Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Richard Palliser's "Fighting the Anti-Sicilians" and Guseinov's Gambit Refuted?

Anyone below master who plays the Sicilian Defense will tell you that it's practically a waste of time to prepare a "main line" after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and 3.d4 since all of their opponents are playing anti-Sicilian--the c3-Sicilian and Grand Prix Attack being the most popular. There have been a number of books for Black against these systems, including those by Gallagher and Rogozenko, but they don't measure up to English IM Richard Palliser's recent and absolutely excellent Fighting the Anti-Sicilians (Everyman 2007).

For one thing, I've seen very few books that have such a coherent and straightforward system built around an early ...d5 break, often supported by ...e6 and ...a6, which has always struck me on the White side as Black's most effective equalizing method, especially against the Grand Prix and Bb5 lines. In his book Meeting 1.e4, Alexander Raetsky offers some advice along these lines, but with nowhere near the depth and breadth that Palliser achieves.

In fact, I've rarely seen such breadth and depth in a repertoire book. Palliser often offers several choices (especially by transposition) against most lines. But it is his depth of analysis that I found most impressive, especially where I have already examined the variations closely on my own. That was especially true of a line I have written about that can arise by 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nge2 (I prefer 3.Nf3, but it's about the same in the end) 3...a6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 b5 6. g3 Bb7 7. Bg2 Nf6 8. O-O!? (see Guseinov's Anti-Paulsen Gambit). I have never seen this covered in an opening book, even though it is actually quite a popular system, especially on ICC. Palliser's book, combined with my own ICC research, has made me recognize that Black is doing quite well here, as I present in Guseinov's Gambit Refuted? where I look at the line that Palliser correctly considers most critical: 8....b4! 9.Na4 Bxe4 9.Bxe4 Nxe4 10.Re1 Nc5! -- after which White has little compensation for his missing pawn and potentially weakened castle position.

Position after 11...Nc5!

The other chapters are also quite strong and worth summing up:
  • Chapter One: The c3 Sicilian - 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 covering both 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4!? and 4...Nf6 5.Nf3 e6. The coverage in this section is excellent, demonstrating very strong research with lots of recent games and idea. This book seems a full decade ahead of most other c3-Sicilian books and likely a number of White players will want to have it for that reason.
  • Chapter Two: Move Order Issues After 2.Nc3 - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 a6!? This to me is the best section of the book, even though it is simply a suggestion on Palliser's part for those who want to deal with anti-Sveshnikov players who intend to transpose back to open lines. It's also in this chapter where he discusses what I consider to be the critical Anti-Paulsen line. And if you play the O'Kelley Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6!?), which receives excellent treatment in Dangerous Weapons: The Sicilian, this chapter is practically indispensible.
  • Chapter Three: The Closed Sicilian - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 and 2...e6! 3.g3. After an overly long treatment of lines where Black plays ...g6, ...Bg7, ...Bg4!? or an early ...e5 against Ne2, Palliser gets to what I consider the greatest challenge to the Closed Siclian -- 2...e6! with a quick French set-up. I think the coverage of ...e6 could have been longer than the fianchetto lines, but the analysis here is still quite good.
  • Chapter Four: The Grand Prix Attack - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 e6, 2....e6 3.f4 d5, 1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5, 2.f4 e6. All of the anti-Sicilian books I know present only a Black Kingside fianchetto, to the point where -- as Palliser points out -- that has become pretty much the main line of the Grand Prix. Do you really want to be playing directly into White's bread and butter? Better, as Palliser argues, to fight directly in the center. I could not agree more, and he does an excellent job. Another hit.
  • Chapter Five: Other Approaches after 2.Nc3 - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 and 2...e6. Recommends set-ups with an early ...e6 and ...a6, which seems quite effective and consistent with the other chapters.
  • Chapter Six: Kingside Fianchettoes - 1.e4 c5 2.d3, 2.Nf3 and 2.g3 to reach King's Indian Attack formations. I thought this was the weakest chapter in the book and would have done well to discuss 2...e6 options. Instead, it's all fianchetto all the time and not to my taste.
  • Chapter Seven: The Queenside Fianchetto with 2.b3 Again, I was not especially impressed, though the 2...Nf6 lines look quite solid.
  • Chapter Eight - Gambits, especially the b4 and Smith-Morra. I especially liked his treatment of the Smith-Morra with ...e6, ...a6, and ...b5 for Black, which is not only consistent with other lines but seems a real challenge to meet for White without an unsound Knight sac at d5.
  • Chapter Nine - Miscellaneous
It's rather surprising to think about how dominant the Black kingside fianchetto has become as a way of combatting the anti-Sicilians, especially considering the fact that it is hardly a dominant mode of handling the Sicilian generally (despite the occasional popularity of the Dragon). The ...e6 lines with a quick French set-up that Palliser offers are very effective and easy to learn, even for lower-rated players. I only wish Palliser offered more ...e6 lines rather than giving the occasional kingside fianchetto for Black. But that criticism aside, I think he has done a great service to the Sicilian and the book deserves a wide audience.

