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Happy New Year everyone and to kick things off, we have a letter...

Download PGN of December ’23 Dragon Sicilian games

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«Dear Chris Ward,
As an avid viewer of your Monthly Dragon series and owner of The Real Deal - Part 1, I'm taking the liberty of writing about opening repertoire choices in relation to (fast) chess improvement.
I've set myself the challenge to improve at chess in a way to go from an 1800 rapid rating to 2200 in six months (probably 1600 to 2000 FIDE), with 2-3 hours of daily practice.
I understand tactics would help a long way, and so would building an opening repertoire that is both (1) tactical - to best leverage my tactical skills - and (2) not too common - to put higher-rated players out of their comfort zone. (Do tell me if you see things differently.)
In response to e4, which Dragon variation do you think would best meet those criteria and, thus, help me reach my goal?
I understand the Hungarian Dragon is definitely not so common, but I do not know if it is especially tactical/if it would give me special opportunities to leverage my tactical skills, or if not more so than other Dragons. So, feel free to recommend whichever Dragon you think is ideal.
Thank you very much for your help,
PS: I do not intend to approach chess in such a utilitarian and goal-oriented way for long, but for now I assume this is my challenge.»

So ...
Well I’m very glad that you are enjoying the ‘Monthly Dragon and the ‘Real Deal’ whilst of course it is here on ChessPublishing that one finds any theoretically relevant innovations first. Just a quick reminder though to everyone that whilst there is a wealth of material to be found in the archives, do bear in mind that newer annotations take into consideration what has gone before and of course assessments can change! Whilst I am also very proud of those original ‘Winning With The Dragon’ books, I remember someone picking a small hole in one (since corrected!) side variation I had recommended in a manuscript... some twenty odd years earlier!
Anyway, it definitely sounds like you have a plan and so good luck with your quest. On a general note, it’s great if you have tactics as one of your main strengths and it goes without saying that the Dragon should be right up your street. However, do remember that others seeking to improve (particularly youngsters) tend to opt for puzzle based learning and so a bit of positional understanding and the odd acquired endgame technique could also tender that extra edge. All the same, noted you’re aiming for a sharp tactical opening repertoire (sounds fun!) and on to the specific relevance of the Dragon...
I have been quite surprised at how much coverage here I’ve felt obliged to give to the Hungarian variation but there just seems to be so many games with it right now (with Black scoring quite well) that it just can’t be ignored. Based on the games where the dark-squared bishops get traded early and White castles kingside, I would be inclined to agree with your view that this relatively new line might involve fewer tactics but this month’s offerings fly in the face of that and actually the lines where White delays Qd2 in favour of Bc4 to side-step the bishop trade have been exciting fun to annotate.
With a case in point this month too, you can’t go far wrong with the Soltis variation as far as the main line 9 Bc4 Yugoslav Attack goes as those can get ridiculously complicated. With 9 0-0-0 most would assert that 9...d5 must be best although against the less prepared, the lesser known 9...Bd7 (equally transposing from 9 g4) lines can certainly get crazy. Clearly some lines are sharper/more critical than others but I think my own Dragon experiences (be it against the Classical, the Fianchetto system, a Dragadorf; whatever) have in general taught me that so long as you stay in the game for the duration, whatever variation it is, inevitably tactics creep in and it’s just a case of recognising when those moments are. Furthermore, I can’t recall analysing a game of a Dragon playing student where neither side has missed a tactic or two, be they in encounters in lines of an offbeat nature or unintentional deviations in more theoretical systems. With a caveat of a reminder that there is regrettably in existence something called ‘Anti-Sicilians’(!), we’re not talking the French exchange here, so my advice is to stay on the ball, keep pieces active, never allow the opponent an easy route to victory and
(whatever Dragon variation it is), opportunities will come!

Okay moving on to this month’s offerings...

Classical 8.Qd2 0-0 9.0-0-0 Ng4 10.Bxg4 Bxg4 11.f3 Be6 12.Nxe6 fxe6 13.Bh6 [B72]

Via a Sicilian Classical variation move order, the game Lewicki, M - Puranik, A soon reached our most aggressive (long castles!) Classical system after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be2 g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.Qd2 0-0 9.0-0-0 Ng4 10.Bxg4 Bxg4 11.f3 Be6 12.Nxe6 fxe6 rather than swing the queen out immediately, Black plumped for 13.Bh6 Bxh6 14.Qxh6 before deploying 14...Qa5:

White logically kicked into gear with his attack through 15.h4 when the queen centralizing Qe5 guarded the e6-pawn thus enabling Black to meet h4-h5 with ...g6-g5. The game continued with 16.Ne2 Rac8 17.Kb1 b5 with 18.Rh3 looking to target the black g-pawn following those aforementioned advances. I suspect both sides have improvements but Nd8 19.Rg3 Nf7 20.Qd2 Rc5 21.f4 Qxe4 22.Re3 Qxg2 23.Rxe6 Rfc8 24.Rxe7 Rxc2 25.Qe3 gave birth to some entertaining play with a particularly snazzy finish. No spoilers!

