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In June 2003 Chess Today received the following book review from our reader in Greece Sotiris Logothetis. We are happy to publish it on the GM Square, so other chess fans can read it too.

Anti-Sicilians: A Guide For Black by GM Dorian Rogozenko

By Sotiris Logothetis

This book by GM Rogozenko is an ambitious effort to provide Black players with a complete repertoire for all lines of the Sicilian where White does not play 2.Nf3 and 3.d4, recapturing on d4 with the knight (thus, the 2...d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 lines are also covered). One may consider it an update on Joe Gallagher's "Beating The Anti-Sicilians" effort, a book which has served well several titled players I know. Understandably, it is a time-consuming and demanding effort, and the author seems to have coped with it very well. Further on in this review I will express some detailed criticism on this book, but this shouldn't put you off; in my opinion, it is only really good books that deserve and provoke such detailed attention!

First some general remarks. The author is a GM from Moldova, currently residing in Romania. He is well-known in the Internet chess circles for providing lectures at the playchess.com server, and is also a major contributor of Chess Base. In fact he has produced an Opening CD for that company about the Slav Defence. As far as I know, this book is his first effort in the field, and I have to say he has done a very good job. Rogozenko has been a long-time practitioner of the Sicilian Defence, particularly the Sveshnikov and Four Knights' Variations, so he clearly is very familiar with the lines covered in the book. This may sound trivial, but not all authors do have practical experience with the subject of their work, so this must already be considered a significant bonus.

The book is good, really good. It is produced in typical Gambit Publications style, following the variation tree pattern, as do most (if not all) of their opening books. There is also an index of variations at the end, again a trivial matter but one that often escapes the attention of chess publishers. Personally, I prefer the variation tree approach to the complete games one, since it offers a clearer picture of how the examined opening system is structured, what each sides options are etc. One should note that several complete games are included in the book, especially when they provide typical examples of the play resulting from a certain opening position.

The first thing one notices when leafing through the pages is that there is a lot of verbal commentary. Indeed, Rogozenko takes the time to explain in detail the positional and tactical aspects of the examined lines, the move-orders, the reasoning behind certain moves and plans. This makes the book quite valuable for less experienced players of virtually any level above, say, 1600. Having read the book cover-to-cover quite attentively I find it very hard to recall an instance when more explanation would really be required. This shows that the author has put a lot of effort and care in writing this book and that he is quite familiar with the positions he examines.

A second important aspect of this book is the significant amount of original analysis by Rogozenko himself. In fact, there are lines where most of the content is his own personal work. One such example is the 2.Nf3 e6 3.b3 system, on which Rogozenko has produced a great amount of analysis of his own. Such analysis can be found practically everywhere in the book, meaning that this book is so much more than a pure database dump with some commentary. Undoubtedly, much of this original analysis has been done by Rogozenko in the process of shaping up his own repertoire, which essentially means that it has been done carefully and responsibly. In my opinion, this very aspect of the book makes it quite valuable. There are plenty of new ideas supplied in the text, several rare alternatives that have been re-examined and re-assessed and many previously accepted assessments that have been critically studied and re-evaluated. This all makes the book a worthy purchase even for strong players of the GM-level.

As for the suggested repertoire, Rogozenko has tended to focus on well-known, reliable systems that have proven their worth in practice. He rarely strays away from the established main lines and his general approach is to suggest what is considered best by theory and not offer an easy-to-learn, little-theory repertoire. This approach is to be commended and promises the reader reliability, something clearly lacking when covering rare sidelines. Many of his quoted examples come from high-level practice, including his personal experience, and recent developments have also been covered. It is my impression that material up to the end of 2002 is included in the book, which makes it quite up-to-date, especially considering that the systems covered are rarely encountered in top-level play and their nature is less theoretical than the Open Sicilians. Regarding the amount of coverage, I believe that the space allocated to each system is quite appropriate, the most common White systems receiving quite detailed coverage. For example, I found his coverage of the 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 system quite adequate for any player up to a level of 2500, and this undoubtedly applies to other chapters as well.

