Opening Corner: Fire on Board – Play the Sicilian Dragon
“It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
An Inspiring Introduction
The Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation is considered to be one of the sharpest chess openings you can play. It is also known to be one of the most extensively analyzed opening systems in chess and one of the most-feared counterattacking options against the move 1.e4. It is an early declaration of war to any e4-player and usually leads to breathtaking dynamic and double-edged positions.
The Sicilian Dragon is a chess opening which has been played in World Championship Matches (It was used by Kasparov to twice defeat Vishy Anand in their World Championship Match in 1995, for example), and which has been called “unplayable” and believed dead – but it always rises again, more powerful than before. “Refutations” of the Sicilian Dragon have been refuted over the years and many adherents of the Sicilian Dragon have spent countless hours looking for improvements, novelties and modernizations. It has been played by Super Grandmasters such as Carlsen, Kasparov, Ivanchuk, Radjabov and Nakamura. It is an opening you either love or hate and one of those chess openings which you do not simply play casually, but about which you become passionate.
The Sicilian Dragon offers you a fighting opening for Black against the move 1.e4 and the following article will give the Sicilian Dragon its chance to shine.
Sicilian Dragon Basics and Key Concepts
The Sicilian Dragon is part of the Open Sicilian and arises after the moves 1.e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6.
This is the key starting position – or tabiya – for the Sicilian Dragon. White has a pair of centralized knights, while black is preparing to fianchetto his bishop on f8 and to create strong pressure on the long diagonal. Black’s main idea is to use the dark-squared bishop to pressure White’s center and the queenside, regardless of whether we have opposite or same-side castling. The bishop on g7 is the key attacking and defending piece and thus it is called the “Dragon bishop”.
The knight on b8 usually goes to c6 and puts additional pressure on d4. Moreover, it is a common idea to transfer the knight via e5 to c4 from where it eyes White’s pawn on b2 and the dark-squared bishop which usually stands on e3. Black’s light-squared bishop comes to d7 or e6 and makes room for a rook to come to c8. It is important to note that Black does not want to move his e-pawn, if there is no concrete reason, because this would severely weaken the pawn on d6.
It is instructive to see that the Dragon Variation is the most harmonious setup of all lines in the Sicilian Defense. Black has no clear weaknesses and all of his pieces find useful squares and coordinate well. You can compare the Sicilian Dragon to the Najdorf Variation, for example, in which Black has a big hole on d5 and a weak pawn on d6. The same happens in the Sveshnikov Sicilian in which Black has his central pawns on e5 and d6 also. In the Taimanov Sicilian, for instance, it is tough for Black to bring his light-squared bishop into play.
Opening Experts in the Sicilian Dragon
If you want to learn a new chess opening or keep up to date with your opening system, it is a wise decision to regularly check the games of the world’s leading experts in this opening. You can watch their approaches against different opening setups and become familiar with the latest trends, fashionable move orders or opening novelties.
So, which experts to follow in the Sicilian Dragon?
First and foremost, if you’re looking for an opening expert in the Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation, you should investigate the games and theoretical works of GM Gawain Jones. GM Jones is an English Grandmaster with an ELO-rating of around 2675. He recently published two chess books for Quality Chess providing you with a complete and bulletproof Sicilian Dragon repertoire. GM Gawain Jones frequently plays the Dragon Variation against strong opposition.
Other opening experts in the Sicilian Dragon you can follow are GM Teimour Radjabov (2750), GM Peter Heine Nielsen (2635) who published a two-part chess DVD series on the Sicilian Dragon for Chessbase, GM Simon Williams (2460) who published a two-part chess DVD series on the Sicilian Dragon for iChess and Sergei Tiviakov (2573).
On top of that, none other than World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has played many games in the Sicilian Dragon. Of course, it is recommended that you watch his games and see how he approaches one of the best chess openings for Black.
Advantages of Playing the Sicilian Dragon
While looking at a chess opening, it is always important to weigh the pros and cons. So, let’s start with the advantages of playing the Sicilian Dragon:
As stated above, one big advantage of playing the Sicilian Dragon is the harmonious setup of the pieces. Black’s pieces coordinate well, his structure is sound and he has great long-term prospects. The only potential weakness in Black’s camp is the d5-square. Hence, if White castles short, he can’t really hope to achieve an opening advantage.
If you want to have an even stronger repertoire with Black against 1.e4, you can add the Sicilian Dragon’s little brother, the Accelerated Dragon, into your repertoire. The Accelerated Dragon is a variation of the Sicilian Defense which starts with the moves:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 – Sometimes this move order is also called “The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon” – 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6.
In contrast to the “normal” Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation, Black avoids playing d7–d6, so that he can later play d7–d5 in one move if possible. The great thing about the Accelerated Dragon is that Black sidesteps the Yugoslav Attack – one of the sharpest opening systems in the Sicilian Dragon. On top of that, the move order with 2…g6 has the advantage of avoiding the famous system for White after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+.
However, the move order with 2…g6 also opens up some other possibilities for White. He can go for 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4!? and 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bg7 5.c4 (the Maroczy Bind). Still, Black can benefit from the different move orders with 2…d6 and 2…g6. If he faces an aggressive attacking player, he can choose 2…g6 and allow the positional Maroczy Bind, whilst if he faces a calm positional player, he can play 2…d6 and force White to go for some sharp lines with long-castling if he wants to claim an opening advantage. If you do not only want to have a bulletproof repertoire for Black, but also a flexible repertoire to catch many White-players off guard, check out our special offer on the Accelerated Dragon.
