The Bowdler Attack is a response white can choose against the Sicilian Defense. The game begins 1. e4 c5 2. Bc4
While the Bowdler Attack remains popular at lower levels of chess, it’s almost never seen among higher-rated players – and for good reason. I’d go as far as to consider 2. Bc4 a mistake for white. In this article, we’ll talk about the reasons this move is sub-optimal – and how black can exploit the Bowdler Attack!
As beginners, most players are most familiar with symmetrical King’s Pawn openings, beginning with 1. e4 e5.
In these openings, the light-bishop is very often well-placed on c4. There are a broad array of respected, mainstream openings, such as the Italian, that involve an early Bc4 from white.
From c4, this bishop takes aim at the natural weakness on the f7 square. The bishop is actively placed, keeps the d5 square under control, and often allows white to castle very early in the game by vacating the f1 square in a hurry.
In the Sicilian, if white does not open up the center with an early d2-d4, black will often want to expand on the queenside while white will want to expand on the kingside. One of black’s plans is to play an early …b5 advance. The c4 bishop is ineffective at preventing this advance, and will often have to move again.
Furthermore, the pressure to the f7 pawn is nonexistent. Black’s most popular answer to the Bowdler attack is 2…e6, effectively blunting this bishop, turning it into more of a target than an asset!
For beginners just learning the opening principles, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the move 2. Bc4 – in fact, they should be praised for playing a good developing move! But as players get better and want to optimize their openings more, the Bowdler Attack is often ditched from one’s opening repertoire.
If you’ve been playing the Bowdler Attack and aren’t getting the results you want, check out my article on the Sicilian – you’ll find other options that can put a lot more pressure on black!
Now let’s see how black can play against this opening.
As mentioned above, 2…e6 is the most popular move, shutting down the light bishop.
3. Qe2 is one of white’s main moves here, preventing black from playing …d5 immediately (yet another way black can gain a tempo against the bishop!). A possible continuation is 3…Nc6 4. Nf3 a6
White has to be careful – the bishop is already in danger of being trapped! 5. 0-0? b5 6. Bb3 c4 wins a piece for black.
Instead 5. c3 can be played to give the bishop an escape, and now black has several options. Some games have continued 5…Nge7 (possible intending …d5) 6. Bb3 d5 7. d3 g6 8. 0-0 Bg7
And black looks to have the more pleasant position.
Let’s go through one more example: 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d3 Nf6 5. Nf3 a6 6. a4 (preventing …b5) 6…d5 (so black strikes in the center!) 7. exd5 exd5 8. Ba2
I found a small handful of master-level games from this position, played in the early 2000s, but black won every one! Black stands clearly better here with a space advantage.
The Bowdler Attack isn’t a disaster for white, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s a decidedly sub-optimal opening choice. White can do much better than this against the Sicilian! If you face the Bowdler with black, I hope this article helped you to understand how to exploit it.
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