Are you looking for a way around the swamp of theory making up the Open Sicilian? The Closed Sicilian allows you to bypass razor-sharp lines of theory without sacrificing your winning chances.
Finally, you can learn a system to take down the powerful Sicilian Defense that won’t give you a headache or stress you out.
The opening is vital to reach a good middlegame position, but the importance of the opening is often overstated.
That being said, there is no getting around learning opening theory. All three phases of the game require our attention, and while learning the Closed Sicilian, let your attention rest on ideas and strategies.
You can use the Closed Sicilian to eliminate the biggest challenge facing players who start the game with 1.e4 - the Sicilian Defense.
Great Games of the Closed Sicilian
The Closed Sicilian was played by two world champions, Vasily Smyslov and Boris Spassky. Their games show the attacking potential within the positional Closed Sicilian opening.
Vasily Smyslov - Alexander Kotov, 1943, 1-0, 23rd Ch Moscow, Moscow (URS)
Boris Spassky - Efim Geller, 1968.04.13, 1-0, Spassky - Geller Candidates Quarterfinal Round 6, Sukhumi URS
Gonzalez Acosta, Bernal Manuel - Leandro Perez, Jhonny, 2005.07.09, 1-0. CRI-ch 68th Round 8, San Jose
Ideas and Strategies Within the Closed Sicilian
When playing the Closed Sicilian, always remember your main goal is an attack leading to a checkmate. This attack might take a while to build up, but it is a potent attack, and games can end surprisingly quickly.
There are two main approaches for white if left to carry out their strategy unhindered:
- The direct route with f4, when white builds up his forces behind the e4, f4 pawn shield.
- The more positional approach is to remove the bishop on g7 with Be3-h6 supported by the queen. This is the modern approach and gained popularity as our understanding of positional chess deepened.
Unfortunately, there is one weakness in White’s position, and a lot of the play centers around the d4-square. Because white developed with 2.Nc3, it is impossible to control d4 with a pawn.
Black often develops his bishop o g7 where it supports a knight that occupies d4. When playing the Closed Sicilian, do not hesitate to move your knight from c3.
A black knight cannot be allowed to linger on d4. Playing Nd1 is often required to enable c3, but d1 is a temporary square for the white knight.
From d1, the knight can get brought back into the action via e3 or f2. From either of these squares, the knight supports a kingside pawn advance.
Speaking of oddly placed knights, it is not unusual for white to develop the kingside knight to h3, where it supports f4 and can go to f2 and support g4.
Black Plays an Early …d5
The kingside fianchetto is Black’s most popular way of meeting the Closed Sicilian. 2…e6 and 3…d5 is the most direct approach for black to take.
Against this direct strategy, White can play for a slight, long-term edge by inflicting an isolated queen pawn upon black or adopt a more positional approach with d3 and Nge2.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bg2 Nf6
White can inflict an isolated queen’s pawn upon black with 6.d4 but will give black the chance to develop with tempo. After 6…cxd4 7.Qxd4 Nc6 forces white to move the queen again.
More in keeping with the positional nature of the Closed Sicilian is to entice black to advance the pawn. This pawn advance is Black’s most frequently played response to 6.d3 and is played more than twice as much as 6…Be7.
6.d3 d4 7.Ne4 Nxe4 8.dxe4 Nc6 9.Ne2 Be7 10.0-0 0-0
There are many equal positions in the Closed Sicilian, like this one. Positions where there remains lots of play in the position. White has an excellent outpost for his knight on d5 and does well to establish the knight early.
Black’s advanced pawns can become targets with Rb1 and b4. Once the knight reaches d5, black can’t meet c3 with …d3 because the queen no longer supports the pawn.
Maiwald, Jens Uwe - Thesing, Matthias, 2005.01.30, 1-0, Bundesliga 0405 Round 9.4, Germany
The Closed Sicilian Defense 6.Be3 Rb8
Michael Adams and Nigel Short, two English GMs, were responsible for 6.Be3 gaining favor. White intends a slower build-up of his attack than in the 6.f4 line.
