Reviews | September 14, 2010 17:04

Review: The Sicilian Defence

Review: The Sicilian DefenceWould GM Lubomir Ftacnik like to play an opposite-bishop ending with a pawn down against me straight from the opening? I was left with this question after enjoying his latest work on the Sicilian Defence, published in the Grandmaster Repertoire series.

It's no surprise Ftacnik, who is a life-time expert on the Sicilian Najdorf, was selected for the task to write the part on the Sicilian in the excellent series published by Quality Chess. The Sicilian Defence offers a complete repertoire against 1.e4 for the serious chess player. Its original approach (all chapters are named after famous movies!) and Ftacnik's enthusiastic style of writing add to the general picture that this is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to start playing the Sicilian. However, some of the author's choices are a bit hard to understand. More about this later on.

An important element in any opening book is its treatment of sidelines. If sidelines are treated sloppily, you can be pretty sure it's a bad opening book in general. Therefore, it's extremely pleasant to note Ftacnik gives moves like 2.Na3!? and 2.b3 the serious attention they deserve. Of the dreaded Morra Gambit, he says that, despite it's "cheap appearances" it's nevertheless "nearly correct" - which sounds like a great compliment to me. Let's have a look at his recommendation against this strange gambit, of which he writes:

After considering several different defensive set-ups, I finally found an answer that satisfied me. The set-up I am recommending avoids most of White's early attacking ideas and leads to a solid position in which Black will have decent chances to retain his extra pawn.

After this, I was a bit surprised to see that Ftacnik's solution, after 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 is simply to play 5...d6 which, although indeed not the most popular, is also the line preferred by the strongest players, at least according to my database. Moreover, this very same line is also recommended by John Watson in his latest book Mastering the Chess Openings, recently reviewed on this site as well. (It is also suggested by Gallagher in his 2003 book Beating the Anti-Sicilians.)

The critical position arises after 6.Bc4 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 after which 8.b4!? certainly seems to be White's most principled option.

Now Black can't take on b4 due to 9.e5! but both Watson and Ftacnik think 8...e6!? is a logical reply to White's agressions. Ftacnik now looks at 9.Qe2, 9.b5, 9.a4 and 9.Qb3 (his main line), concluding Black is fine in all lines, but he doesn't mention Watson's own suggestion 9.a3 which in fact seems the best move in this position. Indeed, Watson's book is not mentioned in the bibliography, but apparently Ftactnik also didn't have a look at this critical position with an engine: Rybka instantly suggests 9.a3 as White's first option as sticks with this opinion even after prolonged thinking. A missed opportunity.

It's always risky for a reviewer to concludes things from a single example. In this case, isn't it tempting to simply assume the author has probably paid little ideas to White's side of the Sicilian because he's written a book for Black? This would certainly be quite typical for some type of authors, but fortunately, Ftacnik is not one of them. Although, clearly, most improvements and suggestions are indeed from Black's perspective, the book contains many examples where new ideas for White have been found by Ftacnik. In the following (heavily abbreviated) fragment, the author presents an important nuance for White, reviving an entire variation.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Rg1!? e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.g4 d5! 9.g5 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 dxe4 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8

White's slight lead in development should enable him to regain his pawn, but not to claim any advantage.

12.Be3 Kc7 13.Bg2 h6! 14.gxh6 g6 Obviously Black prefers to recapture on h6 with a piece rather than a pawn. Now the rook on g1 will be largely ineffective, and the h2-pawn might become a serious weakness later in the game.

15.Bxe4 Nd7 16.0-0-0 Bxh6 17.Bxh6 Rxh6 18.Rg3 Rc8 19.Bd5 Bf5!? 20.Bxf7 Kb8 21.c3 Nf6

Here I found an improvement for White:

22.Nd2!N In the following game White soon found himself in trouble: 22.Rdg1? Nh5 22.Re3 Nf4 23.Rd1 Rxh2 -/+ Fontaine-Relange, Clichy 1998.

22...Rf8 23.Bb3 Rxh2 The position should be equal, although Black's pieces are slightly more active.

In many lines, Ftacnik knows exactly what's going on, which are the key positions and where attention should be focused on. A good example is the 6.g3 line against the Najdorf (titled Sideways, after Alexander Payne's great film). I've played this line myself many times so trust me, what Ftacnik recommends here is truly irritating for White:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Bg2 b5 9.0-0 Nbd7 10.Bd2!?

