Sunday, January 03, 2010

Five Easy Pieces: White Open Sicilian Repertoire

Many amateur chess players are put off from playing the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 followed by 3.d4) as White because of the wide range of choices at Black's disposal and the apparently large amount of theory you need to know to support this choice. The Open Sicilian looks like a lot of study.  But 2.Nf3 followed by 3.d4 is looking better than anything else against the Sicilian these days, and the anti-Sicilian side-lines (especially the Grand Prix, Smith-Morra, and Alapin) have accumulated enough theory of their own to make the effort to learn them nearly comparable to some main line repertoire choices.  A number of repertoire books, including John Nunn's three editions of Beating the Sicilian (my first influence), Nigel Davies's interesting Taming the Sicilian, Jesus de la Villa's mixed bag serious English system in Dismantling the Sicilian, and (the best of the lot and most current) Quality Chess's multiple-authored Experts vs. the Sicilian make it almost seem possible to get your arms around main line Open Sicilian theory with just a little guidance [and without having to read several volumes of Khalifman's].

But is it possible to construct a low-theory, not-so-mainline Open Sicilian repertoire that is completely supported by free web sources?  That's the challenge I took on in compiling the following "Five Easy Pieces" main line Sicilian webliography.  If anyone is looking for a "starter" Open Sicilian repertoire on the web, here it is.  I may revise it down the road if my interest (or that of readers) merits, especially to add to the supplemental resources at the end.  As always, reader suggestions are most welcome.

The lines I have chosen emphasize White's claim on the center, typically with an early f4 advance. These are very dangerous lines, especially at the amateur level where you are likely to score many quick kills by just over-running your opponent in the center (typically with an early e5) or on the kingside (often with an f5 advance).

1) Sicilian Dragon, Levenfish Variation (B71)
The Levenfish Variation has always intrigued me. White sets a huge trap for naive Dragoneers (or hasty blitz players) who continue with the natural 6...Bg7, when 7.e5! leads to some very sharp and dangerous play (that anyone who is booked enough to survive would have avoided by playing the safer 6...Nc6 in the first place!)  And some Black alternatives turn out not to be completely free of danger, as the following resources suggest.

Transpo Tips: Black can sidestep the Levenfish and "enter the Dragon" via an Accelerated (2...Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6) or Hyper-Accelerated (2...g6) move order. You can meet the Accelerated with an early f4 push in the Maroczy Bind (which is essentially a Four Pawns Attack against the KID) as described in "How to Beat a GM, Part One Torture" and "How to Beat a GM, Part Five" by IM Tim Taylor. And you can meet the Hyper-Accelerated with 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4! Nf6 5.e5! as discussed by Gary Lane in Opening Lanes #115 -- meeting 3.d4 Bg7!? with 4.dxc5! Qa5+ 5.c3! as discussed by Jonathan Hilton in "How Wojo Won: The Accelerated Dragon" (which covers Nakamura - Wojtkiewicz, New York 2005, where Wojo lost; also see their game from 2004).

2) Najdorf (B93), Scheveningen (B82), and Classical (B56) with f4

Viktor Kupreichik and others have played a very straight-forward f4 system against lines where Black gets a small center (with d6 and e6).  This is most clear in the Najdorf line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f4 followed generally by a4, Bd3, Nf3, O-O, and possibly Qe1-g3 or -h4. This is a very straightforward line and much easier for White to play than for Black. 

3) Sveshnikov Variation, Markovic Attack (B33)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5
This might be called the "simplified Svesh," as White avoids the long and well-trodden paths of 7.Bg5 for the exchange line 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5, fixing the pawn center and giving the game a more strategic character. White can play this line in a few ways, but my links below focus on two: (1) the tricky and tactical 8...Nb8 9.Qf3!? meeting 9...a6 by 10.Qa3 pinning the a-pawn so that the Knight can remain on b5 and preparing a direct piece assault on the backward d-pawn by Bd2-b4, and (2) the solid 8...Nb8 9.c4 planning an eventual f4! to hault Black's kingside ambitions before getting on with the business of a queenside attack with c5.  The latter will hold up best long-term, but the former makes for some fun games and perhaps an interesting side-line.

Transpo Tips: Black can try to reach the Sveshnikov while side-stepping the 7.Nd5 line via different early-e6 move orders, but the f4 system I recommend will generally keep play in our ballpark. White also needs to be prepared for the other ...e5 lines, especially the Haberditz and Lowenthal discussed by Bücker above.  Strong play against the Lowenthal was demonstrated in the game Robson - Vigorito, which I have annotated. 

