Common Lines In the Sicilian Defense

A common chess opening

A chess board next to a book

Illustration: The Spruce / Theresa Chiechi

The Sicilian Defense may be the single most common chess opening in modern play. There are countless lines that can arise from the starting moves of 1. e4 c5.

Sicilian Defense: Starting Position

chess diagram sicilian line
Ed Scimia

The Sicilian Defense allows Black to attack the d4 square and fight for the center without the symmetry that results from 1...e5. This generally leads to unbalanced positions and usually leaves black with a central pawn majority after trading his c-pawn for White's d-pawn. Learn the common lines that arise with this strategy.

Smith-Morra Gambit

Smith-Morra Gambit
Ed Scimia

The Smith-Morra Gambit (1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3) is popular at club levels and is played at least occasionally by even some masters. If Black accepts the gambit by taking the pawn on c3, White will play 4. Nxc3, gaining an early initiative and a dangerous attack.

While this gambit may not be entirely sound, it is dangerous in the hands of a player who knows the opening well, especially against an unprepared opponent.

Alapin Variation

Alapin Variation
Ed Scimia

The Alapin Variation is reached if White plays 2. c3. While this supports the d4 advance, it takes away the c3 square, usually a good place for White's queenside knight.

Closed Sicilian

Closed Sicilian
Ed Scimia

Another alternate second move for White is 2. Nc3, which typically ushers in the Closed Sicilian. This system, popular at all levels, allows White to keep the center closed. Typically, White plans to play 3. g3 and attack on the flanks.

Another alternative for White is 3. f4, which is known as the Grand Prix attack

Classical Sicilian

Classical Sicilian
Ed Scimia

The Classical Sicilian (reached from many move orders, such as 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6) is one of the soundest lines of the Sicilian for Black, if not always the most enterprising. White has several options beginning on the sixth move, such as the Richter-Rauzer attack and the Sozin attack.

Sveshnikov Variation

Sveshnikov Variation
Ed Scimia

Popularized by Evgeny Sveshnikov in the 1970s, the Sveshnikov is marked by an early e5 thrust by Black (for instance: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5). This is one of the riskier Sicilians for Black to play, but also one that gives the second player many chances to play for a win. For that reason, the Sveshnikov Variation is quite popular at the top levels of chess.

Dragon Variation

Dragon Variation
Ed Scimia

Named for the formation of pawns from h7 to d6 (which were noted to look like the stars in the Draco constellation), the Dragon Variation is one of the sharpest openings in chess.

Perhaps the most challenging line for both sides is the Yugoslav Attack, where white plays 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3. Both sides typically launch fierce attacks: White on the kingside, Black on the queenside.

Accelerated Dragon

Accelerated Dragon
Ed Scimia

The Accelerated Dragon allows Black to adopt a Dragon setup without having to fear the Yugoslav Attack. By playing g6 earlier (usually in ​line 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6), Black retains the ability to play d5 in just one move (rather than having previously played d6 in the standard Dragon), saving a tempo.

Conversely, this setup allows White to play the Maroczy Bind (5. c4), making this opening a much more positional one than the standard Sicilian Dragon.

If Black really wants to play g6 as soon as possible, an even faster way is the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon, where black plays g6 on the second move (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6).

Scheveningen Variation

Scheveningen Variation
Ed Scimia

The Scheveningen (reached by move orders such as 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6) is a popular and ambitious system that allows Black to have a solid but flexible position that offers plenty of chances for counterplay on the queenside. Conversely, White has an obvious central space advantage and can choose from a variety of plans.

The Scheveningen variation is popular at the highest levels of chess, due to its complex and creative nature.

Najdorf Variation

Najdorf Variation
Ed Scimia

The Najdorf Variation (marked by 5. ... a6) is today the most popular line in the Sicilian. Named after Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, this system is designed to exert control over b5 and later put pressure on White's e4 pawn. It is also a flexible idea, one that can transpose into many other Sicilian systems.​