This funny little move, introduced in the early 2000s by Sergei Movsesian, is White's big hope in this variation. The clever idea is to prepare a2-a4 and then after b5-b4 to follow up with c2-c3, targeting the b4 and a5 squares. Ftacnik realizes this is indeed a dangerous line for Black, but he rightly suggests Boris Gelfand's absolutely annoying 10...0-0 11.Re1 Nb6! after which 12.a4 Bg4! is already in Black's favour. This is exactly the sort of thing you want from a serious book on the Najdorf titled 'Grandmaster Repertoire': selecting the most relevant antidote to White's sly plans and presenting it in a logical and ordered way.

After discussing the 'old' main moves 6.Bc4, 6.Be2 and 6.f4 in an impressive way, Ftacnik slowly but steadily reaches the most important part the book: the 6.Be3 (English Atttack) and 6.Bg5 (Classical Main Line) complexes of the Najdorf. Let's see what the author has up his sleeve against the second-most popular 6.Be3 before moving on to the core of the book.

Actually, Ftacnik analyses both 6...e6 7.g4 (Perenyi) and the most principled reply 6...e5, leaving Blackwith a (difficult!) personal choice to make (assuming he wants to make one), a big advantage over your average repertoire book. It is a bit surprising, perhaps, that after 6...e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 his main line continues with the unorthodox-looking 8...h5!? (preventing g2-g4), which however has been played on the highest level - among others, by Veselin Topalov. Ftacnik assures the reader that "8...h5!? leads to rich and dynamic positions in which Black should be able to maintain a fair share of his chances." Sounds good, no?

So here's what happened when I followed Ftacnik's recommendation in a blitz game with black against an (anonymous) GM on ICC. I duly followed his advice and after playing a few strictly logical moves went straight into an endgame: 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.Nd5 Bxd5 11.exd5 Qc7!? 12.0-0-0 Nb6 13.Qa5 Rc8 14.c3 Nc4 15.Qxc7 Rxc7 16.Bxc4 Rxc4 17.Na5 Rc7

This position is equal according to Ftacnik and I don't want to question his judgement, but I think it may come a bit early given the fact that Black hasn't fully developed yet. Unfortunately, Ftacnik doesn't really elaborate on how to do this, which may leave readers a bit underprepared for White's perspective on things. For instance, in the above-mentioned blitz game, play continued 18.Bb6 (Ftacnik only gives 18.Rhe1) 18...Rc8 19.Rhe1 Nd7 20.Bf2 Rc7 21.Re4 Be7? 22.Rb4! and White was on top.

Obviously Black can and should do better than this, but Ftacnik doesn't say how, and anyway it seems to me White is trying to prove an advantage here, not Black. (For what it's worth, Rybka agrees with this.) Is that something to look forward to when you're thinking of incorporating the Najdorf into your repertoire?

This question is even more relevant when we turn to the classical main line, 6.Bg5. Here, Ftacnik's suggestion is also surprising: after 6...e6 7.f4 he recommends the Browne System with 7...h6!?, saying it is "underrated and possibly due for a resurgence in the near future." (Strangely, Ftacnik doesn't mention the variation's official name.) This is a strong statement given the fact that, apart from the main move 7...Be7, other moves such as 7...Nbd7 (sometimes called the "Gelfand Variation") and 7...Qb6 (the Poisoned Pawn) are decidedly more popular, both on club and professional level, than the little rook pawn's move. But let's see what Ftacnik has up his sleeve in this line.

His treatment of the various highly complex lines is impressive and very much in the spirit of a 'grandmaster repertoire' indeed. For the average, if aspiring, club player, the (wordy) explanations of what's actually going which characterize many popular opening books, on is probably a bit thin in this chapter. However, Ftacnik does present some very spectacular improvements over existing games - including his own! Here's his analysis of a very recent game he played in the Max Euwe Centre in Amsterdam against the Dutch talent Robin van Kampen. I was actually a spectator during this game and I was pleasantly surprised to see it incorporated into this book already.

Van Kampen - Ftacnik
Amsterdam 2010

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Be7 9.Qf3 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Qc7 11.Be2 b5 12.e5 Bb7 13.exf6 Bxf3 14.Bxf3 Ftacnik writes that during his game with Van Kampen, he had forgotten his own home analysis.

14...Bxf6 15.Bxf6 Now he wanted to play 15...Rc8 but "was struggling to remember all the nuances of the more complicated lines", so opted for the safe 15...Nxf6 instead. (Not unimportantly, his overall recommendation for Black in this line is to go for 14...d5 even though that, too, is extremely complicated.)