On top of all that, in his chess DVD series, GM Williams analyzes a very interesting opening that has only burst onto the scene in recent years – the Dragadorf! This sick invention of an opening that combines ideas from two of the most popular chess openings ever played – the Dragon and the Najdorf. In the Dragadorf, Black opens with the normal Dragon move order, however, diverges before castling in the late opening to play for a6, b5, and Bb7 – creating a double fianchetto defense that is incredibly dynamic as Black creates maximum tension from the sides against White`s center.
It wouldn’t be honest and fair to praise an opening without mentioning its disadvantages. Hence, here are a few words of warning:
If you’re playing the Sicilian Dragon, the importance of theory cannot be underestimated. Although there are only very few lines which White can choose to play for an edge in the opening, Black has to know what he is doing in these lines. It is definitely not advisable to enter into the dangerous waters of the Yugoslav Attack, for example, if you’re not familiar with the theory at all. It is highly unpleasant to worry about getting mated in less than 25 moves in these sharp lines.
But as we all know, laziness is usually not rewarded. If you do your homework, you’ll get rewarded, have the chance to turn the tables and mate White as quickly as well.
There are a few opening traps which White can aim for against the Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation. Here are the three most important ones:
Levenfish Attack: 6.f4
This opening trap occurs after the moves 1.e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6 6.f4.
White prepares 7.e5, attacking Black’s knight on f6. Here, Black should play the move 6…Nc6! taking control of the e5-square.
If Black plays carelessly and continues with the usual 6…Bg7, White can play 7.e5 dxe5 8.fxe5. Now, an active move like 8…Ng4? (see the diagram on the left) is already losing to 9.Bb5+! Kf8 (9…Bd7 loses to 10.Qxg4!) 10.Ne6+! +-.
The g3 System
This opening trap occurs after the moves 1.e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6 6.g3 Bg7 7.Bg2 Nc6? (see the diagram on the right – Black should play 7…0-0 instead).
Now White can play 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.e5! attacking both, the knight on f6 and the pawn on c6.
Winning the Queen with 6.Bc4
White can try to play for another chess opening trap with 1.e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6 6.Bc4!? Nc6?! (6…Bg7! – it is better to develop the kingside first) 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5! (see the diagram on the left).
Black has to be careful. If he takes the pawn on e5, he will lose on the spot – 8…dxe5 9.Bxf7+! Kxf7 (forced!) 10.Qxd8 and Black can resign.
It is important to keep this tactical motif in mind, because White can play for a similar opening trap if he chooses to play the Morra Gambit against the Sicilian Defense. After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cx4 3.c3 (The Morra Gambit – White sacrifices a pawn for active piece play and the open c-file) 3…dxc3 4.Nxc3, Sicilian Dragon Players have to pay attention as they can’t go for their usual move order. 4…d6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bc4 g6? (Black aims for his typical setup in the Sicilian Dragon Variation) 7.e5! (see the diagram on the left). Black is already a lot worse. As we’ve seen before, Black can’t take on e5 with his d-pawn in view of Bxf7 winning the queen!
Before starting to play a new opening, you should take a quick look at the critical lines. The good news about playing the Sicilian Dragon is that White’s options to play for an opening advantage are rather limited. Often the game becomes sharp and White is forced to take risks.
Nowadays, White’s only real possibility to create problems for Black in the Sicilian Dragon is to play lines with long-side castling. Often the game becomes extremely sharp and White is forced to take a lot of risks. If Black knows what he is doing, it can also be White who gets completely crushed in less than 20 moves. According to the current theory, White’s three most promising options to try to get an edge in the opening are the following:
All of the three variations start from the same position after Black’s 8th move: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 (see the diagram on the left).
Here, White has three main moves at his disposal – 9. 0-0-0, 9.Bc4 (the Yugoslav Attack) and 9.g4.
Hence, if you want to play the Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation, you should be familiar with these moves and have some ideas what to do against them. In our next article, we’ll go into more detail and present you some strong options on how to play against each of these critical moves for White.
Many chess players would love to play the Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation, but they wonder if it is still playable and if there is any refutation. The truth is that the Sicilian Dragon is by no means refuted and still is one of the best chess openings which provides you with a fighting opening repertoire for Black against the move 1.e4.
Of course, the Sicilian Dragon is a chess opening which can’t be successfully played without any theoretical knowledge. There are certain razor-sharp lines in which you need to know your stuff inside out. Still, the same applies to almost all other chess openings for Black. With huge databases, strong chess engines and plenty of new chess books on openings which are frequently published, you don’t have an easy life playing Black in the 21st century. Deep Opening Preparation is key in competitive chess!
Hence, the Sicilian Dragon is no exception – if you’re playing a well-prepared opponent, you need to be booked up as well. In the next article of this new “Opening Corner-Series”, we’re going to have a look at the three critical lines White can play against the Sicilian Dragon.
Want to master the Sicilian Dragon? You’ll need to know the typical tactical patterns that frequently occur! IM Valeri Lilov’s course on the Sicilian Dragon gives you a complete understanding of essential tactical patterns. Get instant access with 35% off.
Tags: accelerated dragon, best chess openings, chess opening experts, chess opening traps, sicilian defense, Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation, sicilian dragon, simon williams, The Accelerated Dragon, Yugoslav attackCategories: Chess Openings, General Chess Articles
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