I was wondering if someone could explain why this may be bad for white. Engines say white is a 0.5 of a pawn down after this line, but other than stunted development, I do not see a clear way in which black is better. The line is

  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 Nc6
  3. e5? Qc7
  4. Qe2

4 Answers 4


On e4 the White pawn is strong, controlling the important central square d5 (which Black has given up some control over by playing c5). You might think that it is just as good to control d6, but d6 is less central.

The loss of time is also significant. You spend a move to put the pawn on e5, and then another move to defend it with the queen. You will have to move the queen again, or your g-pawn, to develop your king's bishop. That makes three moves you could have been spending developing minor pieces or central pawns or castling! Half a pawn seems a fair evaluation of that loss of time.

Finally, the pawn may be vulnerable on e5. Black has a pleasant choice whether to play g6 and Bg7, or e6, Ne7 and g6, or f6 exchanging the pawn but getting fast development. White will have trouble bringing more pieces to the defence of e5: in particular it won't be easy to support it with a pawn as Black controls d4 and White's knight blocks the f-pawn.


I think this is a pretty suspect line for White.

Consider this advice from Ludec Pachman, in his book Modern Chess Strategy. He gives four general principles to guide beginners in the opening.

  1. Place the pieces without loss of time where they can develop their greatest power.
  2. Do not move a piece that is already developed unless there is a strong reason for doing so.
  3. Avoid putting pieces on squares where they can be driven off by moves contributing to the development of enemy pieces and pawns.
  4. Pawn moves in the opening are only an aid to development and a means of fighting for the centre: they should therefore be kept to a minimum.

The opening sequence you suggest conflicts with these principles in several ways:

  1. Loss of time. The Q on e2 prevents quick development of the f1 bishop. White can continue with g3 and Bg2 but this is a slower development than Bc4, Bb5 or Be2, which are all seen in in mainline variations of the Sicilian. So, violates the first of Pachman's guidelines.
  2. Unhelpful pawn move. Moving the pawn to e5 violates Pachman's fourth guideline.
  3. Easy target. Putting the pawn on e5 makes it a target for Black to attack as he develops his pieces. White will need to waste more time defending it. Obvious ideas for Black are ... g6 followed by ... Bg7 and/or ... Nh6 with threats of Ng4. If White then plays h3 to stop Ng4, the Black knight can go to f5 with the threat of exchanging knights on d4. So White has also violated Pachman's third piece of advice!

There are also some strategic considerations/weaknesses in White's sequence:

  1. Loss of d4. One of Black's strategic ideas in the Sicilian is to fight for control of d4. White has handed this control over by Qe2 and can no longer play d4 unless he spends yet more pawn moves like c3, or b3 followed by Bb2.
  2. Inferior Taimanov for White. An alternative Black development plan is 4. ... e6 followed by Ne7 and Ng6. This is a typical Taimanov Sicilian idea with the added bonus of a weak pawn on e5 for Black to attack.

The DISADVANTAGE is that your pawn is on e5, without the support of one on either d4 or f4, meaning that the pawn has to be protected by pieces, one of which happens to be your queen. If you are not careful, your queen could be "developed" prematurely. And it does block your light squared bishop for the time being.

That said, there are some potential advantages as well:

1) It prevents a Black knight from moving directly to f6.

2) It indirectly discourages Black from moving a pawn to d6 or f6, because if you capture, he can't recapture with the e pawn, which would be pinned by your queen. Also, if he moves one of those pawns, you could get into a gambit by playing the pawn to e6, etc.

3) A likely scenario is that Black plays e6, then moves his knight to e7 (instead of f6), meaning that you've cramped his game in a major way. Black might move his knight further from e7 to g6 and eventually capture the pawn. But he's disrupted his pieces in a major way and lost time, which you might then be able to use finish your development ahead of him and start an attack, perhaps against his king. Under some lines, the early move by the queen turns out to be an advantage.

This is something of a gambit in the Sicilian. All in all, it's a complicated, tricky opening move. But it may be a good one to use for a surprise.

Another gambit that you might use in the Sicilian is the wing gambit, 3. b4, favored a century ago by the American master Frank Marshall. If Black captures with either the pawn or the knight, he's lost time.

  • This was my intention by the move 3.e5, to top it off, if black had played 2... d6, then 3.e5 really looks like an interesting move as now both players will eventually have isolated d pawns or no central pawns. However, is the idea of 3.e5 itself questionable?
    – picakhu
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 2:57
  • 1
    @picakhu:Is the idea of 3e5 questionable? I would say that depends on what kind of game you're in, and who your opponent is.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 14:07
  • @picakhu: your pawn is on e5, without the support of one on either d4 or f4, meaning that the pawn has to be protected by pieces +1 this is the real correct answer. If black had played a different first move (say, 1..c6 or 1..Nf6), all of RoundTower's and ire_and_curses' points would still hold, but the e5 push wouldn't be so bad because white could back it up with d4. However, with black's pawn on c5, white can't play d4 without trading. If White could play c3 then d4, the e5 move would be fine, but as OP's line shows, White simply doesn't have time for that. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 0:03

On http://gameknot.com/chess-games-database.pl there are 23 games with this opening, 39% white wins, 56% black, and 4% draws, but this is a pretty weak database so I wouldn't go on that too strongly. If someone has a chessbase account maybe they can get better stats. It seems like the best continuations for black are:

4 ...d6 After this move the only real option seems to be 5 exd6 and then after 5 ..Qxd6 6 Nc3 Bf5 7 d3 the position looks fairly equal - both sides will need 4 moves to complete their development (including castling) although if white Fianchetto's the king-side bishop the white squares around the king look very weak, so possibly castling queen-side would be better here (black might be able to attack on the queen side in that case).

4 ...g6 After g6 black will look to try to win the pawn with 5 ...Bg7. White can counter with 5 b3 and then 6 Bb2, after which it starts to look uncomfortable for black. The idea of 6 ... Nh6 followed by 7 ... Ng4 to further pressure the pawn is easily countered by 6 h3 and I'm not sure the knight looks too happy on f5 either. 5 ...e6 is another way to develop the hapless knight, but makes the dark squares look weak. 5 ...d6 or even 5 ...d5 opening the centre look like better options for black from here, and both look like they are roughly equal to me.

4 ...e6 with the idea of getting the other knight to g6 at some point. I don't think this is that good for black - it really weakens the dark squares and helps white out.

4 ...d5 After 5 exd6 e.p. Qxd6 we reach the first position. White could try 5 c3 and 6 d4 to firm up the centre, and this starts to look like a position you might expect in the French, with the exception that black's white bishop will be free to develop and annoy white here.

It would be interesting to supplement this with engine analysis but I don't really have the time! It looks to me that with careful play, it should lead to equality for most of black's continuations. Perhaps engine analysis would provide some more insight.

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