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    Saturday
    Aug222015

    A Fuller Review of the Lazy Man's Sicilian

    Valeri Bronznik & Steve Giddins, The Lazy Man's Sicilian: Attack and Surprise White with the Basman-Sale Variation (New in Chess, 2015). 222 pp., $22.95/€19.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    In a previous post I was dismissive of the "Lazy Man's Sicilian", but this is not to be confused with being dismissive of The Lazy Man's Sicilian. In other words, I think there is at least one very serious problem with the opening line, but while I think the book's treatment of that problem was seriously inadequate that shouldn't be seen as an indictment of the whole book.

    The first edition of the book was written by Ukranian IM Valeri Bronznik alone and published in German in 2004; this edition has been translated and updated by FM Steve Giddins. In his preface Giddins refers to the book as "overwhelmingly" Bronznik's, but Giddins' analytical contributions must be significant as well with 11 years of new games, some analytical sources and the use of the engine to help modernize the work. My suspicion is that these two aims - maintaining an "overwhelmingly" Bronzik-written book on the one hand and an up-to-date volume on the other - are nearly incompatible. I'm sure Bronznik did a fine job with the original edition, but even in a relatively minor line with comparatively few games there are going to be significant developments. Moreover, it's a sharp line, and computer analysis plays a serious role. Chess engines weren't bad in 2004, but they were far weaker than they are today. I've checked analyses from that era - my own, certainly, and even Garry Kasparov's from the early editions of his My Great Predecessor series - and there are always plenty of improvements to be found. So while Bronznik's way of explaining the key ideas and outlining the variations and so on may more or less survive intact to the present day, it's unlikely that the particulars of his analysis would fare even nearly as well. That puts Giddins in a challenging spot, and maybe an impossible one.

    The book's philosophy is to offer a sharp but under-explored line (accounting for the "lazy" aspect of the variation), and to be sure the line chosen is almost entirely unknown. I cannot recall facing the variation 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 before, and suspect that few of you have either. While its roots go back to the 19th century (Louis Paulsen in particular played it four times against Paul Morphy, albeit with terrible results) Bronznik dubs it the Basman-Sale Variation, after a pair of IMs who played it with some regularity and success and demonstrated some of its key ideas. The first, Michael Basman, is a British IM known for his eccentric opening choices (e.g. 1.d4 h6 followed by ...g5); his main contributions to the variation came in the 1970s. The second is Croatian IM Srdjan Sale, who brought it to a larger audience in the 1990s.

    Black's concept can be put like this: if White tries to maintain the knight on d4, then Black will pile up with ...Qb6, ...Nc6 and so on, with pressure against the knight and on the a7-g1 diagonal in general, not to mention White's b-pawn. If, however, the knight retreats to b3, Black plays ...Bb6, continues with ...Ne7 and ...0-0, and then typically goes for ...f5 (or sometimes ...d5). The positions are fresh and White's typical anti-Sicilian ideas don't carry over to this system. Between that and the underdeveloped state of its theory, we have the basis for the "lazy" moniker: Black needs to know relatively little in order to play the variation - or so it seems at first.

    Here's a problem: Black is taking a lot of liberties in the opening, and is also playing in a very unforcing manner. This means that White has many options to choose from (adding to Black's workload) and sometimes the positions get so sharp and concrete that Black must walk a tactical tightrope to avoid a disaster. The dream of a truly "lazy man's" Sicilian is something of a will o' the wisp.

    Let's outline the book and look at some specifics. After the introductory pages and a short historical chapter, there's a very useful 10-page chapter on motifs, outlining some typical structures, plans and ideas for both sides.

    From there it's on to the heavy-duty theory. In part 1 systems the authors consider lines where White tries to avoid retreating the knight to b3. Chapter 1 examines 5.Nc3, chapter 2 presents the sharp 5.Nb5 and the third chapter looks at the solid-looking developing move 5.Be3.

    In part two (chapters 4-10) they move on to 5.Nb3, and continue 5...Bb6 6.Nc3 Ne7 before divvying up the material. Each of the following seven moves gets its own chapter: 7.Bd3, 7.Be2, 7.Bc4, 7.Bf4, 7.g3, 7.Qh5 and 7.Bg5.

    Part three is a one-chapter grab bag looking at alternatives to 6.c4, focusing on 6.Bd3.

