Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation - 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6

Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation (Strategy, Theory & Lines)

The Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation, is an intricate, complex, and rewarding approach to chess.

It involves the setting up of a “small center” through the use of pawns on d6 and e6, providing a solid defense and flexible tactics for the player choosing this approach.

Its dynamic nature has led to its adoption by numerous grandmasters, including the great Garry Kasparov.

Move Order of the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

The Scheveningen Variation is characterized by a specific move order that establishes the defensive pawn structure that defines the opening.

This move order begins with 1. e4 c5, initiating the Sicilian Defense, followed by 2. Nf3 d6, 3. d4 cxd4, 4. Nxd4 Nf6, and culminating with 5. Nc3 e6.

Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation - 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6
Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation – 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6

Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

The Scheveningen Variation is built on a solid theoretical foundation.

The strategy involves establishing a “small center” with pawns on d6 and e6, which may seem modest, but offers black an effective defensive barrier.

The position also enables control over the critical d5 and e5 squares, and maintains flexibility to launch counterattacks with …e5 or …d5 when the time is right.

The purpose of this strategy is to create a solid defensive position that also provides a good base for offensive operations as the game progresses.

The Scheveningen Variation allows for rapid development and provides significant opportunities for creative play.

Variations of the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

Like many chess openings, the Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defense is not a singular, rigid path, but a gateway to several different lines.

These include the Classical Scheveningen and the English Attack, among others, which offer different dynamics and tactical opportunities.

The choice among these variations depends largely on the player’s style and the course of the game.

Let’s look into them in more detail:

Keres Attack: 6.g4

The Keres Attack, named after Grandmaster Paul Keres, is a potentially lethal variation of the Scheveningen Variation that launches an aggressive kingside attack.

The key initiating move is 6.g4, exploiting the fact that Black’s pawn at e6 limits the control of the black bishop over the g4 square.

The aim is to pressure the knight on f6, Black’s only developed piece, into retreating.

Black usually responds with 6…h6 to halt White’s territorial expansion.

Moves like 6…Nc6 or 6…a6 were previously recommended for Black, but practical play has demonstrated that White’s offensive can’t be ignored.

After 7.h4, the position becomes highly tactical with both sides maneuvering for advantageous positions.

In this variation, there are several possible lines of play, with White often enjoying a slight edge.

6. g4 is the preferred continuation line of the Scheveningen Variation of Stockfish:

Keres Attack Scheveningen Variation 6. g4
Keres Attack – Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defense: 6. g4

Classical Variation: 6.Be2

The Classical Variation, also known as the Maroczy Variation, is another popular line within the Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defense.

This variation is characterized by the move 6.Be2.

It was used extensively by Anatoly Karpov among other grandmasters, earning it numerous followers.

The primary continuation includes 6…a6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Be3 0-0 9.f4 Qc7 10.a4 Nc6 11.Kh1 Re8 12.Bf3.

This sets up one of the main positions of the Classical Scheveningen.

In this setup, White’s strategy involves building up a kingside attack, often by moving pawns and queen via g2–g4–g5, Qd1–e1–h4, Bg2, Qh5, Rf3–h3, etc.

Black, on the other hand, seeks to create diversions on the queenside via the semi-open c-file, or initiate strikes in the center.

In this variation, positional pawn sacrifices are common for both sides.

The theory of the Classical Variation is highly developed thanks to the meticulous research by top-tier players like Garry Kasparov, Vasily Smyslov, Anatoly Karpov, Viswanathan Anand, Veselin Topalov, Boris Gelfand, and many others.

English Attack: 6.Be3

The English Attack is a highly aggressive variation that borrows from the Yugoslav (Rauzer) Attack seen in the Sicilian Dragon.

Here, White begins a pawn storm on the kingside with f2–f3, g2–g4, h2–h4, and often g4–g5, followed by castling long.

This leads to a sharp game with abundant tactical complexities.

