Sicilian Defence, Katalymov Variation - 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 b6

Sicilian Defence, Katalymov Variation (Theory, Strategy & Lines)

The Sicilian Defense, a highly dynamic response to 1.e4, is widely recognized as one of the most aggressive and unbalancing opening strategies for Black in the game of chess.

Among its myriad of sub-variations, there exists a lesser-known yet fascinating line known as the Katalymov Variation.

Characterized by the early pawn move …b6, this opening offers players an avenue into unique, rich, and complex middlegame positions that can often defy conventional chess wisdom.

Move Order of the Katalymov Variation

In the Sicilian Defense, Katalymov Variation, the opening moves are as follows:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 b6
Sicilian Defence, Katalymov Variation - 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 b6
Sicilian Defense, Katalymov Variation – 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 b6

Unlike many other variants of the Sicilian Defense, the Katalymov Variation is unique in its second move, where Black decides to commit the b-pawn early into the game.

Theory, Strategy and Purpose of the Katalymov Variation

The Katalymov Variation, while less popular, provides Black with a strategic framework that leans towards more defensive, less confrontational play compared to the mainline Sicilian Defenses.

The move 2…b6 is designed to control the central e4 and d5 squares indirectly from a distance, prepare to fianchetto the queen’s bishop on b7, and possibly allow the queen knight to be developed to d7.

Despite its unique approach, this variation is often considered to be less aggressive as it defers the common …d7-d5 pawn break in the Sicilian Defence.

Variations of the Katalymov Variation

A typical continuation after the initial moves can be:

  1. d4 cxd4
  2. Nxd4 Bb7
  3. Nc3 a6
  4. Bd3 g6
  5. f4 Bg7
  6. Nf3 d6
  7. O-O Nf6
  8. Qe1 O-O
  9. Qh4 Nbd7
  10. Bd2

In this line, Black seeks to counterbalance White’s control of the center and aims to create a solid, flexible pawn structure.

Black must remain vigilant against possible invasions on the b5-square by White’s knight or bishop.

Evaluation of the Katalymov Variation

The Katalymov Variation is generally evaluated at around +0.70 to +0.90 for white.

Theory & Continuation Lines of the Katalymov Variation

Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Katalymov Variation that you would see at the highest level of play.

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. g3 e5 6. Nf5 d5 7. Bg2 h6 8. f4 Bxf5 9. exf5 e4 10. c4 Nf6 11. cxd5 Bb4+ 12. Nc3 Nbd7 13. O-O 

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. g3 e5 6. Nf5 d5 7. Bg2 h6 8. f4 Nf6 9. fxe5 Nxe4 10. Ne3 Be6 11. c4 Bb4+ 12. Kf1 Bc5 13. cxd5 Bxe3 14. Bxe3 Bxd5 

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. g3 e6 6. Bg2 Bb7 7. O-O d6 8. c4 Qc7 9. Nc3 Nf6 10. b3 Be7 11. Bb2 O-O 12. Qe2 

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. g3 e5 6. Nf5 d5 7. Bg2 g6 8. Ne3 d4 9. Nd5 Bg7 10. c3 Ne7 11. Bg5 Nbc6 12. cxd4 exd4 13. Nd2 O-O 14. O-O Ra7 15. Bf6 Bxf6 16. Nxf6+ Kg7 

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Be3 Bb7 7. Qd2 Nf6 8. f3 h5 9. Nb3 d6 10. e5 Nd5 11. Nxd5 Bxd5 12. exd6 Bxd6 13. O-O-O 

3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 e6 6. g3 Bb7 7. Bg2 d6 8. O-O Nd7 9. Re1 Be7 10. Bh3 Nf8 11. Bf4 Ng6 12. Bxe6 Nxf4 13. gxf4 fxe6 14. Nxe6 Qd7 15. Nd5 Nf6 16. Ndc7+ Kf7 17. Ng5+ Kg8 

ECO B27 Sicilian, Katalimov Variation (White perspective)

History of the Katalymov Variation

The Katalymov Variation is named after Soviet International Master Boris Katalymov (1932–2013), but it has found advocates in Grandmasters from around the world, including France’s Christian Bauer, America’s Gata Kamsky, Russia’s Pavel Ponkratov, and Soviet GM Lev Psakhis.

Notably, Bauer managed to draw a game with this opening against top-ranked GM Magnus Carlsen in 2005, a testament to the Katalymov Variation’s potential when handled accurately.