    Finally, part four looks at 3.Nc3. The authors are not offering a full Sicilian repertoire, but do examine 3.Nc3 as an important White attempt to get to a more traditional Open Sicilian while avoiding the Basman-Sale variation. The idea is that if Black plays 3...Nc6, then after 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bc5 6.Nb3 Bb6 White has 7.Bf4 (7.Nb5 is also strong, as the authors note), and because Black has played ...Nc6 rather than ...Ne7 he cannot meet the threat of Bd6 with ...d5. Therefore, they suggest 3...a6, and examine both 4.d4 and 4.g3, with the latter line bifurcating into variations with and without a quick d4.

    The book has a useful list of variations and is very well-written. The verbal explanations (presumably mostly Bronznik's) are illuminating and (thus) helpful, and in general where deep analysis is required, the authors strive to present it. The book certainly has its virtues, but are the virtues of the variation sufficient to justify the book?

    The problem mentioned in the "Lazy" review is a pretty serious one, but I also investigated a couple of other variations, one early in the book and one late. The early one starts with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Be3 Qb6 and now instead of the semi-refutation 6.b4! we'll look at a move covered in more detail, 6.c3. The play is very sharp here as well, and Black's task is not an easy one without prep - and maybe not even then. After 6...Nc6 7.Na3 Nxd4 8.Nc4 Qc6 9.Bxd4 Qxe4+ 10.Be2 Be7 11.0-0 Nf6 12.Bf3 Qf4 13.Qa4 0-0 14.Be5 Qg5 15.Rfe1 Ng4 the authors consider 16.h4 (played in the main game Hage-de Berkmortel, corr. 1995) and 16.Bg3. They don't consider 16.Bd4 or 16.Bd6, however, and while Black might be able to equalize against the latter he cannot do so against the former, and in most cases White finds himself with a serious edge.

    The second line comes from the last part of the book: 3.Nc3 a6 4.g3 b5 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.d4 b4 7.Na4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nf6 9.0-0 Bxe4 10.Bxe4 Nxe4 11.Re1. Here three moves are considered: 11...Nf6 is given as the main line, and there's also 11...d5 and 11...Nc5. All three moves are fine, but I did notice some inaccuracies in the treatment of 11...Nf6. After 12.Qf3 d5 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.c4 bxc3 15.Nxc3 Bc5 16.Rxe6+ fxe6 17.Nxe6 Qb6 18.Nxd5 Qxb2 19.Rf1 (this is given as dubious, but wrongly so; the real error comes in their next suggestion for White) Rb8 the authors consider only 20.Nxc5, which is a poor move. Black is obviously better after 20...0-0, when he can hope to exploit his extra material now that his king has been safely tucked away.

    Instead of this, White has at least four moves that maintain equal chances, one of which is 20.Nxf6+. Black can maintain equality only by finding a long string of only-moves (see for yourself), many of which will prove difficult to find over the board. (And to find all of them over the board is unlikely for non-GMs, to put it mildly.)

    The bottom line, for me, is that while the book exhibits numerous virtues, I don't find the variation trustworthy, it doesn't seem to me efficient as a "lazy" weapon (if I have to memorize numerous complicated variations past move 30 just to draw the game, I'm working!), and I found serious errors of omission in every line I explored. Not recommended, unless you want to use the book as a starting point for your own independent investigations.

    Saturday
    Aug222015

    The Sinquefield Cup Starts Tomorrow - UPDATED With Pairings

    At least that's when play starts, at 1 p.m. local time = 2 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CET in St. Louis. The lineup for the Sinquefield Cup consists of the nine regulars for this year's edition of the "Grand Chess Tour", plus one organizer's pick. Here's the field: 

    • Magnus Carlsen (2853)
    • Viswanathan Anand (2816)
    • Veselin Topalov (2816)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (2814)
    • Fabiano Caruana (2808)
    • Anish Giri (2793)
    • Wesley So (2773) - the organizer's pick
    • Alexander Grischuk (2771)
    • Levon Aronian (2765)
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2744) 

    The pairings haven't been determined yet, as far as I can tell, but I'll update this post when I spot them.

    This is the second event in the three-tournament Grand Chess Tour; the first event was Norway Chess back in June. Topalov won that one, Anand and Nakamura took second and Carlsen finished near the bottom with a -2 score.

