Chess Openings By Brendan J. Norman Are you an aggressive player who loves to attack? Got a good memory for chess openings and theoretical lines? Well, maybe the Sicilian Dragon fits the bill as your main weapon against 1.e4! If you ask most top chess players what they consider to be the sharpest chess opening possible, but one that is still considered sound…I’m pretty sure many will mention the Sicilian Dragon. First, let’s see how to reach this opening from the beginning. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 Ok. So this is only 5 moves, we can remember this much theory, right? If you do have trouble remembering tons of theory, that’s ok… There are tools for that, but we’ll talk about that another time. Let’s move on. So the idea of 5…g6 is clearly to fianchetto the black bishop (with 6…Bg7) and then quickly castle. What makes this so dangerous and sharp? Isn’t it just an English Opening in reverse? Astute chess players might be wondering how the Dragon Sicilian (Nerdy Fact: The Dragon variation was named so because some creative person thought that black’s pawn structure resembles the star constellation “Draco”.) can be considered so dangerous, when it is basically just the copy of a positional line of the English Opening (1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd4 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.0-0 Be6), but with colours reversed. The reason is this… Look at the two diagrams above… In the first one black has just played 5…g6 and white can quickly just begin to throw pieces at him with 6.Be3/7.f3/8.Qd2/9.Bc4 or something like this. In the second one white already has BOTH knights out AND he’s castled, PLUS its his move (and he hasn’t wasted a move on d3 yet, while black wasted a move on 5…Nb6). He is way ahead on time (timing is everything in sharp openings!), and if black tries to do a Yugoslav-style attack with 7…f6/8…Qd7 etc, white will be very ready and fully developed to deal with it (probably with a quick d4 or Rb1/b4). Huh? Brendan, what the hell is the “Yugoslav Attack”? 😥 Jeez man! Be patient! I’m getting to that. 😆 As we seen above, the Sicilian Dragon leaves black a little bit behind in development. This is at least when compared to the English line it mirrors. So given that he has this little bit of extra time, white can spend it (fleeting as it is) trying to attack the black king directly. To do this he will use attacking devices which are pretty familiar to experienced players. Attacking Devices: Opposite Castling Seek to exchange enemy fianchetto bishop (a key defender of the castled king in fianchetto situations) Pawn storm to open h-file Invade with queen and her friends (probably a rook or knight) and checkmate the black king This attacking plan (by far the most common one against the Dragon) is called the Yugoslav Attack and will be your biggest worry if you choose to play the dragon. Anyway… Keeping in mind the 4 step attacking plan outlined above, it’s easy to understand whites moves on the demonstration board below: White is simply going to try to checkmate you by force. A Bit of History The Dragon variation was pretty respected since its introduction to international practice in the mid 1930s and had been used by grandmasters as elite even as Mikhail Botvinnik as a main weapon. Then…The Yugoslav Attack Comes Along Once the Yugoslav attack (shown above, remember? 😉 ) became known and scores of players started scoring extremely swift victories with it, things began to look rather bleak for this variant of the Sicilian Defense. Even weak players sometimes used the Yugoslav Attack to defeat masters on occasion, if the master dared to risk playing the Dragon! 11th World Champion Bobby Fischer (in his immortal book) summed up the general opinion of GMs at the time, which was: Bobby Fischer wasn’t a fan of the Sicilian Dragon! Here is the game Fischer was annotating when he wrote those words. Other vicious attackers like Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, Rashid Nezhmetdinov and others made short work of their dragon playing opponents and kind of made a mockery of them in such brutal and one-sided games. So… The Sicilian Dragon looks like a pretty shitty opening for black, huh? NOT SO FAST MISTER! Did you notice the that the players I mentioned above who were beating up every dragon they spotted, are guys from yesterday’s chess scene? In more recent times powerful guys like Korchnoi, Tiviakov, Kasparov and even Nakamura have breathed new fire into the dragon (see what I did there? 