Understandably, the nature of this book means that not all lines and alternatives can be covered in detail and one has to cut down on the material somewhat. Rogozenko has really managed to maintain a balance between too much and not enough material quite well, but there are certain points when he could have done a little better. As an example I will refer to the above-mentioned 3.Bb5 g6 line, and now 4.Bxc6 dxc6. This part of the book is a good example of his excellent coverage indeed, as he explains the plans and move-order details for both sides very well and his quoted material is enough and to the point. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bg7 6.h3 Nf6 7.Nc3 he focuses on the sound and reliable 7...Nd7 move in his coverage, which also happens to be the main line of the 4.Bxc6 dxc6 system. In passing, he offers adequate coverage of the sharper and quite popular alternative 7...0-0, as played recently by Leko in a few games. The reader can only be thankful for being offered another option in this line, in case he would prefer to avoid the solid but slightly passive positions that the main line leads to. Further on Rogozenko also mentions the ambitious move 9...h6 (after 7…Nd7 8.Be3 e5 9.Qd2), without however providing any variations. It would, of course, be rather extravagant to expect him to cover all alternatives in detail, but unfortunately he sets himself up for a little criticism in the concluding paragraph of the system's coverage, by stating that any Black player so wishing can aim for a more complex game by using this particular 9...h6 move. Well, I am sure a few sample lines (at least) would be most welcome by the reader, especially since this whole system is very popular nowadays, and the 9...h6 line having been played in the game Ponomariov-Kramnik, Linares 2003. I assume that the chapter had been completed before that game was played, but anyway my objection is not directed towards the omission of this game, but rather towards the fact that he actually suggests an alternative that he doesn't cover! A similar case occurs in chapter 1, where he suggests that the ambitious reader may well accept the Morra Gambit but does not offer any suggestions on it (advising instead a transposition to the 2.c3 Sicilian).

Personally I would have liked to see certain alternatives in popular systems covered, such as the move 7...dxe6 in the main line of the Grand Prix Attack (after 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bc4 e6 6.f5 Nge7 7.fxe6), a move that has proven very reliable and avoiding the complications of the 7...fxe6 main line. Surely half a page would suffice to give enough information on this option. A line accepting the Morra Gambit would also be desirable. Another minor complaint: after 2.Nc3 e6 (aiming to play a Kan Sicilian in case of 3.Nf3 and 4.d4) 3.g3 he suggests 3...Nc6, transposing to his repertoire in the Closed Sicilian after a later ...g6 and ...Bg7. This however allows White to play 4.Bg2 g6 5.d3 Bg7 6.Be3, intending Qd2 etc., which, though of course hardly a worrying setup, is not covered at all in the book, Rogozenko suggesting instead a system with ...e5.

If the above makes you think that the book is rather lacking in content, think again! Rogozenko covers practically every single reasonable line White may choose, including b3 systems against everything, d3 systems, King's Indian Attack systems - anything one may have to meet in a game, it's in there! He offers two different systems against the 2.c3 Sicilian as well. He has catered for every possible line that may occur, provided Black chooses one of the moves 2...d6, 2...e6 or 2...Nc6. He often provides the reader with alternatives as well, when his suggested lines are either too tedious or too risky. He discusses move-order issues everywhere in the book, offering the reader various suggestions regarding this problem. He has also pointed out most transpositions and in general, his coverage is practically complete. It is my general impression that one should possess a really twisted mind to come up with a move-order forcing Black outside this book's repertoire, with the notable exception of the Closed Sicilian line mentioned above.

Overall, I can only heartily recommend this book to everyone playing the Sicilian Defence with Black, and, of course, White players employing one of the Anti-Sicilian systems could also find this book's coverage of benefit (though of course the book is clearly intended for Black players). If Gallagher's book was a must at the time it was published, then this one is absolutely fit to take its place. If you are sceptical about my remarks above, then I can only say that this book is really good and complete, so much so that it significantly raises the reader's expectation and thus merits the above discussion about slight omissions. Evaluating this book, I believe a mark of 4.5 out of 5 is well deserved by Rogozenko, who has obviously put in a lot of work and personal interest in his effort to cover a wide range of opening systems within a quite limited space (considering the territory he has had to map).

My assessment: this book is a must-buy!

© 2003 Sotiris Logothetis and Chess Today

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted