Sicilian Defense: Full Guide, Main Lines, and Secondary Options

Sicilian Defense Full Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Open Sicilian Defense
  3. Sicilian Najdorf
  4. Sicilian Scheveningen
  5. Classical Sicilian Defense
  6. Sicilian Dragon
  7. Alapin Variation
  8. Closed Sicilian
  9. Accelerated Dragon
  10. Hyper-Accelerated Dragon
  11. Sveshnikov Variation
  12. Kan Sicilian or Paulsen Sicilian
  13. Taimanov Sicilian
  14. Four Knights Sicilian Defense
  15. Rossolimo Variation
  16. Sicilian O'Kelly
  17. Pin Sicilian
  18. Kalashnikov Sicilian
  19. Lowenthal Variation
  20. Grand Prix Attack
  21. Smith-Morra Gambit
  22. Nimzowitsch Variation
  23. Adams Attack
  24. Sozin Variation
  25. Richter-Rauzer Variation
  26. Sicilian Defense with 2.g3
  27. Moscow Variation
  28. Conclusion
  29. Useful Resources


If you have any intentions to win against 1.e4, then you absolutely have to know how to play the Sicilian Defense as Black.


Because the Sicilian Defense - 1.e4 c5 - offers Black a world of tactical and strategic possibilities to fight for the win from move 1. Something that cannot be said about many of the other options for Black.

However, be warned - the Sicilian Defense is not suitable for faint-hearted players.

Black is constantly teetering between disaster and glory the whole time, so you need to be prepared to manage your emotions and be precise with your moves.

One of the key aspects of the Sicilian Defense is the pawn structure, specifically the d and e pawns for Black. With this structure, Black controls key central squares and ensures good development for its pieces (see diagram below):

Sicilian Defense pawn structure

In the Sicilian Defense, Black creates imbalances in the position that makes it easier to counter-attack in the middlegame with typical maneuvers.

The Sicilian Defense is named after the Italian priest Pietro Carrera, who also happened to be an avid chess player.

One of the most beautiful things about the Sicilian Defense is that it offers a wide range of variations, allowing players to choose lines that suit their preferred style of play.

The aggressive nature of the Sicilian, and the ability to catch opponents off guard, have made the Sicilian Defense the most popular response to 1.e4 for Black.

Essential Moves in the Sicilian Defense

The Sicilian Defense, a popular and strategic choice in chess, is marked by a series of decisive moves. This opening sequence starts with:

Pawn c7 to c5 Move: Initiating the Sicilian Defense requires moving your pawn from c7 to c5. The primary advantage of this move is that it hinders white's efforts to dominate the center with the pawn on d4.

Essential Moves in the Sicilian Defense

Knight Movement: Subsequently, move your knight from b8 to c6. This knight placement not only develops an important piece, but it also helps in the fight for the center.

Sicilian Defense, the Knight Movement

Pawn Capture: The next phase in this defense is capturing white's pawn on d4 with your pawn on c5. This action diminishes white's control over the central squares, a pivotal aspect of the game.

Sicilian Defense, capturing white's pawn on d4 with your pawn on c5

Knight Development: Lastly, move your other Knight from g8 to f6. This move attacks white?s pawn on e4 and bolsters your control of the center of the board, which is a key strategic concept on any chess opening.

This sequence of moves exemplifies the core principles of the Sicilian Defense.

However, remember that chess is a dynamic game, and strategic adaptations are often necessary based on your opponent's responses.

Continually updating your knowledge about these moves will assist you in mastering the Sicilian Defense.

Now, let's dive deeper into the dozens of different lines and variations that the Sicilian Defense has to offer.

Open Sicilian Defense

The Open Sicilian Defense is characterized by the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 followed by 3.d4 (see diagram below):

The Open Sicilian Defense

This leads to an open game with plenty of tactical opportunities for both sides.

Let’s review all the options available in the vast world of the Open Sicilian Defense.

Sicilian Najdorf

The Najdorf Variation is one of the most popular and aggressive lines you can play in the Sicilian Defense.

