Why we often see many pawn moves in the Sicilian Defense? I would imagine that this harms the development of the black pieces. For instance, there is this line:

[FEN ""]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 a6 4. Nc3.
  • 3
    3...a6 is rather uncommon, although it is often played a little later.
    – D M
    Mar 29, 2020 at 17:57
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    Where did you get those moves? 3...a6 is not a move any strong player would ever play. In my database of 8 million games, it has been played just 13 times because it is just horrible after 4.dxc5. In the 6 games that white played 4.cxd5, white has a 100% score. Are you sure it is not a similar position you are asking about? Mar 29, 2020 at 17:58
  • 2
    Perhaps a better example is something like 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6, which is played often and has Black moving a pawn 4 out of the first 5 moves. OP, what do you think?
    – D M
    Mar 29, 2020 at 18:00
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    PhishMaster, look at this game between Nakamura and Aronian: lichess.org/aQMZ7jVo#0. It starts with ''1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 a6 4. Nc3.'' Black won... Mar 29, 2020 at 18:19
  • 1
    @MarceloFarias OK, that is a big difference though without d4 in there since there is no dxc5 possible there. Would you like to edit your question to reflect that game, or would you like me to? Mar 29, 2020 at 18:21

2 Answers 2


Yes, in the Sicilian black often falls behind in development, and that is a problem -- white often gets the chance to mount an attack.

But black has some compensation. After ...cxd4 Nxd4 he has two central pawns while white only has the e-pawn. In order to attack quickly, white often castles queenside and black can use the half-open c-file to start a counter attack. His a- and b-pawns can be used in a minority attack against white's queenside. He has no clear weaknesses.

It turns out, after a century and a half of trying to refute it, that that is enough to hold the balance. Indeed, the whole situation is also risky for white and that means it can give black more winning chances than normal (as well as losing chances).

But that was by no means obvious!

It's not an easy defence to understand, and it's debatable whether weaker players should play it.


First, in chess, being behind in development is not always the end of the world. It certainly can be if your king gets stuck in the center of the board, and comes under attack; but there are many openings where one side can afford to fall behind in development to gain certain static advantages if the position is super solid. Then, you can catch up in development in due time. Of course, you can only do this when your opponent cannot rip the position open, and you are getting permanent, or semi-permanent, positional advantages in exchange for delaying development. It is not an excuse for moving the same pieces around repeatedly for no good reason while your opponent develops. This is an important concept to understand.

Early on in the Sicilian, black is very solid, but you need to know some theory against strong players as there are many sacrifices that can turn that solidity on its head, so I am not saying that you can dilly-dally forever in this opening, but you do have some latitude if you know what you are doing, and and early a6 is often a part of that.

In the Sicilian, a6 is commonly played for a number of reasons: a6 is played because it is a flexible move, and is a move which is almost always useful in the Sicilian. That flexibility lets black put off where to put the rest of the pieces for the time being based on how white develops in the next few moves, but it also stops Nb5, and Bb5+ in various lines (especially if black later plays e5, allowing the "Boleslavsky Hole" on d5). It also often prepares b5, and Bb7, to attack e4, and/or because white and black castle on opposite sides, and need to push the pawns in an all-out attack on the opposing king...a6 also protects b5, which is commonly played. Also, in many variations of the Sicilian, c7 is a very comfortable square for the Qd8 to move to, and this stops most harassment by Nb5 unless white is willing to sacrifice a piece.

We see a6, most famously, in the Najdorf, which is the opening (by transposition) that you gave in the Nakamura-Aronian game in your comment. The Najdorf is one of the sharpest openings in all of chess. It is also seen on move 4 in the Kan variation, among others.

There is a brand new book out by IM David Vigorito on the Najdorf called "Playing the Najdorf: A Practical Repertoire", if you are very interested in learning how to play it. Dave is a highly-regarded recognized expert on the opening.

It is a hard opening to learn, but it can serve you for an entire career. Kasparov was one of the great exponents of the Najdorf, and MVL is today.

There are notes within the following lines, so make sure you read them.

 [FEN ""]

 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 (3. Nc3 a6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 {Transposing.}) 3... cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 {The starting position of the Najdorf. White has many options here, and I will list four of the main options, and just discuss how they relate to a6.} 6. Be2 (6. Be3 e5 {e6 is also possible.} 7. Nb3 {And the knight cannot go to b5, so it must take up a less favorable square.} (7. Nf5 d5 $1 $17) 7... Be6 8. f3 Be7 9. Qd2 O-O 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 b5 {And we see how the flexible a6 helps with the opposite-side attack.}) (6. Bc4 {Fischer's favorite Sozin Attack.} e6 {Of course, here the pawn belongs on e6 blunting the pressure from the Bc4 along the a2-g8 diagonal.} 7. Bb3 b5 {With very dynamic play where black must be careful of sacrifices on e6. b4 and Ne4 may be a threat in the future, but it is probably too dangerous to try and take it now, after 0-0 by white.}) (6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Be7 (7... Qb6 {The Poisoned Pawn variation.} 8. Qd2 Qxb2 9. Rb1 Qa3) 8. Qf3 Qc7 {And we see that the queen is nicely placed on c7 without the harassing Nb5 moves.}) 6... e5 7. Nb3

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