The Taimanov Sicilian (also called the Paulsen Sicilian) is a variation of the Sicilian Defense, beginning with the moves 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 Qc7
Unlike many other Sicilian lines, black leaves an open diagonal for the dark-squared bishop to develop on. Black also places the queen on the semi-open c-file.
The queen is also a good guardian of the e5-square in the Taimanov Sicilian, preventing an early e4-e5 by white in some cases!
Let’s take a look at how the game might proceed.
One of white’s most popular ways to play against the Taimanov variation is to opt for the English Attack. White wants to castle queenside and storm the kingside with pawns.
After 6. Be3 a6 7. Qd2 Nf6 8. f3 (8.0-0-0 immediately is often played too, as white doesn’t have to fear …Ng4 too much here) 8…Bb4:
The dark bishop makes its presence felt! White has to worry about the potential doubled c-pawns if they castle long, and black might be able to play …d5 effectively if white’s not careful.
That said, exchanging away this bishop is double-edged, since black could be quite weak on the exposed dark squares. This is their “good bishop!”
After 9. 0-0-0 Ne5 (9…d5?! is risky, as after 10. a3 white secures the bishop pair without incurring doubled pawns) 10. Nb3 b5 11. Bd4 (a common regrouping by white) 11…Bb7:
White could play 12. Kb1, and now black has to be careful of a tactical shot. Since …Bxd2 no longer comes with check, white is threatening to play Nxb5 next turn, winning a pawn by gaining a tempo on the black queen!
Often when this situation arises, the bishop will retreat with 12…Be7, having served its purpose of slowing down white’s kingside ambitious by forcing them to regroup the pieces a bit. The game remains highly imbalanced.
White can also castle kingside against the Taimanov Sicilian, for example with 6. Be2 a6 7. 0-0 Nf6 8. Be3 Bb4
Black once again seeks to use this dark bishop to pressure white’s center, threatening the e4 pawn. But white may seek to turn the tables with 9. Na4, taking aim at the potentially vulnerable b6 square.
9…Nxe4 isn’t possible (see the video for white’s tactical blow!), so black often simply retreats the bishop with 9…Be7, having done its job of driving the knight to the rim.
After 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. Nb6 the knight finds a nice (temporary) home after all, but white isn’t winning any material – and black has lots of central pawns!
One worry some Taimanov Sicilian players have is an early Nb5, attacking the queen on c7.
This helps explain why …a6 is often played on move six. But what if white beats them to the punch with 6. Ndb5 ?
At first glance, it appears that black can simply retreat the queen with 6…Qb8, where it can still keep an eye on the e5 square. Then the knight can be driven away and white will have lost time.
But white might have a very concrete idea in mind here. 7. Be3 a6 8. Bb6!? axb5 9. Nxb5
White sacrifices a piece temporarily, but now Nc7+ is unstoppable! What’s black to do?
Black’s main defense is 9…Bb4+ 10. c3 Ba5 11. Nc7+:
And now black sacrifices the queen for three minor pieces! 11…Qxc7 12. Bxc7 Bxc7. It’d be a great exercise to play this position with both sides against a training partner or computer, and practice handling material imbalances!
The Taimanov Sicilian is a dynamic opening that promises both players an imbalanced, fighting game. With a wide variety of subvariations and competing ideas, there’s enough here to keep both white and black on their toes!
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