White will aim to exchange Black’s g7-bishop with Qd2 and Bh6. The f4 advance will frequently play an essential role in the attack but at a later stage.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.Be3 Rb8
Black’s plan is a simple and direct queenside expansion. The intention is to gain space and drive the knight from c with …b4.
On b4, the black pawn is ready to capture on c3 when white attempts to drive the knight from d4 with c3. After …bxc3, the rook on b8 is on an open file.
In this variation, it is common for white to retreat the knights to d1 and c1. This looks strange but is necessary to avoid black exchanging the d4-knight instead of withdrawing it to c6.
7.Qd2 b5 8.Nge2 b4 9.Nd1 Nd4 10.0-0 e6 11.Nc1 Ne7
White is ready to drive the knight away from d4 with c3 and then continue with Bh6. The knight on d4 prevents Bh6 because the queen must defend the c2-pawn.
Notice that the strangely placed knight on c1 can go to b3 and block the open b-file.
Ljubojevic, Ljubomir - Tringov, Georgi P, 1982.11.01, 1-0. Luzern ol (Men) Round 3, Luzern
The Closed Sicilian Defense 6.Be3 e6
6…e6 is Black’s second most popular response to 6.Be3. Playing …e6 helps black prevent a later f5 and gives his knight a way to develop without blocking the bishop.
The …e6 and …Ne7 combination helps black develop and increases control of f5.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.Be3 e6
Remember to first drive the knight from d4 before developing the kingside knight.
7.Qd2 Nd4 8.Nd1 Ne7 9.c3 Ndc6 10.Bh6 0-0
The common strategies and moves help make the Closed Sicilian easy to play. The Nd1, c3, and Bh6 moves are common to many variations within the 6.Be3 line.
When the bishop on g7 gets exchanged, white can use his centralized pieces to support a central pawn advance. There is more to the Closed Sicilian than simply a kingside attack.
Bartsch, Berthold - Lobzhanidze, Davit, 2009.09.04, 1-0, Nuremberg LGA Cup 6th Round 2, Nuremberg
The Closed Sicilian With 6.f4
Although this is generally regarded as the mainline of the Sicilian Defense, it is best to start playing the Closed Sicilian with 6.Be3. The challenge you face with 6.f4 is the vast amount of theory that has built up around the mainline.
Obviously, it is the mainline for a reason and is worthy of exploring. However, if you choose the Closed Sicilian to avoid learning a lot of theory, play 6.f4 defeats this purpose.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.f4 e6
Black’s development is specifically aimed at making the f4-f5 advance challenging while preventing the advance of White’s d-pawn with …Nd4. The knight can get further support from the other knight with …Nge7-c6 if needed.
Against this setup by black, white needs to be patient in building up the attack. An essential move in this variation is to retreat the bishop from e3 to f2, preventing a fork after Nxd4.
7.Nf3 Nge7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Nd4 10.Bf2
Along with avoiding the fork, the bishop retreat makes …Nf5, after an e5-advance, less effective because the knight no longer attacks a bishop on e3.
Here is another instructive example of the Closed Sicilian by Boris Spassky. Notice that after 40…Rd7, all three of Black’s pieces are pinned against the king.
Spassky, Boris - Gufeld, Eduard, 1988.03.25, 1-0, Plaza Round 9, Wellington NZL
The Closed Sicilian is a dangerous weapon against the Sicilian Defense that players underestimate. Yes, in many variations, black can equalize, but that does not mean the danger is passed.
Early piece exchanges are minimal in the Closed Sicilian, and keeping pieces on the board always improves your winning chances. Isn’t it more beneficial to spend your time learning how to get the most from your pieces instead of learning opening theory?
Another advantage of playing the Closed Sicilian is you do not need to worry about getting caught in an early trap or later in a razor-sharp theoretical line.
Your deeper understanding of the strategies and positional motifs is sure to give you the edge you need to be successful with the Closed Sicilian.