Review: Modernized: The Open Sicilian, a complete repertoire for White, by Z. Amanov and K. Kavutskiy

Metropolitan Chess publishing, 2015
 564 pages


By Davide Nastasio

Why did I review a book which wasn’t published this year? Because I believe this book will become a classic, a MUST have for all who sincerely want to learn the open Sicilian.
There is also another class of people who will be interested in this book: the attackers, those who want to play sharp lines, those who want a game with adrenaline pumping throughout the body, and the heart rate racing! This book is definitely for them. This doesn’t mean all the lines given are just ending in a kingside attack, of course not. One can decide to transform the development advantage into another positional advantage, which in the long term will give him a victory.

But for whom is this book really written? For every chess player who is interested in improving his/her chess. Why? Because the Sicilian is like an ocean: to learn to swim in it means being able to swim everywhere. Returning to chess from the swimming analogy, the Sicilian has a wealth of middlegame positions which will teach most maneuvers and ideas a player needs to reach master level.

A book on the middlegame could teach you about many strategic concepts like positional sacrifices, outposts (obvious and mentioned in any book is d5 for White in the Open Sicilian), pawn structures (for example the backward weak Pd6 for Black), the advantage of the bishop pair, the attack and defense related to opposite-side castling, of course prophylaxis, and many more important chess themes. A book on the Open Sicilian will teach you all these concepts, too.

Honestly I was curious for a long time about this book because I always wanted to learn the open Sicilian, but instead (for lack of finding the right teacher/book) I limited myself to sidelines like the Smith-Morra, the Alapin (which I admit was too much to study!), and the Grand Prix Attack.  However, I knew I was limiting my growth as a player in not playing the Open Sicilian, but at the same time I’m an old player (over 50) who began to play just 5-6 years ago, hence I was afraid I didn’t have enough time to learn all the intricacies of the Open Sicilian like a younger player could.

Coming to review this book, I generally begin with 2 main tasks. One is to discover who is the author.  In this case, who are the authors, and then of course discover the book.

Amanov Zhanibek is an IM from Kazakhstan.  He is among the top 30 active players in his country. In my Chessbase Megabase 2017, I have more than 500 games played by him, and I noticed that when he doesn’t play 1.e4 he plays 1.c4! Now I’m sure everyone can connect the dots, but I’ll just spell it out: if he is an expert in playing against the Sicilian, he is an expert in playing it with White, because if someone replies 1…e5; against 1.c4, we do have a Sicilian with reversed colors!

Obviously I was interested in his games with the Sicilian as White, and found the following nice win against a GM from Russia!



IM Amanov Zhanibek



Another game which is interesting is the following:



Now why am I presenting some games played by the author in the Sicilian? Because I honestly hate when someone writes a book on an opening he doesn’t play, or just plays in some rapid games and uses blitz games from internet to illustrate the opening, as some other authors do. Instead it is clear that IM Amanov used the open Sicilian throughout his chess career.

The other author of the book is FM Kostya Kavutskiy, but now he is IM Kostya Kavutskiy! And surely soon he will be GM Kostya Kavutskiy!


2017 Reykjavik Open 2 - Lennart Ootes

FM Kostya Kavutskiy, 2017 Reykjavik Open


Kostya is clearly a 1.d4 player, but as Black I saw he was a French player who switched to the Sicilian!  Here Kostya punishes one of the future promising players of American chess! (Now let’s hope that after this review Carissa doesn’t write saying that she was following Kostya’s book, because that would definitely be hilarious!)



I also found this game against the great Kamsky! While we all continue to give definitely too much attention to the openings, watch how Kamsky converts the advantage into a win.  To watch one of Rubinstein’s famous rook endgames, he makes it look so easy!



The next question is “Did the two authors ever play against each other?”  The answer is a definite Yes! From my database they have played 4 times (but maybe they have played more times) with a score of +3 -0 =1 in favor of Amanov.

This is one of their hardest fought games!



Now we finally come to review the content of the book!  The book is comprised of 7 chapters. The first chapter is dedicated to the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian, and is divided in three main sub-sections for a total of more than 150 pages!  We have the Najdorf, as proposed by the authors after the moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,a6; 6.h3,




The authors mention Fischer, who successfully used the line the authors are giving us against big names like Reshevsky, Najdorf, and Bolbochan. Later, at the end of the review, I will give these games, because while the authors correctly examine some new games where the theory is hotly contested by big modern names, I do believe we also need to know the classics in order to become better players.

