TEST YOUR CHESS: SICILIAN KAN
Panjwani,Raja (2222) - Arencibia,Walter (2539) [B33]
Canadian Open, Kitchener 2006
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 a6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4
Black has four major options at this point and any player of the White pieces must be prepared to face all of them!
This is the choice advocated in Hellsten's Play the Sicilian Kan: a dynamic and flexible repertoire for Black. Here we will examine a game of a strong Canadian player versus Cuban GM Walter Arencibia, who is a frequent visitor to Canada. Right away one wonders if the game could transpose to a Sicilian Taimanov variation, but White can pick a continuation which will give this position an entirely unique flavour.
5...b5! is a much scarier variation, which any player of the White pieces must be prepared for if he is going to attempt lines beginning with 5.Nc3 (here we had a transposition).
5...Nc6 Heads immediately for a Taimanov Sicilian.
5...d6 Heads immediately for a hedgehog setup, and move order and tactics begin to take a bit of a back seat to understanding.
Question 1: With Black’s move order (specifically 5...Qc7) has Black allowed any ideas by White that we wouldn’t normally see in the Taimanov/Paulsen Sicilian?
6.Bd3 (1 point)
This is an aggressive option for the light-squared bishop that white doesn't have in Sicilians where Black has played an early ...Nc6 and this move would make the Nd4 hang. On the defensive side of things it supports the pawn on e4, Black's chief target in the opening.
6...Nc6 is the other major knight move at this juncture. Black immediately challenges the knight on d4. 7.Be3 (Instead 7.Nxc6 dxc6! 8.0–0 e5! is fine for Black, who has stunted White's Bd3 and gained his fair share of the center. Black performs very well in these lines.) 7...Nf6 8.0–0 And Black can now choose between several alternatives, all of which are performing fairly well in master chess. Another testament to the flexibility of the Kan.
6...Bc5 I don’t think this move order is as accurate as the text, but then again Hellsten has played it, and hes the one who has written the book on the Kan! Black usually first plays 6...Nf6 to prevent Qg4, which forces some weakening in the Black position. 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Qg4 This is critical. It would not be possible if Black had played ...Nf6 before ...Bc5 as in our main game. 8...g6 9.Bg5 d6 10.0–0–0 ½–½ Hall,J (2487)-Hellsten,J (2582)/Gothenburg 2005/CBM 109 (66) White should be a bit better here.
6...b5 This is also a valid an daggressive choice for which White must be ready.
This relatively new interpretation of the Kan has been giving White players some serious headaches. Nevertheless, it is not Black's only option at this point.
7...Nc6, 7...d6, 7...b5, and 7...Be7 are all valid options here. Holy flexibility Batman.
8.Be3 Plays exactly into what Black is looking for, pressure along a critical diagonal once White has pushed f4.
Question 2: According to Hellsten, what is Black’s best continuation here?
8...Be7 (1 point)
8...Ba7 (0 points) is another alternative. Hellsten points out that after this move, the simple idea of Kh1 and f4 and then a kingside attack may hurt Black, who will miss the protection of his kingside dark squares.
Karpovian. So Panjwani is the first to deviate, and we can hardly be surprised, since Arencibia should be the better prepared player on any given day. However Panjwani follows a known game fairly deep (up to move 16) so just who is better prepared here is debatable. White aims to simply restrict Black from achieving ...b5 and disrupting his support to e4. In addition he hopes to keep open the option of playing on the Queenside with an a5 push, accompanied by play on the dark squares with moves like Be3 and Na4.
9.f4 is the mainline, which is a subject for another game.
9.Qe2 is also played with some frequency, though nowhere near the mainline.
Question 3: After Panjwani’s choice of 9.a4!? How should Black continue?
9...Nc6! (2 points)
Arencibia plays actively, and rightfully so. Black aims for a quick aquistion of the "minor exchange" with the move ...Nb4.
9...d6 (1 point) 10.a5 is slightly better for White, according to Hellsten.
9...b6 (1 point) 10.f4 d6 (10...Bb7 11.e5 Nd5 12.Nxd5 Bxd5 13.Be3 0–0 14.c4! gives white the initiative.) 11.e5! dxe5 12.fxe5 Qxe5? (12...Nfd7 is another try. 13.Qg4 g6 when Black is looking a little loose and White can aim to exchanged dark-squared bishops when he will be clearly better.) 13.Bf4 Qh5 14.Be2+- and Black will lose either a piece after Bf3, attacking the lose rook in the corner, which is also supporting a loose knight.
