Against the Sicilian Defense in chess, the keep it simple principle is an excellent approach. Instead of wasting your precious time and energy chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, play 6.Be2! and be done with the Sicilian Defense.
You’ll be following in the footsteps of Judit Polgar and former world champion Anatoly Karpov.
There are many differing opinions about the best way for White to gain an advantage against the Sicilian Defense. Some will tell you the Open Sicilian is the only way White can gain an advantage, while others suggest an anti-Sicilian.
The starting position of the Open Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4) gives White a centralized knight and a pawn in the center. When Black develops by attacking the pawn, White defends by developing his second knight and keeps an advantage.
Of course, Black has numerous resources and strategies to counter White’s advantage. Because Black needs to neutralize White’s advantage, White can make use of this time to achieve a solid position and prepare an attack.
The positional 6.Be2 is deceptively dangerous, easy to play, and often takes your booked-up opponent into new territory.
The Sicilian Defense Najdorf Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2
The most popular fifth moves for Black are 5…a6 (Najdorf Variation), 5…Nc6 (Classical Variation), and 5…g6 (Dragon Variation).
Against all three of Black’s most popular fifth moves, you can play 6.Be2!
Some important points for White to keep in mind against the Najdorf are:
- meet 6…e5 with 7.Nb3 since Black loses a tempo if he goes for …a5,
- the prophylactic Kh1 is an excellent prophylactic move for White,
- f4-f5 works exceptionally well the moment Black places his bishop on e6.
6…e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.a4 Be6 10.f4
The f4 advance works best against …Be6 because Black can’t place the bishop on the a8-h1 diagonal to pressure White’s e4-pawn. If Black captures on f4, follow in Anatoly Karpov‘s footsteps and recapture with 11.Rxf4.
Alexander Milagrosa adopted this approach and defeated an opponent rated 145 Elo higher than him.
Milagrosa, Alexander (2245) – Chiong, Luiz (2390), 2021.09.06, 1-0
When Black develops with …Bd7-c6, f3 is then an excellent move that defends the e4-pawn and blunts the bishop’s attack. Sergey Karjakin used this approach to defeat Ian Nepomniachtchi in a battle between two 2700-rated players.
Karjakin, Sergey (2776) – Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2733), 2018.01.14, 1-0
The Sicilian Defense Classical Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be2
Against the Classical variation, White must meet 6…e5 with 7.Nf3 or 7.Nxc6, but not 7.Nb3.
Unlike in the Najdorf 7.Nb3 allows Black to play …a5 without a loss of tempo.
7.Nf3 prevents …d5 by applying pressure against the e5-pawn. White will aim to occupy the hole on d5 even if he must recapture with a pawn.
Although exd5 eliminates the weak square in Black’s position, White can use his queenside majority. The pawns on d6 and e5 severely restrict Black’s dark-square bishop.
Do not play the opening on auto-pilot because many Black players neglect to meet 7.Nf3 with 7…h6. You must be ready to seize the opportunity to remove the f6-knight with 8.Bg5!
6…e5 7.Nf3 h6 8.0-0 Be7 9.Re1 0-0 10.h3 Re8 11.Bf1 Bf8 12.b3
The games of Efim Geller will teach you a lot about how to play this variation with White. Although this game started out with lots of positional chess, the winning attack reminds us not to neglect tactics training.
Geller, Efim P – Benjamin, Joel, 1-0, Moscow-A, 1987
Geller chose to play 7.Nf3, but, as mentioned, 7.Nxc6 is perfectly playable too.
Sahl, Bjarke – Gausel, Einar, 1-0, Skei, 1993
Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2
Everybody knows the Sicilian Dragon is all about opposite-side castling, a White pawn storm on the kingside, and Black giving up the exchange on c3 – right? Yes, but if your opponent knows this, then why play into his hands?
6.Be2! combined with Bg5 is most likely to force your opponent to think for themselves.
Taking your opponent out of his comfort zone is an excellent strategy in chess!
There’s nothing better than when you can do it playing a solid, positional opening to boot.
6…Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Bg5 Nc6 9.Nb3 Be6 10.Kh1 Qc8 11.f4
Without opposite-side castling Black finds it challenging to launch an attack on the White king. Centralization and the principle of two weaknesses form the backbone of White’s strategy in typical Anatoly Karpov style.
Here is the former world champion showing us how it’s down against strong British grandmaster Anthony Miles.
Karpov, Anatoly – Miles, Anthony J, 1-0, FRG-ch int 4th, 1977
When facing the Sicilian Defense in chess, you can confidently play the open game with 6.Be2 against the most popular moves by Black.
Interestingly, Karpov chose to meet 2…Nc6 with 3.Nc3 to avoid the Sveshnikov. This keeps open the possibility of transposing to the Open Sicilian if Black plays 3…g6. You can play against the Sveshnikov with Be2, but you will need to learn the theory.
There is no perfect system you can play against every variation of the Sicilian Defense in chess. However, 6.Be2 and 3.Nc3 will vastly reduce the theory you need to remember. The positions that arise after 6.Be2 will teach you a lot about positional play and chess in general.
When you choose 6.Be2 you almost invariably force your opponent to enter a game where the better player wins. Wouldn’t you rather play a game of chess instead of a battle of memories?
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