TEST YOUR CHESS: BLACK DRAGON
Hi again everyone,
This time we will try to take a look at how black can answer a variation which a lot of sources consider to be critical to the whole survival of the Dragon. I’ve tried to include a lot of possible deviations for black that can be considered for a Dragon player looking for enterprising and less-tested alternatives. If you are interested in just a few simple tests then it is as easy as skipping from one diagram to the next and answering questions. There is a navigable board at the bottom too.
Simacek,P - Kashlinskaya,A
Czech Republic 2009
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0–0 9.0–0–0 d5 10.Kb1
If the mainlines with 10.exd5 begin to suffer, this is where white undoubtedly turns first. Over time, black has tried to find different ways of disarming the 10.Kb1 variation, but has yet to come up with anything overly convincing. Another alternative is to play 10.Qe1. That's a subject for a future game. In the mean time we’ve hit our first question.
Question 1: Can the move 10.Kb1 really be any good, if black can liquidate the center immediately with 10...dxe4? What would you play here?
(1 point) This is a very serious attempt to equalize, perhaps black's best shot in the entire line. By trading down, black releases some of the tension in the position, which is often regarded as a good method to lesson one's defensive task.
10...Rb8!? (1 point) This is a good alternative to the mainline. It’s the type of tricky line that - in typical Dragon style - walks a tightrope. It is a recommendation of IM Andrew Martin in his book Starting Out: The Sicilian Dragon for Everyman Chess. He believes it is one possibility that avoids Black's mainline woes. 11.Ndb5
For those interested in a far, far more complicated and tactical line, there is an alternative in 11.g4!? This is a novelty which is analyzed in depth by chess.com site author Roman Dzindzichashvilli and can be found in the video section entitled Beating the Dragon Part 1. Instead, here I present a safer and less hair-raising approach, although accurate play is still required.
This line (11.Ndb5) is nice because white refuses to capitulate and open the b-file, which might accelerate black's play. 11...a6 12.Na7 e6 13.g4! White prepares to simply push g5 and win a pawn on d5. 13...Qc7 14.g5 d4! Black must play aggressively to stay in the game, in typical Dragon fashion. Without this push he will just be worse because of losing the pawn on d5. 15.Bf4 e5 16.gxf6 dxc3 17.Qxc3 Bxf6 18.Bh6 Re8 19.Bxa6!? Be6 20.Nxc6 Ra8 21.Bc4 Qxc6 22.Bxe6 Qxc3 23.Bxf7+ Kxf7 and white had a winning ending in Becerra Rivero,J - Charbonneau,P, ICC 2005. Defenders of the black side may want to look at this game for possible improvements.
10...e6!? (1 point) This choice seems to fail to a very thematic response, but it is not so clear as one might hope. This may be a line for black players looking to get off the beaten path to check out. 11.g4!? Now the threat of g5 and winning a pawn forces black's hand entirely. 11...e5! It seems to make little sense as black has already spent a tempo moving this pawn one square. We know all too well that the variation with 10...e5 is a mistake (see below), however here white has weakened his long diagonal with the move 11. g4!? and that makes all the difference. 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.Bc5!
Instead 13.exd5 cxd5!? Is good since the best chance for black in this line is to go for complications.
13...Nxd5? did not turn out so well after 14.Bc4! (14.Nxd5 cxd5 15.Qxd5 Qxd5 16.Rxd5 Bb7! and we see why the long diagonal made a difference. Black has equalized comfortably.) 14...Nxc3+ 15.Qxc3 Left white structurally superior and more active in Giaccio,A - Kanefsck,G, Buenos Aires 1999.
14.g5 d4 15.gxf6 Qxf6 16.Ne4 Qxf3 17.Bg1 Rb8 18.Bg2 Qa3 19.b3 and surely black has compensation in the form of his central pawn mass as well as the weakened white kingside.
13...d4!? 14.Bxf8 Bxf8 15.Na4 and black may have compensation for the exchange with his advanced center, the bishop pair, and the open b-file. Interested readers are invited to do some of their own research here.
10...dxe4?? (0 points) There is a monster tactical flaw here. 11.Nxc6 Qxd2 12.Nxe7+ Kh8 13.Rxd2 wins for white.
10...e5?? (0 points) This loses a pawn for no compensation at all. 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.exd5 cxd5 13.Nxd5 Bf5!?
