1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
The Najdorf is the most popular Sicilian played in tournaments, and our author IM Renato Quintiliano considers it the most reliable option in the Sicilian universe. It promises an active game for Black and real chances of playing for a win. Black's ideas are generally based on quick development and the search for counterplay on the queenside and in the center, aiming to take the initiative as early as possible. The main practical problem for Black, however, is that White has a really wide range of options to face the Najdorf. White can even avoid an open and sharp battle for the initiative and instead go for more solid and positional lines, which can prove a problem for aggressive Black players. It means that if you want to develop a deep knowledge about the Sicilian Najdorf, in order to use this opening as a weapon in your repertoire, it is necessary to not only be aware of long and sharp theoretical lines, but also of positional ideas, typical maneuvres and structures, developing a good strategic understanding about them. These positional lines will be the subject of our first (of three) databases dedicated to the Sicilian Najdorf.
The current database consists of four parts.
- Typical Pawn Structures
- Theoretical Section
- Memory Markers
- Strategic Tests
Typical Pawn Structures
It goes without saying that the modern repertoire building requires a deep knowledge of the arising middlegame positions. Fur the purposes of this database, Quintillano deals with 8 important pawn structures.
Each structure is presented in the following way:
- Explanation of the Structure
- Model Game
This structure arises in the variation 6.a4 g6!? as White usually plays a4-a5 at some point, cramping Black's queenside.
- One common idea for White is to play Nd5. In this case, after Bxd5 exd5, he can put pressure along the e-file.
- Black should keep the knights on the board, as the squares c5 and e5 are very stable posts.
- The best scenario for Black is leaving White with the light-squared bishop, as this bishop is his worse minor piece.
Now we have a typical Najdorf structure in which Black plays e7-e5 in order
to get more space in the center and easier development.
- The main drawback of the advance e7-e5 could be explained by the weakness of the d5-square
- In this particular case, White tried to exploit Black's b7-b5 by means of a2-a4 which provoked b5-b4.
- The position of White's g-pawn does not make a big difference from a structural point of view
- White's light-squared bishop is not optimally placed on g2.
- Besides the usual pressure on d6 and playing for the d5-square, White can try f2-f4 to create some tension in the center or to provoke weaknesses in Black's camp.
- Black has counter chances as he can exert pressure along the c-file.
- Usually, f7-f6 is a good response to f2-f4, keeping the center solid and preparing to play a timely d6-d5, which would free his position.
- The a5-square is also important and both sides
- If White plays a4-a5, both Black pawns on queenside will be weak.
- If Black manages to play a6-a5, his queenside will be safe.
Compared to the previous structure, Blacks' queenside is safer now, but White has the option of playing a2-a4 with a transposition.
- Another possibility is to avoid the pressure along the c-file with c2-c3.
- The tournament practice has shown that Black should keep at least one minor piece on the board because positions with only major pieces tend to be more pleasant for White.
- In this specific structure, White will likely have a bishop on g2. That is why it is good for Black to keep his light-squared bishop on e6.
This is a regular structure that arises in the 6.Be2 line.
- The d5-square is, of course, a recurrent motif, but the main detail here is the king's placement.
- In the lines in which White plays 0-0-0, he has some additional ideas, as a pawn storm on the kingside or g2-g3 followed by f2-f4, thus exerting pressure in the center.
- Black should focus on the queenside and look for a counterplay against the king.
- The queenside attack tends to be very annoying for White.
We have the same structure with only one important difference - the white king is on the kingside.
- Playing on the queenside remains Black's main plan.
- Black should keep at least one minor piece on the board.
This structure arises when White tries to attack the center with f2-f4 and Black answers with exf4, thus changing the structure and the nature of the position.
- In this structure, besides the standard Nc3-d5, White can go for the maneuver Nd4-f5.
- In general, White is playing for a kingside initiative.
- Black's advantages are purely positional.
- He often uses the e5-square which is an excellent outpost for the knight (and sometimes for the bishop).
- The move f2-f4 exposes White's king and Black can take advantage of it.
- The d6-d5 advance is also an idea.
- We should remember that even with pawns on d6 and e4, many endgames are fine for Black due to the vulnerability of the e4-pawn.
White plays Nd5, forcing the exchange, and then recaptures with the e-pawn. This kind of cuts the board into two halves.
- White aims to advance his queenside majority in order to put Black under pressure, open lines on that side or to create a passed pawn.
- Black should look for counterplay with his own majority on the kingside.