    Predictions? I expect that Carlsen will have smoke coming out of his ears as he seeks to redeem himself after this disaster in Norway, and think he will be extra-motivated to smash the field. Caruana seems to play especially well in the summer - he did last year and, after a dry patch late last year and early this year, seems to be rounding his way back into form. (I believe he's currently riding a five-game winning streak from the end of Dortmund.) Can Nakamura win his home tournament, and his first classical super-tournament since Wijk aan Zee in 2011? (And will he ever defeat Carlsen in a classical game?) Can Aronian finally stop the bleeding he has suffered over the past year and a half and get back into the world championship hunt? The answers start coming tomorrow.

    UPDATE: The pairings are up; this is what's coming in round 1:

     

    • Giri - Grischuk
    • So - Vachier-Lagrave
    • Aronian - Caruana
    • Carlsen - Topalov
    • Nakamura - Anand

     

    Saturday
    Aug222015

    Catching Up On Recent Events

    Personal busyness, as well as the computer issue, have put me out of blogging commission for a while, but having caught up a bit and with play in the Sinquefield Cup starting tomorrow it's a good time for some blogging. Let's begin:

    Russian Championship: Evgeny Tomashevsky has once again proved himself to be an elite player, winning the tournament with an undefeated 7.5/11. He finished half a point ahead of Sergei Karjakin and a full point in front of Nikita Vitiugov; these three were the only players with plus scores in the event. 7-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler, long an elite player and a Candidate as recently as 2013, when he finished in third behind Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, finished tied for 8th-10th with 5 points. In the women's championship, 16-year-old Aleksandra Goryachkina lost one game but still finished first with the great score of 8/11, a full point ahead of Anastasia Bodnaruk and Alexandra Kosteniuk.

    French Championship: Christian Bauer and Tigran Gharamian tied for first with 7.5/11, half a point ahead of Etienne Bacrot, and then Bauer defeated Gharamian 1.5-.5 in a playoff to take the champion's title. Neither of France's 2700-rated players, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet, participated. Almira Skripchenko won the women's event with 9/11.

    Riga Technical University Open: Alexei Shirov and Robert Hovhannisyan tied for first in this strong open event with 7.5/9; Rinat Jumabayev and Igor Kovalenko tied for 3rd-4th half a point behind. For a while Shirov had fallen below 2700, but for now he seems to have returned to safe(ish) territory at 2712.

    Peter Leko vs. Li Chao: A few weeks ago Ding Liren (now #7 in the world!) beat Boris Gelfand in a match 3-1, drawing the first two games and winning the last two. Li Chao has followed in his countryman's footsteps, and against another world championship finalist. He too drew the first two games of his match, then beat Leko in the next two. This was a six-game match, however, and the final two games were drawn for a 4-2 victory for the Chinese super-GM, currently 14th in the world rankings.

    Spanish Team Championship: A number of 2700s participated (Pentala Harikrishna, Leinier Dominguez and Ruslan Ponomariov come to mind), along with a number of ex- and near-2700-rated players.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs. Markus Ragger: This six-game match is ongoing and being held concurrently with the Vienna Chess Open. The final game will be played tomorrow; so far Mamedyarov leads 3-2. All of his white games were decisive: he won games 1 and 3 and lost in round 5. Game 3 featured an interesting opening idea: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 f6 6.d4 exd4 7.e5!? It certainly makes sense once you see it, even if the engines aren't terribly impressed. It looks like a nice idea for a one-off suprise though, and that's just how Mamedyarov handled it, switching to 6.Re1 in game 5. He obtained an advantage in this game, but lost quickly when he got attracted by a combinational idea with (at least one) big hole in it.

    Chinese League: This event is one of the classiest and most luxurious events of the year. It's yuge! Unfortunately, it's not so easy to find the games, but we here at The Chess Mind - all one of us - aim to please, so here you go. All the Chinese 2700s, excepting Li Chao (who just finished his match with Peter Leko - see above), are there: Ding Liren, 16-year-old superstar Wei Yi, Wang Yue, Yu Yangyi, Bu Xiangzhi, Wang Hao and Ni Hua. This event really deserves better coverage in the west than it's getting.

    Next stop, the Sinquefield Cup!

    Wednesday
    Aug192015

    Kasparov Simul, Live

    Here's something a bit different: Garry Kasparov giving a simul, broadcast live on the internet. You may not want to watch it for the duration, but it might be interesting to see him complete a circuit or two.

    Sunday
    Aug162015

    Gelfand Articles & Videos

    Here and here, along with various video links.

