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As black, I always play the Sicilian against e4. I personally like the Scheveningen system but to avoid the Keres Attack, I play a6 before e6:

[FEN ""]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6

In that sense, the opening can also be named as Najdorf variation.

But I generally avoid playing ...e5 and prefer ...e6. I avoid ...e5 because I feel like playing ...e5 weakens the d5 square.

My desired set up is to have:

  • Bishops on b7 and e7
  • Knights on f6 and d7 (or c6)
  • Pawns on a6, b5, e6, d6
  • Queen on c7 (b6 or sometimes a5)

My general plan is to play d5 to open up the game for my white bishop at b7.


Now I have 2 questions:

  1. Sometimes (especially in closed Sicilian games) against black's ...d5 white can move their pawn to e5 and so creates a pressure on my king side. In those cases I have the tendency not to play ...d5 but then my white bishop can get stuck so becomes a bad bishop. Should I allow e5 with ...d5 and do something after e5 or should I think doing a move different from ...d5?
  2. Secondly, sometimes white pushes their pawn to c4 to block my ...d5. What could be a good strategy for black after c4?

PS. I generally prefer open Sicilian games to closed Sicilian games with maybe one exception. The exception is the variant where both sides make fianchettos on the g-file (like English opening with sides reversed) where the black has pawns on g6-e6-d6, black bishop on g7, knights on e7 and c6.

Then my strategy is to play Nd4 in order to exchange knights, making a queen side pawn rush by putting my rook to b8, and defending a possible g4 by moving my pawn to f5.

Can I apply that kind of play/strategy against white where white does not make a fianchetto with his white bishop where the game is a closed Sicilian game, (e.g. 1 e4 c5 2 c3... ) to overcome the problems that I described above.

  • 3
    I think your question is much too broad to be answered. Particularly in the Najdorf you have very concrete play and playing a general system like you describe (basically against whatever white does) is going to get you into trouble. For instance if white develops the bishop to c4 you sometimes have to be aware of sacrifices on e6 if you put your bishop to b7. – user1583209 Apr 12 '17 at 3:18
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It is generally true that, especially in the Najdorf variation, Black does not get to play ...d5 at any point early in the opening: if they do they have basically solved all the opening problems and acquired an equal if not superior position. Conversely, White's plan is to get a grip on d5 and make it the whole point of the opening, very often playing a set-up with "good Knight versus bad Bishop" (there is a good lecture with examples of the Saint Louis Chess Club here).

However, in the standard set-ups of the Najdorf variation (especially against the English attach 6.Be3 or the classical line with 6.Be2) Black plays 6...e5 themselves to avoid White from doing so (unless White plays f4 and then e5, but they have to spend two more tempi to do so) and to get their fair share of the centre. Black's bishop if often deployed in e6 and not in b7 to avoid Bc4.

A good example of this approach is the game Carlsen vs So (Sinquefield Cup (2015)).

Secondly, sometimes white pushes their pawn to c4 to block my ...d5. What could be a good strategy for black after c4?

If White plays the standard open Sicilian set-up with 5. Nc3 then they cannot play c4 easily; Black will play ...b5 in most of the Najdorf set-ups (also allocating a Knight in c4 if allowed). Therefore the general rule is to avoid White to play c4 rather than worrying after c4 was played. If otherwise White plays an early c4 (Maróczy variation) then this is a completely different line to be analysed and does not fall in the scope of the Najdord (or Scheveningen) variation.

As a general rule, by playing the Najdorf variation, Black allows d5 to be weak, gaining back their fair share of the centre with ...e5 and counterplay on the Queen's side with ...b5 sooner or later. Moreover Black will always try to preserve their Knight on f6 and if possible play Nbd7-Nb6 and Be6 to have three pieces looking at d5. If White really wants to use that square they must do so at the cost of many tempi and converging all of their pieces there, which leaves room for counterplay meanwhile.

  • I think the second paragraph is a bit off-topic because the OP asked specifically about systems with ...e6 and not ...e5. – Evargalo Apr 11 '18 at 13:15
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The most common plans for Black in the Scheveningen set-up you describe (e6,d6,b5,a6,Be7,Bb7,Nf6,0-0), beside engineering ...d6-d5, are

  • Build pressure against Pe4 : Bb7, Nf6, sometimes e5 to fix the target, sometimes Nc5.

  • Generate counterplay down the c-file, agianst Pc2,Nc3, sometimes Pb2 : b5-b4, Nd7-b6-c4 or Nc6-a5-c4 or N-e5-c4, Rxc3 exchange sac, Qc7/Qb6/Qa5.

Both ideas combine nicely together: indeed, the main defender of Pe4 is the Nc3, and this piece can be shaken either by the b-pawn or by the exchange sac Rxc3.

They do not rule out the d6-d5 plan either: for instance, after the sequence b4 axb4 Nxb4 the knight controls d5 once more. Also, if white prevents b4 with a3, themes like ...d5 ed5 Bxa3 bxa3 Rxc3 may appear.

Sometimes you will just exchange White's Nd4 and defend for a while against his kingside initiative. Other times your play will be flexible and adapt to your opponnent's actions. You can also be much more creative given the opportunity, as Kasparov showed in that WC game against Karpov where he played the weird looking plan Re7-Rce8-f5 with great success.

Generally, I recommend looking at games by Kasparov or Salov as guidelines in this variation.

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The reason why you are asking this question is your aversion to ..e5, so that should be examined. After all, it might be the answer. Older books like Rueben Fines Ideas Behind the Chess Openings only discuss the negatives that follow from creating a weak backward d-Pawn and leaving d5 open to invasion. There are positive aspects too. For example an exchange with Whites f-Pawn can give a stable and aggressive post on e5 for a Black Knight.

Here is a thought about the Sicilian that I find valuable. Black very often lags in development, because ..c5 itself is not a developing move, and Black often makes early moves with the Queen and the Queenside Pawns. These moves aim to control a space, within which development can subsequently take place, while retaining flexibility about what that development will actually be. (N on d7 or c6, B on d7 or b7, Q on c7 or b6, R on c8 or d8)

While this is going on, White usually has to commit to some formation. If White develops in an agressive way, he has a chance to benefit from his lead in development, but Black knows in advance where the attack will come. If White is more conservative, the development advantage may not count for much. In many Sicilian systems, Black is playing wait and see. (except for the Dragon, where Blacks moves are usually standard and predictable). The playability of ..d5 is one of the issues, but by no means the only one. It is central to the Maroczy bind with c4, but after White has prevented (immediate) ..d5, he has to find something else to do.

Particularly in Scheveningen-like situations, Black retains as much flexibility as possible. Apart from ..e5 or ..d5, options include Queen-side invasion with ..Nc4 and play on the c-file. or a focussed attack on the Pawn at e4, with ..Nf6, Nc5, Bb7, using Pawns to drive away the White defenders. On some occasions, Black has played ..Kh8 and ..g5.

The possibilities are too varied to be discussed, and there is (as usual) no simple answer to your question. Try reading John Watson's Chess Strategy since Nimzowitch

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If the position allows you to play d5, I would play it. That's the key move for Black in most variations of the the Sicilian, so it is a good idea to aim for it. In your sequence, you forgot to add that after moving your queen, you should try to double rooks on the d file. In most of these variations, White's response of e5 would have lost its impact; the key move of the game would be your d5. But if White had somehow created a long-term situation where "d5 does not look so good," it would likely mean that White had retained his advantage.

If White gets to play c4, that's a different kettle of fish. Actually, that has a couple of subtle disadvantages. 1) It restricts his light squared bishop which then becomes at least as "bad" as yours. 2) It weakens his black squares, specifically d4 and the long diagonal. So the antidote to that is the Dragon variation, g6 followed by Bg7. You must play g6 immediately after c4 so that White doesn't get to play Bg5 (Richter Attack).

If you can play both the Scheveningen and the Dragon variations well, you can be considered a "complete" Sicilian player.

  • A normal sicilian player will have their pet line which is dragon or scheveningen. Most people I've seen don't play both. One is better off playing just dragon or just scheveningen. As for the "complete" part. A little dubious. – Ariana Apr 25 '17 at 5:25

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