Why 5…a6 In The Sicilian Najdorf? Understand The Key Move


A6 Sicilian Najdorf

One of the sharpest opening in chess is The Sicilian Najdorf with 5…a6. The Najdorf is a variation of The Open Sicilian where the move order goes:

  1. e4 c5 (Sicilian)
  2. Nf3 d6
  3. d4 cxd4
  4. Nxd4 (The Open Sicilian) Nf6

Black’s move 5 determines which variation or line we get into and here the move 5…a6 is the starting position of the Najdorf.

In this article we are going to clarify the logic behind this move. The Sicilian Najdorf is a very sharp variation leading to great and entertaining attacking chess and it has been used by many great grandmasters over time.

Let’s see the position first. You can click on one of the moves if you want to open a replayed where you can play the moves.

Blacks a6 and d6 pawns prepare b5 and e5. Also discourages Whites knights to go to b5.

White often plays Be3 preparing queenside castling.

The above position is the Najdorf and it is considered one of the sharpest counter attacking system against 1. e4.

This can seem a bit surprising. A pawn move on the edge of the board does not seem like a very aggressive move at first glance. If we take a closer look at the plans behind and not least the games that has been played from this position we will soon see that a6 marks the start of some explosive chess to follow.

It is not an opening for the faint hearted and you do have do know a bit of theory to avoid getting run over by White.

Main ideas And Plans Behind 5…a6 In The Open Sicilian Najdorf

The a6 move is in it’s essence a prophylactic move. Prophylaxis is when a move is made to prevent you opponent from making a certain move. In this case we White’s Nb5.

The move a6 does a couple of things for Black. One thing is to prepare the pawn push initiating a pawn storm on the queenside which is a typical idea in the Najdorf. The other benefit of a6 is to protect the d6 pawn from being attacked by White.

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Black now has pawns on d6 and a6 preparing in turn e5 and b5. Here we can see that apart from preparing the b5 push we are preventing White’s knights and bishop to move to b5 attacking Black’s backwards pawn on d6.

On main characteristic of the Najdorf is that Black falls behind in development so White may be able to launch a dangerous attack early in the game.

For this reason Black needs to move fast and strikes immediately in the center. First we play Nf6 and White will typically develop one of his bishops.

Very often White till play Be3 and as white we immediately want to counterattack with e5 leaving behind the backwards pawn on d6. The d6 pawn is a clear weakness because it can only be defended by other pieces. This in turn also shows why a6 is important. It prevents Whites knight from going to b5 attacking Blacks pawn.

Often we will end up with opposite castling and now the race begins to launch the best and fastest attack on the enemy king by advancing pawns. As already stated the 5…a6 move prepared b5 and White will be looking to push this pawn even further to b4 attacking White’s knight.

Other times White will chose a more quiet line with Be2 preparing to castle short. This is not quite as action packed as when White castles long.

Which Grandmasters Have Played The Open Sicilian Najdorf?

The Najforf is a strong opening and many even legendary Grandmasters have played it through the years. Top players like Gary Kasparov and Bobby Fischer have played the Najdorf with great succes.

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The variation is named after the spanish GM Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997).

After the move 5…a5 the game can take a few different directions. In all the main variations White continues with a bishop move. These four are the most common continuations:

  • 6. Bg5 – Main line Sicilian Najdorf
  • 6. Be3 – English Attack
  • 6. Bc4 – Lipnitsky Attack or Sozin Attack
  • 6. Be2 – Opocensky Variation or Classical

Black’s main responses depend on the bishop move. Black usually responds with either e6 or e5 and the main choice depends on Whites bishop move.

In the main line 6. Bg5 – e6 is best. In the English Attack 6. Be3 – e5 is usually preferred although e6 is also played here from time to time. In the Lipnitsky Attack with 6. Bc4 Black’s main move is 6…e6. Lastly, in the Opocensky Variation with 6. Be2 – Black will mostly play e5, but here it is also not rare to see e6.

6. Bg5 is considered to be the main line where White attacks Black’s knight. Play here at top level usually continues 6…e6 and then 7. f4 Be7.

6. Be2 is a more quiet and positional line. It was preferred by Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov amongst others. Especially when met with 6…e5 this line is dangerous for Black. It has since then been more popular to play e6 like Garri Kasparov did against Karpov in championship games.

The English Attack is still a line that is played and considered one of White’s main continuations against the Najdorf. As you have probably realized by now there are a lot of history and theory behind the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence. This is true of all Sicilian lines by the way.

This means you will have an edge by knowing some key positions better than your opponent. My suggestion is to look up previous Grandmaster games and play through them slowly while contemplating what each player’s plan with each move might be.

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Even better will be if you can find well annotated games. Before looking at annotations you should spend som time and effort to sort out the position for yourself and try to get an idea of the plans for both sides.

In this process try to consider what are White’s strengths and weaknesses and strengths and what plans might he have. Do the same for Black. Turn the board around frequently to see the positions from both White’s and Black’s perspective.

Other Continuations in The Open Sicilian Besides 5…a6

The Najdorf with 5…a6 is far from the only way to continue for Black in The Open Sicilian. Since this articles is specifically about the Najdorf we are just going to mention the other moves briefly so you get an idea of what else can be done as Black.

If you are studying chess you have probable heard about some of these other variations. They include variations like The Dragon or The Sicilian Dragon and The Yugoslav Defence. Have a look at these moves:

  • 5…g6 – The Sicilian Dragon Variation
  • 5…Nc6 – The Classical Variation
  • 5…e6 – The Scheveningen Variation

A lot of different choices and each of these in turn has a bunch of chess theory behind it. Even if you are not expert yet it is a good idea to start getting you feet wet in understanding some of the ideas behind The Sicilian.

It will be the main choice for quite a few players even at beginner level if you play 1. e4. I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the move 5…a6 and inspired you to explore the Sicilian Defense more. It is going to be a fun and exiting journey for you.

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