Open Sicilian with 2...Nc6 - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4
The Open Sicilian accounts for the vast majority of Sicilian games. The Closed Sicilian has second moves like 2.Nc3, 2.c3 and sometimes 2.Nf3 along with a host of sidelines. 2.Nf3 is the ever present move in open games.
Other second moves may transpose to an open game but 2.Nf3 is the conventional path. The Open Sicilian branches off into three main groups. These branches depend on Black's second move, his reply to 2.Nf3.
Again there are many sidelines but the three important replies are 2...Nc6, 2...d6 and 2...e6. Here we will concern ourselves with 2...Nc6.
The Main Line leading us to the starting position of the Open Sicilian with 2...Nc6 is: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4. This is actually one of three important starting positions in the Open Sicilian. The other two are the equivalent positions with 2...d6 or 2...e6 played instead of 2...Nc6. It is from this starting position that we begin, considering the main options for both sides.
The Classical Variation (so called due to it's immense popularity) is often reached via 2...d6: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be2.
Black sometimes reaches the same position by swapping his second and fifth moves. Then it goes: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be2, giving the same position.
The lines springing from it could have been covered in either of two sections so I'm talking about them here as there is more room. The Classical Variation was the Main Line of the Sicilian up to the 1920s or 30s. It's still pretty solid today.
Since then theory in the Sicilian has ballooned and the Classical Variation itself grew into several major variations. Black found ways to counteract it's effectiveness. There was 6...e6, the Scheveningen Variation, 6...g6, the Dragon Variation and 6...e5, the Boleslavsky Variation.
The Boleslavsky is a violent stab in the center with Black laying claim to d4 and f4. Black does leave himself with a backward pawn on d6 and a weak square on d5. When the White Knight is kicked out of d4 he is caught slightly offside.
The d6-pawn is well supported by Black pieces and the White Knights look uncomfortable on the Queenside. If you play this you are really arguing that White cannot effectively exploit the structural weaknesses in Black's camp. White's passive Bishop on e2 makes it difficult for him to pressurize Black.
By the middle of the 20th Century it seemed like the Boleslavsky had given Black a way to blunt the Classical Variation. So White had to find new more dynamic variations to resurrect the grand old Main Line of the Sicilian. Along came the Richter-Rauzer Attack and the Sozin Attack.
White opted for the Richter-Rauzer Attack, 6.Bg5, in response to Black's new systems against 6.Be2. Very often White will exchange this Bishop for the King's Knight, doubling pawns and weakening the whole wing for Black.
He will then try to hunt down the King. White will castle Queenside and use the Kingside for offensive operations. Black must figure out what to do about his King. White will sometimes throw forward his e and f-pawns to soften up Black's center.
Black has a nice pawn structure and the Bishop pair. His only real concern is his King. If he can get safely castled on the Queenside and trade off pieces he can look forward to a favorable endgame. But White has other ideas for the sixth move.
The Sozin Attack kicks off with 6.Bc4. It's another system originally aimed at discouraging ...g6. The Queen can be vulnerable to some clever tactical shots if Black is not careful.
6...Qb6 might not be a bad plan should you find yourself in this opening with the Black pieces. White's minor pieces have been known to feel the heat as Black's Queenside forces drive them back.
For White the advantages of the Sozin are plain to see. f4 followed by f5 puts substantial pressure on e6 and if e6 can be undermined then the a2-g8 diagonal becomes a huge asset. d5 in particular will be a great outpost for a White Knight.
The Velimirovic Attack is one of the most interesting variations of the Sozin Attack. The starting position of the Velimirovic is reached after 8.Qe2.
White intends to castle long and throw his Kingside forces at the Black King with all his fury. The g4 advance is going to be the central move in this game plan.
If you're going to play the Velimirovic you have to study all variations in great detail. It is highly tactical and one false move will see you go down in flames. If you do your homework this could be an avenue to some nice victories.
The Rauzer and the Sozin upset a lot of Dragon fans. It interfered with the usual move order with Black playing ...g6 on the 5th move. The Dragon Variation goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6.
But then people started playing the aforementioned attacks targeting the vulnerabilities of ...g6. Dragon fans had to find a way to get their favored structure in and the Accelerated Dragon came into being. ...g6 got played on the fourth move.
It is possible to transpose to the Dragon proper later. Many lines in the Accelerated Version have also sprang up to make it an independent variation.
The Maroczy Bind is an aggressive formation that Black does not like to see when he plays the Dragon. It actually rears it's head in many openings, notably the English Opening.
It's not surprising that the Maroczy Bind also shows up here. The English Opening and the Sicilian have much in common. The English, in some of it's forms, is basically White playing the Sicilian with an extra move. One of it's main branches is even called the Reversed Sicilian.
White plays c4 on his fifth move, almost transposing to a Symmetrical English set-up. His Queen's Knight comes to c3 and now these two together with the e4-pawn allow White to really clamp down on the light squares on the 5th rank. Black finds himself struggling to prevent White from laying siege.
The Gurgenidze is nested in the Dragon Variation. This is one possible response to the Maroczy Bind and not a bad one at that. Black knows that space is at a premium so he must utilize it to the fullest degree.
The first thing that 7...d6 does is prevent e5. Black does not need to be dealing with tricky little tactics based around the White Queen, an unprotected Rook and a kicked Knight as the Black e-pawn speeds through with tempo.
The move also opens a highway for the light square Bishop although he will likely not move before the King's Knight is deployed at c5 via d7.
The Sveshnikov again makes use of the ...e5 strike in the center. It's a more modern interpretation of the Sicilian Defense. Black has not yet committed to ...d6.
It rose in popularity when Evgeny Sveshnikov analyzed it in the 1970s and is now one of the most important lines in the entire Sicilian complex. It's ideas and themes have influenced analysis of other Sicilian openings.
Black plays a very sharp game where he volunteers the obvious structural faults that come with e5. But the deep analysis has unearthed a treasure trove of tactical possibilities in the resulting position.
The play centers around the thematic trade on f6 which leaves an open g-file for Black and a vulnerable King. One of those openings where the better tactician often triumphs. These lines have to be studied.
The Novosibirsk Variation is a tricky line found within the Sveshnikov. Again the same themes continue. White's plusses are the d5-square which his Knight is always threatening to occupy.
Then you have Black's ruptured Kingside which provides no safe haven for his King. But Black is not without his chances. They come in the form of a powerful Bishop on g7 raking across the center of the board.
His c6-Knight is often played to e7 to counteract the monster on d5. White cannot back his first Knight up with his comrade as the second steed is chased from b5 to a3 in many lines.
Again this variation favors those who study it. The great thing about studying one line in the Sicilian is you're building on it when you study more of them. Much of the themes and variations are closely related. The learning curve is not as great as you think when you get over that initial hump.
We've already seen that the Open Sicilian has great potential for an intense battle of wills. Explosive tactics are always in the air with the two protagonists often employing very different systems.
This makes for lots of imbalances and the potential for very creative play. No dry, methodical play here. You can't afford any drop in concentration or a deadly trap can blow your whole game up.
The good news is there's loads more fun in the Open Sicilian. Black has two other main second move options. They produce more great possibilities for both sides. Let's see what happens when Black plays 2...d6.