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MACA Book Review
Play the Sicilian Kan Play the Sicilian Kan
by: Johan Hellsten

Price: $25.95
ISBN: 978-1-85744-581-7
Format: Book 320pp.
Publisher: Everyman Chess

Reviewed by: Life Master and FIDE Trainer Lou Mercuri
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Author and grandmaster Johan Hellsten of Sweden has assembled his first book on the complexities of the Sicilian Kan variation denoted by the moves 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cd4 5 Nd4 a6. In some ways, Hellsten is a brave man for tackling a Sicilian variation that is both highly transpositional and full of subtlety and nuance. When you realize that Black’s first developed piece is the queen (after 5 Nc3 Qc7) you know that there is the potential for maximum flexibility in the deployment of the remaining pieces and pawns leading to equally complex middlegames. In this work, he approaches the task by offering a specific Black repertoire aimed at keeping White equally off balance in all of the critical variations. My sense is that Hellsten handled the problems well and gives Black every reason to be satisfied with his opening choice. This is accomplished through forty well-annotated games with numerous variations supporting the preferred method for Black.

The general format is consistent with many of the recent Everyman Publishing publications. There are ten chapters covering each of White’s main alternatives to tackle the Kan. The chapters themselves are highlighted by high-level games with thorough annotations in the opening phase followed by lighter notes to the conclusion. Chapter introductions and summaries help to assimilate the material. The density level is average and is manageable for players between 1400 and 2000. Hellsten takes time to explain the supporting variations in a way that is helpful for players of all levels. I took note of a liberal use of diagrams and an expanded description of what’s happening in those specific and often critical situations. The text is easy to read and the sub-variations are easy to follow. With the possibility of numerous transpositions within variations and to other chapters, a good index is essential. This book provides an eight-page index that couldn’t be clearer and within the chapters Hellsten points out the move order and transpositional situations.
From a quality perspective, the games are current with the majority having been played since 2000 and by grandmaster specialists such as Taimanov, Epishin, Yudasin, and Van Wely. As Hellsten points out, the number of super theoretical variations in the repertoire are few and players need to rely on ingenuity and resourcefulness to wrest the advantage from their opponents. Still, the Kan has some well-established paths and the move 5 Bd3 is considered to be the most critical test of the Kan move order. Hellsten recommends the move 5...Bc5 in response and after 6 Nb3 Be7 7 c4 d6 8 Nc3 Nf6 9 O-O b6 10 Be3 Bb7 11 f3 (among others) O-O 12 Qd2 Nbd7 13 Qf2 Qc7 14 Rfd1 Rac8 15 Bf1 Bd8!? (page 268) demonstrates that Black has his share of chances in the Hedgehog formation. For those considering playing the Kan, this is a typical occurrence. White often gains a significant space advantage only to allow for the possibility of a swift counterattack. Hellsten impresses with his grasp of the positions and his ability to transmit the most relevant plans and strategic ideas.
This work is thoughtful, current, and reflects a high level of well thought out preparation. It is worth mentioning a somewhat older (2002) but also well-researched book, “The Sicilian Kan,” by John Emms (Everyman Publications) goes well together with Hellsten’s book and would be advisable for players looking for alternative variations for Black and some additional details on the suggested 2008 repertoire.
I can highly recommend Hellsten’s first book for players of almost any playing strength, bearing in mind the complexity of the variation and how difficult the resulting positions are to properly assess. Current high-level games, nice explanations, a detailed index (crucial here), and a backdrop of targeted variations completes the picture.

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