Sunday, 4 July 2010

Chess Reviews: 146

Play the Najdorf Sicilian
A new guide to the King of Chess Openings
By IM James Rizzitano
144 pages
Gambit Publications

Why is the Najdorf considered the 'King of Chess Openings?' The cover blurb offers an explanation:

'The Najdorf Sicilian has a unique place amongst chess openings: for several decades it has been regarded by the top grandmasters as the best way for Black to play soundly for a win against 1 e4.'

Indeed, most players will know that the Najdorf was a main Black weapon in the repertoires of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov - two players who certainly knew how to win with Black. It is easy to throw in the names of more World Champions who like(d) the Najdorf, such as Tal, Topalov and Anand.

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6

In his well-written introduction, IM Rizzitano makes it clear that he rates the Najdorf highly.

He writes: 'The Najdorf is an excellent weapon for the improving player because its uncompromising nature facilitates the development of several important chess skills' and then briefly discusses three key areas to support his statement:

Developing or neutralizing an initiative

Evaluating king safety

Handling dynamic pawn-structures

Just before the start of the main chapters, he looks at 'Typical Najdorf Themes', including Piece Activity, Exchange Sacrifice on c3 and Central Breakthrough, all of which are backed up positions from real games.

The primed reader is now taken on a journey through all of the main lines, in the following order:

Fischer Attack: 6 Bc4
6 f3 Qb6 and 6 Be3 Ng4
6 Be3 e5 and the English Attack
Fianchetto Variation: 6 g3
Classical Najdorf: 6 Be2 e5
The Aggressive 6 f4
Gelfand Variation : 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Nbd7
Kasparov Variation: 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Qc7
Poisoned Pawn and Polugaevsky Variation
Main Line: 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Be7
White's Sixth-Move Alternatives

The chapters typically start with a page of explanatory prose before launching into the games. There's a total of 25 main illustrative games, ranging from 2001 - 2009.

The annotations are very good; it's not unusual to see six pages devoted to a single game. Black appears to be ok after the majority of White's sixth moves.

The English Attack used to be a real problem back in the 1980s. White essentially treated the position like a Dragon; playing Be3, Qd2, 0-0-0 and g4 with a standard Kingside attack. Theory has advanced considerably since then and some sophisticated methods have been found for the second player.

Fabiano Caruana - Francisco Vallejo Pons
Pamplona 2008

Black played 9 ...h5, making 10 g4 undesirable.

However, there's no doubt about it: anyone playing the Najdorf needs a lot of time prepare and a very good memory to boot. 6 Bg5 is popular again with players of the White pieces and Black does seem to be under pressure in a lot of the lines. For example, the Polugaevsky Variation is struggling and it's hard to see it being revived in the near future. It suffered in this example:

Peter Leko - Ehsan Ghaem Maghami
World Team Championship 2001

Here, Leko unleashed 20 Rxb4 when 20 ...Bxb4 21 fxg7 Rg8 22 Nf6+ Kd8 23 Nxg8 Bc5 24 Nxe6 fxe6 25 Rf8+ and after the game continuation 20 ...Bxe4 21 Nxe4 Bxb4 22 fxg7 led to a swift finish too (1-0, 27).

In fact, I think such things are the reason that club players will struggle to make the Najdorf work against the critical lines. Black can probably achieve certain advantages and have high hopes of weathering the storm to reach a winning endgame, but in reality the positions often offer unstoppable hurricanes, such as here (from a Poisoned Pawn Variation):

Alexi Shirov - Wang Ho
russian Team Championship 2009

(22...Nde5) was a blunder, allowing 23 Rxh6!! and 1-0. Test your own powers, dear readers, to find out why Black felt obliged to resign.

Only with immaculate preparation, strong nerves and a very deep understanding of the Najdorf will Black players be able to avoid such crushings, no matter how many pawns he has won.

Having said that, the author does clearly highlight where he thinks Black has to really put the work in. I found the balance of the work to be very good, with a good mixture of White wins, black wins and draws.

While not exactly a complete cure for all of Black's problems after 1 e4 c5, I do think that this is a well written and generally very accessible guide to the chess opening of Kings.

For further details about Gambit books, pop along to:

Rybka 4

Rybka 4 Book

The new version of the famous Rybka program is now available and is sure to be a top seller. Remarkably, it's nearly two years since Rybka 3 appeared but I think my review from that time still holds true for a general impression of the features. So rather than repeat it here, please pop along to:

Needless to say, two years is a long time in the world of chess programs, and Rybka 4 is almost certainly '...more precise and reliable than its predecessor'. A simple engine match will prove an increase in playing strength. For those humans who will insist on being thrashed repeatedly by something which won't even shake hands at the end of a game, be aware that 'Rybka 4 plays more aggressively and more tactically'.

It also comes with a full year's membership for the site.

Meanwhile, the new Rybka 4 Book is available too and it will make your Rybka program even stronger. Developed by Juri Dufek, it consists of an extraordinary amount of games from top events (up to April 2010).

Both products represent great value for money. Rybka 4 can be found for £40 without having look too far and the book for just a little over half of that.

One suspects that the packaging would be carrying an extra strapline or two if Topalov had been successful in his recent World Championship match against Anand, because the former had access to the program before it was released (Jiri Dufek was a member of Topalov's team).

For a Chessbase article on some specific differences between Rybka 4 and its predecessors, please visit:

Full details of all ChessBase products can be found on their website:

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