The Sveshnikov Sicilian is a variation of the Sicilian Defense beginning with 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5
Black claims their fair share of space in the center – something they fail to achieve in many Sicilian lines! – while also driving away the white knight. We’re well on our way to reaching the Sveshnikov Sicilian.
White doesn’t really want to exchange on c6, as after 6. Nxc6?! bxc6 black has a huge pawn majority in the center, which will soon make itself felt after …d7-d5
And retreating the knight is rather passive, and allows black good play. For example, 6. Nf3?! Bb4! and black can once again try for an early …d5 after quick castling, and white must defend the e-pawn in the meantime.
Therefore 6. Nb5 is the main move, buying time by threatening to hop into the vulnerable d6 square. After 6…d6, 7. Bg5 is white’s most common move:
White seeks to exploit the main downside of black’s aggressive bid for central space – the hole on d5! By eliminating the f6 knight, white is threatening to play an early Nd5.
After the nearly universal 7…a6 (the b5 knight cannot be tolerated – once its partner comes to d5, c7 will be invaded!) 8. Na3 b5, we reach the “true” starting position of the Sveshnikov Sicilian:
Now we arrive at a big branching point. White has to decide between taking on f6 or playing Nd5 right away.
This move has the advantage of doubling the black pawns, since 9…Qxf6 10. Nd5 Qd8 (forced) 11. c4! Is very good for white. The video above shows his it’s already very hard for black to hold the position together – for example, 11…b4 12. Qa4! Bd7 13. Nb5! axb5 14. Qxa8 Qxa8 15. Nc7+ wins.
Instead black plays 9…gxf6, and now after 10. Nd5 f5, once of white’s options is to play 11. c3
This is a common move to see in the Sveshnikov Sicilian. White deprives the enemy knight of the d4 square, and also prepares a route for the wayward a3 knight to get back into the game.
Black, to his credit, has a huge mass of central pawns that he can try to mobilize. Black often wants to play …f5 not only once, but twice!
In this particular position though, 11…fxe4 is ill-advised on account of 12. Bxb5! axb5 13. Nxb5 (see the video above for details!), so black often plays 11…Bg7
Play may proceed 12. exf5 Bxf5 13. Nc2 0-0 14. Nce3 Be6 (14…Bg6 15. h4 is another exciting line) 15. Bd3 f5 16. Qh5:
Both sides have achieved many of their goals! Black has a menacing space advantage and the two bishops, but white has an iron grip on the d5 outpost and pressure against the airy black king. A great example of the Sveshnikov Sicilian in action!
This approach leads to slightly different positions, but similar ideas apply. Black often breaks the pin with 9…Be7, and now white can play 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 to keep control of the d5 outpost.
Play may continue 11. c3 0-0 12. Nc2 Bg5 13. a4:
As we’ve seen before, this pawn thrust is a weapon white has at his disposal in this pawn structure because it’s not easy to meet.
Taking on a4 is positionally undesirable (it opens white’s a-file and isolates black’s a-pawn), but there doesn’t seem to be another option!
After 13…bxa4 14. Rxa4 a5 15. Bc4 Rb8 16. b3 Kh8 (preparing …f5) 17. 0-0 f5:
We once again reach a very thematic position for the Sveshnikov variation! White has great outpost control and queenside pressure, while black has two bishops and looks to overwhelm white in the center with pawns.
The Sveshnikov variation leads to an exciting, imbalanced middlgame in almost every line. If you’re up to the challenge, play it in your games and let me know how it goes!
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