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    Entries in Najdorf Sicilian (2)

    Sunday
    Jul142013

    A Quick Look at Andriasyan's Winning With the Najdorf Sicilian

    Zaven Andriasyan*, Winning with the Najdorf Sicilian: An Uncompromising Repertoire for Black. (New in Chess, 2013). 254 pp. $29.95/€24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    Many books have been written on the Najdorf Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6), but as it is consistently among the most commonly chosen variations in chess - at all levels - one can reasonably expect a steady stream of literature on the Najdorf. So why get this one? What are Zaven Andriasyan's credentials?

    He seems to be a good choice: he is a young, strong GM (a former World Junior Champion, currently rated over 2600), and both he and the book are praised by Levon Aronian in the book's foreword...sort of. Aronian certainly praises him, but the last paragraph is a bit weird:

    What I feel is essential in a good book is honesty and a truly personal appraoch to the assessment and evaluation of positions. This book clearly displays those values. I think that with the amount of Zaven's work and depth of knowledge shown in certain variations, this book will be very useful to players who would not only like to start playing the Najdorf with black but who also endeavour to acquire a deeper understanding of the most topical lines. I for one, might start thinking about reading it myself!

    Huh? Either the last sentence was incompetently translated by Steve Giddins, or else Aronian is praising a book he hasn't read. (Or maybe he has read it but just hasn't started to think about reading it? Or maybe he means reading it in some kind of careful, detailed way?) At best it's an infelicitously expressed idea by Aronian; at worst, it's incoherent on Aronian's part or a disastrous translation by Giddins, or a goof-up by the typesetter while the proofreader was asleep at his post.**

    The weird last sentence aside, Aronian has only good things to say about Andriasyan and the book, and in general I do too. I've checked three chapters in some detail so far, and will offer some observations on chapter 1, which covers the main line of the Poisoned Pawn (6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2).

    After 8...Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.e5 h6 11.Bh4 dxe5 12.fxe5 we reach a very topical position, when Black has two main moves, 12...g5 and 12...Nd5. About the former, after 13.exf6 gxh4 14.Be2 Andriasyan focuses on 14...Qa5, but offers a little analysis of 14...h3, which he labels a novelty. That, it is not. He cites ChessBase's Mega2013 database in the bibliography, but those who have that should get into the habit of using ChessBase's online database first, saving a search of Mega for when one is looking for annotated games. When one checks the online database it turns out that there are 16 games with 14...h3, most of them very high-level ICCF email games. In 12 of those games White continued with 15.0-0, and here he does offer a novelty: 15...Nd7. Better still, it seems to be a good one. White scored pretty well in the database games, but his analysis, which features some remarkable moves by both sides that takes the computer some time to believe, looks like an interesting contribution to theory.

    As for 14...Qa5, his analysis looks good and up to date, though he continues to label well-established moves as novelties. In line A211 on page 30, 21.Qb2[!!] is allegedly new even though it has been played nine times going back to at 2009, with White scoring 100%! (Curiously neither Safarli nor Kurnosov, both mid-2600-level GMs, seem to have been aware of it in their game this past April.) The story with 20...Qe5 in line A212 (page 30) is even sillier: this "novelty" has already been played 43 times going back to 2010. As usual, most if not all of those games were high-level correspondence contests, which makes them worth knowing. After all, even if Andrisyan is very conscientious about his analysis, he can't spend as much time analyzing this or that particular line as a correspondence player would, so he might on occasion find some of his lines trumped by what's already out there. As far as I can tell, his analysis is good, but then I'm spending even less time on them than he did. Nevertheless, he is passing all the spot-checks, and I haven't found any correspondence games that have overturned his conclusions at this point.

    Turning now to the 12...Nd5 variation, the usual virtues and vices are in place: good analysis, gappy research with non-new novelties. In this case, the alleged novelty comes after 13.Nxd5 exd4 14.e6 Bxe6; namely, 15.Rxb7, but this had been played 23 times prior to this year, dating back to 2008. He offers a very nice piece of analysis that he actually got to play just last month against his countryman Robert Hovhannisyan, but most of it had already been played back in 2008. The same thing goes on and on in the chapter: great analysis that repeatedly discovers the wheel already invented by correspondence players.

    Browsing multiple chapters, his analysis seems accurate and up to date (even if his game citations aren't), and I learned new things not only for Black, which is what you'd expect, but for White too. He is very even-handed, and quite regularly shows a main line for Black that has troubles, so that he can better motivate and explain his preferred line. That makes this an even more valuable resource - it's a good source of ideas for the first player too.

    The verbal commentary is adequate for a strong club player, but isn't geared towards mid-to-low rated players and won't really teach them how to play this opening. This isn't a primer on the Najdorf, but an excellent resource for players around 1900-2000 (probably more the latter than the former) and up. Highly recommended to players of that range interested in the Najdorf with either color.

     

    * N.B. about the spelling of his surname: it is usually written "Andriasian", including on the FIDE website, but in the review I stick to the spelling given in the book.

    ** Speaking of the proofreader, I spotted quite a few errors in my so far fairly brief perusal of the book. For instance, twice on page 78 moves are awarded question marks (17...Kh8 in the first line on the page, 15...Bb7 at the end of variation F4) when Andriasyan clearly has nothing against the moves and may even like them, while on page 79 a typical ChessBase sort of mistake went unnoticed, when a comment is given before a move (referring to 12...Qd7 in line A21) in language that suggests the move has already been shown. None of the mistakes was such that the reader couldn't figure out the author's intent, but given the frequency of the errors I wouldn't be surprised if there are some spots where the author's meaning will be lost.

