follows up with 3.d4 and reaches an Open Sicilian position. After 3...cxd4 4.Nxd4, we have reached our starting position. There are many subsystems within the Paulsen. We are looking at two other lines of this system from White's point of view in other challenges. Now we will become acquainted with a very interesting system for Black.
  • The Paulsen for White

    The Paulsen Variation of the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6) is a large body of opening knowledge that has gained a reputation of being difficult to beat. Whereas White is developing his pieces in regular fashion, Black will typically get his queenside pieces into play before completing kingside development. By doing so Black wants to start counter play on the queenside right away and does not want to offer White a quick target to attack on the kingside.
  • The Taimanov line of the Paulsen

    Within the Paulsen Variation of the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6) there are many different systems to choose from. One of them was frequently played with the Black pieces by the amiable Grandmaster Mark Taimanov. Since he was quite successful with his somewhat unusual approach, several other strong players have adopted this system from time to time over the years. We will be examining White's best weapon against the Taimanov line.
  • The Keres Attack

    The Keres Attack is named after the strong Grandmaster Paul Keres and can present substantial problems for Black if he is not familiar with its basic ideas. Following 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6, White can reach the Keres Attack by playing 6.g4 next. This move is often impossible in many Sicilian systems if the c8-g4 diagonal is open and Black's c8-bishop also controls the g4-square. One could argue that 5...e6 is a bit passive, but it is a solid move after all.
  • The 6.Bg5 Najdorf

    The Najdorf Defense, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 has been a popular choice for Black for over half a century. Named after the well-liked grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, it has been adopted by most leading players at one point or another. Especially Garry Kasparov, the word's highest ratest player since the late 1980s, is known to make a good living playing the Najdorf with the Black pieces. Here we will examine how to defend against what used to be the main attacking choice for White,...
  • The Poisoned Pawn Variation

    The Poisoned Pawn Variation is one of the main branches of the 6.Bg5 Najdorf. It is a highly provocative attempt by Black to get away with stealing White's b-pawn. Ironically each time a player now tries to get away with winning the opponent's b-pawn with one's queen in any opening, it is considered a poisoned pawn. Yet somehow White has not been able to refute the Poisoned Pawn Variation.

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