It arises after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 (see diagram below):

After this, there are numerous options to choose from, which makes this a highly flexible and complex opening.

White’s main responses at master level after Black has played the Sicilian Najdorf are:

  • 6.Be3
  • 6.Be2
  • 6.Bg5
  • 6.h3
  • 6.Bc4
  • 6.f4
  • 6.f3
  • 6.g3

Here is a model game on the Sicilian Najdorf between Michael Adams and Garry Kasparov:

Also, check out this comprehensive course on the Sicilian Najdorf.

comprehensive course on the Sicilian Najdorf

Sicilian Scheveningen

The Scheveningen Variation starts with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 (see diagram below):

It is a solid choice for players who prefer a more positional approach.

Black's pawn structure is solid, providing excellent support for piece activity.

Some of the main continuations after 5…e6 are:

  • 6.g4
  • 6.Be2
  • 6.Be3
  • 6.f4
  • 6.g3

See a model game on the Scheveningen Variation between Rashid Nezhmetdinov and Mikhail Tal:

Classical Sicilian Defense

In the Classical Variation, Black plays 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6, developing the knight to its natural square (see diagram below):

This variation leads to rich middlegame play with opportunities for both sides to exploit weaknesses in the opponent's position.

The main continuation goes like this:

6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.O-O-O Bd7 9.f4 b5 10.Bxf6 gxf6 (see diagram below):

However, after 5….Nc6 is played, White have several choices other than 6.Bg5, which are:

  • 6.Bc4
  • 6.Be2
  • 6.f3
  • 6.g3
  • 6.Be3
  • 6.f4

Classical Sicilian model game between Vasyl Ivanchuk and Vladimir Kramnik:

Sicilian Dragon

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 (see diagram below):

The Sicilian Dragon Defense is a sharp and aggressive line that offers Black excellent counterattacking chances.

You have probably already heard about this opening, since it is extremely popular at all levels.

In the Sicilian Dragon, Black decides to fianchetto the dark-squared bishop, aims to control the central squares and put pressure on White's position.

To better understand the main plans in the Sicilian Dragon, watch this introduction by IM Martin Sieciechowicz:

The key variations of the Sicilian Dragon Defense include:

Yugoslav Attack

The Yugoslav Attack is White's most aggressive response to the Sicilian Dragon Defense.

It starts with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 (see diagram below):

White aims to create a powerful kingside attack by putting pressure on f7, and opening lines for the rook and queen.

Model game on the Yugoslav Attack between Bobby Fischer and Bent Larsen:

Classical Sicilian Dragon

The Classical Variation of the Sicilian Dragon Defense is characterized by the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 (see diagram below):

Here, White goes for a more solid setup, avoiding the complications of the Yugoslav Attack.

This line often leads to a slower, more positional game with both sides vying for control over key squares and outposts.

Levenfish Attack on the Sicilian Dragon

In the Levenfish Attack, White plays 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4, aiming to quickly open the f-file and create attacking chances (see diagram below):

This is an aggressive approach that can catch unprepared opponents off guard, but Black has solid counterplay options if they're familiar with the position.

For instance, the game can go on like this:

6…Nc6 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Nd7 9.exd6 exd6 10.Be3 Be7 11.Qd2 O-O 12.O-O-O Nf6, and the position is equal (see diagram below):

Alapin Variation

The Alapin Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.c3 - is the third most played alternative for White (see diagram below):

The Alapin Variation

With the Alapin, White tries to establish a strong pawn center by preparing the advance of the d-pawn.

This line often leads to more positional play, with both sides maneuvering for central control.

The main options for Black after 2.c3 are:

  • Nf6
  • d5
  • e6
  • d6
  • g6

Model game on the Alapin Variation between Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov:

Closed Sicilian

In the Closed Sicilian - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 - White opts for a more positional approach (see diagram below):

The Closed Sicilian

The move 2.Nc3 delays the d4 advance, which usually leads to a slower maneuvering game where each player looks to exploit weaknesses in the opponent's pawn structure.

