The Fighting Dragon: Book Review

The Fighting Dragon: Book Review


The Fighting Dragon

A Book Review

The Fighting Dragon: How to Defeat the Yugoslav Attack (Boston: Mongoose Press, 2016) by Paul Powell is not a repertoire book. It does offer suggestions to meet White's normal lines of play against the Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defense. Unlike repertoire books, however, it does not offer a large number of heavily analyzed lines of seemingly endless variations. The book consists of ten main chapters--the first nine each cover one particular variation, and number ten covers "odds and ends". The shorter second part offers quizzes, a series of positions to solve. Something more than half of these positions occur in games found in the ten chapters.

The Fighting Dragon offers 52 games, all of which end with victory for the player of the Black pieces. Despite this record, these games do not reveal that White's ideas against the Sicilian Dragon are refuted. Rather, both sides have chances until a fatal error by White. Black's play, too, could be improved upon in some of the games.

With one exception, all of the games are shorter than average. More than half are miniatures (25 moves or less). Thirty games conclude by move 25. Ten games are decided in 20 moves or fewer. Only one game lasts longer than 35 moves. Powell, who is a USCF Life Master, explains that he intends his focus on short games to cultivate "inspiration and pattern recognition instead of memorization as a critical element of [the reader's] opening study" (9). Short games reveal catastrophic errors. Learning to identify these errors develops the reader's understanding of tactical themes.

Although I am more likely to find myself on the White side of the Yugoslav Attack, this book has inspired me. Powell's prescriptions to avoid "the rut" have helped me maintain a somewhat healthier focus both in play and in study.
Let us consider the Dragon player who is stuck in a rut. He revels in showing you his favorite game from 2002 where he crushed a master in the main-line Dragon. Great result, but sadly for him he's been playing the exact same line for over a decade in the hopes that another strong player will fall down the same rabbit hole. (16)
Start thinking sooner, even after the first move, even while playing your pet lines, Powell urges. "Comfort turns into complacency," he notes (15). He lays out a plan for reading this book and profiting from it. Take several ideas from each chapter. Play them fearlessly--intending to learn whether winning or losing. Play them in blitz and in slow games. As the reader tries new ideas, some will fit better than others. Refine those.

In The Fighting Dragon, Powell offers light annotations, emphasizing verbal explanations of the core ideas more than alternate variations. After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 O-O 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.O-O-O Rb8, he notes, "The historical main-line Dragon finds the rook on c8 with pressure on the semi-open file. With ...Ra8-b8 instead, Black intends to use his b-pawn as a battering ram to open up White's castle" (120).

White to move

In his notes to the longest game in the book, Domínguez Pérez,L -- Carlsen,M, Linares 2009, he suggests, "If 10...Rb8 is worthy of being part of a world champion's repertoire, it should be one of the tools at your disposal too" (130). The skeptical reader might note that Magnus Carlsen was not yet world champion in 2009, but the point has merit.

The book uses figurine algebraic notation and prints the diagrams upside down--Black on bottom. This unorthodox printing of diagrams might bother some readers, but may comfort others. For some readers, it might have been helpful to have the coordinates included with the diagrams. These coordinates are missing in The Fighting Dragon.

The writing is mostly fresh and interesting. Powell offers fresh metaphors ("One of the most difficult things in chess is deciding whether to paint your house or to go on vacation" [27]), but also weak and tired similes ("they avoid these lines like a zombie virus" [9]). The book reveals Powell as a player who would be entertaining during the social times at a chess tournament and who might say useful and memorable things during post-game analysis.

A Dragon player with a shelf full of repertoire books could still benefit from reading through this short book (183 pages) as much from the discussion of chess psychology as from the selection of entertaining games. Even players of other opening systems should consider Powell's approach to studying openings via tactical themes revealed through miniatures. The Fighting Dragon deserves some credit for cultivating habits of study that led to a nice win against our City Champion and his Queen's Indian Defense (see "Home Preparation"). After reading this book in December and early January, I began to apply some of its methodologies in my study of other openings.

I heartily endorse this book.

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