Let me tell you something about this huge chapter made up of more than 150 pages!  The authors do give some symbols for evaluating the position like “=” for equality, but mainly they explain, nearly move by move, the ideas behind those moves and what was played to test some moves, giving also a modern storyline of how the opening evolved. Often a game they analyze takes 15-20 pages, and in each page the authors continue to reiterate the important points or moves one must remember, and why.

Let me prove to you why this book is destined to become a classic and why you should have a copy in your chess library. At the end of each chapter the authors have included a page or two with “memory markers,”


memory_markers1 memory_markers2






the ideas one must remember at all costs in order to play correctly, and a couple of pages of exercises.


exercise_page1 exercise_page2


Of course, only on the Najdorf could one write a 200-page workbook full of exercises and ideas one must know.  But the fact that the authors cared to address “memory and exercises” tells me a lot about the quality of the book, and how well-tuned the authors are on the need of amateurs like me!

The second chapter is based on systems with 2…e6; like the Sicilian Kan and Sicilian Taimanov.  We have the Kan Variation after the moves  1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,e6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,a6; 5.Nc3,Qc7; 6.g3,




Part B of the second chapter treats the Taimanov variation, which we have after the moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,e6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nc6; 5.Nc3,Qe7; 6.g3,a6; 7.Bg2,Nf6; 8.0-0,




Some variations have been played for over 120 years, so the attribution of the name of the variation to a relatively modern master is based on the interpretation and the new theoretical findings in it. At the end of this review I’ve placed the games the authors thought were important to know; as always, Fischer is one of the main actors! The reason for placing the games at the end of the review is twofold, and will be explained in detail later.

As for the previous chapters, at the end of this chapter there are exercises, memory markers, and a summary. I will not repeat it for the next chapters because this is clearly the modus operandi of the authors!

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the classical variation, which happens after the moves  1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,Nc6; 6.Bc4,




The recommendation from the authors is the Fischer-Sozin Attack. In this chapter, the games of legendary players like Fischer, Kasparov, Anand, and Ivanchuk are commented on in depth.

Chapter 4 treats the Dragon, a variation on which an endless number of books and DVD have been produced.  After the moves 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,g6; 6. Be3,Bg7; 7.f3,0-0; 8.Qd2,Nc6; 9.0-0-0.




Now the funny thing of the Dragon Variation is that everytime I think of it, this is the image which comes to my mind!




The authors are quite honest.  They warn that reading the chapter only once is not enough for an understanding of the Dragon, because every line is sharp and contains lots of tricks. Hence, the smart thing to do to be really prepared against the Dragon (and this is the main reason why playing the Sicilian scares me) is to peruse some of the books written for Black playing the Dragon, because they most likely cover all the pitfalls and tricks White can fall into.

Chapter 5 is the Accelerated Dragon. Black avoids Pd6 by developing right away the dark squares bishop on the A1-H8 diagonal.  As the authors point out, this gives time to White to play Pc2-c4 with the typical pawn formation known as Maroczy bind.

1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,Nc6; 3.d4,exd4; 4.Nxd4,g6: 5.c4!




As you can see, I wasn’t lying or trying to be overly dramatic when I was saying the Open Sicilian can teach you everything you need to know in chess. The Maroczy Bind is one of the most important pawn structures to know. If one learns to play for or against many pawn structures, automatically his/her results will improve.

Chapter 6 is on the Sveshnikov, Kalashnikov, and Löwenthal.



GM Evgeny Sveshnikov, 1981


Every time I hear the name of Evgeny Sveshnikov, two things come to my mind: his good friendship with Karpov (because they were living in nearby villages), and his funny statement “The Alapin put food on my family table” or something similar, just to express how good that line is for him, since he won many games thanks to it.  In this case, the Sveshnikov is a system used by Black in the Sicilian with a counter-intuitive idea: to give up D5, and gain counterplay.

1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,Nc6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,e5; 6.Ndb5,d6; 7.Bg5,a6; 8.Na3,b5; 9.Nd5,






After the moves 1.e4,c5; 2Nf3,Nc6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,e5; 5.Nb5, if Black plays 5…,d6; we have the Kalashnikov.




