Anyone below master who plays the Sicilian Defense will tell you that it's practically a waste of time to prepare a "main line" after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and 3.d4 since all of their opponents are playing anti-Sicilian--the c3-Sicilian and Grand Prix Attack being the most popular. There have been a number of books for Black against these systems, including those by Gallagher
, but they don't measure up to English IM Richard Palliser's recent and absolutely excellent Fighting the Anti-Sicilians
For one thing, I've seen very few books that have such a coherent and straightforward system built around an early ...d5 break, often supported by ...e6 and ...a6, which has always struck me on the White side as Black's most effective equalizing method, especially against the Grand Prix and Bb5 lines. In his book Meeting 1.e4
, Alexander Raetsky offers some advice along these lines, but with nowhere near the depth and breadth that Palliser achieves.
In fact, I've rarely seen such breadth and depth in a repertoire book. Palliser often offers several choices (especially by transposition) against most lines. But it is his depth of analysis that I found most impressive, especially where I have already examined the variations closely on my own. That was especially true of a line I have written about that can arise by 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nge2 (I prefer 3.Nf3, but it's about the same in the end) 3...a6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 b5 6. g3 Bb7 7. Bg2 Nf6 8. O-O!? (see Guseinov's Anti-Paulsen Gambit
). I have never seen this covered in an opening book, even though it is actually quite a popular system, especially on ICC. Palliser's book, combined with my own ICC research, has made me recognize that Black is doing quite well here, as I present in Guseinov's Gambit Refuted?
where I look at the line that Palliser correctly considers most critical: 8....b4! 9.Na4 Bxe4 9.Bxe4 Nxe4 10.Re1 Nc5! -- after which White has little compensation for his missing pawn and potentially weakened castle position.
Position after 11...Nc5!
The other chapters are also quite strong and worth summing up:
- Chapter One: The c3 Sicilian - 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 covering both 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4!? and 4...Nf6 5.Nf3 e6. The coverage in this section is excellent, demonstrating very strong research with lots of recent games and idea. This book seems a full decade ahead of most other c3-Sicilian books and likely a number of White players will want to have it for that reason.
- Chapter Two: Move Order Issues After 2.Nc3 - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 a6!? This to me is the best section of the book, even though it is simply a suggestion on Palliser's part for those who want to deal with anti-Sveshnikov players who intend to transpose back to open lines. It's also in this chapter where he discusses what I consider to be the critical Anti-Paulsen line. And if you play the O'Kelley Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6!?), which receives excellent treatment in Dangerous Weapons: The Sicilian, this chapter is practically indispensible.
- Chapter Three: The Closed Sicilian - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 and 2...e6! 3.g3. After an overly long treatment of lines where Black plays ...g6, ...Bg7, ...Bg4!? or an early ...e5 against Ne2, Palliser gets to what I consider the greatest challenge to the Closed Siclian -- 2...e6! with a quick French set-up. I think the coverage of ...e6 could have been longer than the fianchetto lines, but the analysis here is still quite good.
- Chapter Four: The Grand Prix Attack - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 e6, 2....e6 3.f4 d5, 1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5, 2.f4 e6. All of the anti-Sicilian books I know present only a Black Kingside fianchetto, to the point where -- as Palliser points out -- that has become pretty much the main line of the Grand Prix. Do you really want to be playing directly into White's bread and butter? Better, as Palliser argues, to fight directly in the center. I could not agree more, and he does an excellent job. Another hit.
- Chapter Five: Other Approaches after 2.Nc3 - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 and 2...e6. Recommends set-ups with an early ...e6 and ...a6, which seems quite effective and consistent with the other chapters.
- Chapter Six: Kingside Fianchettoes - 1.e4 c5 2.d3, 2.Nf3 and 2.g3 to reach King's Indian Attack formations. I thought this was the weakest chapter in the book and would have done well to discuss 2...e6 options. Instead, it's all fianchetto all the time and not to my taste.
- Chapter Seven: The Queenside Fianchetto with 2.b3 Again, I was not especially impressed, though the 2...Nf6 lines look quite solid.
- Chapter Eight - Gambits, especially the b4 and Smith-Morra. I especially liked his treatment of the Smith-Morra with ...e6, ...a6, and ...b5 for Black, which is not only consistent with other lines but seems a real challenge to meet for White without an unsound Knight sac at d5.
- Chapter Nine - Miscellaneous
It's rather surprising to think about how dominant the Black kingside fianchetto has become as a way of combatting the anti-Sicilians, especially considering the fact that it is hardly a dominant mode of handling the Sicilian generally (despite the occasional popularity of the Dragon). The ...e6 lines with a quick French set-up that Palliser offers are very effective and easy to learn, even for lower-rated players. I only wish Palliser offered more ...e6 lines rather than giving the occasional kingside fianchetto for Black. But that criticism aside, I think he has done a great service to the Sicilian and the book deserves a wide audience.
It is also likely to get me playing 1...c5 again....especially now that I know that Guseinov's Gambit Is Refuted
Labels: book review, opening analysis