Dzindzi gives the line beginning 13...Be6 14.Nxf6+! and now 14…Qxf6 otherwise we are in an ending with white a pawn up after an immediate queen trade. 15.Bg5 Qf5 16.g4 Qxf3 17.Bg2 Qxg4 18.Bxa8 Rxa8 19.Qd8+! Rxd8 20.Rxd8+ Bf8 21.Bh6 Qb4 22.Rxf8+ Qxf8 23.Bxf8 Kxf8 with a winning ending for white. Analysis by Roman Dzindzichashvilli, Beating the Dragon Part 1, Chess.com.
14.g4 Nxd5 15.Qxd5 Be6 16.Qxd8 Raxd8 and white was simply a pawn up in Kaufman,L -Zaremba,A, ICC 2005. However Kaufman failed to bring in the full point and only managed to draw. I would suggest not being so eager to exchange as he was here when he played 17.Rxd8 and instead to just play 17.Be2, maintaining the fight for the file.
It turns out this juncture is far more critical than it looks if white resorts to such an exclam to maintain his edge! In fact this is the only move with which he can press for a better game at this point, and the coming variations bear this out.
11.Qxd4?? is the most miserable of white's obvious alternatives: 11...Nxe4! 12.Qxd5 Nxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qxd5 14.Rxd5 Be6 15.Rd3 Rfc8 16.Bd4 Bf5 17.Rd2 Bxd4 18.Rxd4 Rxc3 and black is a pawn to the good with winning chances.
11.Bxd4?! is as tame as it looks, as black is allowed to cause damage to white's pawn structure. 11...dxe4 12.Qe1!? (12.fxe4 Be6 is equal. and 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.fxe4 Bxd4 14.Qxd4 Bg4 is slightly better for black due to pawn structure.) 12...Qc7 13.fxe4 Be6 14.Nd5 Bxd5 15.exd5 Rfd8 16.c4 b5 17.Rc1 bxc4 18.Bxc4 Qf4 when black's bishop pair was just enough to compensate for his isolated pawn in Velimirovic,D-Milu, R, Bijeljina 2001.
Question 2: Up a whole piece for a half-move, black is afforded the luxury of some choices at this juncture. How would you proceed?
11...Nf5 (1 point)
Far and away the most popular line. Black simply retreats the threatened piece and supports a potential d4 thrust if allowed.
11...Nxf3 (1 point) This is an entirely valid alternative to the text and even if it appears a little greedy, what is white going to do about it? This line has been played about half the time of its main rival 11... Nf5, but nowadays Radjabov has yet to show he will try 11...Nxf3. 12.gxf3 Nh5 13.Nxd5 Be6 (13...Bxe5?? 14.Nf6+ Nxf6 15.Qxd8 Rxd8 16.Rxd8+ Kg7 leaves white up material.) 14.Bc4 and now black has two choices:
14...Bxe5 15.Qe2!? Bxd5 16.Rxd5 Qc7? Led to big trouble after 17.Rc5 Qb8 18.Bh6 Bd4 19.Rxh5! gxh5 20.Qxe7! and black's position was torn asunder in Giaccio,A - Hoffman,A, Buenos Aires 1997.
14...Bxd5 15.Bxd5 Bxe5 16.f4 Bf6 When black is solid but passive as in Szieberth,A - Schneider,A, Budapest 1995.
11...Ne4!? (1 point) This alternative is entirely plausible and poorly studied, so it may be a viable choice for the enterprising player of the black pieces. It’s not entirely clear how white is supposed to proceed, and a lot of amateurs will be confused. 12.fxe4 Nc6 13.exd5 Nxe5 14.h3! and the problem for black here is where to put his light-squared bishop. That and white's greater overall space and activity gave him an edge in Szieberth,A - Dekic,J, Budapest 1998.
11...Nd7 (0 points) Here white comes up with a good move to force the exchange of dark-squared bishops, which significantly weakens black's position. 12.Bxd4 Nxe5 13.Qe3! Nc6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.Nxd5 This has been played a couple of times in master chess, with some chance of black surviving. However, he has lost the key defender of his dark squares and white should busy himself tearing open the kingside in typical fashion. White has an edge here. Milov,L - Golubev,M, Biel 1994.
If players of the black side are dissatisfied with the coming lines, then they are more than welcome to look to the lines beginning with 12...exf6!? That move is currently being championed by Super-GM Radjabov with success.
