The Sicilian Defense is the biggest and most complex setup of all chess openings. It is a semi-open playing system, in which Black tries to avoid the classic playing manner for equalizing the game and immediately starts an uncompromising fight for initiative. From the first moves, we get unbalanced pawn structures and very dynamic positions.
The Sicilian Defense is separated into numerous sub-variations like the Najdorf, Dragon, Taimanov, Paulsen, Sveshnikov, etc. The Sicilian Najdorf, named after Argentinean Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, is the most popular line nowadays and the all time greatest master of this playing system is Garry Kasparov.
Due to semi-open character of the position, there are no direct threats and Black is not forced to hurry with castling and coordination of all pieces. First of all, he cares about the pawn structure and harmonic location of the forces. He tries to push b7-b5 and bring the bishop to b7 in order to pressure the e4 pawn.This also creates an unpleasant b5-b4 threat that would force the c3 knight to retire from a very good location. The e7 pawn will be advanced by one or two squares. At some point, it depends on the moves of the opponent.
The same applies to the b8 knight; it can go to c6 or d7. Generally d7 is the better square as the c file remains open and the b7 bishop keeps pressure on the long diagonal. The Najdorf is a very flexible setup and sometimes it may transpose to the other sub-variations of the Sicilian Defense (for example to the Scheveningen system).
The most problematic subject of the Najdorf system is the d5 square. It becomes weak after the e7-e5 advance, but piece activity and dynamical resources should compensate the strategic weakness. Furthermore, Black has a pawn advantage in the center, and ideally plans to push d6-d5 himself. When Black is able to advance the central pawns, it normally becomes a sign of taking initiative.
I highly recommend you watch CRUSHING WHITE WITH THE SICILIAN NAJDORF – by GM RAFAEL LEITÃO if you want to learn more about this opening setup.
The Najdorf Defense is a very sharp line where one mistake can cost the whole game. Good calculation skills are required because of the flexible pawn structure and dynamic play. Often, players castle on the opposite sides and the winner becomes the one who demonstrates more ingenuity, braveness and imagination in the attack.
One of the main weapons in such situations is an exchange sacrifice in order to destroy the white King’s position. 13… Rxc3! 14.bxc3 Qc7 15.Ne2 Na4 16.Bd2 Be7 Black does not get immediate benefits but he has long-term initiative. 17.g5 0-0 18.f4 Ndc5 19.Ng3 d5 20.e5 Ne4 21.Bxe4 dxe4 22.Qe2 Qc5 23.Ka1 Qa3 24.Bc1 Qc3+ 25.Kb1 Qb4+ 26.ka1 Nc3 27.Bd2 Qa3 0 – 1