Bowdler Attack

The Bowdler Attack is a variation of the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5), which is reached after the King’s Pawn Opening (1.e4), and White develops the light-squared Bishop to c4 (2.Bc4) in the second move. This move is popular among amateur players because it is one of the vital moves in the Italian Games. This opening is not considered viable at the elite level since there are better moves in the second move.

Bowdler Attack

Bowdler Attack has been played around the 1800s among the elite players, but nowadays it remains unpopular because Black equalizes quickly.

Winning percentages on both sides

Master Games Statistics

Results Rate
Victory for White 30%
Draw 26%
Victory for Black 44%

Statistics from 47 Million Amateur Games

Results Rate
Victory for White 45%
Draw 4%
Victory for Black 51%

Reason why Bowdler Attack is played by White

The Sicilian Bowdler Attack is dubious at high level due to White’s misplaced light Bishop. But novice players frequently place the f1-Bishop on the c4-square to exert force to the ‘a2-f7’ diagonal. That can be prevented by the enemy, but the plain logic is to develop the pieces rapidly and generate an assault on the enemy King, potentially on the f7-square.

Bowdler Attack Theory

The 2…e6 response prevents White’s ideas on the ‘a2-f7’ diagonal and typically creates closed positions where White lacks the space and seeks to have the ideal pawn break to soften Black’s central pawns.

The 2…Nc6 response often transitions to the lines seen on the 2..e6 variation.

The 2…d6 response often gives more options to White, such as opening up the position with a d4-push directly and entering a tactical scene.

2…e6 response

As the most popular response to 2.Bc4, this variation starts with 2…e6. The main goal is simple: To play d5 and gain a strong central domination by gaining a tempo from the c4-Bishop. This move immediately equalizes the game for Black, as White doesn’t have a great way to stop this advancement.

Bowdler Attack - 2...e6 response

After 2…e6 is played, White mostly wants to stop the direct d5 advancement. Two candidate moves are 3.Qe2 and 3.Nc3. Qe2 stops that move because it would be placed in the same file as the enemy’s e8-King. 3.Nc3 takes control of the d5-square and prevents that advancement.

However, both of these moves have some general drawbacks. Playing the Queen too early is often not advisable since players have to improve their minor pieces and bring their King into safety. Nc3 also lacks the positional curve of the position since Black constantly seeks to put pressure along the c-file, and the backward c2-pawn will be a constant target.

In the following sections, we will further examine these two candidate moves.

3.Nc3 line

This variation starts with White advancing the b1-Knight to c3 (3.Nc3). The majority of amateur players use this move to stop the immediate d5. The following moves for White often depend on Black’s reply, and the main objective is Nf3 and d4-pawn push to open up the position. The d4-pawn push is crucial in White’s game since Black typically seeks to advance on the Queenside with a6-b5 and harass the misplaced c4-Bishop. The d4-push stops the Bishop’s imprisonment and creates tactical chances in the dark squares near the enemy King. But Black typically stops this idea by going with their ideal setup.

Bowdler Attack - 3.Nc3 line

One sample line could be 3…a6 (aiming to strike to the c4-Bishop by following with b5 and expanding on the Queenside), 4.a4 (stopping Black’s expansion plans), 4…Nc6 (maintaining the control of the d5-square and preventing the d4-push momentarily), 5.Nf3 (improving the Knight and preparing to castle), 5…Nf6 (developing the Knight and aiming to strike with the typical d5-push), 6.d3 (d4 would be a worse version because Black can play d5-c4 with a tempo and lock the White’s light-square Bishop behind the pawn chain), 6…d5 (attacking the c4-Bishop and maintaining a strong center), 7.Bb3 (Taking the pawn would be a mistake because Black would remain with a robust uncontested center), 7…Be7 (preparing to castle), and both sides castle and put their Kings safely on the short side.

In the resulting position, Black would aim to kick White’s pieces and utilize White’s misplaced light-squared Bishop, and White would seek to encourage the opponent to overextend and strike the advanced pawn by going for pawn breaks.

3.Qe2 line

This line starts with White placing the d1-Queen at e2 (3.Qe2).

Bowdler Attack - 3.Qe2 line

This move stops the d5-push since 3…d5 is met with 4.exd5, and Black cannot recapture with the e6-pawn due to the pin on the e-file.

Black typically responds with 3…Nc6 and gains command of the d4-square. White can play many moves to reply, but 4.Nf3 is the most prominent one as it stops Nd4 ideas and prepares White to castle on the Kingside.

Black typically aims to advance on the Queenside with a6-b5, and White seeks to improve the pieces and stop Black’s plans.

One sample line from here could be 4…a6 5.d3 (since we have analyzed a similar line with a4, let’s examine what happens if Black can play b5), 5…b5 (expanding on the Queenside and assaulting the c4-Bishop), 6.Bb3 (protecting the Bishop), 6…Na5 (since the b3-Bishop has nowhere to go, Black will gain a Bishop pair advantage after collecting the Bishop with the a5-Knight), 7. O-O Nxb3, and 8.axb3.

In the resulting position, Black has a Bishop pair and White has doubled b-pawns, which gives a slight advantage to Black. Black rapidly develops their pieces and utilizes these advantages, whereas White aims to create ideal pawn breaks (such as c4) and strike from the center with d4- and e4-moves.

2…Nc6 response

This variation starts with Black casually developing the b8-Knight to c6 (2…Nc6). Compared to the 2…e6 line, it gives slightly more options for White, but most of the variations transition to the lines we analyzed because Black usually goes for e6-d5 ideas and White typically goes for Nc3 and d4 attempts.