It is also likely to get me playing 1...c5 again....especially now that I know that Guseinov's Gambit Is Refuted.


Martin Deane (aka Juicy Plums) said...

Hi Michael, thanks for this excellent review. I probably fall into your category of disheartened lower rated player who gets annoyed facing c3. Ragozenko's book was on my list for purchase, but I will definitely give this book a serious look first.

Michael Goeller said...

Funny, I just noticed your blog the other day... I'd say that the chief advantage of Palliser's book is that it is much more recent. But if your preference is the kingside fianchetto, then Rogozenko or Gallagher may be more your style. Personally, I always prefer the classical approach. And if you have no preference at this point, then Palliser all the way.

Martin Deane (aka Juicy Plums) said...

Excellent, thanks Michael.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review. I've enjoyed Palliser's earlier books. But in this book, where is the coverage of Bb5 lines, quite possibly the most important Anti-Sicilian? The subtitle on the cover is "Combating 2 c3, the Closed, Bb5 lines, the Morra Gambit and other tricky ideas"

Michael Goeller said...

Joe --
Good point: where the heck is the coverage of Bb5(+)??? Well, I guess you'll have to buy Palliser's "The Bb5 Sicilian" for that! As Palliser says in the introduction, he is focused exclusively on systems where White does not play 2.Nf3 -- which means he gets to sidestep a lot of anti-Sicilian weapons (including the delayed c3-Sicilian lines). Funny I did not notice, but I guess that's because my main interest lies in lines where Black plays 2...a6 or 2...e6, so the Bb5 Sicilian is hardly a worry for me as Black.

That is definitely a major downside to the book for anyone who plays 2...Nc6 or 2...d6 -- though I guess such readers would be a little less interested in the ...e6 and ...a6 set-ups he recommends.

Anonymous said...

Those interested in the early queenside expansion against the Morra Gambit, might take a look at


Just a warning.

Anonymous said...

A big advantage of Rogozenko's book is that he tries to accommodate 2...d6, 2...e6, and 2...Nc6 players. But for 2...e6 or 2...a6 players, Palliser's book sounds great.

I'm guessing that he originally intended to cover Bb5, and it made it into the subtitle, and then found that it would take to much space and time to give it justice. The Rossolimo is so common these days that maybe he doesn't consider it an Anti-Sicilian? I still think of anything other than 2. Nf3 and 3. d4 as an Anti-Sicilian.

katar said...

I was scrolling thru the analysis and i thought, what is wrong with 12.c3?
White queen on a4 will add pressure to e6 by pinning P/d7.

12.c3 Nxa4 13.Qxa4 Bc5 14.Nxe6!? (YAY!) fxe6 15.Rxe6+ Kf8 16.Re4 d5 17.Rf4+ Kg8 18.cxb4 +=

15...Kf7? 16.Re5 Qb6 +/- (Not the natural 16...d6?? 17.Qb3+ 1-0)

12...bxc3 13.Nxc3 and surely White is fine in this position, reminiscent of the Milner-Barry French where Black takes both center pawns.

Best might be 12...a5 (yet another pawn move-- Morphy would disapprove.) when White can play "normally" with 13.Be3 = or go for the dark square holes d6/c7 with 13.Nb5!? intending Bf4.

Would you believe all this is manually typed? Hope it makes sense.

Michael Goeller said...

Katar --
Thanks for the analysis! You have given me some interesting ideas.

Another way to pursue something similar is 12.c4, which avoids 12...Nxa4 13.Qxa4 bxc3!? when 14.Nxe6!? fxe6 15.Rxe6 Be7 (15...Kf7 16.Re5 looks too dangerous) 16.Bg5 cxb2 17.Rae1 Nc6 18.Bxe7 Nxe7 19.Rxe7+ Qxe7 20.Rxe7 Kxe7 looks drawn at best for White, who should take a perpetual. I think you may have revived the White side here--or at least given encouragement.

MiroslavR said...


I found your blog after I saw comments on Smith-Morra in Chessville forum.
I read your review and comments and it' seems that Fighting Anti-sicilian book is not for Najdorf players.
Can you confirm that?
Main problem for Najdorf players is that after 1.e4 c4 2.Nc3 d6 (must be played). Reason is simple: after
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 (or Nc6) there is clever move Nge2 and next is d4. Via this move order white can reach main line of Sicilian, but Najdorf player will be taken out of the Najdorf.

MiroslavR on ICC

Michael Goeller said...

I agree, this book is not for you if you feel you must meet 2.Nc3 with 2...d6 to maintain Najdorf prospects in case White switches to the Open Sicilian with 3.Nge2. This also goes for players stuck on the Sveshnikov as well. But if you were willing to broaden your open Sicilian repertoire as Black to include ...e6 or ...a6 lines, then you'd be fine.

katar said...

I finally got a chance to play 12.c3 in a blitz game and of course i thought of this blog. On engine-checking my game, I was shocked that 9.Nd5 appears to be fully playable due to the strength of Re1+ and Nf5 (according to Rybka 3 Dynamic). So it seems 9.Nd5 as well as 12.c3/c4 are worthy of further investigation. FWIW here is my blitz game (5/0) in the 12.c3 line.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 a6 4.g3 b5 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bb7 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.O-O b4 9.Na4 Bxe4 10.Bxe4 Nxe4 11.Re1 Nc5 12.c3 bxc3 13.Nxc3 Be7 14.b4 Nb7 15.Qf3 d5 16.Nxe6 fxe6 17.Rxe6 Qd7 18.Nxd5 Nc6 19.Bg5 Rf8 20.Qe3 Qxd5 21.Rxe7+

katar said...

Argh, i apologize for mentioning 9.Nd5(?). Indeed Rybka is less impressed after traveling down the line you give in your terrific analysis PGN.

Michael Goeller said...

Don't be too hard on yourself... I thought your 12.c3 (or 12.c4 maybe) was a great idea, and I have been meaning to take another look at this stuff now that my attention has turned again to lines with g3 for White vs. the Sicilian. Your comment likely will inspire me to give it some attention this weekend.

midk said...

Michael - thx for all the great chess analysis you do. This Guseinov gambit is one of my favorites, and I also enjoyed the discussion about the 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 line and how it fits in with evans gambit repertoire (the idea of avoiding Ba5 lines sounds great to me). Thx for all your great work

midk said...

by favorite - I mean I like your analysis, which is basically a bust. Hope I get to use it in a tournament game someday :)

Sunil said...

I have some doubt on one of the variations in c3 sicilian which is mentioned in Fighting the Anti-Sicilians.Please see p-35 Column 2 Line 3 of Fighting the Anti-Sicilian. Palliser suggests 15...Ng6 and 15...g6 after 15.Rb1 by White.But Fritz 12 deems this as good for White.Please recommend a good continuaion for Black.
Thanks in advance.