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I've read countless times, that beginners should not play the Sicilian. On the other hand, one often reads that the opening does not matter for beginners. There are many courses claiming the included lines are "easy to learn and understand", such as chessable's "Magnus Sicilian" course on the Sveshnikov variation.

Is this merely a marketing claim to sell difficult-to-play and theory-heavy variations to weaker players, or is it possible for a ~1500 player to understand the Sveshnikov Sicilian and its middle games, even against more experienced or stronger players?

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    I tell my chess kiddies again and again to drop the giuco melloyello as soon as possible and play Sicilian (any). This will get them a lot of losses initially (especially against other beginners who memorized endless lines without understanding them) but their playing strength benefits. Learning tactical eye and a familiarity with different structures is crucial when you want to get better. Dec 24, 2021 at 9:36
  • @HaukeReddmann, I definitely agree with the approach in going for more tactical lines, but is Sveshnikov a good way to go about it? If black misplays it, and doesn't get any compensation for weak d5-square, the game becomes very difficult to play for black, and there are not a lot of tactics in the position. And in order not to misplay the Sveshnikov, black would have to understand the subtleties of the position, which I don't think are straight forward.
    – Akavall
    Dec 24, 2021 at 18:53
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    @Akavall: On beginners level, you don't die from a blatantly weak square :-) Dec 24, 2021 at 19:04
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    Just do it! This entire "some openings have magical properties" thing is BS
    – David
    Feb 28 at 16:11

3 Answers 3

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Actually, I tend to believe that it is an advisable choice. I have experimented with Najdorff and Scheveningen setups and both are extremely difficult to keep track of. The flexibility in the pawn structure is just too much. At every darn move you must ask: Can I or should I push d5? or e5? Is White going to do so if I don't? If white plays it safe, how long can I wait and patiently maneuver without destroying my position myself? and so many more questions. The opening phase never seems to end!

However, with Sveshnikov Variation, you settle the question of center once and for all! Here are some of my reasoning--taking into account that OP said they are at beginner level:

  1. You make a weakness, the d5 square, ok, but at least that is a planned one and part of the opening. You would rather begin with it than end up with it in a much worse position. So, you do not have to worry constantly about the dynamic and fragile nature of the center -- it is partially stable, except for black's thematic f-pawn(s) pushes.

  2. You have gained space in the center and kingside. Compare to Sicilians where all you have for your pieces is your own two ranks, except for knight on f6. See how you quickly develop Be6 and your knights are in their natural squares.

  3. The knight on c6. If your opponent is weaker and does not play any main line Sicilian then you take the initiative faster because you have not "wasted" tempo by first playin one-square pawn pushes like d6, and a6 as is typical of say Najdorff. Instead you have developed the knight to a natural square with central control. It is faster to take the initiative if White does not ask difficult questions! For example, in some lines when white goes for c3 to prepare a d4, I play d5 (as White's knight does not have the c3 square) and challenge the e4 pawn. This comes with 1 tempo for me because I had not played d6 initially. In response to some other slow setups by white I play g6 and then Bg7 and now I have a grip on d4 and my knight can jump to d4 -- and I have saved a tempo by not playin the now-unnecessary a6. In some of these setups I do not need to play d6 or e6 unless there is real reason for them, e.g. to develop my other knight to e7. So, I find the move 2.Nc6 very useful against non-main line Sicilians.

Maybe a little bit controversial ones:

  1. If your opponent does not know the theory, which is not unlikely at OP's level of play, then Black will continue with obvious and not so hard to find developing moves and have an easy game.

  2. It is an easy variation to memorize and recall at board.

I must also talk about the downsides obviously:

  1. One must be comfortable to play with doubled pawns on f file which also makes castling on kingside scary.

  2. Given the structural damage to Black's (pawn) position, the balance is maintained only through dynamical and active (=bold) play. Black must prove its compensation. This type of play is more difficult than playing solid positions where not making blunders keeps you in the game for a good amount of time. But does any other Sicilian provide this luxury either?! (I must say that if one is trying to improve their middle game then these types of positions are a great way to push yourself.)

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  • I think the downsides you mentioned weigh gravely and they are the reasons I am skeptical of this variation for beginners. Knowing theory moves doesn't mean anything if one doesn't understand the ideas behind these moves and the resulting middle games. Even strong GMs said that they don't understand the Sveshnikov.
    – Hauptideal
    Feb 28 at 15:41
  • Well, GM "don't understand" is very different from mine. Well, it is a personal preference and style of play after all. Personally, I never learned Najdorff ideas either! In my post game analysis I have always missed the right moment to break with e5 or d5. It has been the case that regardless of whether I win or lose in either case I do not comprehend what happened and why it happened! Feb 28 at 18:33
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As indicated in first answer, you cannot be sure your opponent will follow the line of a particular Sicilian. Fundamental question is whether you respond to 1 e4 with ...c5 . Although I've played in local clubs for several years I'm a low level amateur with Elo ranging between 900 & 1300. I've discovered that when you reply the Sicilian ...c5 to players under about 1600, 75 % of the time they respond with an anti-Sicilian. There's only four anti-Sicilians : Smith-Mora Gambit, the Alapin, the Grand Prix Attack and the Bb5 systems( Rossolimo & Moscow ). The latter are sort of a hybrid between an open & an anti-Sicilian. I thoroughly learned to handle these four. If my opponent steers toward an open Sicilian I just do the best I can with the Sveshnikov or the Scheveningen with Najdorf move order. After about 600 games I discovered my wins playing Black were greater than as White. Because many local players open 1 e4 and I feel so comfortable against anti-Sicilians. I suspect so many prepare and play an anti-Sicilian because they want to avoid the vast complications of an open Sicilian.

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  • this is something I experienced as well while experimenting with the Sicilian. The so-called "Anti-Sicilians" are in fact not scary for Black and I scored very well without knowing much theory. In the open Sicilian however, not knowing theory can be severely punished. And I wouldn't play an opening that I don't know how to play properly in the hopes that testing variations do not occur. Because they will eventually. My thinking however was, that the open Sicilian is much harder for White to play because black has so many different setups and Black only needs to know this one, White many more.
    – Hauptideal
    Feb 28 at 15:31
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First of all: what is the Sveshnikov Sicilian?

The Sveshnikov Sicilian arises after the following moves:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5

After 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bg5 a6 8. Na3 b5, now the "real" Sveshnikov Sicilian position begins:

[FEN "r1bqkb1r/5ppp/p1np1n2/1p2p1B1/4P3/N1N5/PPP2PPP/R2QKB1R w KQkq b6 0 9"]

Now, White has two main ideas to play: take the knight: 9. Bxc6, or jump right in with 9. Nd5

So, this is actually easy to learn. The first 8 move was all theory, and you just need to learn two game plans with two different moves by Black. If your opponent doesn't know the game plan, I think you'll have an advantage

But, the real problem is: there's no guarantee that your opponent will play right into the Sveshnikov Sicilian. White can play 2. Nc3 instead of 2. Nf3 (close Sicilian), or how about 3.Bg5 instead of 3.d4 (Nyezhmetdinov-Rossolimo attack). That's only 2 lines of so many more. That's the main problem with the Sicilian defense: there're just so many damn lines, and each line has its own theory.


Conclusion: so it is possible for a ~1500 (or even lower-rated) player to understand the Sveshnikov Sicilian and its middle games. The problem here is you don't even have a chance to play it.

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  • What are these 2 middle game plans?
    – Hauptideal
    Dec 25, 2021 at 10:43
  • @Hauptideal to face two main moves: Bxc6 and Nd5 Dec 26, 2021 at 8:09

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