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.