😉 )… In the early 90s there was a revolution (of sorts) in the opening and many new ideas have been found, as well as remedies to the now “not-so-scary” Yugoslav Attack. Let’s have a look. Kasparov Gives it a Whirl In his 1995 World Championship Match against Vishy Anand, Gary Kasparov began the match playing the Najdorf Sicilian as his main weapon against 1.e4 and with results that were only so-so. As always, Kasparov was keeping some secret opening preparation up his sleeve and in game 11 of the match (about half way through) he broke out his secret weapon…the Dragon Variation! Viswanathan Anand vs Gary Kasparov (Game 11) In this game, (the first serious game in which Kasparov has played the Dragon!) Kasparov as black plays the “updated” theory in the Yugoslav Attack which consists of the so-called “Soltis Attack” (I’m no dragon specialist, nor do I play the line, but I have some idea of the ideas) which comes about when black plays the move 12…h5 stopping white’s ambitions of playing h5 himself in their tracks, and “dares” white to risk it all with a g4 thrust. According to Kasparov, in this line white has NO attack at all if he chooses not to risk playing g4 and in the game Anand chose not to. So pieces were swapped and they reached an endgame which Anand eventually botched. Score 1 for the Dragon at World Championship level! 😉 So what happened next? In the very next game as black (game 13 of the match), Kasparov played the Dragon again, despite the possibility that Anand and team could have prepared for it. This time he absolutely demolished Anand! Viswanathan Anand vs Gary Kasparov (Game 13) So, this time Anand still didn’t risk mixing things up with a g4 pawn thrust and instead went for a weird looking idea with 12.Nxc6 which for a non-Dragon player like me, doesn’t make a good impression. Kasparov was better almost immediately and it was clear that Anand had no attack at all. When the move 20…c4! came from Kasparov, white’s days were numbered since it “prevented castling on both sides with one move” and some typical-of-Kasparov powerplay smashed through for black. The final move 25…Ne4 is very nice! 🙂 So what do you think? Not such a bad opening after all huh! 😎 Need some more inspiration? Did you know that World Champion Magnus Carlsen has also been a fan of the Sicilian Dragon? Magnus Plays It Magnificently! So I’m going to show you two games where the champ throws out 5…g6 and goes on to blow away his opponent. This also goes to prove my assertion that all good positional players are also masters of chess tactics. Magnus played brilliant tactical chess before he built this reputation as the “computer-generation Karpov” and only then refined his style into the sophisticated, deep understanding maestro he is now. Anyway, let’s see how our man plays the Dragon. Richard Flores vs Magnus Carlsen In this game from back in 2001 when Magnus was still a young whippersnapper, his opponent does all the “right” things (swapping dark squared bishops, storming with h AND g pawns etc) and STILL Magnus crushes him. It was Aron Nimzowitsch in his classic middlegame book “My System” who first taught us that “A flank attack is doomed to fail if the attacker stands worse in the centre” and that the best response to an attack on the flank is indeed a counterstrike in the centre. This strategic concept is HUGE and you can get more information in this excellent article. So back to Carlsen’s Dragon… So white had just swapped the bishops and began launching his g and h pawns, and then (as we learnt above) he applied Nimzowitsch’s maxim and struck back in the centre immediately with the powerful moves 16…e5! and 17…d5! opening the centre up swiftly. Once the centre was open white’s flank attack became a pipe dream and Carlsen took over. A quite instructive game. 7 years and 700 ELO points later, Magnus also made Teimour Radjabov feel the heat of his Dragon fire in the following game… Teimour Radjabov vs Magnus Carlsen This game is very important for your theoretical knowledge of the Dragon. Carlsen plays the Soltis Variation (we seen in the Kasparov games above) and Radjabov (unlike Anand) risked burning bridges for the attack with 15.g4!? which quickly ignited enormous complications on the kingside. When the smoke cleared it was clear that Carlsen had everything under control. So that’s it guys. We have seen some interesting ideas on the evolution of this opening, learnt a few ideas in the main-line and even learnt that the WORLD CHAMP is a fan of the line. But… Remember, I’m not an expert on the Dragon, but wanted to give you guys a perspective on one of the most popular chess openings in modern practice. Some of you will need some inspiration still and some will want to study very concrete lines and “book up” on the line before risking it in real games. Follow these steps. Action Steps: Share this post (Thanks again guys, its below this post 😉 ) Download the PDF (of the games in this post, PLUS bonus beautiful Dragon games you’ve never seen) and study all of the games over the board, taking notes in the normal manner. If you decide to adopt this as your main weapon as black, consider getting the authoritative book on the opening by GM Gawain Jones (written last year, so the theory is very up to date). Jones is now the leading authority on the Dragon Sicilian. I have seen Gawain (who is married to an Aussie girl) demolish opponents in person in the Dragon at the Doeberl Cup event in Canberra years ago… He knows his stuff! 😉 Play some training games in the dragon against aggressive chess engines (like this one) for practice.