The Sicilian Defense is one of the strongest responses to 1.e4. It is also one of the most popular and best scoring options against the king’s pawn game.
If you are playing for a win with the black pieces, the Sicilian Najdorf is a great opening choice. It is fairly tactical, backed up by straightforward plans and easy-to-follow ideas. The Sicilian Defense is played on all levels from club player all the way up to the World Championship stage.
Overall, this is one of the best openings for club players, and I highly recommend adding it to your repertoire, if you haven’t done so yet.
Black doesn’t respond symmetrically like in the e5-lines, but, instead, chooses to challenge the center with the c5 pawn push. The general idea behind this move is similar to those in the e5 lines: black is aiming to control the important d4-square. However, because of the asymmetrical position, the game plan is totally different to the 1. e4 e5 lines. White has an edge on the kingside which can lead to a powerful attack, while black has counter-chances on the queenside.
2. Nf3 d6 3.d4
White develops the king’s knight to the active f3-square, challenging black’s control of d4. The idea is to play a quick d4 on the very next move and, after the pawn exchange takes place, to recapture on d4 with the knight. Even though the pawn is protected by the queen, retaking this pawn with a knight is more favorable, as the queen would be vulnerable in the center this early on in the opening. It would eventually become a target for black’s pieces, accelerating their development.
Black’s d6 is an important move since it prevents white from gaining space with a e4-e5 push. The lines involving an early d4 are called the Open Sicilian and may result in very complex positions. Therefore, knowledge of the theory is highly recommended if you want to play this opening in games whose outcome is fairly important. And, if you do, this may become one of the best openings for club players you’ll ever try!
3…cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
The c and d-pawns are exchanged off, white’s knights are centralized and black’s knight is developed to f6. That a6 move is a very necessary prophylactic against a bishop check on b5. It also takes away an important square from white’s super-active knights. This is the key position that defines the Sicilian Najdorf.
The main plan for black involves executing a quick …e5, gaining space in the center and kicking the knight from d4. White has a plan of his own that involves castling long and launching a pawn attack on the king side.
6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3
The 6th move characterizes the English Attack. It is a powerful weapon against the Sicilian Najdorf and involves opposite-side castling and pawn attacks on opposite flanks of the board. f3 is needed to keep black’s knight away from the g4 square, preventing the knight for bishop exchange which is unfavorable for white. Next, the queen will go to d2, followed by castling queenside and pushing pawns g2-g4,h2-h4, h4-h5 and so on. After black’s kingside is compromised the final blow may be delivered with queen, rook and a dark-squared bishop all looking to checkmate black’s king.
Black won’t be sitting still either. He will castle short, develop his bishop to e6, position his knight on f6 or d7 and launch a pawn strike with b7-b5, followed by a6-a5 and a5-a4. This is a very sharp double-edged position, where knowledge of the theory, precise calculation and intuition all play a big role in the outcome of the game. This is the kind of opening you should play if a draw simply isn’t an option for you as black, and you have to get that “0-1” to claim your prize money, title or norm.
This is one of the best openings for club players because it will challenge you to perform at your best, think deeper and make rational decisions to stay in the game. If you enjoy playing razor sharp lines where any wrong step would lead to a disaster, this opening is for you. To get good results with the Sicilian Najdorf you need nerves of steel and a good road map. Good luck in your games!
Want to learn more about this opening? See the 7 Greatest Games on Sicilian Najdorf.