Main continuations for Black after 2.Nc3 are:

  • Nc6
  • d6
  • e6
  • a6
  • g6

Accelerated Dragon

The Accelerated Dragon - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 - is a close cousin to the Sicilian Dragon Defense (see diagram below):

In this variation, Black avoids playing d6 on move 2, and instead aims for a quicker fianchetto of the dark-squared bishop.

The main plans of the Accelerated Dragon are to establish a strong bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal and support the center while creating rapid development for the Black pieces.

The main continuations after 4...g6 are:

  • c4
  • Nc3

Model game on the Accelerated Dragon between Paul Keres and Tigran Petrosian:

If you want to dive deeper into the Accelerated Dragon, GM Alex Fier has a course that can help you master this opening.

Sicilian Defense, Accelerated Dragon

Hyper-Accelerated Dragon

The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 - is a variation of the Sicilian Defense that proposes an even quicker fianchetto of the dark-squared bishop, omitting the usual ...Nc6 move (see diagram below):

The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon

The plans are similar to the Accelerated Dragon:

  • To establish a strong bishop on g7.
  • To play d6 to prepare pawn breaks in the center.
  • To play on the half-open c-file.
  • To ensure rapid piece development.

Sveshnikov Variation on the Sicilian Defense

The Sveshnikov Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 - is a dynamic and aggressive line that creates an immediate imbalanced pawn structure in the position (see diagram below):

Black accepts to play with an isolated pawn on d6 but gains active piece play and potential counterattacks in return.

Kan Sicilian or Paulsen Sicilian

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 (see diagram below):

The Kan Variation is a flexible and solid option for Black.

By playing a6 early, Black prevents an immediate Nb5 from White, while also preparing to expand on the queenside with b5.

This variation often leads to a more positional game, with each player trying to control the key central squares.

Taimanov Sicilian

The Taimanov Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 - is characterized by Black's quick development of the knight to c6 (see diagram below):

This line can often transpose into the Scheveningen Variation, but it also has its own unique characteristics, providing Black with a flexible and solid position.

With the knight developed to a natural square, Black keeps its options open.

Black’s dark-squared bishop usually develops to c5 or b4, depending of the position.

Four Knights Sicilian Defense

The Four Knights Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 - is a natural and balanced option, with both sides developing all of their knights quickly (see diagram below):

Often times this variation leads to the Sveshnikov Variation, although White can avoid it if they want.

Play usually continues like this:

6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 9.Na3 b5 10.Nd5 Be7 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.c3 O-O (see diagram below):

Rossolimo Variation

The Rossolimo Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 - is the perfect choice for those players that want to avoid the main lines of the Sicilian Defense as White (see diagram below):

Sicilian Defense, Rossolimo Variation

It is an offbeat option for White that usually makes Sicilian players mad.

By developing the light-squared bishop early, White aims to create structural imbalances and challenge Black's pawn structure.

Model game on the Rossolimo Sicilian: Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky

Sicilian O'Kelly

The O'Kelly Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 - is a less explored and flexible choice for Black that can lead to various pawn structures and middlegame plans (see diagram below):

Sicilian Defense, Sicilian O'Kelly

This early a6 move prevents an immediate Nb5 from White and prepares for possible expansion on the queenside.

To better understand how the O'Kelly Sicilian works, watch this brief introduction by FM Taur Tekeyev:

Pin Sicilian

The Pin Variation or Sicilian Counter-Attack arises from the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 (see diagram below):

By playing the Pin Variation, Black quickly develops its dark-squared bishop, pinning the knight on c3 and putting pressure from the beginning.

It’s not the most sound choice for Black but White can get into deep trouble if the slightest mistake is made.

Kalashnikov Sicilian

The Kalashnikov Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 5.Nb5 d6 - is closely related to the Sveshnikov Variation but has its unique characteristics (see diagram below):

Black compensates the lack of control in the center with a quick expansion with a6 and b5, chasing the White knight (see diagram below):

Sicilian Defense, Kalashnikov Sicilian

By playing e5 immediately, Black aims to create central tension and an imbalanced position.

