What is the Sicilian Defense? (Explained!)

One of the most popular chess openings is the Sicilian Defense. Almost all the top players in the world have played this opening at some point in their life. But what makes the Sicilian so special? What is the opening strategy for both sides in this opening?

You’ll find out the answers to the above questions in this article. Later, we’ll also show you the basic theory in this line.


First, let’s understand what this opening is?

How do you play Sicilian Defense?

1.e4 c5 is known as the Sicilian Defense. Black pushes their pawn to c5. following the opening principle of controlling the centre. At the same time, they’re also creating a slight imbalance in the game. This is one of the main features of the Sicilian opening.

Let’s understand what makes this line so special.

Sicilian Defense

Why is the Sicilian defense so popular?

Go-to Weapon of the Greatest Chess Players.

It was a go-to weapon of two of the greatest chess players in the history of the game – Garry Kasparov & Robert James Fischer. These two greats preferred to play the Najdorf variation of this opening.

Because of them, a vast majority of players started to employ this opening. Today, some of the biggest experts in the Sicilian include Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier Lagrave & Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Objectively correct

This opening has stood the test of time. There were a lot of openings that disappeared from top level practice after the computer found a strong continuation.

But nothing of that sort happened to the Sicilian. Why is this so? It’s because the opening is objectively sound. For this reason, the computer cannot refute it.

Offers fighting chances for Black against 1.e4

With 1…c5, Black is creating an imbalance in the opening itself. They’re signaling White, they are not here to play safe and symmetrical openings that start after 1.e4.

They’re here, ready for combat. In the variations of this opening, you’ll find how sharp and complicated the games get. This is especially true in the case of Najdorf, Dragon, Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian.

Opening Strategy for both Sides

Here, we’ll compare the strategies of White and Black in the Sicilain.

Attack and counterattack

This is the central theme on which the opening has developed over the years. In the open variation after 3.d4, White’s main idea is to launch an attack against the Black king.

At the same time, Black counterattacks. Such an approach often leads to positions where the faster side wins. If one side gets stuck in passive defense, they’ll lose the momentum and their advantage. The Najdorf variation of Sicilian is a very good example of this.

King Safety

Because this opening leads to sharp play, both sides have to ensure their king has sufficient protection. In the mainline, White long castles to secure their king. There are some lines where White prefers short castling, but those aren’t as popular as the mainline.

Black on the other hand, chooses to either put their king in the centre or on the kingside. The idea is to put their king in such a place from where other pieces can quickly come to defend it. In some lines like the Classical variation, Black long castles. But that’s an exception when compared to most of the others.

Sacrifices

It’s no wonder that in attacking games, sacrifices are common. The same is the case with the Sicilian. A very common sacrifice for White is to play Nd5 when the king is in the centre. 

For Black, sacrifices include the classic exchange sac with …Rxc3 or …Nc4xb2 (in some lines).

Here, having a good intuitive feel for such sacrifices is important.

Now let’s see the basic theory to get acquainted with the Sicilian.

Basic Theory of the Sicilian

Now after this Black has 4 different options.

5…g6 (Dragon Variation)
5…a6 (Najdorf Variation)
5…Nc6 (Classical Variation)
5…e6 (Scheveningen Variation)

Also, Black has another way of playing the Sicilian instead of 2…d6.

That is with 2…Nc6 and 2…e6.

Systems like the Svesnikov, Kalashnikov and Accelerated Dragon occur after 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4

Whereas, the Taimanov & Kann variation occurs after 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6

Also, there’s another version of the Sicilian that’s similar to Accelerated Dragon. It’s known as the Hyper Accelerated Dragon. It arises after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6!?

White’s Anti-Sicilian choices

White has the opening to avoid playing the Sicilian Defense. These options include 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 followed by 3.f4, which leads to the Grand prix attack. They can also play the closed Sicilian with 3.g3.

Another option is to play the Alapin 1.e4 c5 2.c3 or the Smith Morra Gambit with 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3. All of these lines are interesting alternatives for White.

Conclusion

As a beginner, it might make more sense to study 1.e4 e5 before you experiment with pawn to c5 on the first move. 

But if you want to learn an opening full of fight against 1.e4, the Sicilian is your best bet. You’ll learn how to play active chess here. Also, if you want to become a strong player, we feel that you should be acquainted with the basic plans and ideas of this line. This will give you an understanding of how dynamic chess is played.

Below is a video that explains several variations, and extended lines of this chess opening.

Sicilian Defense Famous Games

2008 – Mamedyarov vs Carlsen

2007 – Stripunsky vs Nakamura

1983 – Ljubojevic vs Kasparov

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