The Sicilian Dragon is a popular variation of the Sicilian, characterized by the first moves 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6
With 5…g6, black prepares to fianchetto the dark bishop, where it will help to protect black’s king as well as “breathe fire” along the long diagonal.
This bishop plays a key role in the Sicilian Dragon, but if white succeeds in exchanging this bishop off, the black king could be left vulnerable.
White has two main ways to take on the dragon – the infamous Yugoslav Attack, or the more restrained Classical Variation. We’ll examine both options in this article
The Yugoslav Attack has been known for decades to give white a dangerous attack against the Sicilian Dragon. White will castle to the queenside, attempt to exchange black’s dragon bishop, and launch a kingside pawn storm against the black king.
Play begins with 6. Be3 Bg7 (6…Ng4?? 7. Bb5+ wins for white, as the knight cannot be defended!) 7. f3 0-0 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. 0-0-0
Black has finished up the development of their minor pieces, but white is primed for a kingside attack. Bringing the bishop to c4 prevents black from playing the liberating move …d5, but this bishop can also be a target, as we’ll soon see.
10…Rc8 is black’s most popular move, bringing the rook to the open file and eyeing the loose bishop. White often preemptively plays 11. Bb3, and now after 11…Ne5 (coming to c4, to exchange off the powerful bishop), white is ready to get their attack rolling with 12. h4
Now, black has a couple choices:
After 12…Nc4 13. Bxc4 Rxc4, white’s most popular plan is to charge ahead with 14. h5!, opening up the h-file even as a pawn sacrifice.
If left to white’s own devices, white would love to play Bh6 and exchange dark bishops, then open the h-file, then bring the queen to h6, and finally play Nc3-d5 to deflect the black knight away from the defense of the h7 square. This plan is simple but deadly – black had better know how to handle it!
After 14…Nxh5 15. g4 Nf6 16. Nh6, black can play 16…Nxe4! to stay in the game.
This move threatens the d4 knight via a discovered attack, and white is too slow to take on g7 because the queen is hanging.
After 17. Qe3!, black is too slow to take on c3 with the knight (17…Nxc3? 18. Bxg7 and the attack is overwhelming. Qh6 is coming next). But black can sacrifice the exchange: 17…Rxc3! 18. bxc3 Nf6.
Black’s position may still be precarious, but the white king is quite exposed now too. The f6-knight is a good guardian of the king, especially now that white cannot play Nd5 to deflect it away. Any attempt to dislodge the knight with g4-g5 will be met with …Nh5 when the h-file is sealed off for the time being. An interesting game is in store!
The Soltis Variation has become one of the most popular lines in the Sicilian Dragon. Black tries to slow white down on the kingside, even at the cost of exposing their own king more.
White is often forced to take a slower approach. 13. Bg5 is the main move, as it’s hard to dislodge this bishop, and the e7 pawn could be a target in some lines with a well-timed Nc3-d5.
Now 13…Rc5 is the main reply, a great multi-purpose move. This move supports a possible …b5 advance, and gives black the option to think about doubling (or even tripling) on the c-file at a later point.
After 14. Kb1 b5 15. g4 a5 16. gxh5 Nxh5 17. Nd5:
We get the following position. White’s threatening the e7-pawn, but black can simply defend it with 17…Re8, and black is building up pressure of their own on the queenside.
This is another popular way to take on the Sicilian Dragon, omitting the move Bc4 and castling queenside right away. Black needs to know their stuff here – playing the same way as in the mainline Yugoslav Attack will lead to trouble!
Let’s think about it – in the Yugoslav Attack main line where black plays …Bd7, …Rc8, …Ne5, and …Nc4, white has to make three moves with the light-bishop (Bc4, Bb3, and Bxc4).
If black plays these same moves while white keeps the bishop on f1, then white will only need to make one bishop move to exchange off for the knight when it lands on c4! This would give white two extra tempos for their kingside attack – clearly not an acceptable result for black!
Therefore, black should make use of the chance white has provided them to play 9…d5, striking in the center.
Many interesting lines can result. One of the main lines is 10. Kb1 Nxd4 (not 10…dxe4?? 11. Nxc6! Qxd2 12. Nxe7! And white wins a piece) 11. e5! Nf5 12. exf6 Bxf6 (12…exf6 13. Bc5 is another line) 13. Nxd5:
13…Qxd5! 14. Qxd5 Nxe3 15. Qd3 Nxd1 16. Qxd1 and black has quite decent compensation for the sacrificed queen.
Whew! Those were a lot of sharp lines to go over. Needless to say, if you want to play the Sicilian Dragon with black, you better be ready for the Yugoslav Attack!
The Classical Dragon usually leads to a more calm, positional game. Let’s take a look: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be2 Bg7 7. 0-0
White castles to the kingside and aims to finish up development.
Both sides have many options, but play might continue 7…0-0 8. Be3 Nc6 9. Nb3 (Because white has a space advantage, white may want to keep pieces on the board and avoid exchanges) 9…Be6 10. f4, and now black has a nice move in 10…Qc8
This move serves a couple purposes. One is to threaten to play …Ng4, which would currently cost white the bishop pair. The other is to bring a rook to the d8 square, so that black can once again try to play the liberating move …d5.
11. Kh1 is white’s most popular reply, giving the g1 square to the bishop. The may may proceed 11…Rd8 12. Bg1 d5 13. e5 Ne4
With a complex, strategic game to follow. Black sometimes plays a later …f7-f6 to try to chip away at white’s space advantage and liberate the “dragon bishop” once more.
The Sicilian Dragon is one of the most complex and heavily analyzed openings in all of chess. Several decades ago, its reputation was damaged by the overwhelming success of the Yugoslav Attack, as black was mated again and again – but in recent years, black has discovered resources that can keep him alive in the face of white’s onslaught. One thing is for sure – playing the Dragon requires careful preparation, as one wrong move can spell disaster!
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