However, let's see what Ftacnik had analysed after 15...Rc8: 16.Bxg7 Rh7

Here I found a strong new idea for White, which casts a dark shadow over Black's 15th move.

17.f5!!N Previous games had seen 17.Bh5 Qc5! Black must be careful, as the white pieces are very mobile and dangerous. (17...Rxg7? 18.Nxe6 Qc4 19.Rhe1 Rxg2 20.Rd4!N (...) 20...Rxh2 21.Nc5+ Kd8 22.Rxc4 Nxc5 23.Rxc5 Rxc5 24.Bxf7 +/-) 18.f5! Rxg7 19.Nxe6 Qe3+ 20.Kb1 This position was reached in Euwe-Tal, corr. 1961, and Black should have played 20...Rg8! 21.Rhe1 Rxc3 22.bxc3 (...) 22...Qxc3 23.Nc7+ Kd8 24.Nd5 Qc5 25.Bxf7 Rf8 26.Be6 White narrowly manages to maintain the balance thanks to his well-coordinated pieces in the centre.

17...Rxg7 Black is not helped by 17...e5 18.f6 exd4 19.Rxd4 Nf8 20.Re1+ Ne6 21.Rd2! +/-

18.fxe6 Ne5 The defender must exercise extreme caution. For instance, 18...Nb6? is swiftly punished after: 19.Rhf1 Qc5 20.exf7+ Rxf7 21.Ne4 Qe5 22.Nxd6+ Qxd6 23.Bh5 +-

19.Be4 Qc5 20.Nd5! This is stronger than 20.Nf5 fxe6 21.Nxg7+ Kf7 22.Nxe6 Kxe6 23.Rhf1 Qe3+ 24.Kb1 Rxc3 25.Bd5+ Kd7 26.bxc3 Qxc3 when Black escapes to equality.

20...fxe6 21.Nxe6 Qa7 22.Nxg7+ Qxg7 23.Rhf1

Black is surviving for the moment, but he is certainly under pressure.

I've chosen this lengthy and frankly overwhelming (in terms of complications) fragment because it is a good illustration of what I generally think of the book. First of all, it's packed with fresh and novel ideas. Secondly, it's very much up-to-date, including the most recent games and analysis. The book is also very concrete, often filled more with variations and moves than with explanations and well-argued assessments.

At times it is also, I felt, a bit inconclusive: even after digesting all that Ftacnik writes, the reader still has a lot of work to do before he can confidently play any of these lines! Another thing this excerpt shows is that Ftacnik sometimes gets a little carried away in his own enthusiasm. After all, let's not forget we're looking at a sideline (15...Rc8) of a sideline (14....d5) here. Though it is surely fascinating to look at all this crazy stuff, it's also important not to lose focus of the main road.

We're now ready to have a look at Ftacnik's main line, which could be regarded as his main recommendation against 6.Bg5 in the Najdorf, and try answer the question I posed at the start of this review.

After 12.Bxf6 (instead of 12.e5 which was discussed in the previous fragment) 12...Nxf6 13.e5 Bb7 14.Qg3 dxe5 15.fxe5 Nd5 16.Nxe6! fxe6 17.Qg6+ Kd7 18.Bg4 Qxe5 19.Nxd5 Qg5+! Ftacnik writes: "This should enable Black to hold the balance, although in certain lines he will have to defend a mildly unpleasant endgame."

He then suggests 20.Ne3+!? as White's best try, but let's instead look at 20.Qxg5 which after 20...Bxg5+ 21.Kb1 Bxd5 22.Rxd5+ Kc7 23.Re5 Rhe8 24.Rhe1 Rad8 25.Rxe6 Rxe6 26.Rxe6 Rd6 leads to the following position:

The presence of rooks on the board can certainly reduce the drawish tendencies of opposite-coloured bishops. Still, with no weaknesses and little material remaining, Black's drawing chances are very high indeed.

Here's the question: would Ftacnik, heartily recommending this system for Black, be prepared to play this position with Black against, say, me? A pawn down in an endgame straight from the opening? Well, asking the question is answering it, of course: I bet he wouldn't! If this is Black's best option with the Najdorf, then I'm pretty sure many players will abandon it straight away. Sure enough, Ftacnik also has a look at the increasingly popular 6...Nbd7, but since the game Giri-Gelfand from this year's Youth vs. Experience tournament in Amsterdam, we know this can lead via a move transposition to the Gelfand Variation (see ChessVibes Openings #86!), which Ftacnik does not analyse.

My conclusion is that Ftacnik, while presenting a stunningly high-level opening book, still doesn't convincingly solve the problem of 6.Bg5 (though possibly that's because the problem simply doesn't have a solution!). His solution of recommending the Browne System is interesting, but if the best Black can get is an opposite endgame with a pawn down, where the verdict is 50%-50% (sometimes you draw, sometimes you lose!), then I'm not sure which readers will be motivated to start studying this complex stuff in the first place. Now, I'm tempted to think Ftacnik made the wrong decision and it would have been better to recommend either the Poisoned Pawn or the Gelfand Variation, which would also fit better with his analysis of 6...Nbd7.

This criticism notwithstanding, The Sicilian Defence is, of course, a wonderful opening book. I've already used it myself to successfully chase away annoying little sidelines and it has helped me understand what's going on in most Najdorf variations. While I don't think it presents an entirely consistent repertoire against the classical main line (6.Bg5), Ftacnik's enthusiasm for 7...h6 is contagious enough to have a closer look at. This is a book all lovers of the Sicilian (both White and Black) will thoroughly enjoy. It provides food for thought for many years to come.


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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Michael's picture

Have you looked at the source game Hansen-Nguyen (easily drawn by Black)? Where is your improvement? If you criticize Ftacnik's assessment, you should indicate reasons. He says a draw is very likely and I see no reason to disagree.

Merijn's picture

I think the endgame a pawn down after 7...h6 is significantly worse for Black than the typical Marshall endgame (which is to be avoided as well if you are not a grandmaster).

blueofnoon's picture

Great review Arne, as usual.

As someone who plays Najdorf with both colors, I must say it's very difficult to recommend a line against Bg5 suitable for "repertoire" book.

There are many ways to counter Bg5, but they are either too deep and demand lifetime study (Poisoned Pawn, Gelfand variation, Old main line) or a bit suspect and can be used as kind of a "surprise weapon".

Maybe it's only me, but I think people who buy "repertoire books" tend to require easier solutions to solve their opening problems. From this perspective, I suppose Facnik's suggestion can be justified to some extent.

Real Najdorf lovers won't buy repertoire books, they consult ECOs and databases to build their "own" repertoire! (or at least I try to do so)

Merijn's picture

I liked the way Kiril Georgiev presented his choice for the Poisoned Pawn Variation in the first edition of The Sharpest Sicilian.

Adolfo-arg's picture

Hey Arne, nice review, as always.
It is a good question these days, the one about the approach that opening books should take towards some critical openings. I believe that of course, as long as the variation in question is rich enough, and obviously the 6.Bg5 (old main) and the English try 6.Be3 are by far so, the best way is to offer 2 ways of playing it, for black, one more solid (in which in principle the reader should be happy with a draw, say, vs. higher rated players), and another more ambitious, intending at least a draw but with the winning conception around the corner.
Those are, in my view, vs. 6.Bg5
a) Solid: The Poisoned pawn: surprising classification right?, well, lets just say that any 1700 by learning some forced variation after 10.f5 wouldn’t have much trouble drawing against any GM. We don’t want that to happen as black!, unless, because of the tournament situation and the like, our opponent is way better rated, and if he happens to chose 10.e5 and we know our staff, we can actually beat him too!
b) More ambitious: The Gelfand (following your or rather Rizzitano´s terms) variation, the old main, or maybe, let me call it, “The Kramnik variation” with 7…Qc7 (as he chose it when forced to win with black to retain the WCH title vs. Vishy) are fairly decent and complex too. The Polugaevsky and the Browne (Ftacnik) are unclear systems, perhaps theoretically better than the 6...Nc6 line. One does not have Topalov´s computer but suspects that if we did, we wouldn’t dare to play any of them. The two first natural schemes (Gelfand and old main with 7…Be7), and the slightly riskier 3rd, offer the best chances when you need a win, provided that you do need to avoid a forced draw as well (otherwise, option a) may stand theoretically better).

About the English, everybody fears it, with black sure enough, but I bet with white even more these days!. Who would ever trust a computer analysis again in the most super dynamic line in chess (I’m talking about the 6…e5! Variation) after Karjakin –Anand , 2006. White is right to fear it, the best players don’t try it nowhere near to the frequency they used to in the middle nineties, they side-line with 7.Nf3 or something else, but all indicates that black stands at least equal, if not better right off. Lets just remember that Khalifman let this for his Justinianean 13 VOL work about 1.e4 for the very last one (the unreleased 14 VOL), and I already feel sorry about him in the same spirit Avrukh said it in his preface to his GM rep 1.d4 about 1.e4 writers. If I had to guess why Vishy never played 1.e4 against Topalov I would bet on fearing this line 1st.
Greetings to all from Argentina, last Larsen and Najdorf !!!!, land,


bernd's picture

The review is spot on, I think. I was really surprised that 6. Bg5 got such a rather brief treatment. One would need to add a book such as "Mastering the Najdorf" (Arizmendi/Moreno) for 6. Bg5, suitably updated using newer games.