Black should remember some important ideas:
1. Exchange the knight on d5 by means of Bxd5, keeping the knights that will be much more useful in such structures;
2. Get rid of his dark-squared bishop on the first opportunity, usually, this is accomplished by means fo Ne8-Bg5. It is a good operation because Black deprives White of the bishop pair and, at the same time, exchanges Black's worst minor piece;
3. Play the a6-a5 advance as soon as possible, as despite weakening the b5-square, it is an effective way of delaying White's advances on the queenside and gives the excellent c5-square to the knight, and
4. Be ready to play as actively as possible on the kingside, as the advances will force White to take some difficult decisions, as playing f2-f3 or f2-f4 to stop the pawns, would, in any case, expose some squares.
This sort of structure arises when Black meets the queenside restricting advance a4-a5 with the active idea b7-b5 which allows axb6.
- Normally, White plays such positions hoping that he can stop Black's activity on the open files and reach a favorable endgame in which he can combine the attack against the weak pawns on d6 and a6.
- Black should be cautious about the endgames, especially those with a few pieces, like 3 or less for each side.
- Black should look for active play here in order to keep White busy with concrete threats, using the open files on the queenside and eventually prepare the advance d6-d5 which would give a nice initiative.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 g6
6.a4!? is a nice practical option if White wants to avoid main lines and theoretical discussions. 6...g6!? is a good option, as Black changes to Dragon positions, but with the moves, a4/a6 included White has not the sharp lines with opposite castles available anymore. The tournament practice has shown that this move is totally playable for Black, and it is how the Russian top-GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, a known Najdorf expert, deals with 6.a4.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nb3
6.g3 is another line that has the reputation of being a solid option for White and is played by many strong players like Carlsen, Anand, Vachier-Lagrave. 6...e5 This is how we start to analyze this structure, very typical of Najdorf positions. Black is fighting for space in the center and for more freedom to develop his pieces. In this particular position, he also blocks the diagonal for the Bg2 in advance. As nothing is perfect, we now have the problem of the d5-square, which creates the main positional battle in this chapter and in the next ones.
Chapter 2 features the move 7.Nb3 which is the second most played continuation. 7...Be7 It is good to keep the light-squared bishop flexible, as it can prove more useful to develop it to b7 in certain positions. 8.Bg2 (8.a4 is not so effective now because Black has kept his knight on b8, so he can arrange the pieces in a different (better) way: 8...Nc6! 9.Bg2 Nb4! This is an important idea to remember in this line when White slightly commits his queenside by playing a4: the knight can't be easily driven out of b4, and the first point is that it helps Black to control d5.) 8...0-0 9.0-0 b5!?
This move used to be considered dubious, but some recent games have changed this evaluation and our author shows why.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nf3
This continuation started to be played recently, in order to create new challenges for Black. The main idea is to maneuver the knight to f5 via h4, trying to put some pressure on the kingside. The main line goes 7...Be7 8.Bg2 (the author deals with 8.Nh4 as well) 0-0 9.0-0 b5!?
Whenever possible, this move is a good way for Black's to fight for the control over the d5-square and to look for counterplay on the queenside. In his analysis, IM Quintillano demonstrates how Black holds his own in all the lines.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2
This is the main line. As the author showed in previous chapters, White can have some problems trying to find an adequate square for this knight. But in this line, his task seems simpler: he might improve it by means of h3-g4-Ng3 or playing a quick Nd5 and continuing with Nec3.
The main line goes 7...Be7 8.Bg2 b5 Black has many options but again IM Renato Quintiliano like this move which strives for a quick development on the queenside. In recent games, White has preferred 9.Nd5 Nbd7! (The difference is that now if 9...Nxd5 then 10.Qxd5 Ra7 11.Be3 Rb7 12.Qd3! is an improved version for White as the knight has the route c3-d5 at its disposal.) 10.Nec3
In this position, Black has achieved satisfactory results with 10...Nb6! Looking to exchange all the knights and thereby decreasing the importance of the d5-square.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nf3
White has tried many different ideas against the Najdorf recently, looking for fertile ground for new ideas. After a couple of nice wins by Carlsen, this move gained some popularity among GMs, instead of the main and classical retreat to b3. There are some subtle differences that White can exploit in his fight for d5. 7...Be7 8.Bg5 Exchanging the dark-squared bishop for the knight is one of the typical operations in such structures: mathematically speaking, White trades off one of the opponent's pieces which can control d5, for one of his own pieces that never could occupy that square, in order to have more pieces available in the fight for the d5-square. 8...Be6 This move has not scored so well, but our author does not think the opening is the reason for that as proven by his analysis.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Bg5
In this line, White has the very practical idea of playing Bg5xf6 and getting control over d5. The ideas are very similar, but it is important to understand the differences of having the knight on b3 now. The main line goes 8...Be6 9.Bxf6! Again, White should exchange the knight before Nbd7, in order to disturb Black's development a bit. 9...Bxf6 10.Qd3
One of the differences is that White can go for 0-0-0 to get a quick pressure against d6, and he can also increase the pressure on the center with g3-f4. 10...Be7 This is only the third move, but it is a very promising one. Black prepares Nd7.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 - f4-ideas
This chapter features White's plans connected with the advance f2-f4 in the 6.Be2 line. The first important crossroads is being reached after 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0
In this position, White's main continuation is 9.Be3. It is very important to understand why this is the strongest move.