Alright, material is equal and both sides have good pawn structures. If all other things were equal, we could claim black was, you guessed it… equal! However there is a problem in this position. White threatens to chop of the bishop on f6 with check, and that would be a very dangerous thing for black to face. In such an instance white retains his dark-bishop while black loses his and this would be a very big plus for white.
Question 3: Knowing all of the above must be addressed, how would you proceed?
(1 point) I'm only awarding one point here because I figure anybody who gets this move has probably seen this theory! However, if you came up with this on your first time seeing this position, a tip of the hat to you. This queen sacrifice is a long debated mainline, and surprisingly one where black is holding his own in practice, despite the ensuing material deficit.
13...Bg7!? (1 point) This seems perfectly fine, as it simply heads into a line identical to our mainline after: 14.Nf6+ Bxf6 15.Qxd8 Nxe3 16.Qd2 Nxd1 17.Qxd1 Be6 and we have transposed to the game at hand.
13...Be6? (0 points) This is a blunder, now white continues 14.Nxf6+ exf6 15.Bf2 and retains both the bishop pair and the mobile majority, which give him a long term edge with which to slowly win the game.
14.Qxd5 Nxe3 15.Qd3
15.Qd2 Transposes after 15...Nxd1 16.Qxd1
15...Nxd1 16.Qxd1 Be6
The dust settles and the battle lines are drawn. Black accepts the material deficit of ceding his queen for a bishop and rook, and hopes the activity he can achieve in the position will compensate for this. This line has been debated at high levels for many years, and it seems white is still in the driver’s seat, but not by much. One slip can be fatal here for either player, but such is life in the Dragon.
The major alternative here is 16...Bf5!? but now white plays 17.Bc4! This seems the best test of black's choice to avoid ...Be6 and not contest the a2-g8 diagonal last move. However white’s remaining bishop is still subject to attack and black will hope to gain some time by threatening it. 17...b5!? is the only real try to take advantage of the bishops position. 18.Bb3 a5 19.g4 Bc8 20.Qe2 Rb8 21.Rd1 e6 and black was very crossed up here, but somehow managed to draw in Mamedov,N - Aronian,L, Batumi 2002. Of course Aronian is now among the world elite, and so the caliber of player undoubtedly had a great influence over the result in such a position.
This is one of Eddy Dearing’s suggestions in his book Play the Sicilian Dragon by Gambit. The idea is utterly simple. White in no way exposes his bishop to tempi gaining moves, and envisions Qc1 followed by Rd1, when trading a pair of rooks on the d-file will bring him that much closer to converting his material advantage. In fact the crux of the middlegame (or late opening?) is just that - to lessen black's attacking forces. In the absence of that possibility, white had better make darn sure he can activate his own forces.
17.Bd3 is the most mundane looking move with which white can continue, and here black has been doing rather well. 17...Rfd8 18.Qe2 Rd6 19.Bc4 Rad8! 20.Bd3 Rb6 21.b3 Rbd6 22.h4 a5 23.g4 a4 and black's compensation is becoming very clear. Rechel,B - Habibi,A, Hampstead 1998. This is a good example of how black should proceed against non-critical play.
17.Bb5! is the accepted attempt to refute the line altogether, by simply dropping the bishop back from a4 to b3 where it will exchange and decrease black's compensation claim (in accordance with attacking chances). Now there are several alternatives black can attempt, of which 17…a6 followed by 18…Rfd8 is definitely worth a look back.
17...Rac8 18.Qe2 a6 19.Ba4 Bc4 20.Qe3 Rfd8 21.Bb3 when 21...Rd6 22.Bxc4 Rxc4 23.c3 Rc7 24.Kc2 and according to Dragon aficionado Chris Ward, white is the one with winning chances. Mekhitarian,K - Aloma Vidal,R, Barcelona 2008.
17...a6 Seems a likely reply, after all the bishop is begging to be kicked. However, we should be hesitant to help our opponents achieve the squares they want to. 18.Ba4 and now Black has two major alternatives.
18...Rfd8! 19.Qe2 Rd4 20.Bb3 Bxb3 21.axb3 Rad8 Ward points out that black has some trumps in the position, including domination of the d-file and slowing white's queenside majority with doubled pawns. Xie Jun - Alterman,B, Beijing 1997. The ICC's Gambit Guide author did manage to hold the balance. This may be a line you want to look into as Alterman is known for his preparation skills.
