Alexander Khalifman, Opening for White According to Anand 1.e4, Vol. 13. (Chess Stars, 2010.) 380 pp. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
In a recent review of Nikita Vitiugov’s The French Defence: A Complete Black Repertoire, I was fairly critical. One point of contention was that Vitiugov seemed to ignore many non-Russian sources, to the book’s detriment. This is sometimes true of Chess Stars books in general, and it might be true of Alexander Khalifman’s Opening for White According to Anand 1.e4, vol. 13, but if so it doesn’t matter a bit, at least as far as I’ve been able to tell so far. It looks like Khalifman has done an excellent job, and based on what I’ve checked I have no qualms about recommending this book to strong (say, 1900-2000 rated and up) players interested in either side of the lines he covers.
The material in this, the penultimate volume in the series, covers the Scheveningen Sicilian and the Scheveningen-style Najdorf (to use Emms’ term). That is, it covers lines starting from 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 and 5…a6 6.Be3 e6. (There’s also a chapter on 5…a6 6.Be3 and then everything but 6…e6, 6…e5 and 6…Ng4. The last two moves will be the topic of volume 14.)
For those unfamiliar with the series, Khalifman, in keeping with the “Anand repertoire” theme, is presenting heavy-duty mainline theory, supplemented by his own analytical work. He has been semi-retired from practical play for almost a decade, but is still very strong and was a 2700 player at his peak (cf. his greatest result, when he won the FIDE World Championship in 1999, defeating Gata Kamsky, Judit Polgar and Boris Gelfand among others). There are no intro sections explaining general plans; there are no diagrams with arrows or illustrative games (except when they can be buried in the paragraphs of analysis). There is prose, and it does offer some guidance (e.g. an explanation as to what’s going on, why White is better in a given position, or what a typical short-term plan might look like). But if you’re a 1500 trying to understand the opening in some conceptual way, this isn’t the place to start. The books are great, but they’re not primers.
The book is essentially an extended argument for the English Attack*, which he advocates whenever possible; that is, a setup with Be3, f3, Qd2, g4, 0-0-0 followed by hacking the Black king to bits. It’s a very principled approach, and while there are a handful of lines in the book (mostly early on) that force White to do something a little different, most of the book’s nearly 400 pages are finesses and variations on the English Attack themes.
This approach has been popular for a quarter of a century, so it goes without saying that there’s a ton of theory for Khalifman to organize, assess, and improve on. How did he do? As far as I can tell, extremely well! I compared his findings with those of Lubomir Ftacnik’s in the latter’s brand-new The Sicilian Defence (Quality Chess, 2010) and with ChessPublishing.com’s findings (over the past couple of years) where the sources overlapped. In no case did Khalifman come out second-best, and I wasn’t able to bust the lines I checked, either. (See the game file for details.) His work was thorough, up-to-date and demonstrated adept use of engines. Highly recommended for 1800s and up playing these lines with either color.
* Interestingly, Khalifman writes in the preface that he, Konstantin Aseev and Leonid Yudasin all played the “English” Attack a year before the Brits took it up. All went on to become strong GMs (or more), but because they were still masters at that time he thinks the idea was undervalued by the general chess public until the British GMs started using it.