Time and again, the authors prove their sublime chess culture mentioning that one of the first instances of this variation in the Sicilian happened in one of the games repeatedly shown for the power of passed connected central pawns. Often amateurs ask what it takes to become a chess master, wondering if it is knowledge of openings, tactics or calculation skills.  While all these factors are surely important, I believe Amanov and Katuvskiy have shown their master-level knowledge thanks to mentioning the following game:




Instead after the moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,Nc6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,e5; 5.Nb5,a6; we have the Löwenthal Sicilian:




The book ends with chapter 7, covering well a wealth of “minor” Sicilians which could surprise us, and make lose a point!

Pro and cons: I like the chess fonts used for the diagrams in this book, and I like the fact that there are often 2-3 diagrams per page. This allows for an exercise in visualization: without using the board, one tries to read the book using the diagrams. The quality of the paper is quite good. One criticism I can make is that the authors just wrote this one book.  They should write many more and give us an entire repertoire, since they are clearly good teachers!

Another criticism I can think of is the book should have been hardcover! This book is clearly a book one will use multiple times as reference or for learning.  Again, I believe it will become a classic, because the two authors poured their soul into it, hence the hardcover would make it more resistant over the mistreatments that Saturn, the God of Time, is inflicting upon every one of us! A little typo happened at page 333 where the beginning moves 1.e4,c5; are repeated twice. But obviously this is a book with more than 500 pages, and since we are humans, little mistakes can happen. Clearly not something one should criticize the book for. I mention it mainly because I don’t want to be seen as a lazy reviewer.

In conclusion, I think this book gave me the confidence needed to play the Open Sicilian. Of course, I will also have to practice for a while before playing it in a tournament.  I think the authors did a good job in showing the ideas and giving a repertoire which is solid, but attacking at the same time. I also think the book is based more on understanding than memorizing lines, and this, in my opinion, is quite good for my level of chess. Last advice: don’t wait! Buy it as soon as possible before the publisher runs out of copies!

Now that I’ve finished the review, I’d like to give you another reason for studying this wonderful book. Something more subtle, but important for those who, like me, are on the road to mastery! Let’s say I want to discover and understand more about the games of some world champions like Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, etc. Wouldn’t I need an understanding of the main big openings played at that level?  One opening surely is the Spanish.  Another is the King’s Indian Defense.  And of course the most massive has always been the Sicilian.

To become a competent chess player one needs to acquire a book like this one, study it, and then enjoy the amount of knowledge acquired. But please don’t do it based on my words alone. Let’s conduct an experiment, since nowadays our new god is Science.  I’ll give you some classical Sicilian games played by some of the strongest players of all time. Watch them, and then read this book, study it, and then when you finish, come back to watch these games again.  Tell me if you are able to understand more of the ideas behind the moves of these champions, their maneuvers, sacrifices, and in general have a better grasp than before reading this book.

I’d like to mention that Fischer’s games are always instructive, no matter what. But in this game White could have played the wrong move many times, and Fischer avoided many blunders, so try to put yourself in Fischer’s place and see if you play the correct moves or not.  I’d like to offer a few examples of questions you should ask yourself when watching this game: Fischer played 21.f4.  Would it have been correct to play 21.Nxe7 ?  and if it wasn’t correct, can you provide a line to refute such a move?

Then of course there are also questions one can ask from Black’s side.  For example, Black played 31…h6;  what if instead Black played 31…f6;  if you were White, can you analyze the resulting position and find a line winning for White?

Another example can be Black move 32..,Qxh6; what if Black played 32…Bxh4; how would White win?





It is interesting to notice how easily one can win with the Sicilian by just repeating the moves played by someone before him! Notice how Adorjan, repeating the moves played by the great Gligoric, wins an easy point.




As I wrote before, the Tainanov Sicilian has been played in ancient times.




The following game was mentioned in the chapter on the Taimanov variation.  To give some frame of reference for those who are not big connoisseurs of chess history, Fischer was 18 years old at that time, and Tal was the 8th world champion from 1960 to 1961, therefore he was at the apex of his career. Fischer wasn’t born in a chess-loving nation like Russia, and he wasn’t given help from the government with coaches, a stipend, etc.



There are some games one needs to know, like dates in history one needs to know. This is definitely one of the games one needs to know.  Apart from the fact that one should see all the games played by Fischer in his climb to the throne, because he was squashing the opposition like if he has an axe cutting butter!



Here we see the sharpness of the Dragon in all its simplicity!



I chose this game to show how the Maroczy Bind can come out from different openings/move orders.



This is one of the first games Sveshnikov played with the variant which carries his name in the Sicilian:



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