Black, however, isn’t relegated to a purely defensive role and has an equal potential for launching threatening counterattacks.

The main line extends with 6.Be3 a6 7.f3 b5 8.g4 h6 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Bb7.

White’s strategic intentions include pushing g4–g5 to open up the kingside files, with an additional opportunity for applying significant pressure along the d-file.

Black often considers sacrificing a pawn or even an exchange to open up the queenside files for the rooks and queen.

With both sides racing against time to seize the initiative, this variation remains a hotbed for novel ideas.

Elite players such as Alexander Morozevich, Peter Leko, and Alexei Shirov have extensively studied and contributed to this critical variation.

Fischer–Sozin Attack: 6.Bc4

In the Fischer–Sozin Attack, initiated with 6.Bc4, White targets the d5-square directly.

Black has several feasible responses in the center, involving maneuvers like Nb8–c6–a5 or Nb8–d7–c5, supplemented by a pawn thrust with a7–a6 and b7–b5–b4 on the queenside.

A typical line proceeds with 6…Be7 7.Bb3 0-0 8.Be3 Na6 (aiming for the c5-square; note that in case of 8…Nbd7, White can opt for the risky 9.Bxe6!? fxe6 10.Nxe6 Qa5 11.Nxf8 Bxf8, where White sacrifices two minor pieces for a rook) 9.Qe2 Nc5 10.f3.

The resulting position is generally balanced, with Black prepared to meet White’s possible pawn advance g2–g4–g5 with a counterthrust involving a7–a6 and b7–b5–b4 on the opposite flank.

Tal Variation: 6.f4

The Tal Variation, inaugurated with 6.f4, is another interesting line within the Scheveningen Variation.

In one of the main lines, following 6…Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qf3, White plans to castle queenside, placing the rook on the half-open d-file, and uses the queen to support a future g-pawn advance.

Minor Lines: 6.g3; 6.Bb5

There are also minor lines such as 6.g3 and 6.Bb5.

These moves, while not as aggressively challenging as the other variations, still present their unique strategic ideas.

However, they are generally less difficult for Black to confront and are not as theoretically challenging.

Nevertheless, they can still lead to interesting and balanced positions and might be employed as surprise weapons in practical play.

Evaluation of the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

The Scheveningen Variation is generally evaluated at around +0.65 to +1.00 for white.

Theory & Continuation Lines of the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

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

6. g4 h6 7. Rg1 Nc6 8. Be3 Be7 9. Qe2 Bd7 10. h4 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 e5 12. Be3 Rc8 13. g5 hxg5 14. hxg5 Rxc3 15. gxf6 Rxe3 16. Qxe3 Qa5+ 17. c3 Bxf6 18. Bc4 Rh3 

6. g4 h6 7. Rg1 Nc6 8. Be3 Bd7 9. Be2 Be7 10. h4 d5 11. exd5 Nxd5 12. Nxd5 exd5 13. Qd2 

6. g4 h6 7. Rg1 Nc6 8. Be3 Bd7 9. h4 h5 10. gxh5 Rxh5 11. Ndb5 Qb8 12. Bf4 Ne5 13. Bg5 Rh8 14. f4 Nc6 15. Qd2 a6 16. Nd4 

6. g4 h6 7. Be3 Nc6 8. Rg1 Be7 9. Qe2 Nxd4 10. Bxd4 e5 11. Be3 Bd7 12. h4 Bc6 13. Qf3 d5 14. Nxd5 Nxe4 15. Qxe4 Qa5+ 16. c3 Qxd5 17. Qxd5 Bxd5 18. Bb5+ Kf8 

6. g4 h6 7. Be3 Nc6 8. Rg1 Bd7 9. a3 Rc8 10. Qd2 e5 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. O-O-O Bxg4 13. Be2 Bxe2 14. Qxe2 

6. g4 h6 7. Rg1 Nc6 8. Be3 Bd7 9. f4 e5 10. Nf5 exf4 11. Bxf4 Qb6 12. Rg3 O-O-O 13. Qd2 Bxf5 14. gxf5 d5 15. exd5 Bb4 16. O-O-O Nxd5 17. Qxd5 Bxc3 

Sicilian Defense: Scheveningen Variation

Scheveningen Variation vs. Najdorf Variation

The Sicilian Defense is one of the most richly complex openings in chess, with an abundance of sub-variations, each with its unique strategic considerations and tactical possibilities.