It is probably impossible to provide a Najdorf repertoire in a single book. Maybe one should switch to the Caro-Kann ;)

Michael's picture

I like the balanced style of the review, as usual, but would like to add a few things. I've been working with this book and from my point of view its main flaws are not mentioned in the review, while relatively minor ones are overstated.

The book's most annoying aspect is that several important lines are completely missing, for the simple reason that they were forgotten. Quality Chess already has a weird tradition of such accidents but at least they are honest and generous enough to present free updates on their site. Of course, this takes a while and some important stuff (e.g. in the 6.Be2 system) is still missing. There are certainly much more serious omissions than not mentioning 9.a3 in the Morra (what's the problem with that modest move, anyway? I play Be7 and castle, then what?).

Apart from that it's simply impossible to cover everything and make everybody happy. I don't really see what's wrong with the slighty offbeat lines after 6.Bg5. Ftacnik has a lot of new and interesting things to tell here and if you don't like it, well, don't play it. Theoretically everything looks fine, including the pawn-down endgame mentioned by Arne, which is basically just a draw. The Marshall Attack has an excellent reputation although there are dozens of lines that lead to similar endgames (draw with accurate defence). Actually it is usually White who avoids them! In the Poisoned Pawn and the Gelfand Variation there also many forced lines like this. After all, chess is ultimately a draw and if you play very sharp, tactical lines as Black against an extremely well-prepared opponent, you can hardly prevent him from making a draw from a position of strength. I don't see why one should blame the author for this. If you're not happy, you're free to play something more quiet.

Merijn's picture

Just came back from the chessclub here in Hamburg, we did some analyses tonight (at the board, no engines) and the problem is everywhere. No concrete draw for Black, meaning: suffering for ever. Try to blitz the ending against a chess friend and you will feel there is no easy draw.

Merijn's picture

But to answer your question: as long as you don't exchange rooks and put a pawn on c3, you can try any improvement varying from 23.Rc5 to 31.a4 and everything in between.

Bert de Bruut's picture

Of course Ftacnik had to choose something else than the Poisoned Pawn, since everybody and his mother as well as the cabdriver have already pointed that out as the best choice in the Old Main Line, but his pick is still odd, considering the final position of his analysis. Chances to win from an even PP position are certainly a lot higher than from this one (chances to lose as well, one must admit).

Personally I would recommend 7... Qc7 which I dubb the Balashov Variation, since Yuri Balashov used it to beat Michael Tal with it, twice, in 1969 and 1977. The early queen sortie leaves white a wide choice. At #4 in the database's list of prefered moves against 6 Bg5, it is also a more likely candidate to appeal to Najdorf players than the Browne at #7

Here is a recent high level game of two-times world champion correspondence chess Joop that demonstrates the viability of the Balashov-variation even for the best players:

To complete the picture, I have to clarify that I recommend a line I have fond memories of countering:

Bert de Bruut's picture

Just to add one thing, the point of 7.... Qc7 ought to be to not transpose after 8 Qf3 to more common lines by playing 8.... Be7 or 8.... Nbd7 but to avoid these by 8.... b5, which is still very sharp but a lot more sound then the Polu.

Arne Moll's picture

About the Marshall Atttack: one aspect of it is that this line at least has a known reputation as a drawing weapon and is indeed used as such by GMs. The Najdorf, on the other hand, isn't used as a drawing weapon at all. Indeed, on the back cover of the book we can read, "The meat of the repertoire is the Najdorf Variation - the perennial favourite of those who want to attack with Black". Well, if Black is forced to go into an inferior ending with zero chances of winning, then this is an empty promise to say the least.

Hesam's picture

I thought the problem with the 'Kramnik line': 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qc7 was what Anand played in the last game of Bonn: 8. Bxf6.

Daan's picture

Excellent review again Arne!
On the pawn-down ending, I guess the point of the "Grandmaster repertoire" series, is that it provides opening stuff that is suitable for games between GMs, not for games between GMs and amateurs. I therefore dont think the book should be judged on the fact whether it includes variations that Ftacnik himself would not play against a lower rated player. The only question that is whether a GM without time trouble has an easy draw in that position? If so the variation is simply excellent advice.

