The Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defence is one of the most complex lines of this opening. Black aims for a sharp, aggressive play and puts white under pressure right from the start. It is a line full of tactical ideas, perfect for those who want to play for a win with the black pieces. There are many ways of playing against the Sicilian Dragon with white, but no real refutation has been found against it after all these years.
There have been lines that, at some point in time, have been considered dangerous for black, but the specialists of this line have constantly come up with improvements, showing that black has nothing to fear.
On the contrary, many players feel uncomfortable with white when facing the Sicilian Dragon and opt for sidelines, which lead to quieter positions, as opposed to the messy main lines.
Sicilian Dragon: The Basics
The Sicilian Dragon is one of the main options against the Open Sicilian and arises after the moves 1.e4 – c5 2.Nf3 – d6 3.d4 – cxd4 4.Nxd4 – Nc6 5.Nc3 – g6:
From this position black will develop the pieces as follows:
- The dark-squared bishop belongs on g7. Remember: this is a very important piece in this line, if not the most important. It is your main weapon, the “cannon” that can pierce through white’s position, especially when the king is castled long. This bishop is referred to as the “Dragon Bishop” and has a special place in the heart of every Dragon player. The idea is to put pressure on the center and queenside, regardless of where the white king will castle. The dark squares on the long diagonal play an important role in this opening and you should pay special attention to them.
- The King will castle short. There is no question about this; it is only white who has the option of castling on either wing. If the white king castles short, the resulting positions will usually be quieter and more positional. In the case of the long castle, there will be a race between the two players – white will launch a quick attack with f3, g4, h4, and h5, and black will try the same on the queenside by means of a6 and b5.
- The Queenside Knight goes to c6. Again, this is the typical square for this knight, to put more pressure on the center and be ready to join the attack on the queenside in some lines. One idea that you can use is to transfer the knight to c4, either via e5 or a5 – it all depends on the line white chooses and the position you have on the board.
- The light-squared bishop usually goes to d7, to support the attack on the queenside. In some lines the bishop will end up on c6, putting pressure on white’s central e4 pawn. This bishop can become especially dangerous in the lines where white pushes f4 too soon. Here you sometimes have the idea of trading knights on d4 and playing Bc6. In other lines, where the white knight leaves d4 early (for example in the Nb3 line), the bishop can be developed directly to e6.
- Other typical ideas involve the advance of the queenside pawns – a6 and b5, to start putting pressure on white’s position. This idea can be used both against 0-0-0 and 0-0. In both lines, it can combine beautifully with the Nc4 plan.
- The Rook on a8 usually occupies the semi-open c file. This is another very important piece in your attack. In case white castles long, the pressure it exerts on the c file is obvious. But even if white castles short, the rook can be very dangerous. One typical idea that you have to know as a Dragon player is the exchange sacrifice on c3. It’s an idea that you should have in mind all the time and check to see if it is worth playing.
There are two main situations where this sacrifice works:
1 . When followed by …Nxe4, winning the central e4 pawn. Here’s an example where Alekhine executes this idea in very good conditions:
Back to play
The game continued with 13…Rxc3 14.bxc3-Nxe4 15.Qd3-Nxe3 16.Qxe3-Nxc3, with a crushing advantage.
2. Against the long-castled king, even if you don’t win the e4 pawn. In this case, the sacrifice is played to open white’s king and be able to start a quick attack.
Here’s a good example of how this idea can work:
Hector, J – Yrjola, J, Ostersund 1992
Black to play
The game continued with 12…Rxc3!
Now after 13.bxc3 black played simply 13…Qc7 attacking c3 14.Qe1 and now d5!? Planning to open the center and bring all his pieces quickly in the attack. White’s position is very difficult to defend and black got a decisive advantage very soon. You can see how the game continued and how black coordinated his pieces for the attack here:
These are only two ideas, but the same sacrifice can work in many other situations.
One more idea that you should know is that white’s dark-squared bishop is very important. It is the piece that can oppose our powerful Dragon bishop from g7. For this reason, if white gives you the opportunity of trading it for your knight, you should gladly accept it. One of the most common ways to “trap” this bishop is by playing …Ng4. White, in return, will try to avoid this by playing moves like Be2, h3 or f3.
Remember – you only want to play …Ng4 if you are really going to be able to trade this bishop for your knight. If white can simply retreat the bishop without making any concessions, then this move might not be so strong.
Here’s an example of how you can force the trade of the bishop on e3:
This position can be reached from the lines with 7.Bc4: 1.e4-c5 2.Nf3-d6 3.d4-cxd4 4.Nxd4-Nc6 5.Nc3-g6 6.Be3-Bg7 7.Bc4-0-0 8.Bb3-Nc6. In this position, white’s main options are 9.f3 and 9.h3.
Both these moves avoid the …Ng4 idea. However, in the case of white castles, our idea becomes possible: 10.0-0 -Ng4. In order to save the bishop, white has to continue with 11.Nxc6-bxc6 12.Bf4. Note that 12.Bd4 would be bad in view of 12…e5 and the bishop is forced to return to e3.
In the case of 12.Bf4 black hasn’t managed to trade this bishop but has obtained a strong center by forcing white to capture on c6.
Among the players, you can follow to learn the main ideas and see how to handle the Sicilian Dragon positions are Gawain Jones, Alexander Khalifman, Boris Alterman, Sergei Tiviakov, and Peter Heine Nielsen.
Sicilian Dragon: The Theory
If you have decided that the Dragon is the opening you want to play, you should be advised that there is a lot of theory to be learned. It is not an opening that can be played only by ideas; there are lines in the Dragon where you will need to know exactly what you are doing.
Here I am talking mainly about the famousthat arises after the moves 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 9.Bc4. Other important options for white are 9.0-0-0 and 9.g4. The lines where white castles long are the most dangerous and you will need to know your theory very well.
Another way of playing against the Sicilian Dragon is with 7.Bc4, when white will castle short next. This is a more positional line, but you will still need to know the ideas very well, as white could nevertheless try to launch an attack by means of f4.
Finally, don’t forget about the sidelines!
Even if they’re not employed as often, some still have some venom. One of them is the line with 6.g3, where white is preparing to fianchetto the light-squared bishop.
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