I’m Singing Those Old Dragon Blues!

I’m Singing Those Old Dragon Blues!

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I’m Singing Those Old Dragon Blues!


Dan asked:

My question is about White alternatives to the Yugoslav attack in the Sicilian Dragon. Basically, I hate it! I’d definitely prefer something that didn’t explode all over the board. Problem is, in every opening book I’ve looked at they hail the Yugoslav as the only way for White to obtain any advantage. I’m so irritated by the Dragon I often play the Moscow variation just to avoid it. I want to know of variations in the Open Sicilian White can use to try and diffuse some of the brain-wrenching tactics involved in the Dragon. I’d prefer to castle kingside, and I don’t mind taking draws. Or maybe I should stop whining and just get comfortable with the Yugoslav?


Dear Dan,

What would you think of someone who knowingly travels to a warzone and then complains about bullets whizzing by his head? When you enter the main lines of the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6/Nc6/e6 3.d4) you are, quite literally, entering a warzone. Theory is enormous, lines tend to be do or die and extremely sharp and, when a Najdorf or a Dragon is tossed at you, you pretty much have to pull out your sword and sing a killing song as you leap into the fray.

Okay, you can avoid the main lines, though doing so won’t offer any theoretical advantage. Nonetheless, tense situations can still result and a less violent game of chess can be played. In the case of the Dragon, you can give the Classical Variation a go: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.0–0 Nc6 8.Nb3 0–0 and now 9.Bg5 is interesting, while 9.Be3 is the beginning of the main lines. Most Dragon players (at least on the amateur level) tend to know less about 9.Bg5 than 9.Be3, so it’s actually a better practical choice.


You can also castle short and play a nice positional game via 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 O-O 8.Bb3 (note that 8.0-0 gives Black the added option of 8…Nxe4) 8…d6 9.h3 Bd7 10.0-0 when Black has several moves: 10…Qa5 transposes into an Accelerated Dragon. 10…Rc8 is popular, as is 10…Nxd4 11.Bxd4. White can play f2-f4 in these lines, but I prefer plans based on Re1 followed by Nd5 when …Nxd5 exd5 gives White play down the half open e-file. Here are a couple of examples that show just how effective this idea can be:


J.Benjamin - S.Taylor, New York, 2006

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Bc4 Bg7 7.h3 O-O 8.Bb3 Nc6 9.Be3 Bd7 10.O-O Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5

I prefer 11…Bc6 when a fairly recent game from the 2008 Russian Team Championship saw Black get easy play after 12.Qd3 a5 13.a4 Nd7 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.Qd4+ Kg8 16.Rfe1 Qb6 17.Qd2 Rac8 18.Bd5 Qb4 19.Bxc6 bxc6, K.Maslak - E.Pigusov.

12.Re1 a5 13.a3

Also good is 13.a4 b4 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.exd5 Bxd4 16.Qxd4 Re8 17.Re2 Qc7 18.Rae1 Bc8 19.Qh4 and white’s advantage was obvious in the game Xie Jun – Xu Tong, China 2005.

13…Bc6 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.exd5 Bb7 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Qe2

Or 17.Qd4+ Kg8 18.Re4 followed by Rae1 with an obvious advantage: White has serious pressure against e7 and evil designs against black’s King.

17... b4 18.axb4 axb4 19.Qb5 Qc7 20.Qxb4 Rfb8 21.Rad1 Kg8 22.Qh4 f6 23.Rd3 Rf8 24.Rc3 Qd7 25.Qg4 f5 26.Qh4 Rf7 27.Rce3 Kf8 28.Re6 Rg7 29.Qd4 Ra5 30.Qxg7+ Kxg7 31.Rxe7+, 1-0.


You need to keep in the mind that the Dragon isn’t the only problem in the main line Sicilian. You might encounter the same board-wide explosians in the Najdorf and/or Svesnikov. If this becomes overwhelming, then there are ways to avoid your opponent’s prepared systems while keeping a serious chance for an opening advantage. Lines like 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 are both dangerous and popular. However, if I was White and decided to take up 1.e4 again, I’d go with 1.e4 c5 2.c3, which is not at all easy to meet. If you master this system, you’ll find yourself picking up one point after another.

The best two books on 2.c3 are:

PLAY THE 2.c3 SICILIAN by Rozentalis and Harley (Gambit, 2002)

STARTING OUT: THE c3 SICILIAN by Emms (Everyman, 2008)


TheBishopsWife asked:

I am 60 years old. As I grow older, I find it difficult to maintain my level of play and also to improve. Would you please provide some tips for the older player.


Dear BishopsWife,

There was a recent survey in the Los Angeles Times where several older players (all IMs and GMs) were asked what part of their game had deteriorated the most. In general, the consensus was calculation (which meant that more blunders also appeared in their play), while loss of memory was also ranked high as a reason for rating loss. In general, players that depend heavily on calculation tend to suffer the most, while those that lived and died via the use of ultra-theoretical articles also found that they had a serious problem.

Personally, both of these attributed to my retirement from active play. I wasn’t able to remember reams of opening variations very well, and my calculations became slow and ponderous. Fortunately, solid positional skills kept me from returning to my original (age 12) 1068 rating, but it was depressing enough to make me decide that it was time to hang up my Rooks.

Nevertheless, I still enjoy chess on many levels: I love reading about chess history. I love going over master games. I love keeping up with chess news. I love helping other titled players find new moves and ideas in their openings. I enjoy the occasional blitz session with IM Tony Saidy. I enjoy lecturing about the game. And I love keeping up with the latest in opening theory by reading Chess Informants, NIC Yearbooks, and the seemingly endless stream of opening books I get from the various chess publishers.

My point is that having a great time with chess isn’t just dependent on playing. 

Having said all that, I have no doubt that you can still improve and even increase your level of play! Though much of this is dependent on your present strength, style, and tastes, I’ll generalize and, hopefully, strike a chord that appeals to you.

First off, change your openings to lines that are idea driven rather than variation (and thus memory) driven. An older player easily remembers ideas and plans since a glance at the board’s imbalances will immediately fire up those lost memories and toss them to the surface. But if you are trying to play some tactical line that demands the memorization of dozens of pages of grandmaster analysis, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Second, master the use of the imbalances. My upcoming book, How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th Edition (available in April, 2010) offers a complete course on this subject. Once you do this, you won’t be so dependent on calculation. Instead, a glance at the board will give you information that you never imagined in the past.

These two things will take you down new paths, offer up new chess adventures, and will lead to increased playing potential.

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