The Accelerated Dragon (Part 3)
The Accelerated Dragon (Part 3) — The Maroczy Bind
The Maroczy Bind is the term used to describe the position after white plays 5. c4. White takes advantage of the fact that his knight has not been forced to c3 to advance the c-pawn, clamping down on the d5 square and making it more difficult for black to break with ...d5 or ...b5.
In the past, the Maroczy Bind was generally considered to be the antidote for (if not the refutation of) the Accelerated Dragon. However, if black plays actively, he can obtain good chances. This line involves a slower pace of play compared to most Sicilian games, but black still must be on the lookout for every chance he can find (favorable exchanges and pawn breaks to start, and later, more forcing moves to gain a positional or material edge).
Move order can be very important in the Maroczy Bind, so let's take a look at a few different options for black. First, what is probably the most straightforward option:
The Main Line
Black can get a playable position in the Maroczy Bind by simply developing his pieces to their most natural squares: ...Bg7, ...O-O, and ...Bd7.
In the end position, black will have a hard time playing ...d5 any time soon, and will probably need to seek play on the queenside. This position is completely playable, but black also has other options to try to disrupt white's normal plan of development.
The Breyer Variation - 7... Ng4
One common plan is to play ...Ng4 to attack a bishop on e3 and expose a second attacker to the d4 knight. If the g4 knight is captured, black can capture the white knight on d4. For example:
In his favor, black clears the long diagonal for his g7 bishop and gets rid of white's centralized knight on d4. A common plan for white from this point is to play Rc1 or Qd2 (to add protection to the c3 knight, or else it can sometimes be a good plan for black to give up the dark-squared bishop to give white doubled, isolated c-pawns), Bd3 or Be2, and O-O. Black can play ...Qa5, ...b6, ...Bb7 (placing the bishop on a more active diagonal than on d7), and ...O-O to complete his development.
The Gurgenidze Variation - 5... Nf6 & 6... Nxd4
Another common idea in facing the Maroczy Bind is to play an early ...Nxd4, forcing white to recapture on d4 with the queen rather than with a bishop on e3. In this line, black gains two small advantages: he rids white of the strong knight on d4, and forces white to lose a tempo moving the queen twice (to avoid discovered attacks from the bishop on g7).
White will generally follow up with Be2 (to control the g4 square), Be3 or Bg5, and Qd2 (once black castles; before black castles, the only discovery is ...Nh5, which doesn't threaten anything and only misplaces the black knight). Black will generally play ...Bg7, ...O-O, ...Be6, and ...Qa5, seeking counterplay on the queenside. Black should play actively here to make the most of the tempo gained thanks to his opening choice.
Sideline: 6... d6
Another option for black is to play 6... d6 instead of 6... Nxd4. This move opens up the possibility of using the ...Ng4 idea if white tries to protect the d4 knight with Be3, but also allows white to retreat the d4 knight to c2, thus avoiding the exchange of pieces (which would benefit black, who has less space) and eventual loss of tempo. Of course, with 7. Nc2, white does give up some central control, leaving black with more freedom to develop his pieces.
Black can follow up with ...Bg7, ...O-O, and then reroute the f6 knight to c5 via d7, exposing the bishop's attack on the c3 knight (threatening to give white doubled, isolated c-pawns). White can play Be2, O-O, Bd2 (to protect the c3 knight), and seek to gain more space in classical fashion (with his pieces supporting his advanced pawns). Black will need to use his pieces and pawns to counterattack white's advanced pawns before he is left with no room to maneuver.
In all of the Maroczy Bind positions, black's position is like a coiled spring: if white can keep pressing black, he may never get to uncoil and will eventually collapse under the pressure. But if black can uncoil, he can generate somecounterplay quickly. If nothing else, this short look at the Maroczy Bind should demonstrate that there are a variety of approaches available to black, all of which provide a solid, though somewhat cramped, game. But for any players who don't mind working in such positions, the Maroczy Bind need not be overly feared.
As always, please feel free to leave any comments, thoughts, or suggestions for improvement.