Michael's picture

It's a general phenomenon that many so-called sharp attacking lines have more or less become drawing weapons. I don't think Mr. Marshall ever intended his invention to be a drawing weapon but nowadays the lines are extremely well researched and analysed to their logical conclusion: draw after some precise defending from Black's part.
It sounds paradoxical, but there's a tendency that unambitious players prepare sharp lines because it's much easier to force a draw from there. On the other hand, aggressive players turn their attention to non-aggressive openings because there are more opportunities to just outplay the opponent without running into some preparation that leads to a draw.
Look at Topalov, for instance, who used to play the Dragon and the Najdorf and now plays a lot of 1...c6 and 1...e5. Also many traditional 1.e4 players have begun playing seemingly more quiet 1.d4 setups. Maybe soon the Najdorf will be considered boring and the ambitious people will all play strategic openings like the Caro-Kann or the closed Ruy Lopez.

Twan Burg's picture

Why so critical about his suggestion against 6.Bg5 Najdorf? The 6..Nbd7 system is very new and popular, and also very strong. It will not be a surprise to me if it will become the main variation in the future. However, because it is so new, it is difficult to cover all the possible variations(like Giri-Gelfand) already in it. However, I think he gives a very good introduction to it.
The rest you can analyse yourself..
And well.. if you want a solid old repertoire, you can chose this e6..

Remco Gerlich's picture

@Michael: in the same way, 1.e4 has more or less disappeared from WC matches except when White is happy with a draw. Kasparov banging his head against the Berlin and Leko against the Petroff were the last (Leko's win against Kramnik came with 1.d4).

I think the last 1.e4 win in WC matches was in Kasparov-Anand?

Arne Moll's picture

Perhaps you're right about 6...Nbd7, Twan, but I have my doubts about 6...e6 (which has been the main line for over 60 years!). Take a player like myself. I can't play 7...h6 against stronger players because they will probably try forever to win the endgame and likely have success. I can't play it against players of equal strength because they will also make me suffer and I get nothing in return. And I can't play it against weaker players because, well, a "minus draw" is just not a good result. So against whom can I play this "solid" line?

Twan Burg's picture

Well... against stronger player you just keep it a draw.. Against extremely strong players it will be difficult to keep the draw, but in a normal position it would have much more difficult.. against equal opponents draw is a nice result with black.. and weaker opponents don't know this line anyway.. (Well.. if you really want... you can try against those something else.. Nbd7 for example :) )

Al Pacino's picture

Can someone tell me what does Ftacnik recommends after 6.Be2?
Against the other minor lines, he likes to play ...e5 or ...e6?

William Shea's picture

Thx for the review. Your point is taken that this fighting defense leads to a pawn down ending with drawing chances. However, what is the black opening where despite GM analysis and computer preparation - after 26 moves black is demonstrating significant winning chances. If the biggest hole in the repertoire is one line where black has no real winning chances....then I agree with your suggestion that black should look to vary earlier to retain some more fighting chances. However, GM vs GM - black is going to want to play sound moves without creating unnecessary weaknesses and it seems to me that this is what he is suggesting. In other words - you are probably both correct.
It makes me think of when I had the pleasure of playing Kamsky in the simul and he played some obscure sideline vs my french defense (sorry I have to look it up because was a few years ago). Anyway, for whatever reason - he chose some moves early on that significantly deviated from mainline theory and were certainly second tier moves. Then he proceeded to crush me in short order. He could have accomplished the same goal with a main line - but perhaps it is more efficient to avoid theory against a weaker amateur so that he does not run the risk of someone playing 30 moves of perfect chess (based upon rote memorization alone) and eventually trading down enough pieces to possibly threaten to emerge with half a point.

Jonas's picture

A very nice review. I just picked up the book in order to learn a new Sicilian system. Since I already play the Kan, I thought the Najdorf might be suitable for a change. Anyway, being a club player, I am not that worried yet about the recommendations. I am a bit surprised that some offline systems were not covered, e.g. like 2 f4. These are not that dangerous for Black, and seems to be well met by 2 ...d5. Maybe these are all known for GMs, or else I don't understand why it is not covered at all.

Or did I miss something?

Arne Moll's picture

Hi Jonas, Grand Prix and other Closed systems are, of course, treated as well in this book, and very extensively too. I just didn't mention this in the review.

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