King's Pawn Opening

Sicilian Defense

1.e4 c5 is the Sicillian Defense. It is perhaps the most popular opening in chess. This aggressive opening leads to asymmetrical pawn structures and very exciting chess. There is a wide variety of variations that the game can go. In this post, we will take an overview of the possible variations.

Black’s idea is to exchange his c pawn for white’s d pawn, gaining a two vs. one scenario of center pawns.

White has many different options right from the 2nd move.

The open Sicilian with 2.Nf3 d6

The most popular line is 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3

Black has many continuations from this position. We will look at the overview of black’s possible replies.

Sicilian Najdorf 5…a6

5…a6 leads to the Najdorf variation of Sicilian. It has a very dense theory and complex variations which are covered in another blog post. But just to give a sample line, after 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 Be6 9.0-0 0-0 is we reach one of the main lines of Sicilian Najdorf.

The fight is usually centered to the d5 square. White tries to control the d5 square and dominate black’s position, while black tries to create a counter attack with b5-Rc8. Black’s position is very hard to crack.

Sicilian dragon 5…g6

5…g6 leads to Sicilian dragon, another popular line in open Sicilian. This line also has a separate blog.

6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 is the main variation of Sicilian dragon called the Yugoslav attack.

White will castle queenside and launch a pawn storm on kingside. Black launches his own attack on the queenside with a6-b5 with a very sharp game.

Sicilian Scheveningen 5…e6

5…e6 is called Sicilian Scheveningen. A very interesting line is 6.g4 called Keres attack. The line goes 6…h6 7.h4 Nc6 8.Rg1 d5 with a very sharp game.

Classical Sicilian 5…Nc6 and Richter-Rauzer attack

5…Nc6 is called the classical Sicilian. The lines are similar to Sicilian Najdorf and can easily transform if black plays a6 in future. White can continue the game in various ways along the lines of Najdorf. The most aggressive line is 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 which is called the Richter-Rauzer attack.

Instead of 6.Bg5, white can also continue along the lines of Najdorf with many alternatives i.e. 6.Be2, 6.Be3, 6.Bc4, 6.f3 and even 6.f4.

Sicilian with 2.Nf3 Nc6

Instead of the 2…d6, black can also play 2…Nc6, which leads to another set of variations. After 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 black has following alternatives.

Sveshnikov or Pelikan variation

4…Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 is called Sveshnikov or Pelikan variation. 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 is the key position of Sveshnikov Sicilian. White can play either direct 9.Nd5 or 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5.

Kalashnikov Sicilian 4…e5

4…e5 is called the Kalashnikov variation of Sicilian defense. It has similar ideas to the Sveshnikov with a difference that Nf6-Nc3 has not been played. The main line goes 5.Nb5 d6 6.Nc3 a6 7.Na3 b5 8.Nd5 Nge7

The idea here is to avoid the Bg5 pin which happens in the Sveshnikov variation.

Taimanov Sicilian 4…e6

4…e6 is called Taimanov variation. Black plays with the idea to control the d5 square, and freeing the path of the dark squared bishop. 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.0-0-0 Bb4 is the main line called the English attack.

As you can notice, in the Taimanov, the main difference is that black’s dark squared bishop comes out to b4, which is not possible in all earlier variations where black plays d6-e5.

The accelerated dragon with 4…g6

Black can play 4…g6 which is called the accelerated dragon because the move g6 is played much earlier than the original version of Sicilian dragon. The main line goes 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 0-0 8.Bb3 Re8 9.f3 and black can play either 9…d5 or 9..e6 with the idea of d5.

Closed Sicilian with 2.Nc3

2.Nc3 leads to more closed structures and positional games, which is why it is called the closed Sicilian. Both sides will usually fianchetto their kingside bishops and castle kingside.

The main line goes 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.f4 e6 7.Nf3 Ne7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3

With 9.Be3, white stopped the centeral thrust d5. Black can continue with 9…Nd4, posting the knight on a good square. Another move is 9…Rb8, with the idea of b5, creating attack on the queenside.

Sicilian Alapin 2.c3

White may insist on keeping the center pawn alive with 2.c3, idea of going d4 and recapturing on d4 with the pawn.

Black’s main move is 2…d5, taking advantage of the fact that white can’t play Nc3 and kick the queen out due to pawn on c3. The main line is 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 with equal position.

Black can also play 2…Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 d6.

Black has a knight on d5 which cannot be kicked out easily because white’s c and e pawns are gone. Black can have a solid game.

The Smith-Morra gambit 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3

White can play a gambit with 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3. The idea is to sacrifice a pawn for quick initiative.

After 3…dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 and here black can play 6…e6 or 6…a6 with an extra pawn and equal game.

Black can easily go wrong here with 6…Nf6, where white has 7.e5! dxe5 8.Qxd8 Nxd8 9.Nb5 and black has to play sad moves like Rb8 to defend the threat of Nc7+.

Open Sicilian with 3.Bb5+

And lastly, another sideline of Sicilian goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+

Black can play 3…Nc6. But the main line is 3…Bd7 4.Bxd7 Qxd7 5.c4 with a more positional type of game centered around the d5 and d4 squares.


Sicilian is a very complex opening and it takes a lot of time to study it and grasp the core ideas of it. The best advice is to learn one line and then play it till you grasp its key ideas and then move on to the next line.

Often, key ideas overlap in different variation, for example, the idea of queenside expansion with a6-b5 is typical in many lines. It is good to remember this opening with the set of such ideas than to memorize the lines.

But Sicilian is clearly the opening to go for when you are in a fighting mood and do not want to bore yourself with symmetrical pawn structures.

About Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.
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