The Bowlder Attack: Bold move or beginner’s folly?

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bowlder attack chess
Table of Contents

Quick overview:

  • The Bowlder Attack is a subline of the Sicilian Defense, reached via the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4
  • The Bowlder Attack is most often seen at the lower levels, and is rarely seen at the top level play. It is not considered a serious reply to the Sicilian Defense, as it gives Black equality immediately.
  • The simplest and best way to respond to the Bowlder Attack is by playing 2…e6, blunting the bishop’s power on the diagonal.

Introduction to the Bowlder Attack

The Bowlder Attack is an opening arising from the Sicilian Defense after the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4. The move is common at lower levels, as it appears to develop a piece to a natural square, but it is actually somewhat of a mistake.

The move 2.Bc4 is not immediately losing by any means, and White can certainly have interesting and winning games, but the move is an error because any natural advantage White had in the opening is thrown away, and Black quickly reaches equality.

Ideas behind the Bowlder

Beginners may be scratching their heads as to why the Bowlder is bad; it hits Black’s vulnerable f7 square, it develps a piece naturally, and it readies White to castle kingside, so it appears it is hitting all opening principles, right?

Yes, but no. The move is not a blunder, and lower rated players are unlikely to punish it, but there are more accurate moves you can play.

Black will often want to go for queenside expansion via playing an early b7-b5 push.

As your chess progresses, you should start to know what your plan is out of the opening. What is the plan of the Bowlder? It is not exactly clear beyond attack the f7-square (which is immediately blunted) and develp your pieces. You can do worse in the opening, but you can also do much better.

How to Counter the Bowlder Attack

If you are a Sicilian player, then at some point you will have come across this move, particularly if you are a lower-rated player.

Many times this opening turns out to be successful for White, as lower-rated players are unaware it is a mistake. After all, 2.Bc4 appears to be a natural move, as it is in the Italian Game.

Black’s pawn on c5 however changes things, making the bishop on c4 not so effective, as a d2-d4 push is now not so easy.

2…e6

This is probably the best response to the Bowlder, although the engine gives 2…a6 and 2…Nc6 as equally effective.

After 2…e6, White is simply “biting on granite”, and the f7 square is no longer vulnerable.

It also props up a d7-d5 push, which Black will want to play at some point, giving them solid central control.

An example line might go like, 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4 e6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5. O-O d5 6. exd5 exd5 7.Bb3

Black has two pawns controlling much of the center on c5 and d5, While White has no central pawns. Black has a slight advantage, though there is much game to be played.

3.Qe2

This move is a common one by White, as it prevents d5 (the e-pawn is pinned to the king).

However, Black has some interesting ideas to trap White’s bishop.

3…Nc6 4.Nf3 a6 Is a possible continuation.

The move 4…a6 prepares b5. If White were to play a seemingly normal developing move such as 5.0-0?, Black continues with 5…b5 and after 6.Bb3?? …c4, and Black wins the bishop!

White should have played 6.Bd5, and While Black is slightly better, White does not lose a piece.

Backing up a bit, if 5.c3, giving the bishop space to escape, 5…Nge7 (preparing d5) 6.Bb3 d5 7.d3 g6 8.0-0 Bg7, we have an equal game according to the engine, though Black seems to have a nice space advantage.

An example game of the Bowlder Attack

The following game is a classic from 1859, harking back to the days before Elo existed and when Romantic chess reigned supreme. This was at the end of the Romantic chess era, right before modern analysis began. Like so many games of this era, this one is quite instructive.

Summary

The Bowlder Attack is really an attack with no bite to it. Black equalizes easily with the move 2…e6, and the bishop is simply misplaced on c4.

As you progress in your chess journey, you’re going to find more opponents that know how to penalzie the Bowlder. Consider looking into other options for White against the Sicilian, such as the Closed Sicilian, the Alapin Sicilian, or the Grand Prix Attack.

FAQs

Is the Bowdler attack good?

The Bowlder Attack is not considered a good option against the Sicilian, as it gives Black equality from move two.

How do you refute the Bowdler attack?

The Bowlder Attack is easily refuted by playing 2…e6, blunting the bishop’s pressure, as well as showing that the bishop is misplaced on c4.

How to play the Bowdler attack?

The Bowlder Attack is played by the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Bc4.

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