This line can lead to dynamic and aggressive play from both sides.

Sicilian Defense, Kalashnikov Sicilian

Lowenthal Variation - Sicilian Defense

The Lowenthal Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 - is another option for Black that creates an imbalanced pawn structure by playing e5 immediately (see diagram below):

In this line, Black accepts an isolated pawn on d6 in exchange for active piece play and potential counterattacks.

Grand Prix Attack - Sicilian Defense for White

The Grand Prix Attack - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 - is an aggressive and unconventional option for White that aims to generate quick kingside attacks (see diagram below):

By advancing the f-pawn, White opens lines for the pieces and creates attacking chances. However, this opening can also lead to sharp play and tactical complications.

Smith-Morra Gambit - Sicilian Defense

The Smith-Morra Gambit - 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 - is another aggressive option for White that sacrifices a pawn to create central tension and rapid piece development (see diagram below):

In accepting the gambit, Black must be cautious of White's quick piece activity, as the initiative can easily shift in favor of White.

Nimzowitsch Variation - Sicilian Defense

The Nimzowitsch Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 - is a provocative choice for Black that directly challenges White's center by attacking the e4 pawn (see diagram below):

Sicilian Defense, The Nimzowitsch Variation

Although not as popular as some other Sicilian lines, this variation can lead to interesting play and unique middlegame positions.

Adams Attack - Sicilian Defense

The Adams Attack - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 - is a relatively rare but interesting approach for White in the Sicilian Defense (see diagram below):

By playing an early h3, White aims to secure the g4 square for their pieces and possibly prepare a kingside pawn storm.

This line can lead to sharp play and tactical complications.

Sozin Variation - Sicilian Defense

The Sozin Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Bc4 - features an early development of White's light-squared bishop to c4, eyeing the f7 square and supporting the advance of the e4 pawn (see diagram below):

This line can lead to aggressive play and sharp positions, with both sides fighting for control of the center and kingside.

Model game on the Sozin Variation: Bobby Fischer vs Jorge Rubinetti

Richter-Rauzer Variation - Sicilian Defense

The Richter-Rauzer Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cd 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 - is an aggressive line for White, pinning the f6 knight and putting pressure on Black's kingside (see diagram below):

This variation often results in actical battles and piece play, as both sides vie for the initiative.

Sicilian Defense with 2.g3

The Sicilian Defense with 2.g3 - 1.e4 c5 2.g3 - is a quiet and flexible option for White that avoids the main lines (see diagram below):

The Sicilian Defense with 2.g3

By fianchettoing the dark-squared bishop, White aims to control key central squares and maintain a solid pawn structure.

This variation can lead to various pawn structures and middlegame plans, depending on how both sides choose to develop their pieces.

Moscow Variation - Sicilian Defense

The Moscow Variation - 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ - is a solid option for White that involves an early check with the light-squared bishop (see diagram below):

Sicilian Defense, Moscow Variation

This line can lead to symmetrical pawn structures, with White aiming to exploit small positional advantages and challenge Black's pawn structure.


The Sicilian Defense is a versatile and powerful chess opening with a rich history and diverse range of main lines and side lines.

The beauty of the Sicilian lies in the vast array of options available, tailored to suit your unique playing style.

By understanding the key variations, such as the Open Sicilian Defense and the Sicilian Dragon Defense, players can adjust their approach to the game based on the lines they prefer.

Whether you're a beginner or an intermediate player, mastering the Sicilian Defense will undoubtedly strengthen your chess repertoire and elevate your game.

Useful Resources to Play the Sicilian Defense

Explore the Sicilian Opening on our Opening Explorer. You can switch between the Big Database and the Masters Database to see all the options available.

Check out our chess courses on the Sicilian Defense. Here are some of our suggestions:

Search for model games from any given position of the Sicilian Defense.

Search for the Sicilian Defense games of any player.

Use the Chess Openings Trainer to practice positions in the Sicilian Defense.

Use Stockfish to analyze any Sicilian Defense position.