Friday, March 14, 2008

What's the Kan Variation?

I recently noticed this upcoming book on the Sicilian Kan from Everyman:

Judging from its title I expect the book to examine the variation 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 (Dia) which is what I call the Kan variation.

This expectation is even more reasonable because Everyman offers another older book, called 'Sicilian Kan' by Emms which I used to own and which treated this very line.

Yet I am not entirely certain as the publishers offer no moves and there is some confusion between the Sicilian lines Paulsen, Kan and Taimanov. I know for a fact that quite a few players and authors would call this 4...a6 line the Paulsen variation. And that indeed makes sense as Wilfried (not Louis as far as I know) Paulsen played the line a long time before Ilia Kan and with quite modern ideas. His stronger brother Louis probably contributed to the development of the line but himself preferred 4...Nf6 (generally followed by a quick ...Nc6) and 4...Bc5 (now known as the Basman-Sale variation).

This doesn't really explain why the 4...Nc6 variation (Dia) quite confusingly is occasionally called the Paulsen variation. The explanation may be that Louis Paulsen reached an important position from that variation repeatedly via the 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 move-order. Can it be that he after 2...e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 feared 5.Nb5!?

So, what about the Taimanov variation then? Well, first of all it's worth noting that Taimanov early in his career played a lot of 4...a6 games. Then, around 1971 he started playing 4...Nc6 - usually followed by ...Nge7, ...Nxd4 and ...Nc6. This system - which now is rather rare - was what Taimanov himself called the Taimanov variation. What I don't really know is why the entire 4...Nc6 system is more and more frequently called the Taimanov system. It's a quite confusing situation and occasionally forces writers to distinguish between the Taimanov variation (where Black usually plays an early ...Qc7) and the 'pure Taimanov' (with ...Nge7).

Still not confused? Then take into account the hybrid variation below, which can equally well arise from 4...a6 5.Nc3 Nc6 and 4...Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 (Dia).

Is it a Kan, a Paulsen or a Taimanov? Well...I find 8129 games in MegaBase 2008, 1159 from the 4...a6 move-order and 6540 from the 4...Nc6 move-order (and obviously some from other move-orders too) maybe it's a Taimanov.

Anyway, the move that interests me the most is 4...a6. That is also clearly the move that Hellsten has played the most, so I expect to buy the book as soon as it's available.


Phil Adams said...

It is indeed confusing. A further confusion is that the names sometimes refer to specific move orders, and at other times to specific positions reached, which can then be identified as belonging to a particular "system".

1) Move orders
In English chess circles, by the early 1960s at latest, the name Kan System for the move order 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 was well established (see e.g. page 137 in Clarke's book on Tal).
Not much later, we began calling the sequence characterized by a combination of ...e6, ...Nc6 and ...Qc7, before...a6, the Taimanov, e.g. 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e6 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Be2 a6. This had the advantage (as perceived then) of preventing the flexible 5 Bd3, which had been identified as early as the late 1950s as a major challenge to the Kan move order.

2) Positions
Taimanov himself seems to use the name Paulsen to describe any open Sicilian in which Black plays a combination of ...e6, ...a6 and ...Qc7, before committing the Ng8 or blocking the Bf8 by ...d6. He himself played many games with this from the late fifties onwards, using different move orders, before developing his own system, which differs from the Paulsen by missing out an early ...Qc7 and substituting an early ...Nge7.

The difficulties in classifying all of this are in fact a testament to the great flexibility of the ...e6 Sicilian!

Sverre Johnsen said...

Thank you for adding to the confusion!

Bill said...

The cover illustration indicates that the 4...a6 variation will be the subject of the book.

Sverre Johnsen said...

Indeed it does.

Thanks for sharing your observation!

ejh said...

The cover illustration indicates that the 4...a6 variation will be the subject of the book.

Not that this can be guaranteed where Everyman is concerned. Take for instance Gallagher's book on the 2.c3 Sicilian, the contents page of which displays a diagram showing the position after 1.c4 b6....

Sverre Johnsen said...

I have never paid much attention to Everyman's cover illustrations but I have a copy of Palliser's 'The Bb5 Sicilian' where the (inside) cover page says 'A dangerous weapon for Black'!

In fairness it must be said that I may have got my hands on a reviewer's copy or something like that. When I checked at my local chess book dealer, his copies had a more normal cover page ('Detailed coverage of a thoroughly modern system' if I recall right).

Sverre Johnsen said...

A small correction:
Now, with the book in front of me, I must admit that my memory failed me. The cover page says: 'a dynamic and hypermodern opening system for Black'.

James Stripes said...

It is interesting that Louis Paulsen does not seem to have played 4...a6, although his older brother Wilfried played it.