Bowdler Attack - 2...Nc6 response

In the following sections, we will examine the most popular ideas played against this move: 3.Nc3 and 3.d3.

3.Nc3 variation

This line starts with 3.Nc3, similar to the 2.e6 line, and aims to stop the d5-push in the short term.

Bowdler Attack - 3.Nc3 variation

The most admired response to this move is 3…e6, which transitions to what we already analyzed.

As the second most prominent choice, Black can play the g6-move (3…g6), creating a fianchetto square for the f8-Bishop on the g7-square and utilizing the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal. White typically finishes their development and slowly improves the position with the proper maneuvers and pawn structures. Black does not rush the e6-d5 idea, but it is also the critical concept in this setup.

One sample line from here could be 4.d3 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6 (opening up the scope of the c8-Bishop), 6. O-O e6 (preparing d5), 7.Bb3 (a prophylactic move against d5), 7…Nge7 (finishing the development on the short side), 8.Re1, and 8…O-O.

The resulting position would be highly strategic; White would aim to maneuver the pieces to the ideal squares, and Black would often try to utilize the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal.

3.d3 line

This line begins with 3.d3 and often transitions to the other mentioned variations since the most common reply is 3…e6.

Bowdler Attack - 3.d3 line

For this variation, we will analyze a slightly unusual plan for White to gain initiative if Black plays 3…a6 to assault with 4…b5. White can go for 4.Bd5, with the same idea of putting the Bishop on b5 and doubling Black’s pawns on the c-file. If Black plays 4…e6, White obtains a significant edge with 5.Bxc6 and 5…bxc6 due to Black’s doubled pawns and White’s solid pawn structure.

If Black plays 4…Nb4 instead, White can retreat to b3 (5.Bb3), and the game can transition to a French-type structure after a sample line like 5…e6, 6.c3 (kicking the b4-Knight and preparing d4-push), 6…Nc6 7.Nf3 Nf6 8. O-O d5 9.e5 (assaulting the f6-Knight), 9…Nd7, and 10.d4.

The resulting position would be similar to French games, where Black scopes to strike on the Queenside, and White seeks to attack from the Kingside.

2…d6 response

This variation starts with 2…d6. This move stops the e5-ideas and reinforces the c5-pawn. Since we have already analyzed many setups, we will look into an open game that can arise from this opening.

Bowdler Attack - 2...d6 response

White can take immediate action with 3.d4 to open up the position. Black takes on d4 (3…cxd4), and White captures with the Queen (4.Qxd4). Positions like these are very typical in Sicilian Defense, and both sides can create many plans, and games often contain a sharp nature.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “????.??.??”]
[Round “?”]
[White “?”]
[Black “?”]
[Result “*”]

1. e4 c5 2. Bc4 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 *[/pgn]

One sample line from here could be 4…Nf6 5.Nf3, 5…g6 (trying to fianchetto and utilizing the f8-Bishop on the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal), 6.Nc3 Bg7, 7.Qd3 (putting the Queen into safety and avoiding a discovered attack by the g7-Bishop), 7…O-O, and 8. O-O.

In the resulting position, Black would seek to finish the development and oppress the c-file with Rc8 and Qc7 ideas, while White would try to provoke e5 and strike the backward d6-pawn.

How to Play Against the Bowdler Attack: A Quick Guide

In contrast to the Italian Games, this opening allows Black to control the d4-square since Black plays 1…c5 at the first move. This allows them to refute the opening and block the c4-Bishop’s scope by creating a setup such as e6-d5 advancements. By choosing this path, Black often possesses a stable, robust center and space advantage, along with White’s misplaced Bishop. Black typically advances on the Queenside with a6-b5 and aims to go for c4-push and imprison the light-squared Bishop of the rival.

Pros and Cons of Bowdler Attack

Pros Cons
White develops according to the main principles. The light-squared Bishop often finds itself in trouble because it is misplaced.
If Black overextends with the central pawns, White can launch an assault to the base of the pawn chain and gain initiative. Black can equalize quickly and expand on the Queenside or in the center.
The better player with a grasp of position can prevail because the games are frequently strategic. Black’s ideas and structures are easy to generate, while White needs to be precise to avoid falling behind.
The games can transition to different and favorable structures if Black is unfamiliar with the Bowdler Attack counter. Black has better results at both the master and amateur levels.


Bowdler Attack in chess is often played by amateur players due to their inadequate knowledge of the Sicilian. There are many responses to the Bowdler Attack, which allows Black to equalize quickly. This strategic nuance does not matter at the low level, and players can utilize this opening in their games.

Written by
Emre Sancakli, Сhess Coach
has a rating of 2400+ on and, making him one of the top 5000 players in the world. He teaches many chess enthusiasts and even creates educational courses. As a writer, he keeps bringing his 'A game' to the content you will face on this website.
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Is Bowdler Attack good chess?

The Bowdler Attack is generally not considered a top-tier opening at advanced levels. It’s more of an offbeat choice, aiming to set up a quick attack but often neglecting more solid positional play. This attack can be effective at surprising less experienced players, but it doesn’t offer white the same level of control and options as more mainstream lines against the Sicilian.

How do you deal with Bowdler Attack?

To counter the Bowdler Attack as black, you should focus on developing your pieces effectively while maintaining a strong pawn structure. Moves like 2…e6, which prepare to develop the bishop to a natural square and control the center, are good choices. 2…Nc6, developing a knight and challenging white’s influence in the center, is also a solid response. It’s important to be aware of potential threats against f7 and to avoid falling into quick tactical traps. As with any opening, understanding the typical plans and ideas of your opponent will help in formulating an effective response.

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