Grand Prix Attack

The Grand Prix Attack is a form of Closed Sicilian, where White plays “2.Nc3” and “3.f4”. White can play “2.f4” which is called the “f4 Sicilian”, but Black has a good defence in “2..d5”, hence White plays Nc3 first (to stop d5), and then plays f4, arriving at the “Grand Prix Attack”. The opening got its nickname because it was often seen on the British “Grand Prix” series of chess tournaments. It is a fairly attacking system for White, involving the slower build-up of a Kingside attack using the advanced "f’ pawn and the pieces behind it.

Diagram: Grand Prix attack against the Sicilian Defence

White’s plan in the Grand Prix Attack is a form of understated strategic attack. White stakes a claim to the Kingside real estate, while Black will often get some space on the Queenside. The center will often depend on the key lever between White’s e4 pawn and Black’s d5 pawn. White usually cannot prevent Black from playing e6 and d5.

White’s plan of development is Nf3 and either Be2 or Bc4 (sometimes Bb5 is an option), then White castles king-side. Black will usually also castle kingside, so White has ideas of using the e4/f4 pawn roller for attack. Some lines have White playing a very early f5 and effectively offering a gambit pawn.

White’s other plan of attack is to play Qe1 and Qh4 or Qg3, with thoughts of an attack against the dark squares, especially when Black has a fianchetto king bishop on g7. White has thoughts of Qh4, Ng5, and also f5, to involve the dark-square bishop from c1. In some cases, if the d5 pawn gets swapped, there is a plan for the queenside knight of Nc3-e4-f6.

But it’s not all White’s way at all. If White plays Qe1 then c2 is weak from a threat like Nd4 or Nb4. The fianchetto Bg7 is very strong down the diagonal and Black usually dominates the d4 square. Also, Black will often expand on the queenside. If Black gets a pawn phalanx with d5, c5, and b5, then Black starts to look in command.

Black can also attack the light-square bishop. In the White lines with Bc4, this bishop usually has its retreat cut off by its own d3 pawn, and gets kicked around by the black pawns (d5 or b5) and black knight. White can play Be2 instead of Bc4, but lines where White plays Be2 are more passive for White. The alternative plan of g3 and Bg2 is actually called the “Closed Sicilian” rather than being part of the Grand Prix Attack.

Black Defensive Setups against the Grand Prix Attack

The Grand Prix Attack is a type of closed Sicilian where White avoids playing d4 early. Black may respond to the Grand Prix Attack in a number of ways, with slightly different setups and plans.

  • d6 and e6 (with Be7)
  • d6 and g6 (with Bg7)
  • e6 and d5 (with Be7)
  • g6, e6 and d5 (with Bg7 and Ne7)

Black will also try to expand on the queenside with b5. White should try to prevent this with a4, but it cannot always be prevented.

Transpositions and the f4 Sicilian

Transpositions: The Grand Prix Attack tends to be a fairly distinctive line. There are only a few transpositions:

  • f4 Sicilian: This move order plays “2.f4” without first playing Nc3. This move order is less popular because of Black’s reply “2..d5”. However, there is scope for interesting play and not a lot of theory. If Black avoids “2..d5” then the position will usually transpose to a Grand Prix Attack when White plays Nc3, although White could think about the alternative plan of playing c3 and d4 in such lines.
  • Queen Knight’s Attack (Nc3 opening). The Grand Prix attack could in theory transpose from this obscure opening. It’s actually quite playable for White, but it’s not seen in practice.

Avoiding the Grand Prix Attack

If White plays “2.Nc3” rather than “2.f4”, Black doesn’t really have any useful way to avoid the Grand Prix Attack. After the opening moves “1.e4 c5, 2.Nc3” there’s not really a way to stop “3.f4”. Moves like “2..e5” or “2..g5” or “2..Nf6” don’t look great, and “2..d5” is prevented (which is the main purpose of Nc3). Perhaps “2..Qc7!?” is playable, but it looks dubious.

Other Anti-Sicilian Variations

The Grand Prix Attack is often used by White as an anti-Sicilian to avoid all of the open Sicilian lines with tons of theory. This is somewhat less true in recent years since this line has had a lot of popularity in the English “grand prix” series of tournaments (hence it’s name). Other Anti-Sicilian Openings include:

Related Chess Openings Topics

Read more about these related chess openings, strategies, chess puzzles, and other chess topics: