How To Play The Sicilian Kan Chess Opening

Chess Openings / By Andrew Hercules

The Sicilian Kan begins with the moves: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6

Sicilian Kan Chess Opening

sicilian kan chess opening

Most players now name this opening after the Russian International Master Ilya Kan, but it’s also been attributed to Louis Paulsen, one of the great theoreticians of the 19th century. The great advantage of the Kan Variation is its flexibility. Black waits with pawn moves and doesn’t commit any of his pieces until White has shown his hand.

On the other hand, Black must be careful not to fall too far behind in development, while the lack of any real pressure on White’s centre allows White to set up a Maroczy Bind with an early c2-c4.

Mainline Sicilian Kan


The main move for White, who develops a piece and gets ready to castle. With 5.Bd3 White keeps the option open of going c2-c4. White can also set up an immediate bind with 5.c4.


Finally a black piece comes out!


6.e5? loses a pawn to 6…Qa5+ but now e4-e5 is a threat, which Black’s next move prevents.

6…Qc7 7.Qe2

Once again White introduces the possibility of e4-e5.


Finally putting a stop to any e4-e5 ideas, at least for the moment.Now Black has settled on a Scheveningen structure. If White were to play 8.Nc3 then play would very much resemble a ‘Schevy’, but most players opt to construct the Maroczy Bind.


A typical Kan position


White’s undoubted space advantage presents him with many different options of attack, although he usually develops normally and waits for Black to commit himself before choosing a plan.

One option is a typical Sicilian thrust with f2-f4, creating ideas of either f4-f5 or e4-e5. Another, more solid, idea is to play f2-f3, resisting play on the kingside and favouring an attack on the other side of the board, while always being on the lookout to prevent Black freeing himself with …d6-d5.

Black is slightly passive but his ‘hedgehog’ structure is very resilient and counterplay is always lurking: possible …d6-d5 or …b6-b5 pawn breaks nibbling away at the white centre. In general, however, play is often slow moving.

NOTE: It requires some patience to play the Kan Variation.


These lines with c2-c4 are generally less theoretical than those where White omits c2-c4 in favour of Nc3. The reason is that White is going for a long-term advantage rather than a quick kill, so the lines are generally not so sharp and are more positionally based.


At international level the Kan’s flexibility has enticed many followers, especially in the last decade. Many of today’s top players have used the Kan, although this tends to be more as a secondary weapon rather than their main choice. I found over 19,000 games in Mega Database, with White scoring 50%, although black players were slightly higher rated on average.

Andrew Hercules

Hercules Chess, launched in 2020, is a website that teaches you about chess. We started as a chess blog and became a chess training platform in early 2022.

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