7

I am trying to work on my openings and start playing the Sicilian as a response to 1. e4 but I am slightly overwhelmed by the huge amounts of resources available. I am rated around 1850 FIDE and I mainly play the French as a response to 1. e4 and the Gruenfeld as a response to 1. d4.

What would be a good resource for a player of my level to get used to the Sicilian? My goal is not to get an extensive knowledge of the opening, I just want to play/become familiar with a few variations, i.e. the Najdorf, the Sveshnikov and the 3. Bb5+ variation after d6

  • 1
    You should definitely avoid trying to learn both the Najdorf and Sveshnikov at the same time. Pick one variation! – David Aug 1 at 14:14
  • The Najdorf in particular is a system where you can get yourself into a really terrible position by making the tiniest mistakes. As an 1850, do you really want to get yourself into a system where you need to know so much theory? – David Richerby Aug 2 at 11:07
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There's no known recipe that works for everyone for how to approach the Sicilian (or any new opening) as a newcomer to the opening, but it definitely helps if you concretize your target even more than what you've described in the OP. To do that, you might find the following general considerations helpful, specially given that Sicilian is a vast and rich system in opening theory:

Mindset and approach:

  • Find players whose approach to employing the Sicilian suits your style, in terms of: the type of play (closed, open, sharp), depth of needed theory, whether it's midgame or endgame oriented etc, and study their games (e.g. Kasparov's games).

  • When studying such games, for at least the first 10 moves, constantly ask yourself what the purpose of each move is in theory (for the move order you're trying to learn), and if you find the point of a move goes over your head, follow through a few variations with the engine with and without that move and see what repercussions it has on the ensuing variations.

  • Even more important than understanding specific moves, try to learn what the underlying plan of the particular Sicilian variation you're studying is, this really cannot be emphasized enough. Once you know what the line aims to achieve from a strategic point of view (e.g. is it to create an isolated pawn structure, is it to establish a permanent knight post in the centre, is it to trade bishops or keep bishop pair, etc), making sense of the moves and the ensuing play becomes much easier to grasp.

  • Once your particular type of Sicilian system (Kan, Sveshnikov, Dragon, Taimanov, etc) is decided, then you can focus your resources on that system and your search becomes much more meaningful.

  • Once you get a grip of the basic ideas behind the system of choice, start carving your own version of the system, personalize it according to the kinds of positions you feel comfortable playing and where your skills lie (middlegame, tactical, strategic, endgame player etc), and in that regard learn the relevant transpositions, while always checking your new ideas with an engine.

  • Keep practicing your developed system, 1-2 two blitz games won't cut it, you need to play many many games until the concepts start to sink in and you form a good intuition for the opening. Keep analysing each game irrespective of the outcome, go back to the opening stage and find improvements.

  • A training exercise that is often quite helpful is to: play the opening lines you're trying to master in your head without any visual aid (board, phone) against yourself, e.g. when on a commute or during a nice walk. When playing blindfolded against yourself, saying the moves helps a lot to remember the position (that is, literally saying to yourself Nc3, d5, etc).

Tools for the learning process:

  • To keep a clear note of the ideas you learn along the way for each line and move order, create a study on lichess and fill it up with annotations and arrows, and go over these studies to review and brush up on what you've learnt every now and then.

  • Similarly, create a study for the personalized system you start building for yourself. These studies can be made private, and of course they will always be work in progress as you will regularly update them with any new finding. For more on lichess studies see also this post.

  • To explore opening lines and try new ideas, use the opening explorer on lichess (and many other available ones online) with the Stockfish cloud engine active in the background, play through the lines and cross check your ideas with the engine.

  • There exists various video series on the Sicilian, e.g. on chess24 see here (for instance the Taimanov one by Robin van Kampen has become quite well reviewed).

  • Other online resources: Check out the content on various chess youtube channels, e.g. ChessExplained or ChessNetwork, they provide very clear commentary as they play or analyse games, and they both frequently play the Sicilian too. And of course the wonderful lectures by Yasser Seirawan, e.g. on the Pin variation or the Accelerated Dragon.

  • Last but not least, books, books, books! They still remain the best resources in chess. There are plenty written on the Sicilian too (e.g. see the recommendations by Chris), find one author and book level that matches your taste and get started! Reading chess books is almost always an interactive process, where either you're pausing to calculate something blindfolded, or setting up a board and going through some variation discussed in the book. Generally, they're not read cover to cover, and specially if they are extensively covering something, such as Endgames in chess, or Pawn structures, you will be jumping around the book frequently to read up on the bits that currently are relevant for your improvement. Remember that there's no one book that is the best, these things are always subjective to our preferences, so try to explore and find one that you like and read up patiently ;)

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If you start playing the sicilian, I wouldn't recommend to become familiar with Najdorf and Sveshnikov. Both are very complex openings and it takes a huge amount of time to get familiar even with the main lines in both of them.

Apart, I can recommend several things: 1.) To get familiar with plans more then variations, the best thing is to analyse games from strong players who plays Najdorf/Sveshnikov. For Najdorf I can recommend to take a look at a number of Vachier-Lagraves games.

2.) A good book for 1800-1900 is usually the Starting Out Najdorf book from Richard Palliser. It's not really up to date, but I think below 2200 that doesn't really matter and gaining an understanding of the structures and the positions is much more important.

3.) Another good ressource for the Najdorf is the PowerPlay DVD from Daniel King. He also has a quite good DVD for anti sicilians.

4.) One of the best Sveshnikov books is the quite old "Sveshnikov Reloaded" from Dorian Rogozenko.

That are more or less the ressources I can recommend based on the given informations. Be aware, that Bb5+ variation after d6 doesn't help you much if you want to play the Sveshnikov.

  • Somewhat agree, it is not uncommon to stay in theory for 18 moves or so in these openings. That being said, players above 1700 should get decent results if they start using it as a main opening. – Dennis Jaheruddin Aug 2 at 12:05
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There are great answers to your question already, but to give you a concrete opening advice, you can look into the Kalashnikov variation (Nc6 with e5).

Why is that a good choice:

  • you don't need much theory - just learn the ideas from any of the good players who are playing this opening
  • you develop your pieces very fast securing you a full game where you cannot instantly loose and can later outplay the opponent
  • the position is very unbalanced (your weak d5 square) - which is typically the case in Sicilian. You cannot evaluate the position statically but the dynamics of ideas will mainly influence the result
  • Unlike the sveshnikov where many completely different kind of positions can arise, here you reach about three position types in any case
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Had I not played the Sicilian with Black I could have saved myself the trouble of studying for more than 20 years all the more popular lines of this opening, which comprise probably more than 25 percent of all published opening theory! - Bent Larsen

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The main question is whether or not the Sicilian is a better fit for your style of play. The French is a perfectly viable opening up to GM level. If it's working for you why spend all the time to learn something else?

If I were learning the Sicilian from scratch I would start with some of the simpler lines like the Qb6 lines, 4 knights, Kan or the Nimzo, work on the anti-sicilians, before trying to tackle something like the Najdorf. Honestly, if you're older than 5 and not a professional, you probably don't have the time to spend learning the Najdorf and even if you did I'm not sure it would be worth it.

protected by Phonon Aug 16 at 11:32

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