Is the Katalymov Variation Good for Beginners or Intermediates?

For beginners or intermediate players, the Katalymov Variation can offer a chance to explore unique strategic concepts that may be less prevalent in more mainstream openings.

However, because the opening requires a precise understanding of the hypermodern control of the center, along with a keen eye for subtle defensive tactics, it might be considered somewhat difficult for beginners who are still grappling with basic opening principles and tactics.

For intermediate players familiar with these concepts, the Katalymov Variation can offer a fresh perspective and a way to surprise opponents accustomed to more common Sicilian lines.

How Often the Katalymov Variation Is Played at the Grandmaster Level

While the Katalymov Variation is less frequently seen at the Grandmaster level compared to mainline Sicilian Defenses, it has been employed successfully by several strong players.

Despite its relative infrequency, the Katalymov Variation continues to be a topic of theoretical discussion and is played occasionally in high-level competition, often serving as a surprise weapon against unprepared opponents.

FAQs – Katalymov Variation of the Sicilian Defense

1. What is the Sicilian Defense, Katalymov Variation?

The Sicilian Defense, Katalymov Variation, is a less popular and somewhat unconventional opening line in chess.

It is characterized by the initial moves: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 b6.

Named after Soviet International Master Boris Katalymov, this variation departs from the more traditional lines of the Sicilian Defense by early deployment of Black’s queen’s bishop pawn.

2. Why is the Katalymov Variation considered inferior to other Sicilian Defences?

The Katalymov Variation is considered inferior mainly due to the commitment Black makes with the move 2…b6.

This setup is less aggressive than other Sicilian defences that employ a pawn push to b5.

Furthermore, Black must focus on protecting the b5-square, as a white knight or bishop’s intrusion can be problematic.

Typical continuation could be 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bb7 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bd3 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Nf3 d6 9.0-0 Nf6 10.Qe1 0-0 11.Qh4 Nbd7 12.Bd2, where White is usually slightly better.

3. Are there any top players who use the Katalymov Variation?

Yes, the opening has been used by several top-level players, despite being less popular.

French Grandmaster Christian Bauer is known to favor the Katalymov Variation, notably drawing a game against the top-ranked GM Magnus Carlsen in 2005 using this opening.

Other grandmasters, including Gata Kamsky, Russian GM Pavel Ponkratov, and Soviet GM Lev Psakhis, have also used the Katalymov Variation in their games.

4. Why is it important to protect the b5-square in the Katalymov Variation?

In the Katalymov Variation, the b5-square becomes a crucial point of contention.

If White can establish a knight or bishop on this square, it can significantly hinder Black’s plans.

The invasion by a white piece would not only disturb Black’s setup but also put pressure on Black’s defenses, making it an annoying issue for Black to handle.

5. Who was Boris Katalymov?

Boris Katalymov (1932–2013) was a Soviet International Master in chess.

He is best known for the Sicilian Defense variation that bears his name, which he used successfully in several games.

Despite its perceived inferiority to other Sicilian Defense lines, Katalymov proved that this opening could hold its own against tough competition.

6. Is the Katalymov Variation recommended for beginners?

The Katalymov Variation can be a viable choice for players looking to explore less-trodden paths and surprise their opponents.

However, its somewhat passive setup and the intricacies involved in protecting key squares like b5 might pose a challenge for beginners.

It might be better for new players to start with more straightforward and aggressive variations of the Sicilian Defence before venturing into lines like the Katalymov Variation.

7. How can I improve my play in the Katalymov Variation?

Studying master games where this opening was used is a great way to understand the typical middlegame plans and endgame techniques associated with it.

Also, conducting detailed analysis of your own games with this opening can help you understand your mistakes and identify areas for improvement.

Regular practice against diverse opponents, whether in real life or online chess platforms, can also improve your comfort level and performance with this variation.


The Katalymov Variation of the Sicilian Defense, though less mainstream, offers a plethora of strategic richness and the potential for complex middlegame structures. It caters to players who enjoy nuanced maneuvering and unconventional battles for central control.

While not the first choice for beginners due to its somewhat nuanced strategic concepts, it can serve as a beneficial study for intermediate players looking to broaden their understanding of chess strategy.

Despite its infrequent appearance at the Grandmaster level, its successful employment by top players has solidified its reputation as an intriguing choice within the broader landscape of the Sicilian Defense.

As such, the Katalymov Variation continues to captivate the minds of those adventurous enough to delve into its unique strategic landscape.


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