The Scheveningen and Najdorf Variations, in particular, both part of the Open Sicilian, are two of the most popular and well-analyzed lines.

However, they each have distinctive move orders and strategic plans, which can lead to significantly different types of positions and game dynamics.

Differences in Move Orders and Strategic Goals

The Scheveningen Variation is characterized by Black’s early development of a “small center” with pawns on d6 and e6, often following the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6.

The Scheveningen is known for its solid pawn structure and flexible development scheme, and aims for counterattacking possibilities in the center and on the queenside.

In contrast, the Najdorf Variation generally begins with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6.

The addition of …a6 as Black’s fifth move has several strategic implications: it prepares for a potential expansion on the queenside, it limits White’s options for launching an immediate attack, and it gives Black greater control over the critical b5 square.

Preference for Najdorf Move Order

The threat posed by the Keres Attack (6.g4 in response to Black’s Scheveningen setup) has led many players to prefer the Najdorf move order, where 5…a6 is played before …e6.

This move order adjustment often results in a transposition into the Scheveningen after 6…e6, while effectively eliminating the possibility of the immediate Keres Attack.

A notable example of this preference was seen in the World Chess Championship 1984, where Garry Kasparov, after facing difficulties in the opening in the first game, switched to the Najdorf move order to avoid the Keres Attack.

While the Najdorf move order does allow White additional options such as 6.Bg5, it notably delays the threat of g4 by one move, diminishing the strength of White’s potential attack.

On the other hand, the Scheveningen move order hastens Black’s kingside development, reducing the impact of 6.Bg5.

Given that the Keres Attack is often perceived as more menacing than 6.Bg5, the Najdorf move order has become more prevalent at the highest levels of play.

Modern Analysis and Study Resources

Much of the modern analysis of the Scheveningen is conducted under the umbrella of the Najdorf.

This trend is even reflected in the titles of many chess books exploring the Scheveningen, where ‘Najdorf’ often features prominently.

For example, the English Attack, a popular aggressive system against the Najdorf, is frequently studied in the context of the Scheveningen setup.

When choosing resources for study, it’s crucial to note the distinction between the “Modern” and “Classical” Scheveningen.

The “Modern” Scheveningen typically refers to lines without an early …a6 from Black, while the “Classical” Scheveningen includes the early …a6.

Titles covering recent games often omit the …a6 early line, but this line can still lead to intriguing and complex positions, potentially advantageous for Black.

Despite the “modern” analyses often precluding the early …a6 line, many modern chess software programs, such as HIARCS, still incorporate …a6 early on.

Prominent chess grandmasters, such as Vlastimil Jansa, continue to advocate for the Scheveningen Variation.

Despite the shifting trends in opening preferences at the highest levels, the Scheveningen, with its solid pawn structure, strategic flexibility, and rich counterattacking potential, continues to offer viable and robust resources for Black.

History of the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

The Scheveningen Variation has a rich history and has been used by many of the world’s top players.

Its named origin dates back to the Scheveningen chess tournament in the Netherlands in the 1920s.

However, it gained significant popularity in the late 20th century, thanks in large part to grandmasters like Garry Kasparov, who frequently used this opening in his games.

Over the years, the Scheveningen Variation has played a vital role in numerous high-level tournaments and world championship matches.

Is the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation Good for Beginners or Intermediates?

