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Sabotaging the Sicilian, French & Caro-Kann with 2.b3

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Sabotaging the Sicilian, French & Caro-Kann with 2.b3

By Jerzy Konikowski and Marek Soszynski

Russell Enterprises, 2018

ISBN: 9781941270837

One for flaneurs who like to meander.

If you play 1.e4 and are not averse to veering off into an infrequently frequented sideline when meeting various semi-open games, then this book may well be for you. It looks at lines involving the fianchetto of the queen’s bishop, an unusual sidestep in connection with 1.e4, but there we are.

We start with the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.b3), which is covered in section 1, chapters 1 to 8. There are 20 annotated games featuring , on the white side, the likes of Spassky, Kramnik, and Carlsen. This approach has a excellent pedigree, clearly, and on the evidence presented here tends to lead to interesting , complex middlegame positions. Let us say that Black tries to close down the long diagonal (a1-h8) with 2…Nc6 3Bb2 e5 (say). White can then seize the newly weakened diagonal (a2-g8) with 4.Bc4 or, alternately, try to prise the other diagonal open with 4.f4. Or indeed, he could pursue both goals. Tamaz Gelashvili, the Georgian grandmaster, is a great specialist in this line.

To the French now (1.e4 e6 2.b3), the focus of section 2, chapters 9-15, though with a mere five annotated games this time (a reduction of 75% I note). Pride of place here goes to the so-called Reti Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.b3 d5 3.Bb2 dxe4) although it is only a genuine gambit if Black defends the pawn with a pawn (4.Nc3 f5), a line known as the Gurevich Defence. Now 5.f3 Bd6! can lead to interesting complications. There is a fine attacking game by Luke McShane here which put me in mind of Carlsen’s game against Wojtaszek at Shamkir 2018. In both, you have an open Sicilian pawn structure (the moves d4 and …cxd4 have occurred) with White castled queenside, his king position fortified by the bishop on b2. A line that would be worth an occasional run out, I would say. Why not?

But the same cannot be said, alas, for  2.b3 against the Caro-Kann, which happens to be the subject of section 3, chapters  16-21. Here the analysis is accompanied by 5 annotated games and, despite one of these games being an exciting, epic encounter between Vasiukov and Bronstein, you would have to say that, realistically, the line only offers white equality. On 2…d5 3.Bb2 dxe4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Qe2 Bf5 (or maybe 5…Bg4) Black holds the pawn pretty easily and obtains a comfortable position. Yes, White can probably get it back if he goes 5.Ne2 (the plan being Ng3 and then Qe2) but I mean, really, is this how you want to be playing as White? White is just scampering to regain the pawn, not playing for an advantage, will obtain at best a position with few prospects. Not a good outcome for White.

As an afterthought (or postscript) the authors, Jerzy Konikowski and Marek Soszynski, look at the Scandinavian: 1.e4 d5 2.b3 (and not 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.b3? Qe5+ with disaster) dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Qe2 when the best move is 4. …Nc6! and …Nd4 gives Black an advantage. My advice to white players: don’t do it!

So what is the verdict? Well, 2.b3 is a move that must be employed with judicious care; it is a bit of a slippery slope. To summarise briefly. 2.b3 is splendid versus the Sicilian ,whilst it can be frenetic (unduly forcing) against the French. It is mite concerning if not exactly crippling when essayed against the Caro-Kann. But the big no-no: it is as suicidal as an Ingmar Bergman character if played as a response to the Scandinavian. Desist!

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

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