18...b5 is probably less good as now 19.Bb3 Bxb3 20.axb3 a5 21.Qe2 a4 22.Ka2!! Alright, we saw this move in Dzindzi's analysis, but guess what? This interesting king move was played a little bit before he actually found it! The idea is rather brilliant and you have to wonder if its discovery by Radovanovic was over the board, or at home. The king will recapture on b3, at which point it brings itself out of danger. Incredible! 22...Rfc8 23.Rd1 Rc7 24.f4 Rac8 25.Rd2 Rc5 26.Qe4 axb3+ 27.Kxb3 and white quickly converted his material advantage since black lacked any compensation Radovanovic,J - Webb, R, Portsmouth 2005.
17...Rfd8 is a newer arrival on the scene, and may present some possibilities for black. 18.Qe2 Rd4 19.Rd1 Rad8 (19...Rb4 is scary looking, but it forces a strong defense. 20.b3 a6 21.Bd7! Bxd7 22.Rxd7 a5 23.Qd2 and white was very active even if he had not managed to trade off a pair of rooks. Farkas,T - Papp,G, Budapest 2008.) 20.Rxd4 Rxd4 Spoelman,W – Van Haastert,E, Netherlands 2008. Once again white has achieved the goal of exchanging a pair of rooks, which leaves him better.
Question 4: Back to the game after a lot of theory! How should black continue?
(2 points) This is the most thematic approach. Black means to dominate the only completely open file with his rooks while white is busy unwinding his backrank.
17...b5!? (1 point) This move was an interest of GM Ward in the position, and who are we to argue?
17...a5 (1 point) Even this move seems to be on the right track, aiming to make weaknesses on white's queenside.
17...Rad8 (0 points) This move is not bad because it does fight for the d-file, however it fails to stop white from achieving the swap of a pair of rooks OR activity on the d-file after: 18.Qc1 Rd6 19.Rd1 Rb6 when despite his activity, black isn’t really well coordinated with his rooks.
This move is a typical idea in the Dragon and other opposite-side castling variations of the Sicilian. White is loath to take the incoming peon and open lines into the heart of his own position.
Now it seems that this move comes just in time. White has achieved his ultimate goal of exchanging a pair of rooks and lessening black's attacking forces.
Question 5: White seems to have met black’s idea in a timely fashion with one of his own. How would you continue?
(2 points) I think this is the best practical move in the position. Black knows exactly what his opponent wants: to lessen the threats against the white king in the position. That could be accomplished if black simply allowed an exchange of rooks, but here black much more cleverly declines.
19...Rdb8!? (1 point) This move shows an understanding of the importance of avoiding exchanges, but is the wrong square for the rook. The rook is a bit more of a threat on an already half-open file.
19...Rxd1 (0 points) This is one of the weakest choices all around. Black has allowed white to lessen his attacking forces, and even made sure that white loses no time in doing so. After 20.Qxd1, white is that much closer to winning the game.
White realizes that his plan to exchange rooks is ignored! That means he must play as actively as he can, or black will indeed have compensation. To that end the white queen is now brought closer to the center.
21.Bxb5? looks tempting but sends white into a very precarious situation after 21…a4! Now there are several ways to continue, all of seem lead to an at least equal if not better position for black. Some examples from a rather large spectrum are:
22.c4 Rab8 23.Qa3 Bxc4 24.Bxc4 Rxb2+ 25.Qxb2 Bxb2 26.Bxf7+ Kxf7 27.Kxb2 is equal.
22.Be2? Rab8 23.b3 axb3 24.axb3 Bf5 25.Bd3 Ra8 is crushing for black.
22.Bd7?? Rd8 and black wins.
21...b4 22.Bb5 a4
Black continues marching his pawns up the queenside, preparing to tear open white's king in short order. But now something happens that we see a lot in chess, when the pressure becomes too great over too long a period of time. One player begins to fall apart.
23.Rd3(insert your punctuation here!)
Labeled dubious by Ward, but his annotation could be a little bit deceptive, and we should try and find out why. When reading through our favorite chess books it’s easy to believe in the lines and evaluations our authors give us, but it is much better to challenge such evaluations and not just blindly accept them.
In chess a dubious move is one that is not an outright blunder, but is also not a good move either. It might lose time or be motivated by a poor plan. This move (23.Rd3) seems fine and follows the idea that white must play actively to gain play of his own and counteract black's threats. This means the positional motivation is good.