Question 4: How should Black continue?
10...d6 (1 point)
Black keeps his pawn formation tight, as is typical with the Kan, and allows no clear weaknesses for his opponent to develop towards exploiting. This small center is the bane of all e5-push hopes. White will have to spend a great deal of time preparing this central thrust now.
10...d5?! (0 points) is an ambitious choice that leads to a French pawn-structure. 11.e5 Nd7 ½–½ Krakops,M (2475)-Bischoff,K (2525)/Bad Woerishofen 1995/CBM 047 ext (26). White should be slightly better here, as this seems to be a nice variation of the French where he is acceptably placed.
White stretches even further out, he aims to force Black into a worse pawn structure if the second player dares to push ...b5 by replying immediately with an en passent capture. This would leave Black with a very weak a-pawn that White could use as a target.
Question 5: How should Black continue?
11...b5! (2 points)
Amazingly, black takes up the challenge. He reckons his activity on the Queenside will more than compensate for his weakness on a6. Hellsten makes a very interesting comment here, referring to how players on the White side of the Sicilian trying to play on both sides of the board can get pulverized in the center (paraphrasing). I am inclined to believe this after my quick defeat to FM Bendi Cheng in the Toronto PcW Open 2009.
11...Nd7?! (1 points) is definitely not as good here, after 12.Be3 white begins clamping down on the Queenside dark-squares. 12...Nc5 13.Na4! Nxd3 14.cxd3 with an edge to white for his dark-square control on the Queenside and space advantage.
11...b6 (2 points) is equivalent to the text, as it should most likely transpose.
11...0–0 (0 points) only shows that black is either oblivious to the threats on his Queenside or too arrogant to realize they can tie Black up badly. 12.Be3 Nb4 13.Bb6 Qb8 14.Bc4 is lovely for White.
12.axb6 Qxb6+ 13.Kh1
Question 6: How Should Black continue?
13...0–0 (1 point)
13...Nb4?! (0 points) fails in its task to secure the bishop pair, since White has the surprising reply: 14.Bb5+! (take 2 points if you saw this move) Bd7 15.Bxd7+ Nxd7 When White is happy to have swapped light-squared bishops instead of exchanging his Bd3 for a knight.
Question7: How should black continue?
10...Nb4! (1 point)
Now White's dream of pushing e4-e5 and having this bishop become the star of the show is over. Instead, Black has secured the bishop pair; ample compensation for his isolated a-pawn. Remember this simple knight manoeuvre as it is a key part of the strategy in the Sicilian Kan when White has already weakened his queenside. Note also how Black’s early ...Bc5 move, forcing Nb3, lead to the ability of this Black knight being able to quickly play to c6 and then b4 unhindered.
Question 8: How should Black react to this move?
It’s easy enough to dismiss 15.Bc4 because we can see that Black just begins to kick around White pieces and develop with strong threats. 15...d5! (1 point) 16.exd5 exd5 17.Bd3 Re8 18.Be3 Qc7 19.Bd4 Bg4 20.Qf2 Nxd3 21.cxd3 Black is at least equal here, if not for choice.
A good square. Black again fights for e5.
16.Rfb1!? Is possible here, as it frees up the Nb3 for active duty. However, the question remains as to where this knight is going to find any activity.
Question 9: How should Black continue here?
16...Bd7 (1 point)
16...Nxd3 (0 points) Black can grab the bishop right away, but again he gains no bishop pair out of the deal. 17.Nc6! Qc7 18.Nxe7+ Qxe7 19.cxd3 When White is slightly better due to his center.
The first new move.
Question 10: How should Black respond if White plays this aggressive move?
17.g4 Was played against Hellsten, who reacted vigorously in the center. 17...e5 18.f5 d5! (take 1 point if you saw up to this point, 0 otherwise) Would you want to be the White King in this situation?? 19.Nxd5 Nfxd5 20.exd5 Nxd5 21.Be4 Nxe3 22.Qxe3 Qa7 23.Qxa7 Rxa7 24.Nc6 ½–½ Gross,D (2484)-Hellsten,J (2470)/Germany 2001/CBM 082 ext
Not completely unexpected, considering White's last move. Yet there is a big posittional flaw here. Based on what even we amateurs know about the Sicilian, the e4 pawn is a target of attack. Here White had a chance to consolidate his stronger center and hold on to the tiniest of advantages. After this move, however, forget it. Looking closely, I can only wonder if Panjwani had a long term plan that justified capturing in this manner. His long term plan might have been to exchange his e-pawn for Black's d-pawn to create a passed c-pawn. This seems the only logical explanation.
