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Book Review: The Hyper Accelerated Dragon by Raja Panjwani

Book Review: The Hyper Accelerated Dragon by Raja Panjwani

IM_Kgwm
Nov 21, 2017, 9:38 AM 25

In the weeks to come, I will be covering several recent books on the opening in this column. While there are many experienced trainers out there who demand that us amateurs stop looking at openings and focus on the real chess, the fact of the matter is that opening books continue to sell far better than any other genre in the chess world. Well, I will not go into a debate on why this is so but as an opening junkie myself, I am starting to adjust my approach to be a little more balanced. These days, I am even starting to go through some classics!

But I digress. I have received complaints that my reviews are getting a bit too long so I should really get to the point......

The Hyper Accelerated Dragon by Raja Panjwani, Thinkers Publishing 2017

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The Accelerated Dragon and Hyper-Accelerated Dragon (where one starts with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6!?) have always been much maligned in the Sicilian world. Indeed, as the author pointed out in the introduction, the HAD has a much inferior reputation as compared to virtually every other mainline in the Sicilian. Apart from Azeri Rauf Mamedov and Venezuelan GM Eduardo Iturrizaga, I couldn't really recall a single top player that plays this opening religiously.

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Azerbaijian's Rauf Mamedov, who, on the back of recent successes has reached a career high live rating of 2709. Sincere congratulations! | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com

Much of its bad repute is due to White's central set-up with e4 and c4, the so-called Maroczy Bind which many believe to lead, if not to a slight advantage for White, to at least a passive position for Black where the second player has to wait patiently for his turn to find counter-play. Panjwani has this to say:

"I suspect that computers have deterred many potential devotees away from the Accelerated Dragon. Computer evaluations in the main lines tend to fluctuate between +0.25 and +0.5, which plausibly leads to the rationale that playing the Accelerated Dragon instead of the Berlin or Marshall - where evaluations are closer to +0.15 is like playing with a small handicap straight out of the opening. Things, however, are not so simple. Computers evaluate each position by objective features, without regard for subjective factors which are very often more important in tournament chess. Machines systematically ignore the value of, for example, being able to follow one of a small number of thematic plans, irrespective of what the opponent does, saving on clock time as well as risk of mishandling the position. This sort of human element is unaccounted for by the engine, resulting in an inflated estimation of White's chances....."

This is a rather chunky bit to quote but I think it is important to share this as it immediately draws confidence that this is not someone who will be regurgitating long lines of analysis from Stockfish or Komodo. As a lifelong HAD player, Panjwani draws on his experience and understanding of the line and combined with his understanding of chess engines and their limitations, he shares his personal repertoire for Black players to play for a win against 1.e4. Yes, you read that right - and when I read this bit in the intro, I am every bit as sceptical as you are as I couldn't imagine how Black could objectively play for the win under the torturous vines of the Maroczy Bind.....

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IM Raja Panjwani in one of his rare games without the Dragon bishop. Many thanks to him for providing the pic!

The author recommends 2 systems against White's main attempts in obtaining an opening edge, namely 7.Bc4 (the Yugoslav-style approach) and the afore-mentioned Maroczy Bind. I will delve straight into the lines that I perceive as the most critical and see how Panjwani's bold claims stand up to scrutiny. 

After the starting moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cd4 4.Nd4 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4, Panjwani recommends 7..Qa5 in chapter 2. The critical position soon arises after 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bb3 d6 10.h3 Bd7 leading to the following position:

This position has arose in thousands of games and I've always thought that White is a bit better here. However, Panjwani makes a strong case for Black as you can see in the following file. All comments are mine, unless otherwise quoted.
In Chapter 3 titled "My System", Panjwani recommends the extremely rare 7..0-0 8.Bb3 a6!? and gave several pages worth of detailed and original analysis. I shall not give anything further away but I have checked the lines and again like what I saw. A note of caution though - some positions can get very sharp and it is important to check the lines thoroughly so that you don't end up surprising yourself over the board.
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Venezuelean Grandmaster Eduardo Iturrizaga is one of the heroes of the Accelerated Dragon | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com
Chapters 4 & 5 are fundamentally critical to the entire basis of Black's repertoire. Firstly, Peter Heine Nielsen has recommended the quirky 6.Nc2!? in his chapter of Experts vs the Sicilian and I've always felt that White has a safe edge there. Secondly, I am curious as to what Panjwani will recommend against the absolute mainlines of the Macrozy Bind. Panjwani yet again impressed me with the level of depth and accuracy in his analysis. Here's my review of his lines and again, all comments are mine unless otherwise quoted:
6.Nc2 was handled by a fresh and novel plan
While the absolute mainlines were given considerable attention and detail
Again, if you run the engine past these lines, there will be many occasions where the engines gives a score of 0.2 to 0.4. However, as Panjwani puts it across nicely in a recent Facebook conversation, "one must distinguish between what's true and what works in the Marcozy Bind". While there are certainly some positions where White will claim a small edge, these are positions where Black has one or two clear plans to pursue which allows Black to play actively for the initiative. 
In conclusion, The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon is everything that one dreams of reading in an opening Manual. Panjwani provides plenty of fresh ideas in an opening that has been written off as a solid but passive variation and gave ample prose and analysis to explain why he does not like certain variations from Black's perspective and justifying all his recommendations. The analysis is very deep and there are many occasions where you can learn about the middlegame on top of concrete variations. 
It is a rather advanced book though, with sophisticated systems within and one cannot expect to be able to play these lines well just by going through Panjwani's analysis at face value. I will suggest anyone who intends to pick up the accelerated Dragon or who face this opening with the White pieces to go through his lines over a chess set and board. There are maybe a couple of things that I can suggest such as including a bibliography (kinda common practice these days) and having an Index of variations but really, I am picking bones here. The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon hasn't been given enough credit as far as I can see and I really hope to see it do well in the stores. Panjwani's efforts deserve it.
Final rating: 6* /6 - this is easily my favourite opening book that I've read in recent times. Go get it!

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