(The move 9.f4?! is too rushed, but it is important to understand the reason behind it: Whenever White plays this move, the e4-pawn becomes a weakness, and now Black can play. 9...b5! with good pressure against e4.) (9.Kh1 is a useful, preparatory move. White can also wait and see if Black develops the bishop to e6, but he can keep things undefined by means of 9...Nc6!? 10.f4 Again 10...b5! is the right move.)
The main line follows 9.f4 Be6 10.f4 The quote our author: "Honestly, I do not think this is a good move, as Black is very solid and has some dynamic ideas now due to the weakening of White's kingside. But it is important to know how to play precisely as Black too." 10...exf4! 11.Bxf4
Another point is that White has lost one tempo with his bishop going to e3 and then f4. This structure is very important to understand, as it can arise in many Najdorf variations. Both sides have new ideas now: White has the open f-file and chances of bringing his pieces to the kingside, with Nd4-f5 for example, attacking different parts of the board. In return, Black can also use the same open lines to explore the now exposed opponent's king, and like d5, e5 is a stable central post to put either a bishop or a knight. The d5-square remains an important point, but due to the newly-opened lines, the game tends to be sharper, with chances for both sides. (11.Rxf4 gives some different ideas for White, but it does not seem enough to get an advantage 11...Nc6 12.Nd5!? the only way of justifying the capture with the rook on f4 12...Bxd5! 13.exd5 Ne5 a new transformation of the pawn structure occurred and we need to pay attention again: from my practical experience, Black's game will be easier from here if he succeeds in finding nice squares for the knights (considering that one of them is already excellently placed). Trading off the dark-squared bishops is also an improvement, as the light-squared bishop is White's bad one. You will find a more detailed explanation of this structure in the structure database.) 11...Nc6
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 - Nd5 ideas
This chapter deals with all the ideas including the white knight's jump to d5.
The main position of the variation arises after 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Be6 10.Nd5!?
This move leads to a transformation in the pawn structure. 10...Nbd7! Now Black threatens to take on e4, thus forcing the White queen to be a bit exposed. 11.Qd3 Bxd5! It is better to take on d5 without giving White the chance of playing c4-cxd5. 12.exd5
This is another typical structure that should be known to Najdorf players. It is usually good for Black when White ends up with a pawn on d5, as it cuts the pressure on the d-file and against the d6 pawn. But in this case, White has more space as well as the bishop pair, and he also expects to use the newly-created majority on the queenside to create a passed pawn, or to put Black under pressure. 12...Rc8 Black's ideas are typically rather connected to using his pawns on the kingside striving for active counterplay. But our author likes this move first, keeping an eye on the opponent's queenside.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 - quiet lines
In the chapter introduction, IM Renato Quintiliano writes: "In this chapter, we will deal with the so-called quiet lines. It means those variations in which White does not play so concretely as in the last two chapters. Instead, he is going for slow play, looking for subtle maneuvers and small improvements in order to play with a small advantage and an easier position. Black should be aware of these plans and move orders to avoid ending in an unpleasant position that may prove difficult to play in practice."
6. Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0
At this point, IM Quintillano deals with three different moves - 9.Re1, 9.a4, and 9.Be3. Generally speaking, these continuations lead to a slow play with a lot of maneuvers. In such positions, the knowledge of the typical plans and ideas is more important than the concrete variations. In his annotations, the author shows how Black should react in these lines.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3
IM Renato Quintiliano writes about this position: "Again, the same structure in a different move order. At this point, we are already used with the ideas for both sides, but once more it is important to pay attention to some differences in the placement of the pieces. Compared to 6.Be2, White has the possibility of playing Bc4 directly which seems more natural to control d5. But the also typical Bg5 idea will cost two tempos now. Getting everything is always difficult in chess :)" 7...Be7 8.Bc4 (8.a4 although this move was played by a few GMs, our author thinks it is unnecessary, as the counterplay on the queenside is not really dangerous and White commits some squares in queenside. 0-0 9.Bc4 Nc6 This way of developing the knight is attractive due to the weakness created on b4.) 0-0 9.0-0 Be6! It is important for Black start to thinking about d5 in this line, as compared to the previous chapters, White is better developed to achieve a positional advantage. In his analysis, the author shows that with a precise play, Black holds his own in all the lines.
This section provides 20 interactive exercises which allow you to test your knowledge of the theoretical chapters. Below, you can find five of them.