A review of The Sicilian Bb5 Revealed by Neil McDonald

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

The Sicilian Bb5 Revealed
By Neil McDonald
Batsford, 2005

This book is an excellent introduction to a couple of closely related anti-Sicilian lines, the Rossolimo Variation (1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) and the Moscow Variation (1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+). Since both lines involve the development of the bishop to b5, and it is clear that one could easily transpose into the other (should Black play 3 … d6 in response to 3.Bb5 or 3 … Nc6 after 3.Bb5+), it is only natural that Neil McDonald should refer to the two collectively as the ‘Bb5 Sicilian’. However, there are significant differences: e.g. when the king’s bishop is exchanged in the Rossolimo (typically with Bxc6), Black incurs the disadvantage of doubled pawns. If you are intending to employ the Rossolimo and the Moscow Variations as your main (or only) weapons against the Sicilian, you will want a way of meeting 2 … e6 (1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6) and McDonald, with typical thoroughness, considers some of White’s possibilities here briefly (on page 211) toward the end of the book.

What is most admirable about The Sicilian Bb5 Revealed is that the structure of the book suggests how this (or indeed any) opening should be studied. The process of ‘getting into’ and learning an opening, from familiarization with the basic lines and ideas to acquiring exact knowledge of moves and variations, informs the book at every turn.

To illustrate this user-friendliness more fully: Do you want an outline of the basic variations and ideas and a short history of the opening? If so, your first stop will be the chapters ‘First Moves’ and ‘Heroes and Zeros’. Do you want to know the typical plans for White and Black and the tactics to watch out for? Look at the chapters on strategy (the most substantial in the book: eighty pages!) and the chapter entitled ‘Tricks and Traps’, which is concerned with some typical tactical themes. Having read these chapters, do you now want to test your understanding? Well, you can attempt the puzzles in ‘Test Positions’ and compare your answers to those in the ‘Solutions’ chapter. Finally, do you want to seriously prepare a specific variation or two? The ‘Details’ chapter gives a detailed index of the variations as they appear in the text and ‘What’s Hot?’ looks at some relatively recent ideas, with most games in this chapter dating from 2004.

As for Neil McDonald as a writer, he has an engaging prose style and is excellent at presenting and explaining ideas. There is an occasional dry wit, too, which is no bad thing (e.g. after a cool positional display by Adams, he remarks that ‘the Hedgehog wasn’t so much squashed as slowly marinated’). There are a plentiful number of diagrams and the text is clear and well-spaced, however, one would have liked to have seen an index of players or complete games. Other than that, The Sicilian Bb5 Revealed is a model of its kind.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com