    Accidental HT: Howard Sample

    Sunday
    Aug162015

    The FIDE Playing Zone: A Security Nightmare

    I don't know if any of you have tried FIDE's online playing site - I haven't - but if you haven't you'll probably want to keep it that way due to their apparently terrible security/privacy protocols.

    HT: Ross Hytnen

    Saturday
    Aug152015

    The Lazy Man's Review of The Lazy Man's Sicilian

    Valeri Bronznik & Steve Giddins, The Lazy Man's Sicilian: Attack and Surprise White with the Basman-Sale Variation (New in Chess, 2015). 222 pp., $22.95/€19.95. Sort of reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    The "Lazy Man's Sicilian" is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5. If you meet this with 5.Be3 Qb6 6.b4! Black will be very unhappy, e.g. 6...Qxb4+ 7.c3 Qb6 8.Nd2 (8...d6? 9.Nc4 Qd8 10.Nb5+-) 8...a6 9.Qg4 with a clear or almost clear advantage. Work on this variation with your computers a bit, and you can happily disregard the other 221 and 3/4 pages of the book if your only concern is how to face the "Lazy Man". The book does mention this line (though it's hidden almost as well as a government employee's emails, for possibly the same reason), and what little it has to say about it isn't encouraging.

    Giddins, who translated Bronznik's original work (published in German in 2004) and updated it for this edition, starts by saying that 6.b4 is Stockfish's top choice in the position (even though it doesn't merit a letter in the chapter - it's stuck between White's options "B" and "C", all of which are subsidiary to the chapter's main line with 6.c3 - and it doesn't show up in the index, either) and that "a top-class GM" of his acquaintance analyzed it seriously and "considered it to be promising". That's his intro to the move; the outro offers the altogether unsatisfactory remark that "6.b4 is a definitely a move the black player would be advised to take a proper look at." (Well, yes...but isn't this the author's job? We're not talking about a line where this is just one of Black's options; there are NO alternatives given in the context of the book's repertoire and the problematic line is suggested by the computer from the start - after 4...Bc5 - and has the backing of his anonymous high-level GM acquaintance.)

    In the interest of benefiting prospective non-buyers playing White against this nuisance system I'll carry the line a bit further: 9...Kf8 10.Qg3 d6 11.N2b3 Nf6 12.Nxc5 dxc5 13.Nb3 Nbd7 14.f3. White is a pawn down but has the bishop pair, targets, a safer king and will soon enjoy a threatening lead in development. Black isn't losing, but his position is both objectively and subjectively unpleasant. Worse still, White's research time is negligible, while Black has to worry about 200+ pages worth of material.

    White lived happily (and lazily) ever after.

    The end.

    Thursday
    Aug132015

    Naiditsch Now Representing Azerbaijan

    Tut, tut - the idea of countries buying chess players...just terrible! We'd never do such a thing in the United States, would we? (*Cough*) Anyway, they've done it in Azerbaijan with Arkadij Naiditsch, but to be fair it seems at least as much due to the German Chess Federation's failure to give Naiditsch (and professional chess in general) the sort of support he deemed appropriate, and over a long period of time.

    The next chess olympiad is going to be extremely interesting!

    Thursday
    Aug132015

    Carlsen on Changing the World Championship Format

    Before becoming the world champion, Magnus Carlsen complained about the privileges the champion receives; in particular, being automatically seeded into a final match against a challenger who had to qualify through an arduous multi-stage process. Carlsen was not the first player without the title to protest the champion's advantages, but he would be among the first to surrender them - if it in fact comes to that. To his credit, he seems genuinely open to a privilege-free format like the old and little-loved knockout tournaments FIDE called championships from 1997 to 2004, and which have been repurposed a level down as World Cup events. (They're still used for every other women's world championship as well.) My own view is that it's a horrible format that devalues and deromanticizes the champion's title, but others may find it delightful for exactly the same reasons.

    What say you? Should the world chess champion be more like a boxing champion or the winner of Wimbledon?

    Monday
    Aug102015

    Computer Advice

    Dear Readers,

    Help! My desktop computer may be on its last legs, so I'm at least looking into buying/building a replacement in the near future. The only thing I do with it that requires much power is running ChessBase and its engines, but I do want to run those puppies at a pretty good clip. I'm not looking for an absolute top of the line, super-duper premium cost system, but do want something that's above average and certainly not the bare minimum.

    Suggestions? Intel vs. AMD, which chip, how much RAM, what kind of hard drive, etc. Have at it, and thank you in advance.