Sicilian Najdorf – How to Play, Attack and Counter

The Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense is one of the most popular openings from Black’s side, and some of the greatest minds have favored this opening in the game. It is aggressive yet positional.

The game begins with:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 a6

Black’s 5th move here, ‘a6’, may seem unusual or innocent as it does not focus on controlling the center as the usual lines under the Sicilian Defense do. The logic behind ‘a6’ is to prevent White’s pieces from coming on the ‘b5’ square. ‘a6’ also supports Black’s plans of eventually playing ‘b5’ to expand on the queenside.

History & Origin

Najdorf is the most intensely studied and respected of all modern chess openings. The opening gets its name from the Polish-Argentine Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf. However, Miguel was not the first player to play this variation.

Statistics

According to the 12163 games available in the ChessGames.com database with the Sicilian Najdorf as the opening:

Sr. No Game Details Win %
1 White Wins 37.3%
2 Black Wins 31.2%
3 Draws 31.5%

Principles

The main aim is to defend the b5 square, and Black aims to pose a Queenside minority attack to put pressure on White’s e4 pawn. Black’s eventual motive is to play ‘b5’ to promote a queenside development. Black also does not want any White pieces on the ‘b5’ square.

  1. A sound and strong opening framework which can be played routinely and which doesn’t depend on stunts or modest snares.
  2. A chess opening framework that doesn’t compel you to gain proficiency with a perpetual measure of hypothesis to endure the initial 15 moves.
  3. An opening that doesn’t permit White to play varieties which pretty much lead to a constrained attract however empowers you to go for a strong attack against fragile players.

Main Line

…. 6. Bg5 (Most Popular Line)

White’s most popular move and White’s main aim is to play on the kingside. Black usually responds to this move with e6. Playing e5 for more central control would be dangerous as White can add pressure to the pinned Knight on f6 by playing Nd5.

White’s Counter – How to Beat the Najdorf

White’s most common and universal response lately to e6 is f4, where White aims to play e5 on the 8th move. Bg5 is strategically an excellent response for White to ‘a6’ as it allows White to continue with its initial plan of a kingside attack. At the same time, Black intends to pose a queenside attack making the overall position complex and unsymmetrical.

All Moves Explained

Balck can respond to f4 with moves like Be7, Qb6, b5, Qc7, and Nbd7. In the Old Mainline, Black responds to f4 with Be7 followed by – 8. Qc3 Qc7 9. 0-0-0 Nbd7 10. g4/Bd3. In the Argentine/ Goteborg Variation – 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3 h6 9. Bh4 g5. 10.fxg5 Nfd7. Here, Black aims to place a knight on e5 and back this knight with another knight on d7 or c6 square.

Qb6 is also a viral response to White’s f4. If White plays Qd2 on the 8th move after Qb6, this leads to the Poisoned Pawn Variation. This variation gets this name as the pawn on b2 that Qxb2 can capture is a poisoned pawn.

Notations

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 a6
  6. Bg5 e6
  7. f4 Be7
  8. Qf3 Qc7
  9. 0-0-0 Nbd7
  10. g4

Variations

English Attack

Here White plays Be3 on the 6th move, and some call this variation the modern mainline of the Sicilian Najdorf. Black classically responds with e5. If White plays Nb3 on the 7th move, Black usually continues with Be6, trying to control the d5 square.

The most common response on the 8th move is f3, allowing White to play Qd2 next move. Black can transpose to the Scheveningen variation by playing e6 on the 6th move. By playing f3 on the 7th move, Black will play the standard English Attack, and by playing g4 on the 7th move, the game moves into the Hungarian Attack variation.

Opocensky Variation

Here White plays Be2 on the 6th move, a more straightforward and quieter variation than the other variations of the Sicilian Najdorf. This variation usually transposes to the Scheveningen variation if Black responds to Be2 by playing e6. Black may even react with e5 to continue the game on the lines of the Najdorf Variation.

Fischer – Sozin Attack

Bobby Fischer adopted this variation in the 1970s, and Veniamin Sozin introduced it in the 1930s. Here White plays Bc4 on the 6th move to attack the pawn on f7. In response to this, Black plays e6, followed by White playing Bb3.

Adams Attack

The Adams Attack is an odd-looking variation, where White plays h3 on the 6th move, introduced by Weaver Adams in the middle of the twentieth century. If Black plays e5, White responds with Nde2 followed by g4 and Ng3. White’s aim is to play g5 and gain control of the weaker light squares. It is safest for Black to avoid g4 by playing h5 on the 7th move.

Amsterdam Variation

Here White’s 6th move is f4, and Black’s best response to this move is g6. White’s aim is to develop a kingside attack; hence playing g6 would allow Black to have a defensive kingside structure. Black’s plan here is to play Qb6 nd develop a Queenside attack to prevent White from castling.

Traps – Sebag Trap

The Sebag trap is a trap that White can use against Black in the Sicilian Najdorf Variation. Let’s take a look at the notations:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 caxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 a6
  6. Bg5 e6
  7. f4 a6
  8. Bh4 Be7
  9. Qf3 Nbd7
  10. 0-0-0 Qc7
  11. Be2 b5
  12. Bxf6 Nxf6
  13. e5 Bb7
  14. Qg3 dxe5
  15. fxe5 Nd5
  16. Nxe6 fxe6
  17. Qg6 Kd7
  18. Bg4 Qxe5
  19. Nxd5 Bxd5
  20. Rxd5 Qxd5
  21. Rd1 Bg5
  22. Kb1 Qxd1
  23. Bxd1 Bf6
  24. Qf7 Kd6
  25. f3 Rab8
  26. Qa7

Here, White has a Queen and Bishop against Black’s two Rooks and a Bishop. Since White has the more powerful piece, a Queen White has the advantage in this position.

Weakness

The d6 pawn and the d5 square are crucial factors of the Sicilian Najdorf. The d6 pawn is a backward pawn on an open file that White can easily attack and gain an advantage. Since this pawn is crucial in this variation, Black may have to invest a lot of time defending this pawn if White chooses to pose a vigorous attack upon this pawn.

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FAQ

1. Why play the Sicilian Najdorf?

The opening offers a wide range of positions allowing Black to develop and attack the queenside creating an overall unsymmetrical position favorable for Black.

2. Should a beginner play the Sicilian Najdorf?

Like all the lines of the Sicilian Defense, the Sicilian Najdorf too comes with a lot of complex variations; hence it would not be favorable for a Beginner to indulge in this variation as it requires a certain amount of skill and experience. 

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