18.cxd3 Consolidates White's small central advantage. If he can swap a knight for a bishop here, it would be even better.
Question 11: How should Black continue?
18...Bb5! (1 point)
Surprising but quite strong. The annoying pressure here makes Panjwani trade down. The problem that he faces will quickly become evident, and this will in turn reveal why the recapturw on d3 with a pawn was essential. Note too that this move improves the overall pawn structure for Black.
18...Bc6 (0 points) 19.Bd4 Rd8 20.Nb6 Ra7 21.f5 and white generates play.
19.Nxb5 axb5 20.Nb6
20.Na5 Prevents the black Queen from getting to the long diagonal, but Black continues actively none the less. 20...Rc8 threatens ...Qc7, which would double attack the knight and the c2 pawn. 21.Nb3 Qb7 22.Nd2 White has successfully defended e4, but now Black is ready to take his fair share of the center. 22...d5 When Black is doing well.
20...Rxa1 21.Rxa1 Qb7 22.Qxb5
You know White is headed for trouble when he plays moves like this, ditching an important central pawn for a currently useless b-pawn. Again it seems as if Panjwani is bent on a long term plan of creating a passed b-pawn. He has achieved that goal, but at what cost?
22...Qxe4 23.Qd3 Qxd3 24.cxd3
The b-pawn is passed alright, but it has a long way to go. It’s also isolated and poorly defended at this point. The dust has settled and White is the not-so-proud owner of a completely shattered pawn structure. Black will have all the play in this ending.
25.Na4? Puts this knight out of play for some time and does nothing but tangle up White's pieces. 25...Nd5 26.Bd2 Bf6 and Black is better.
Question 12: How should Black continue?
26...Kf8! (1 point)
Hellsten claims this move avoids back rank problems, but he is missing the real problem: White's passed pawn. At first 26...Kf8 seems unnecessary, but have a closer look at the variation below. Arencibia isn't a GM for nothing. He has seen the potential dangers of the variation beginning 26...Bxb6.
26...Bxb6?! (0 points) Seems more to the point, but Arencebia must have understood that this could leave White with some dangerous options. 27.Rxb6! (take an additional 1 point if you saw that this move should be played and cause problems) (27.Bxb6 would leave black ahead as in the game.) 27...Rxb6 (27...Ra8 is better, but White should still be fine. 28.Rxd6 Nd5 29.Bg1 Nxb4 30.g3 Should be drawn.) 28.Bxb6 Nd5 29.Ba5 Nxf4 30.d4! Ne2 (30...Nd3 31.b5) 31.b5 Nxd4 32.b6 Nc6 33.b7 d5 34.Bc7 Kf8 35.Kg1 Ke7 36.b8Q Nxb8 37.Bxb8 and we reach a fantastic ending which is very difficult to evaluate. I played it out against Fritz 11 and the game ended drawn. White is able to get his King and bishop out and centralized to stop Black's pawn mass. Nevertheless, in practical play White could easily end up losing, but black could bumble as well.
White is given a moment to consolidate.
Question 13: How should Black continue?
It all comes down to this in the end. Black can now add a superior minor piece to his already better pawn structure, and this gives him all the winning chances he needs.
28.Rxb6? Rxb6 29.Bxb6 Nd5 30.Ba5 Ke8 31.Kg2 Kd7 32.b5 Kc8–+ and Black will collect the outside passer.
Question 14: How should Black continue?
28...Nd5 (1 point)
A picture to remember. A dominant, untouchable knight on d5 against a classic bad bishop.
29.Ba5 Panjwani could simply protect his pawn, but perhaps felt it far too defensive and that Black would be able to use his greater activity to win. 29...Ke7 (29...Nxb4 30.Bxb4 Rxb4 31.Rxd6 Ke7 32.Ra6 Surely has massive drawing potential.) 30.Ra7+ Ke8 Leaves White tied up.
29...Rxb4 30.Ra8+ Ke7 31.Ra7+ Ke8 32.Bxg7
White has re-established material equality, but Black still has the better position due to his active rook, superior minor piece and better pawns.
32...Rb3 33.Ra8+ Kd7 34.d4
34.Rf8 Ke7 35.Rh8 Rxd3 36.Rxh7 Ne3 Is better for Black.
Question 15: How should Black continue?
34...f5 (1 point)
Reinforcing the bad bishop's sad activity level.
34...Ne3 (1 point) Should transpose as well.