Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Sicilian Defense: an Introduction

Book review and study: How to Play the Sicilian Defense by David Levy and Kevin O'Connell

Part I: Introduction

The Sicilian Defense is perhaps the most popular and dynamic response to the opening move e4. "The Sicilian Defense offers enormous scope to players of every style, since there are many quiet, positional lines in addition to the more notorious wild, attacking variations" (pg 2).

This is the very opening position of the Sicilian Defense and "with his very first move Black creates and unbalanced position and announces his intention of defending by means of counter-attack" (pg 2).

This simple position is a microcosm of the battle plans of both sides. White controls d5 and Black controls d4, two crucially important squares. White wants to occupy d4 with a piece (typically a Knight) and keep the d5 square under "careful observation, and if necessary restraint".

White's plan is to build up pressure on the King-side (as c5 makes Black's idea of "castling long" typically undesirable) and hold on to control of the center. Black's plan is that of counter-attack on the Queen-side and to slowly undermine White' central control, ultimately allowing for d5 after which "Black will normally be assured of at least equality" (pg 2).

After 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 we have a typical position (Najdorf variation of the Sicilian). The purpose of Black's second move (d6) is now clear: to prevent white from playing e5 to attack Black's Knight on f6.

In this position white would like to play c4 (the Maroczy Bind) because we know a substantial objective of Black is to play the freeing move d5 at some point. With pawns at c4 and e4, this objective is made much more difficult. However, since Black has now attacked the e4 pawn, White is drawn into playing Nc3, defending the pawn but also blocking the his c pawn. Some players may want to defend the pawn with the bishop (Bd3) but this relegates the bishop to a defensive position and after c4, it is blocked in by pawns.

Play along these lines (White attacking on the King-side and Black attacking on the Queen-side, both eyeing the center) may lead to a position like this. Black has placed his Bishop to attack the e4 pawn, which White has defended with f3, making e5 or f4 difficult. If White had not played f3, the e-pawn could be won easily. Moves like b4 could pester the c3 Knight from its defense. White will likely continue with h4 and g5 at the right moment and Black will likely put his rook on the c-file (with a potential exchange sacrifice on c3).

There are some excellent youTube videos discussing some of Kasparov's games played in the Sicilian:
Movsesian v Kasparov
Judith Polgar v Kasparov
Kasparov v Shirov

- Maintain control of d5 (which ensures space advantage)
- Attack on the King-side
- Set up a piece on d4
- Look for/play towards opportunities to play d5
- Expand and attack on Queen-side
- Undermine White's center by attacking e4 pawn
- If c-file opens (as in the Najdorf), put rook on the half-open c-file

"It is much more important to understand an opening than to know it (in the sense of rote learning of moves)" (preface). How to Play the Sicilian Defense is a guide with examples and ideas, and I am in no way exhausting the book's ideas and insights. In Part II the Maroczy Bind will be further discussed.

1 comment:

jrobi said...

Fantastic post Slatts - very well done. The Sicilian is my favorite defence currently against the King's Pawn opening from white.