Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 220

The Sicilian Defence (1 e4 c5) remains as popular as ever. Two New in Chess books provide ammunition for both sides of the board.

Winning with the Najdorf Sicilian
By GM Zaven Andriasyan
254 pages
The Najdorf Sicilian (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6) has rarely been out of the spotlight since the 1960s, thanks mainly to the games of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. There was a period of time between those two champions of the black pieces when Anatoly Karpov made the Najdorf look like a forced win for White. That's fashion for you.

The author of this new book is an Armenian Grandmaster and a staunch supporter - and player - of the Najdorf. He presents a full repertoire for Black after 5 ...a6. Essentially, the repertoire prefers to meet most of White's normal sixth moves (6 Be3, 6 Be2, 6 f4, 6 a4, 6 g3 and 6 h3) with 6 ...e5, which is, after all, the point behind playing 5 ...a6 (to stop annoying minor piece raids on b5, creating difficulties for the backward d-pawn). It's a good idea to stick consistently with this approach as it should make the respective lines easier to learn.

6 Bc4 - Fischer's favourite when he had to face the Najdorf - is a different matter; Black is strongly advised to blunt the potentially powerful immediately with 6 ...e6.  

The repertoire will stand or fall on the worth of the recommendation against the popular 6 Bg5. It is the (in)famous Poisoned Pawn Variation, 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 e6 7 f4 Qb6, after which Black hopes to pick off the b2 pawn. Sportingly, the Poisoned Pawn is covered as soon as possible in the book - the first three chapters, in fact - giving bookstall browsers the opportunity to tell immediately if this repertoire is for them.

To play the Poisoned Pawn successfully requires a lot of hard work; it's not the sort of thing one can add to a repertoire overnight. There's a problem from the practical point of view too - how to stop White players forcing draws. It's fine at Grandmaster level, but amateurs need to keep winning chances simmering in their tournaments.

There are a couple of things I don't quite get. One is the use of the ''N'' symbol, traditionally denoting ''novelty''. What about in this case?

Black to play
The author writes: ''15 ...Nc6N This move and the subsequent variation was analysed by Nunn in his book The Complete Najdorf 6 Bg5. But I have added to his analysis the move 17 ...b5, a natural move that leads to equality.''

How can be 15 ...Nc6 be presented as a novelty, when it dates back - by the author's own admission - to a book published in 1996? A typo, or a bigger problem? I don't know, but the ''N'' symbol is scattered around like confetti.

The other odd thing comes in the short preface, written by Andriasyan's fellow-countryman, GM Levon Aronian. He praises the book but signs off with the words: ''I for one, might start thinking about reading it myself!'' Armenian wit - or a different problem...?

The Najdorf is a great opening for Black, but a lot of work. I'd recommend this book to very strong tournament players who possess a critical eye, but club players will be overwhelmed by the variations and analysis.

The Grand Prix Attack
By GM Evgeny Sveshnikov
251 pages
Of course, nobody has to face the Najdorf Sicilian if they don't want to. Not even 1 e4 players.
In this book, which is a continuation of the author's ongoing coverage of the whole of the Sicilian Defence, Evgeny Sveshnikov analysis The Grand Prix Attack, with 1 e4 c5 2 f4 (rather than the more popular 2 Nc3 and 3 f4 order of moves). The coverage is for both sides instead of a repertoire for White or Black.

In his excellent introduction he spends some time expounding his theory on why he thinks the Sicilian Defence is the best reply to 1 e4 and where he thinks 2 f4 stands in the pecking order of White's options. A enjoyed the second chapter too, which provides a short historical survey from Philidor to the present day. It struck a chord with me straight away, but it was by coincidence; the previous day I had been using one of the same illustrative games and Philidor for one of my own writing projects, as well certain pieces about la Bourdonnais and McDonnell.

It seems to me that once we have witnessed a few of White's typical Grand Prix Attacks smashing through the barricades in the good old style we must spend some time working out what to against 1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5! - the universally accepted recipe to 'punish' White for omitting 2 Nc3. The author agrees that 2 ...d5! is indeed the most testing move and he saves the coverage until the sixth and final chapter.
Readers need to pay particular attention to this chapter.

The first line to be analysed is 1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5 3 exd5 Qxd5. It's a sort of Scandinavian Defence in which Black can't play ...Qa5. The author says isn't as good as 3 ...Nf6! and doesn't promise equality. It doesn't put him off analysing 4 Nc3 and then 4 ...Qd6, 4 ...Qe6+ and 4 ...Qd8 all receive good coverage.

1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5 3 exd5 Nf6! is the real reason most Grand Prix players prefer to play 2 Nc3 and only then 3 f4. Sveshnikov examines:

4 c4 e6 (Black sacrifices a pawn and has compensation)
4 Nf3 Nxd5 5 Bc4 (fine for Black)
4 Nc3 Nxd5 5 Nf3 (offering the f-pawn but not particularly testing)
4 Bb5+ (tricky; White heads for an advantageous ending and Black must play accurately to avoid it happening)

There's also some material on 1 e4 c5 2 f4 d5 3 Nc3 and 3 d3 but neither are likely to break the bank.

In a nutshell, the overall conclusion is that 2 f4 is not particularly likely to force an advantage for White anytime soon, but at least it will lead to fresh positions.

I like this book; it strikes a very sensible balance between hard analysis and engaging prose. The author is very honest in his appraisal of the respective chances for both colours.

No comments: