The Najdorf Sicilian is one of the most played opening variations and is popular at all levels.
The favorite of Fischer and Kasparov, it usually leads to exciting dynamic positions and suits active players’ style.
The Sicilian Najdorf Variation starts after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6:
Black’s last move seems to be a bit mysterious but the idea behind it is reasonably good and deep. First of all, the move …a6 is always useful in the Sicilian positions. This way Black prepares activity on the queenside with the help of …b7-b5; it additionally doesn’t allow White’s annoying bishop or knight jumps on b5.
Secondly, this is a great waiting move. Black wants to see how White will develop their pieces and react accordingly. Indeed, Black’s position is flexible: they can play with …e7-e5 or …e7-e6; the knight from b8 can go to either d7 or c6; it even keeps open the possibility of switching to the Dragon with …g6 and …Bg7.
The choice of the greatest champions
The Najdorf Sicilian was the main weapon of Robert Fisher. In fact, he was playing it against 1.e4 almost exclusively. All the Soviet Grandmasters knew he would play the Najdorf, had a lot of time to prepare against it, but still could not beat him.
The same we can say about the other great champion Garry Kasparov. This was his main way of meeting 1.e4 as well. He actually started the decisive game of his World Championship Match versus Anatoly Karpov in 1985 with the Sicilian Najdorf. The victory in that game brought him the long-awaited title.
Nowadays it is one of the most popular openings at the grandmaster level. It is also often used in situations when Black needs to play for a win. For example, Sergey Karjakin chose it in a must-win situation against Magnus Carlsen in their final tie-breaks game of the World Championship match in 2016. The most notable modern Sicilian Najdorf aficionados are Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniatchtchi, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Anish Giri, and others.
There is too much theory; is it for grandmasters only?
The Najdorf is a sound opening that can be successfully played at any level. Although the fact that it is such a great weapon made chess players research it a lot. This made it quite heavy theoretically and created a myth that such sharp Sicilian lines shouldn’t be played below the expert level. It does not seem to be correct. Of course, there are some complicated lines where it is difficult to navigate even for the best players in the world.
That is why you need to learn some theory. But remember that such positions are rare and usually complicated for both sides, and do not expect your opponents will play the engine strength. In fact, as a Najdorf-player you will be more experienced and comfortable in the arising positions.
Also, there are so many sub-lines in the Najdorf Sicilian that you will be able to switch among them to avoid your opponent’s preparation or side-step mainline theory if needed.
Since it is sharp do I only need to calculate to play the Sicilian Najdorf well?
No, not at all!
There are a few lines where White can try to cause chaos on the board, such as scenarios we discussed above. In other cases, the game can be even strategic.
Overall Black’s play is easier: there are many typical plans, ideas, and maneuvers at their disposal, which often allows seizing the initiative rather easily.
It can give great results at the club level because White players most likely will not know much theory and lose control quickly.
The Najdorf is a sound opening variation that leads to fun and interesting positions that can teach you many different ideas and can be played even at the highest possible level.
This means you will not need to change this opening when improving, unlike some easy-to-play systems. It requires some effort to learn and understand well but will reward you with interest and bring joy to your chess.
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