Openings

Grand Prix Attack: Guide to Beat the Sicilian

Are you looking for an aggressive reply to the Sicilian? Do you want to avoid studying hundreds of lines of theory?

Then the Grand Prix Attack is perfect for you. I’ve been playing it for many years, and I’m happy to share this opening with you today.

What is the Grand Prix Attack?

The Grand Prix Attack is an opening that’s played as an answer to the Sicilian Defense and aims to get a fast attack on the king side by playing f4 early.

The Grand Prix usually occurs after the move order 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4.

grand prix main position

The Grand Prix Attack was invented by British masters in the 1970s as a preparation for a circuit of tournaments called the Grand Prix.

What are the key ideas of the Grand Prix Attack?

White avoids the massive amount of opening lines that can appear in the open Sicilian after 2. Nf3.

Instead, the Grand Prix Attack belongs to a family of openings called the closed Sicilian. This means playing Nc3 and keeping the center pawns, instead of opening the center with Nf3, followed by d4.

The amount of theory in the Grand Prix isn’t overly complex, and you can get away with knowing the main lines.

In the Grand Prix, white plays f4 to gain space on the king side and control the e5 square.

In the line that I’ll recommend to you, white plays Bb5 to exchange the knight on c6 and potentially create weak doubled pawns for black (after bxc6 or dxc6).

grand prix attack pawn doubles
Black’s pawn structure is damaged

White usually starts an attack with the queen maneuver Qe1-Qh4. A key breakthrough in the Grand Prix is the move f5, which often sacrifices the pawn for an attack on the king-side.

grand prix attack qe1
The typical move Qe1

What’s the best way to play the Grand Prix Attack?

First, I highly recommend the move order that starts with 2. Nc3, because it keeps control over the d5 square. Some people try to reach the Grand Prix by playing 2. f4, but this enables black to respond with 2. … d5!, which is an uncomfortable move to play against as white.

Black has many choices for its second move, but lets look at the most common move 2. … Nc6 first.

grand prix Nc6

After 3. f4, black has the choice between playing g6, e6, or d6. In either case, you can follow up with the move 4. Nf3. Let’s assume that black plays the most common move g6, followed by Bg7.

chess opening grand prix

White can play 5. Bb5, 5.Bc4 or 5. g3 (transitioning into the classical closed Sicilian) here. I recommend 5. Bb5, although each system is playable.

e4 f4

The best response for black is 5. … Nd4. We’ll look at this line in the next chapter.

From my experience of playing the Grand Prix, a surprisingly low amount of players know this line. For educational purposes let’s look at the move 5. … d6?!, which is a common inaccuracy, especially in blitz games.

chess opening against sicilian

Now white can play 6. Bxc6! If you’re wondering why white voluntarily gives up a Bishop for a knight so early, here are the two main reasons:

  1. Black’s doubled pawns are potential weaknesses after bxc6. If black ever plays d5, white can play b3, followed by Na4 and Ba3 to put pressure on the weak c5 pawn.
  2. Black’s knight on c6 is a strong piece for black in the Grand Prix Attack that can be annoying for white, e.g. Ne4 attacks c2 after white plays the typical move Qe1 (which leaves the square c2 undefended).

After the normal developing moves 6. … bxc6 7. d3 Nf6 8. 0-0 0-0, it’s time to play the typical queen maneuver that we’ve been talking about: 9. Qe1!

how to beat the sicilian defense

If you play the Grand Prix Attack, you have to know this move! The queen sidesteps to the kingside to help with the attack.

I’ll leave the position here, but know that white will often play the pawn moves e5 or f5 at the right time to get an advantage.

Is the Grand Prix a Good Opening?

The Grand Prix is an excellent opening to reach ca. 2000 ELO. Opponents below 2000 ELO will have trouble defending against it. When I was between 1600 and 1800 ELO, my win rate with the Grand Prix Attack was 60%!

On the flip side, the Grand Prix Attack is less effective against prepared opponents that know 15 lines of theory. A prepared opponent will leave white with an equal game and you’ll find it hard to push for an advantage.

If you’re looking to climb up the rating ladder, read our 6 chess hacks to increase your rating quickly.

FAQ

Do Grandmasters play the Grand Prix Attack?

Grandmasters rarely play the Grand Prix Attack in classical games, except a few like Gauvin Jones. It’s often played in blitz games though.

Is the Grand Prix Attack a good opening for beginners?

The Grand Prix Attack is an excellent opening for beginners. The ideas are easy to follow and it avoids the big amount of theory of the open Sicilian.

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