4) Paulsen and Kan (B48)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 followed generally by Be3, Bd3, O-O and eventual f4 advance.  This is much more straight-forward than the g3 "Guseinov Gambit" lines I've written about here previously.

5) Pin Variation, Koch's Refutation (B40)
The ultra-sharp Pin Variation (
1.e4 c5  2.Nf3 e6  3.d4 cxd4  4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4) has become popular among amateurs, but Koch's 6.e5 looks practically like a refutation.

Supplemental Material
Black has a number of sidelines that you need to know as White.  I may add more material here and welcome reader recommendations.

  • Kovacevic vs Pazos-Gambarrotti at Chessgames
    A solid response to 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 d5!? is 5. Bb5, which practically forces a favorable ending for White -- as analyzed in depth by Gary Lane in Opening Lanes #124 at ChessCafe.
  • Tofte - Wohl, Arctic Challenge 2009 at Chessgames
    This looks like a good approach to the Grivas (early Qb6), which represents essentially a transposition to the f4 lines considered above.  The main line Grivas for White typically involves an ultra-aggressive g4 and O-O-O here, but I think White does better with the more circumspect O-O treatment that Tofte demonstrates.
  • Against the Nimzovich Variation with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6, you can play 3.e5 but it is complicated and not necessarily better for White (see, for example, Andrew Martin Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 -- also here and here -- and a recent Gary Lane piece that ignores Martin's recommendations for Black).  Easiest may be to head back to main lines with 3.Nc3, though you need to be prepared for 3...d5!? when White's simplest option may be represented by Movsesian - Markos 2001.


waxmatbl said...

Thank you for this. I have tried pretty much everything against the Sicilian and I am desperate to find a 'system' that provides a reasonably simple plan to understand and strive for, without having to memorize hundreds of lines just to survive. I don't know if this fits the bill, but I will take a deeper look and maybe try this out at USATE in Feb.

M.Nieuweboer said...

I like the idea very much and I have wondered for a long time if such a repertoire is possible. So I have several remarks.
1) 2...Nc6/4...g6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 Ng4 is not addressed. Yet it is one of the most difficult systems in the Open Sicilian, with a lot of theory. It would be nice if a setup with Nc3 and f4 were possible, but I assume that Black can take advantage by playing d7-d5.
2) Even simpler than the Markovic Variation vs. the Sveshnikov is the simple 6.Nf3. There are some dangerous gambit lines. As far as I can see 5.Nc3 against the Kalashnikov is playable too.
3) What about the Sicilian Four Knights? Neither 5.f4 Bb4 nor 5.Be3 Bb4 looks very good for White.

M.Nieuweboer said...

Typo: I meant 5.Nf3 against the Kalashnikov.

M.Nieuweboer said...

Another problem line - exemplary GM Kupreichik has lost twice as White with it - is 5...a6 6.f4 e6 (Najdorf/Scheveningen hybride) 7.Bd3 b5 8.0-0 Bb7.

Michael Goeller said...

Thank you, Nieuweboer, for the wonderful feedback. Yes, I need to look at all these lines, including the Four Knights.... I also need to include a note on the O'Kelley 2...a6 when my sense is that 3.Nc3 will eventually return us to our main system, but there may be some tricky transpos.... Thanks for the tough questions.

Anonymous said...

In what way is "Dismantling The Sicilian" a mixed bag? It's certainly more recent than "Experts vs the Sicilian" and in my opinion much better.

M.Nieuweboer said...

Dear Mr. Goeller,

inspired by your Five Easy Pieces I have investigated the idea a littler further. I don't think your proposed repertoire has already found the ideal balance between low profile and reasonable chances. As you may know from chesspub I have offered a few times a repertoire based on a mixed bag between Be2 and Bc4. Alas I found out that it still offered a lot of preparation. What's more, the Sozin 6.Bc4 e6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Bb3 0-0 9.0-0 in which I had put my faith seems not that dangerous after Bd7. Finally the Kan/Paulsen/Taimanov has turned into a nightmare. If the white player has a lot of time such a repertoire is still OK, but the assumption was he/she hasn't. So further simplification is needed.

1) My main objection was the stereotypal 6.f4, 7.Bd3, 8.0-0 scheme vs. the Najdorf/Scheveningen. I was right, 5...a6 6.f4 e6 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.0-0 b5 9.a3 Bb7 10.Be3 Rc8 threatens a nasty exchange sac on c3, as pointed out by Pachmann more than 25 years ago. This has to be avoided. Once you know how it is extremely simple - and attractive. 5...a6 6.f4 e6 7.Bd3 Nbd7 (b5 8.e5!) 8.Qf3! Be7 (Nc5 9.f5! or Qc7 9.g4!) 9.Be3 or 9.g4.

2) This has consequences for White's approach to the KPT as well. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 I propose 5.Bd3. I know, this is the main line, but every response by Black can be met with simple stuff.
2a) 5...b5 6.a4.
2b) 5...g6 6.f4 (yeah, what else).
2c) 5...Nc6 6.Be3 Nge7 7.Nc3.
2d) 5...Ne7 6.f4 Nbc6 7.Nf3.
2e) 5...Bc5 6.c3 scores hardly worse than the far more popular 6.Nb3.
2f) 5...Qc7 6.0-0 Ne7 (Nf6 7.Nc3 Bd6 8.Kh1 or Bd6 7.f4) 7.Be3 Nbc6 8.f4.

3a) If Black choses a Scheveningen with a6 and Qc7 then the scheme 6.f4, 7.Bd3, 8.0-0 can't be met with the exchange sac.
3b) If Black plays a Scheveningen with a6 and ...Nc6 White should respond with Be3.
3c) Quick castling: 5...a6 6.f4 e6 7.Bd3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Kh1 and White reaches a Classical setup with an extra tempo.
3d) Black omits ...a6 but still plays the Scheveningen: 2...d6/5...Nc6 6.f4 e6 7.Be3 Be7 and now 8.Bd3 0-0 9.0-0 runs into the standard Nxd4 10.Bxd4 e5. Hence I propose a transposition to the Sozin with 8.Bc4 0-0 (a6 9.Bb3 or 9.Qf3) 9.Bb3 or 9.Qf3.

4) Your choice vs. the Accelerated Dragon is too main stream. My database contains about 1000 games. Sure, it has to be the Maroczy indeed as White can't play the Levenfish. Again simplifying the repertoire must be the motto:
a) 5.c4 Bg7 6.Nc2 heading for a nice gambit: Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be2 d6 9.0-0 Nd7 10.Bd2 Nc5 11.b4 (compare with colours reversed Petrosian-Vaganian, URSch-44, Moscow 1976) Bxc3 (Ne6 gives White a very nice choice between 12.Rb1 and 12.Rc1) 12.Bxc3 Nxe2 and 13.Bb2 is a better square than e1. Of course there are deviations to be dealt with.
b) 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Nxd4 (Bg7 7.Nc2) 7.Qxd4 d6 (Bg7 8.e5) and a simple continuation is 8.Bg5 Bg7 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Bd3 idea 11.0-0, 12.Rfe1 and the other rook either to c1 or d1.White just prepares Nd5 and does without the supporting move f3.
So the Accelerated Dragon demands some work (4a).

5) Again I am not so happy with your choice against the Najdorf. 6.f4 was very popular in the 90's thanks to Nunn. As a result solid remedies have been found. I have checked the games of Sokolov indeed and 6.f4 e5 7.Nf3 Nbd7 8.a4 Be7 9.Bd3 0-0 10.0-0 Nc5 11.f4 exf4 did not provide him with many wins. At the moment I don't know what to recommend instead.


Michael Goeller said...

MNb --
Thanks for the detailed feedback. I really appreciate it and have always valued your comments at ChessPub as well.

I agree that simplicity is key -- but I also wanted to put together a repertoire where readers might be able to find online resources. So that imposed limitations as well and probably pushed it a bit toward the mainstream.

5. and 1. I think the best suggestion I have is Nunn's 6.f4 against the Najdorf, which may not be deadly at the GM level anymore but still makes for a great repertoire choice for amateurs with less prep than many other choices -- even if there are quite a few games. I also think the patterns of play will match up with f4 in other lines. So, your comments are understood, but notice you are not suggesting an alternative there yourself.... However, I do thank you for the comments about the exchange sac in your first note.

4. Notice I am not just saying Maroczy, but Maroczy with f4, which also has some consistency with the system. This is complicated stuff, but I'd be willing to play it with just a few games and the notes I link to.