Question 6: Is the move 23.Rd3 good, dubious or bad? A big hint here is a tactical firestorm is coming! Make the variations as deep as you can, constructing as many defenses as you can to any attacking ideas. No more hints!
The answer is that the move 23.Rd3? is a blunder because it allows black to tear into the white position with this powerful sacrifice. Of course we are going to call Ward's assessment of “dubious” into question. It seems white has allowed his position to fall apart, when he had a chance to protect against this sacrifice with 23.Rd2.
24.Ka1 a3!! is utterly crushing. 25.Kxa2 axb2+ 26.Ra3 Rxa3+ 27.Qxa3 bxa3 and white can resign.
The idea is simple enough, now the b2 pawn will drop. Black has sacrificed a bishop for three pawns, and managed to create a pair of connected passers in the process!
This is a critical position and here white makes a decent attempt to try and complicate matters by threatening one of his attackers. To get full points for question 6 above, you have to have successfully come up with answers to white’s tries of 25.g5, 25.Kb1 and 25.Rd2, for a maximum of three points for question 6. It’s always a good idea when attacking to consider all of your opponents possible defenses, or at least as many as you can think of!
25.Kb1 Rxb2+ 26.Kc1 a3 (1 point for this entire variation up to move 26) This is probably as far as you need to see in your head to correctly asses black is crushing here. 27.Bc4 a2 28.Bxa2 Raxa2 Despite the close material count for either side, white is done in this position.
25.Rd2 You had to consider this move in your calculations as it is the most obvious way to defend the b2 pawn. Now there are two good moves which allow you to get the full point for the question if you found either:
25...b3+ 26.Ka3 Bxb2+ 27.Kb4 Bc1 wins for black. (1 point) Take the point if you saw this entire variation up to this point. Do not take a point for both this variation (25...b3+) and the other variation (25...a3).)
25...a3 26.Rxc2 (26.Qe4 Rxd2 27.Qxa8+ Kg7 is also not good!) 26...axb2+ 27.Kb1 Ra1# (1 point) Take 1 point for this entire variation as well. Do not take a point for both this variation (25...a3) and the other variation (25...b3+).
(1 point) This is the final point you can take for question 6 for a maximum of three points. Take this point if you saw that the simple answer 25...Bg7 or even the variation below beginning with 25...Rxb2+ was possible here, after which the bishop retreats anyway.
25...Rxb2+ 26.Ka1 Bg7 and the white Queen has to hide somewhere to avoid a discovered check. 27.Qb6! might have been a position that Kaslinskaya considered, but was not sure how to answer. One good way to bring home the full point would be 27...Rxh2+ 28.Kb1 Rh1+ 29.Kc2 b3+ 30.Kd2 b2 31.Rd8+ Rxd8+ 32.Qxd8+ Bf8 33.Bd3 b1Q 34.Bxb1 Rxb1 and black wins.
Protecting the b-pawn by x-ray seems to be the only chance white has.
27.Kb1 Rac8 28.Rxc2 bxc2+ 29.Kc1
Question 7: This question concerns the variation ending in 29.Kc1 above which did not happen in the game. Can you find a winning continuation in this variation? It seems white is so very close to escaping alive!
29...Bxb2+! 30.Kxb2 c1Q+ 31.Qxc1 a3+! 32.Kb1 a2+ 33.Kxa2 Rxc1 (1 point) Take the point if and only if you saw the entire variation up to this point. Black has an extra pawn and an exchange, which should make this win relatively simple.
27...Bxb2+ 28.Kb4 Bc1
I can’t really give questions for or points concerning this winning tactic, which has been revealed to us on the alternatives to white's 25th move after 25.Rd2.
29.Rxc2 Bxe3 30.Re2 Bc1 31.Bd3 b2 32.Bb1 a3 33.Kb3
Question 8. Black must now consider if it is time to bring the king up the board or if it’s time to do something else. How would you continue?
33...a2! 34.Bxa2 Ra3+! 35.Kxa3 b1Q+
(1 point) Take a full point for this entire variation. Note that in the real game, white resigned after the lovely decoy 34…Ra3+! All in all a lovely game by black, who refused to allow white his middlegame needs and instead kept things as complex as possible for as long as possible, before crashing through in devastating fashion.