Friday, December 10, 2010

Down with the Sicilian Kan!

This week I'm playing a fixed opening game with Andreas (who I've been training and talking chess with for about a year now!) in his pet line, the Sicilian Kan. I've decided to study a line that would usually never appeal to me, the Maroczy Bind, which is hugely different from the "piece play" chess I usually go for. As I explained in my last post, I'm trying to study some foreign positions at the moment and hopefully learn from new structures and goals in opening systems.

So- the Sicilian Kan. In the theory I'm looking at, 6 of black's first 8 moves are pawn moves, and his other two moves are from the same dark squared Bishop. I've got to say that after looking at it for an hour or so, I don't have a lot of respect for it at an early stage:

So, how does this position differ from a Najdorf for black? Simple- it's far weaker.
  • Black has played d6 and g6, usually a faux pas in the Siclian, as it gives the dark squared bishop too many jobs. He has to babysit the weak d6 pawn and the open dark diagonal- he can't do that with just one bishop.
  • Against the hedgehog setup, white's c3 knight is usually a hard piece to activate. Several sacrifices have been tried with it, Nd5!? the most famous of them, to try to use the knight the hedgehog tries to stifle. In the Kan, black's un-challenging play has allowed white to leave out Nc3, where it is often just a dead block of wood.
  • The only advantage black has over the Najdorf is the displacement of white's d4 knight, but that came with tempo and it is a temporary disadvantage not a structural one.
  • White has the possibility of Bh6, preventing castling.
  • White has a Queen on e2, supporting an e4-e5 push.
  • I would imagine that due to black's non-forcing play, that he'd have to know a lot of theory and be comfortable playing against pretty much whatever system white wants to play against him.
  • White has a development lead.
Looking through some names I see Kamsky, Ivanchuk, Svidler, Grisuk using the Kan, so it can't be as bad as all that. But we have to try to come to our own views on the openings even if they're not all 100% accurate. With my understanding of the Kan, though some of it might be just plain wrong, I'm at least going in with some ideas about black's position rather than just playing blind or trying to work things out on the spot. Our ideas of positions guide our thinking, guide the tactics we'll pull out of a position and the accurate/inaccurate moves we'll consider- since I've started becoming opinionated about openings my play has been a lot more directed, challenging and sensible.

One of those deceptive positions where Fritz will give +=
but which, in reality, probably has one line which maintains equality
and 5 black gets totally smoked in. It's an aggressive position for white,
with a lot of threats, and to get counter-play black is going to have to make
more weaknesses than he already has. Fritz can be a jerk like that: he'll give
= in a position and players will think ok great, nothing wrong with this. The
reality is: = for a computer and = for a human is a vastly different thing. The Kan
is one of those openings, like the King's Indian for black, where one wasted move
can have far more impact than in other openings, because black's position
is already on a knife's edge with structual and development disadvantages.
White can break up the Queenside, attack through the middle with e5 or f5,
he can put a positional clamp on black with c4, Bd2 and a4... all in all, I don't
wanna be black in this position! There are certain openings that belong in the
hands of masters- this Bc5 Kan is one.

Playing a4- When is it good!?

It's one of those moves average players don't really get. You see it in the Benko (a5), to weaken white's Queenside, you see it in the Lopez- Worall attack, to strengthen White's Queen on e2, some lines of the King's Indian, quite often in the older games in the Sicilian to stop counter play. And of course, it's a constant theme against the Kan (Maroczy Bind). Anyway- that's something I plan to keep in mind and post on.

Finally, we just played our fixed opening game so i'll post it- it was very interesting and I was happy to make a reasonably accurate rook sacrifice on move 20. Andreas didn't play the awful Bc5 line suggested in "play the Sicilian Kan" (I still can't believe anyone would advise "improving" players to use that line), what he played asked a lot more of white's planning skills until his 11. e5? made life easy.


  1. Just for you I played the Kan today, but Eddy Levi chose a 5.Nc3 line. Against 5.Bd3 I used to play 5..Bc5 and I learned the lines by studying the games of Swedish GM Evgeny Agrest. It is double edged and allows black to play for a win, though of course, he can also get completely smashed from time to time.

  2. Excellent!! I'll definitely look through it before the rematch with Andreas. Whilst I don't love the Kan I definitely think there's a lot to be learned from studying it, especially these Maroczy Bind positions I know you've played for a long time.