Friday, August 1, 2008

Chess Explained: The Classical Sicilian, Reviewed

I bought this book at the same time as the Rizzitano book on the Taimanov, in an effort to figure out which of the two I wanted to play as I struggle to create a Sicilian based repertoire vs. 1.e4 (The Lopez just proved too much to deal with. I suck at closed positions, and the Open I found to be very hard to equalize in). Besides the format, common to all Chess Explained books, what both these titles had in common was quality.

I must admit I may be a little biased for two reasons. First off, I like the Classical Sicilian positions, especially the Kozul Suicide variation lines. They're sharp, open and fun. Secondly, I am a huge fan of Alex Yermolinsky's writing. He writes very frankly with no hint of pretense or attention to form (by this I mean the rather pedantic writing style that characterizes many chess books, seemingly drawn from the annotative style of the early masters like Nimzovitch). That being said, I think I can say that even judged purely on its own merits this opening manual is very solid.

The games are recent, high level, well annotated and explained, and cover the gamut of important positions in the Classical. That is hard to do, because many different systems with different feels can spring from the Classical starting position (Black knights on c6 and f6, pawn on d6, neither a6 or e5 yet played). I think the balance of material is about right, with special emphasis being given to the Rauzer as the most challenging line theoretically. One thing I like about the Classical is that even online and at class level, people (whether by accident or design) often play some of the sharper, more challenging lines. As such, the extra time spent on the Rauzer isn't wasted. Good explanation are also given of the Boleslavsky and English Attack positions, which are highly transpositional with one another, as well as some of rarer lines.

Yermo didn't significantly alter his writing style in switching from a personal games collection and chess history (Road to Chess Improvement, read it if you haven't) to crafting an opening survey, and I 'm happy that he didn't. His dry humor and good pacing, combined with frequent diagrams makes this book easy and fun to read even without a board. Overall, I highly recommend it.

In closing, I must say that for those above ~1600, the Chess Explained series provides a great bridge from the (generally, though there are exceptions) lower level Starting Out series by Everyman and the more advanced opening books published by all the major companies. The topics are more specific than the SO books, but the analysis is not so deep that single sub-variations dominate long chapters or even whole volumes. I'm very glad Gambit is producing this series, and I hope it sells well enough that they don't stop.

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