The Scheveningen Variation is a complex opening that requires a solid understanding of chess principles and the ability to plan ahead.

While it’s not inherently inaccessible to beginners, it’s generally better suited to intermediate and advanced players who have a grasp of chess strategy and the foresight to anticipate and prepare for possible counterattacks.

For beginners, the Scheveningen Variation can still be a good learning tool as it offers a deep understanding of central control and pawn structures.

How Often the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation Is Played at the Grandmaster Level

The Scheveningen Variation is a popular choice at the grandmaster level due to its dynamic nature and the strategic depth it offers.

It has been championed by legendary grandmasters like Garry Kasparov, reinforcing its reputation as a robust and strategically intriguing opening.

While the popularity of specific openings can fluctuate over time, the Scheveningen Variation continues to be a favored approach in high-level chess matches.

FAQs – Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation

1. What is the Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation in chess?

The Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defense is a popular opening in chess where Black establishes a “small centre” with pawns on d6 and e6.

It’s part of the Open Sicilian, which begins after the moves 1.e4 c5.

The Scheveningen Variation specifically follows this move order:

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 Nf6
  5. Nc3 e6

This opening strategy is known for providing Black with a robust defensive setup, control of critical squares (d5 and e5), and the flexibility to initiate a break in the centre with either …e5 or …d5.

The Scheveningen Variation provides ample opportunities for creative play and counterattacks.

2. What is the main advantage of the Scheveningen Variation for Black?

The main advantage of the Scheveningen Variation for Black is the solid defensive barrier created by the “small center” with pawns on d6 and e6.

This formation allows Black to control the critical d5 and e5 squares, giving them a strong defensive position.

It also retains flexibility, allowing Black to break in the center with either …e5 or …d5.

This setup enables Black to proceed with rapid development, while also providing sound counter chances and a considerable scope for creative strategies.

3. Who are some famous grandmasters that have championed the Scheveningen Variation?

One of the most renowned grandmasters who frequently used the Scheveningen Variation is Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov, considered one of the greatest players in the history of chess, used this opening to great effect in numerous games.

His games serve as instructive material for players wishing to learn or understand the Scheveningen Variation better.

4. What are some common follow-up strategies after the initial moves of the Scheveningen Variation?

After the initial moves of the Scheveningen Variation, there are several potential strategies that a player can follow.

Two possible central pawn breaks are …d5 and …e5, which can help to challenge White’s control of the center.

Additionally, Black can proceed with rapid development of pieces, often deploying the bishop to e7, castling kingside, and aiming for rook activity along the c and d files.

5. Are there any major vulnerabilities or weaknesses that players need to be aware of when playing the Scheveningen Variation?

Like any chess opening, the Scheveningen Variation has its potential vulnerabilities.

One common challenge for Black can be dealing with aggressive play from White that targets Black’s compact but somewhat backward pawn structure in the center.

These attacks could potentially limit Black’s development or piece activity.

It’s also important to note that Black’s king can sometimes be vulnerable to attack before it has castled.

6. How can White best respond to the Scheveningen Variation?

Several systems are designed for White to respond to the Scheveningen Variation, each with its own strategies and tactical ideas.

One of the more aggressive approaches is the English Attack, which begins with Be3, f3, Qd2, and then castles queenside, aiming for a pawn storm against Black’s king.

Another approach is the Scheveningen Variation of the Keres Attack, where White plays 6.g4, aiming to disrupt Black’s pawn structure and initiate an attack on the kingside.

It’s important for White to play actively and accurately to counter the flexible setup of Black in the Scheveningen Variation.


The Sicilian Defense, Scheveningen Variation, is a complex and intriguing opening that provides a unique blend of defensive solidity and offensive flexibility.

While it might be challenging for beginners, it offers a rich learning ground for those willing to dive into its strategic depths.

Its enduring popularity at the grandmaster level attests to its value and strategic potential, a testament to its storied history in the grand arena of chess.


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