Sicilian Defense: How to Play the Sicilian Dragon

How to play the Sicilian Dragon chess opening

The Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation is 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 for Black 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 defeat Vishy Anand twice in their World Championship Match in 1995, for example. Occasionally, the opening has been called “unplayable” and believed to be refuted – but it always rises again, more powerful than before.

So-called “refutations” of the Sicilian Dragon have been destroyed time and again 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 that you cannot play casually, but it’s an opening to be passionate about. Here’s a little appetizer of the exciting Sicilian Dragon.

The Sicilian Dragon offers you a fighting opening for Black against the move 1.e4 and this following article will give the Sicilian Dragon its chance to shine.

This introduction would not be complete without a few words of warning: this opening is not for everyone. Players who prefer to stay away from complex lines and razor-sharp variations should not play the Dragon! Nerves of steel and a good memory are prerequisites for this opening.

Sicilian Dragon Basics and Key Concepts

“It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Plans for black in the Sicilian Dragon opening

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 – of 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 there is 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 where it eyes White’s pawn on b2 and the dark-squared bishop, which usually stands on e3.

Black’s light-squared bishop goes to d7 or e6 and makes room for a rook to move 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 coordinate well, finding useful squares.

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 DefenseWho are the Best Sicilian Dragon Opening Players?

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 the opening.

You can watch their approaches against different chess opening setups and become familiar with the latest trends, fashionable move orders or opening novelties.

So, which Sicilian Dragon experts can you follow?

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 who has broken the 2700-Elo barrier.

He has published two chess books for Quality Chess providing a complete and bulletproof Sicilian Dragon repertoire, and he frequently plays the Dragon Variation against strong opposition. He clearly knows what he’s doing in the Dragon!

Other chess opening experts in the Sicilian Dragon are GM Teimour Radjabov (2750), GM Peter Heine Nielsen (2635), GM Simon Williams (2460) and Sergei Tiviakov (2573).

On top of that, none other than World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has played many games in the Sicilian Dragon.

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.


Sicilian Defense: Play The Sicilian Dragon – The Definitive Opening Guide

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 – arguably the toughest test for Black 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+.

On the flip side, 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!? or 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.

Disadvantages Of Playing The Sicilian Defense 

Sicilian Defense: Play The Sicilian Dragon – The Definitive Opening Guide

It wouldn’t be honest and fair to praise a chess opening without mentioning its disadvantages. After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect opening, otherwise every player would use it! 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.

Chess Opening Traps In The Sicilian Dragon 

There are a few chess opening traps which White can aim for against the Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation. Here are the three most important ones:

Levenfish Attack: 6.f4

Sicilian Dragon Levenfish Attack Traps

This chess 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

Sicilian Dragon g3 system traps

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

Sicilian Defense: Play The Sicilian Dragon – The Definitive Opening Guide

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 chess opening trap if he chooses to play the Smith-Morra Gambit against the Sicilian Defense.

After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cx4 3.c3 (The Smith-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!

Critical Lines Against The Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation:

Sicilian Defense: Play The Sicilian Dragon – The Definitive Opening Guide

Before starting to play a new chess opening, you should take a 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 of the Sicilian Dragon) and 9.g4.

If you want to play the Sicilian Defense Dragon Variation, you should be familiar with these moves and have some ideas of what to do against them. In a future article, we’ll go into more detail and present you with some strong options on how to play against each of these critical moves for White.

Conclusion: Continued Learning for the Sicilian Defense

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 chess 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.

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 50% off.

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