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    Entries in 2.f4 Sicilian (1)

    Friday
    Jul262013

    A Quick Review of Sveshnikov's The Grand Prix Attack

    Evgeny Sveshnikov, The Grand Prix Attack: Fighting the Sicilian with an early f4 (New in Chess 2013). 251pp. $29.95/€24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    Evgeny Sveshnikov is famous for his advocacy of the 2.c3 Sicilian with White and for the Sveshnikov and Kalashnikov variations of the Sicilian with Black, but the Grand Prix Attack? Even stranger: most of the book covers 2.f4. If you've ever wondered why practically all practitioners of the Grand Prix play 2.Nc3 and only later play f4 (usually on the very next move), the answer is the gambit line 2...d5 3.exd5 Nf6, when the main variation runs 4.Bb5+ Bd7 5.Bxd7+ Qxd7 6.c4 e6 7.Qe2 Bd6. Black happily sacrifices a pawn or even two (e.g. after 8.f5 0-0). Black's speedy development and White's backward d-pawn have long been considered to give Black sufficient compensation for the material.

    This gambit starting with 3...Nf6 was invented/discovered by Mikhail Tal back in 1979, and has largely put 2.f4 out of business. White's score in the database after 3...Nf6 is a dismal 38.2%, and if this isn't bad enough here are two more bits of information: 4...Nbd7 (after 4.Bb5+) does even better than 4...Bd7, leaving White a shameful 34.8% score in the database, while even the compliant 3...Qxd5 gives Black, not White a 53% score. That's what Sveshnikov is up against; does he deliver?

    If the delivery in question is an antidote, something promising White an opening advantage in all or at least most lines, then the answer is a resounding no. Sveshnikov gets to 2...d5 3.exd5 Nf6 on page 200, and as one looks through the annotated games and the notes it's clear that with correct play - and often there are multiple "correct" lines - Black always enjoys full compensation and sometimes an outright advantage. So if theory is in Black's corner and practice is significantly on Black's side too - all the more remarkable since 2.f4 players are likely to have a big edge in practical experience relative to their opponents - it's pretty hard to recommend the line or the book.

    But let me retract that, at least somewhat, and offer some considerations in favor of the book and the line. First, the line has surprise value, and while that doesn't seem to have counted for much (for anything?) in the master(+)-level games dominating the database, it could make a difference at the club level. Second, freshness: the positions aren't like those in other Sicilian lines or in other openings in general. So if you're a bit bored of your usual anti-Sicilian approach, it might be worth considering an occasional trip to a sideline for variety's sake. Third, there's no guarantee that your opponents will play 2...d5 3.exd5 Nf6, though on the other hand Black has a plus with 2...Nc6, 2...e6, 2...g6 and even the slightly eccentric-looking 2...Nf6. (The pesky data keep getting in the way!)

    Those are factors that favor at least considering the line, and by extension the book; now, for a distinct point in favor of the book per se. The vast majority of the book covers 2.f4, but there's one chapter of 38 pages on 2.Nc3 followed by 3.f4; in other words, the Grand Prix Attack as it's almost always played nowadays. This could scratch many a club player's itch, and while equality for Black can be found in the notes, he presents quite a few attractive White wins featuring even very high-level players. And yet: after finishing his look at the contemporary Grand Prix Attack with a game won by Black, Sveshikov concludes his survey with these words:

    One may conclude that the Grand Prix Attack, which was so fearsome in the 1990s, has lost much of its power nowadays. Admittedly, it requires from Black accurate defence and, even more, precise knowledge of at least the main lines. However, in this case, it is White who has to think about equalising" (p. 182).

    My own conclusion is that I cannot recommend the line or the book to anyone looking for a high-quality weapon that will offer a reasonable likelihood of an advantage against a well-prepared opponent. Black is in excellent shape after both the 2.f4 and 2.Nc3 lines - even if he is a diehard Najdorf player replying to the latter with the cooperative 2...d6. Worse still, the amount of time Black needs to be adequately prepared isn't all that great, and while 2.f4 could surprise one's opponent no one is likely to be caught off guard by 2.Nc3 any longer.

    In light of the objective problems with the 2.f4 variation, the decision really comes down to one's subjective interest in the line. If you're looking for something fresh and off the beaten track, this could be a book worth considering. Sveshnikov's presentation is thorough and seems unbiased, and you'll have a good sense for what sorts of things you should and shouldn't do - at least after you've made the decision to play 2.f4.