Monday, September 23, 2013

The risky Katalimov Sicilian

Boris Katalimov (or Katalymov) (1932-2012) was a strong Soviet (later Kazakh) master who played against the greats of Soviet chess, often successfully. FIDE finally awarded him the International Master title in 1996, although at his best he surely would have been a grandmaster by today's standards. According to Chessmetrics, at his peak in May 1978 he was the No. 84 player in the world. He was still playing actively and well the year before his death, scoring a respectable 7-4 (no draws!) at the 2011 World Senior Championship.

Katalimov played imaginatively in the openings, often playing the Sokolsky (1.b4) as White. In the Sicilian Defense, the Katalimov Variation of the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 b6) is named for him. It is probably playable if Black knows what he is doing. The French GM Christian Bauer is a devotee, and seems to score very well with it. A few other GMs, such as Humpy Koneru and Stuart Conquest, play it occasionally. However, it is a demanding line for Black, who can easily get blown off the board if he plays carelessly. This is well-illustrated by the following game, where Black greedily grabbed two pawns in the opening and was annihilated by White. The notes to the game illustrate some other crushing wins by White.


Unknown said...

Don't you think ?! is a little harsh? All the sub-variations you show where Black is getting crushed feature this clearly incorrect ..b6-b5-b4 concept trying to win material before Black is developed. (Although I'll grant the Rxg7! move in the main game is quite nice)

6...e6 7.O-O Qc7 8.Bb3 Nf6 is key. Black can develop his pieces leaving the d7-e6-f7 triangle intact. Otherwise the setups with Bc4 are indeed dangerous - Black is trying to set up a hedgehog which he can't do if he has to concern himself with a sac on e6.

Frederick Rhine said...

Yes, "?!" is arguably too harsh. Black played like a moron in the main game, which is certainly not an example of serious play by Black. I mostly gave the game because the way White shredded Black is so beautiful and unusual. (Of course it's also unusual for Black to so blatantly ignore his kingside development.) But contrary to what you say, in most of the other games I cited Black didn't play the b5-b4 pawn-grabbing idea.

To my mind (and not only mine, given how rare 2...b6 is), the move doesn't make much sense. Why not play one of the many Sicilian lines with ...a6 instead, thus giving yourself the option of ...b5? Incidentally, it's striking looking at the position after 2.Nf3 with an engine. They tend to give White a modest edge after the main moves (2...d6, 2...Nc6, 2...e6), and a much larger advantage after 2...b6.