    Wednesday
    Oct062010

    A Review of Shirov's 6.Bg5 Najdorf DVD

    Alexei Shirov, Sicilian Najdorf 6.Bg5 (ChessBase, 2010). Running time = 7 hours.

    Alexei Shirov has done dozens of DVDs for ChessBase, and there are consistent features among all of them. First, of course, they tend to feature his games, and this in turn means that viewers will see some extremely entertaining chess. Second, while he has analyzed the games beforehand, he tends not to use notes during the recordings. While this makes his presentations a bit more spontaneous, it has its dark side too. Shirov will sometimes pause for a fairly long time as he tries to remember his analysis, or to figure out some new position, or to figure out where he made a wrong turn after forgetting his actual analysis. And sometimes, he simply blunders in his on-the-fly analysis. Third, when they are openings-based DVDs (as they generally are), one gets an interesting mix of useful information and moments where Shirov refuses to say more because it's where his important secrets are.

    These general features are present here, too, but we can add some remarks and qualifications on their application to the DVD I'm reviewing. First, this DVD includes four games not played by Shirov, as they helped fill in important theoretical details to lines he hasn't had in his own practice. Second - and this is excellent - the ChessBase people error-checked his videos before sending the product to market, and as a result there's a final 45 minute video at the end of the disk presenting updates and corrections to the earlier clips. Finally, about Shirov's habit of saying that he won't say anything more about a given line (at least for the moment), viewers should take this as a very useful hint: we now at least know two very important things: first, that this, in the considered opinion of one of the word's absolute best players, is the place to go digging; second, that other games to reach that position must be critically flawed for one reason or another, or he would have presented them as the truth. This is very helpful for research-minded viewers!

    To the DVD itself: there are 16 clips covering various lines starting with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5. There's an intro, then fourteen game clips (12 from the original recording sessions in August 2009, one add-on from a different recording session, and a later game recorded in late February), and then the bonus update (recorded right after Wijk aan Zee, in late February).

    The material breaks down like this:

    6.Bg5 Nbd7 - one clip (plus some important new material in the update based on his game with Dominguez in Wijk aan Zee 2010).

    6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 Nbd7 10.g4 - three clips. Two are on the old main line, Perenyi Variation: 10...b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7 13.f5 Nc5 14.f6 gxf6 16.gxf6 Bf8 17.Rg1, and one covers 10...h6.

    6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Nbd7 (the Gelfand Variation) - seven clips. Of these, four feature 8.Qe2, the other three 8.Qf3; at the end of those clips he pronounces himself unsure which of those moves is better. (On the other hand, 8.Qe2 fares better in the games he presents, seems fresher, and was his [successful] choice against Berg last week in the Olympiad.)

    6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 (the Poisoned Pawn Variation) - two clips, plus further discussion in the update video. He still has ideas against this, but opined that both 10.f5 and the again popular 10.e5 both lead to nothing more than a draw with best play, according to his analysis. (This isn't news about 10.f5, but might be about 10.e5.)

    6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qc7 (the Kasparov Variation) - one clip.

    About 7...b5 (the Polugaevsky Variation) he says very little: he gives only 8.e5 dxe5 9.fxe5 Qc7 10.exf6 Qe5+ 11.Be2 Qxg5, expresses a preference for 12.0-0 over 12.Qd3, recommends having a look at the database (Leko's games in particular - see his 2001 wins over Ghaem Maghami and Ivanchuk) in particular, and asserts that White is better.

    He has even less to say about 7...Nc6, as he hasn't had any games with it and doesn't want to give up any of his prep before getting to use it. He confines himself to the remark that it is "unrefuted" until the additions video, where he gives 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.e5 h6 10.Bh4 g5 11.fxg5 Nd5 12.Ne4 Qb6 as an interesting, sharp position.

    Without going into much detail - that's what the DVD is for - I'll note one interesting area of overlap with Lubomir Ftacnik's new book for Quality Chess, The Sicilian Defence. One of Ftacnik's main lines for Black against 6.Bg5 runs like this: 6...e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Be7 9.Qf3 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Qc7, and Shirov discusses this position as well in the additions clip via the move order 7...Be7 8.Qf3 h6 9.Bh4 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Qc7.

    Ftacnik examines some other moves deeply, but his ultimate main line, which is Shirov's as well, continues 11.Be2 b5 12.Bxf6 Nxf6 13.e5 Bb7 14.Qg3 dxe5 15.fxe5 Nd5 16.Nxe6 fxe6 17.Qg6+ Kd7 18.Bg4 Qxe5 [It's hard to believe, looking at such a position, that Black isn't losing by force, but the ...Qg5+ resource keeps him kicking.] 19.Nxd5 Qg5+. Here Ftacnik thinks 20.Ne3+ is White's best try for a meaningful advantage, but he also looks at Shirov's line 20.Qxg5 Bxg5+ 21.Kb1 Bxd5 22.Rxd5+ (as played in T. Hansen (2423) - Nguyen Huynh Minh (2477), Budapest 2008). Ftacnik doesn't seem terribly worried about the ending, though he does acknowledge that the presence of the rooks reduces the drawing tendencies of the opposite-colored bishops, but Shirov thinks that White has "quite good" winning chances and views this as the way to handle the line.

    The DVD will not tell you everything you need to know to handle the 6.Bg5 Najdorf with either side, but it will give you valuable information, opinions and hints that will give you a leg up on those who are working with books and databases alone. Recommended for 6.Bg5 fans and their victims.

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