So, ultimately I think you have some good points, but that you do not really raise problems with the system as a whole. I think the f4 focus is easier to build a repertoire around than either g3 or Be2 (and certainly Bc4, which is high theory and not so good) -- and I think f4 is more fun in the long run than other systems.

Looking more carefully at Dismantling the Sicilian, I think the English system with f3 is also very coherent and holds up pretty well, so I recognize why it has become so popular. But that seems all the more an argument for f4, which is not so current and therefore not so changing.

Anonymous said...

I mentioned these points on the Najdorf 6.f4 because I know a few amateurs who gave it up because of those points. One even switched to 1.d4. Alas I can't offer an alternative at the moment. I have glanced at 6.a4, 6.Bd3, 6.h3 and even 6.g3 (forget about that one please). At the moment I am looking at 6.Bc4.
Also note that I don't really try to raise problems. These are my thoughts and nothing more. I would not like to play 8.Bd3 in remark 3d, but everyone should feel free to disagree! Because of this I don't mind to give up some consistency, especially when it turns into dogmatism (and that is something I am not used to from you).
When typing about the Maroczy I had part 2 of Taylor's article in mind. Sorry about that. Still 7...Ng4 and 6...Nxd4 have to be addressed and I think my proposals reasonable.

M.Nieuweboer said...

The last post was mine - I had a problem when filling in my name.

Mark Ginsburg said...

A very strange computer-aided finding: the Pin Variation is quite playable.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4!

This move has a certain appealing logic, doesn't it?

After the testing 6. e5, 6...Nd5! is correct. 6...Ne4? is just bad.
The summary is Black is all right after 7. Qg4 g6! and 7. Bd2 Nxc3 8. bxc3 Be7. I won't post all the lines here, but black has amazing defensive resources. It's almost never right to give up the bishop pair in an open position; instead keep the dark square bishop to fight against white's weakened pawns later.

After 6. Bd3, the very interesting 6...d6! actually prepares to give up the bishop pair later on, but in a more closed structure. The previously most popular 6...Nc6 may be too committal there.

In all lines, black has a lot more resources than previously thought.

Signalman said...

After reading this excellent post, I did some surfing myself on the Sicilian and was surprised to find this post ( .

This seems to be lifted completely from your blog. Is this site related to you ?

Michael Goeller said...

Signalman --
Thanks for letting me know. This guy is a thief -- but, unfortunately, a sophisticated one who is using some very tricky techniques to mask his identity and even his host. I have noticed him before and other readers have informed me about him. But I have not been able to use my normal strategy of dealing with plagiarists, which is to write to their web host and request action. He steals all my stuff and also stuff from other blogs. He has also turned off comments so I cannot even alert his visitors. Evil guy. Any suggestions for dealing with him are most welcome and I may address this problem in a future post.

Signalman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Signalman said...

I did think this this, but there are so many articles from the Kenilworthian, that I thought it must be associated.

His is a Wordpress blog. Would contacting them help at all ?

Signalman said...

I have to say that I have invested some time in your repertoire advice and so far am very pleased.

Its not to say that I won when using it, but that I felt confident facing the Sicilian knowing what I could expect.

I faced the Najdorf and 6.f4 certainly had an effect.

Will you be expanding/enhancing this post in future ?

Michael Goeller said...

I have moved on to other parts of my repertoire and may not get back here for a while.... In fact, my next series on the Sicilian is going to focus on the Smith-Morra Gambit. I have also been looking more at the English Attack with f3 using Dismantling the Sicilian. So it will take me a while to get back to this....

I had a recent post on a 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 repertoire which may interest you.

Signalman said...

Thanks for the reply & information. I'll look forward to your dismantling of 'Dismantling the Sicilian' and hope that it will provide a similarly thought-provoking post.

The best result, of course, of not having another slice of this f4-themed repertoire, is that I have to continue with my own investigations and research into it, which must surely be a good thing.

As a means of holding it all together, I created a Sicilian-f4-classifier in Chess Assistant, so that all added games are automatically pigeon-holed. The method also allows text, diagrams and hyperlinks to be added, so its a sort of dynamic blog-post !

I haven't read your new repertoire post yet, but did find your old one of March last year, which I am going to have a look through.


Signalman said...

This may be a useful addition to your Sveshnikov Variation, Markovic Attack (B33) section regarding the Haberditz.

Two well-annotated games and other remarks...

Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch Army Black Knights,i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Very Nice!!!