The 7 Best Variations Of The Sicilian Defence (And Why)

One of the most common openings in chess is The Sicilian Defense. It appears in 25% of all games, and in 17% of grandmaster games! It is universally considered to be the best possible response for black when dealing with 1. e4. It reduces the chances of losing significantly for the player with the black pieces and there are dozens of variations of the opening, but which ones are the best and why? Let’s find out.

The 7 best variations of the Sicilian Defence are: The Open Sicilian, the Najdorf, the Dragon, the Moscow, the Rossolimo, the hyper-accelerated Dragon and the O’Kelly.

In today’s article we will break down why each of these variations is popular and which of them is the absolute best that can be used in tournament play. So, let’s take a look at each of them more closely.

The 7 best variations of the Sicilian Defence (and why) -
The 7 best variations of the Sicilian Defence (and why) –

The Open Sicilian

  1. e4          c5
  2. Nf3        d6
  3. d4

The Open Sicilian must be good because at the Grandmaster level nearly 80% of all examples of The Sicilian Defense begin as the Open Sicilian or its more complex variants. In general terms, this is a good opening for the player that delights in complex tactical play and strategic development.

It’s easy to end up in positions that are hard to compute in your head and for that reason, players that are early in their chess playing careers might want to choose something a little simpler and save The Open Sicilian for later on down the line. It’s not impossible to play, mind you, but it is taxing on your grey matter.

The Najdorf Variation

  1. e4           c5
  2. Nf3        d6
  3. d4           c x d4
  4. N x d4    Nf6
  5. Nc3        a6

By far, Black’s favorite variation when deploying the Sicilian Defense is the Najdorf Variation as you can see this is a 5-move variant which ends with … a6.

The idea is to prepare the space in the center for black’s domination. It’s also a much more tactically sound move than … e5 which is met with 6. Bb5+! when black is going to have to trade off their right side bishop and ruin their position into the bargain.

…a6 stops the check and shores up black’s position.

The Dragon Variation

  1. e4          c5
  2. Nf3        d6
  3. d4          c x d4
  4. N x d4    Nf6
  5. Nc3        g6

The Dragon is another 5-move opening that was named after the Draco Constellation in the heavens by Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky because he noticed that the black pawn structure bore some similarity to it. Black plays this opening when they are unafraid of complexity in their game and are looking to counterbalance white’s attack on the king’s side of the board with their own ferocious assault on the queen’s side.

However, be warned while this opening can be successful, better white players will deploy the Yugoslav Defense against it:

  • Be3        Bg7
  • f3           O-O
  • Qd2        Nc6
  • O-O-O  

And this can lead to even more complex positional play.

The Moscow Variation

  1. e4          c5
  2. Nf3        d6
  3. Bb5+

If you suspect that your opponent is well-versed in chess theory, you can always try to trip them up by using the Moscow Variation. Kasparov deployed this in his infamous online game “Kapsarov Vs The World” where he played a democratic committee of 50,000 chess players who would vote on the next move (Kasparov was given the advantage of playing the white pieces).

And while democracy may be great, it wasn’t as great as Kasparov who won resoundingly and then said, “It is the greatest game in the history of chess. The sheer number of ideas, the complexity, and the contribution it has made to chess make it the most important game ever played.”

If you do decide to opt for playing the Moscow Variation then you will be in great company, Magnus Carlsen likes to trot this out a lot and so have Segei Rublevsky and Tomas Oral. It’s a strong response that isn’t too easy to prepare for.

The Rossollimo Variation

  1. e4          c5
  2. Nf3        Nc6
  3. Bb5

If Carlsen is a fan of the Moscow Variation then his rival Fabiano Caruana is a firm adherent of the Rossolimo Variation and he used it against Carlsen in three of their world championship games! Rublevsky and Oral are also big fans and thus this may be a versatile variant.

The objective here, for white, is to try and force black into doubling its pawns and thus, offering white a strategic advantage during play. It’s a powerful temptation for black and the opening has serious merit particularly if your opponent hasn’t studied it.

The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon Variation

  1. e4          c5
  2. Nf3        g6

This is an aggressive opening for black which does leave parts of the back line exposed but pushes their pawn to a great position in most common responses and has it protected by the black bishop on the black squares too.

The typical response is:

  • d4           cxd4
  • Nxd4      Bg7

It’s not a variant for the faint-hearted and can be transposed to either the Alapin or standard Accelerated-Dragon variants of the Sicilian Defense too. If you like to play confident and aggressive chess as black then this is a great way to make a statement and white is likely to be, at least a little, shocked if they’re not used to defending against it.

What Is The Best Variation Of The Sicilian Defense?

We could debate the “best variation of the Sicilian Defense” until the cows come home and that’s because, in reality, the best variation is the variation that lets you beat your opponent on the day. All variations can be successful and all of them have led to wins in major tournaments, etc.

But, statistically speaking there is one variant of the Sicilian defense that does markedly better than all of the others combined but, it requires a helping hand that you cannot rely on your chess playing opponent to provide but if they do, then black finds themselves in the best position that they can be in 3 moves into a game.

The O’Kelly Variation

  1. e4          c5
  2. Nf3        a6

This variation provides an incredible 50% win rate for black in all games! With white winning just 25% and the rest being drawn. There’s no bigger advantage in chess history, so, why don’t we see this variant every time that black plays?

Well, because it relies on the player with the white pieces moving 3. d4. And guess what? At the top level of play, everyone knows this, and they’ve stopped playing it against the O’Kelly Variation. You can certainly find this opening in use in ranked matches below around 2,200 but above that? It’s not going to happen.

Grandmasters and masters aren’t where they are because they love to hand their opponents a massive advantage and thus, the O’Kelly variation is the best version of The Sicilian Defense that you will never see.


The 7 best variations of the Sicilian Defence have probably given you something to think about. It’s important to study these variations to get the most out of them, there are whole books that have been written about each variation given that they are so popular and so influential in chess. Learning about them will not just expand your repertoire in games but also allow you to move through openings faster and preserve your clock time.

Our winner, the best variation of the Sicilian, is the O’Kelly which proves a win rate of 50% for black! Sadly, you won’t get to use it as much as you like as white must play 3. d4 and because of the inherent dangers for white, that’s pretty much disappeared at the top level (very few players of above 2200 will play this move) but if it does come up, you should be ready to pounce on it!

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