Hungarian 6.Be3 Nc6 7.f3 h5 8.Qd2 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.Qxe3 Be6 12.Bb5+ Kf8 13.0-0-0 Qa5 [B72]

Clearly justifying its regular appearance in my updates, the Hungarian variation just seems so popular right now with promising results for Black too. White continues to search for ways to combat it but I don’t believe that 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be3 Nc6 7.f3 h5 8.Qd2 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.Qxe3 Be6 12.Bb5+ Kf8 13.0-0-0 Qa5 14.a3 Rc8 has much of a future!

Sensible development has left Black threatening to win two pieces for a rook and in Pingin, A - Zvjaginsev, V following 15.Be2 Kg7 16.Kb1 a6!? 17.h4 Rc6 18.Rd3 Rhc8 19.Rc1 Qc5 20.Qd2 Qf2!? the initiative was with Black. After 21.Nd5 Bxd5 22.exd5 R6c7 23.g4 admittedly he should have traded pawns on g4 first rather than opt for the immediate 23...Qxh4 24.g5 Nd7 where there was surprisingly some serious complications ahead!

Hungarian 7.f3 h5 8.Qd2 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6 10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.Qd3 Bc6 12.Bc4 [B72]

So 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Nc6 7.f3 h5 8.Qd2 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6 10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.Qd3 Bc6 is all standard to us here on ChessPublishing where if White could somehow magic away the light-squared bishops (i.e. without bringing a black pawn to c6), trade off his other bishop for the black knight (thus inflicting doubled f-pawns and an isolated d-pawn) and park a knight on d5, then he would be laughing! That doesn’t appear possible though but in Moussard, J - Morris, J we see a different approach in the form of 12.Bc4!?:

Of course White is unable to castle long whilst the ‘Dragon’ bishop remains on h6 but actually it looks as though Black can’t castle short here because of e4-e5 bringing Qxg6+ into play. Hence Black opted to blunt the c4-g8 diagonal through 12...e6 when White immediately set about exploiting the now weak d6-pawn through 13.Nb5 In the notes I’ve contemplated the interesting idea for Black of sacrificing that pawn but in the game he chose to defend it with 13...Bf4?! , a decision that came to haunt him after 14.g3! Be5 15.0-0-0! a6 16.Bxe5 dxe5 17.Qc3! Nd7 18.Nd6+ Kf8 19.Nxb7! A pawn or so down with a vulnerable king position to boot and potentially a shining beacon for White in this fashionable variation.

Yugoslav Attack 9 Bc4 Bd7 10 0-0-0 Rc8 11 Be2 [B78]

After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.Bc4 0-0 8.f3 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rc8 I still find 11.Be2 as played in Bures, J - Gloser, D a little intriguing.

Of course 11 Bb3 would typically be automatic and indeed is over 100 times more common than the text! However although frankly the retreat to e2 looks a bit ridiculous, especially given effectively two tempi have been expended to nudge it to a far from impressive post, actually it's also a little sneaky! So first up the bishop in being on c4, put paid to the central ...d5 break but also if this bishop is going to concede itself on c4 in a couple of moves anyway, then it doesn't matter whether it is on b3 or e2. Although the bishop on b3 pins the f7-pawn, that rarely becomes relevant too quickly whilst the bishop being on e2 has an influence on the b5-square thus dissuading any Topalov style systems involving a swift ...b5.

We have analysed this position a couple of times in the past and in truth I’m a little disappointed that nobody has yet tried my 11...d5!? suggestion.

Anyway the game continued 11...Ne5 12.Kb1 a6 (note 12...Nc4 13 Bxc4 Rxc4 14 g4 transposing to the theoretically good for White Anti-Soltis system) 13.g4 b5 14.h4 h5 15.gxh5 Nxh5 16.Rhg1 Nc4 17.Bxc4 Rxc4 18.Nde2 Be6 19.b3 b4 20.Na4 Qe8 21.Nb6 Rc5 22.Qxb4 when White was a clear pawn up.

Chinese Variation 10.0-0-0 Rb8 11.Kb1 Ne5 12.Be2 [B78]

After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rb8 11.Kb1 Ne5 the game Antipov, M - Gazik, V was another example of a non-automatic retreat with 12.Be2 (as opposed to Bb3) again keeping tabs on the b5-square:

Black then activated her majesty through 12...Qa5 when it’s my opinion that 13 Nb3 Qc7 14 Bxa7 is critical. Instead though White deployed the 13.Nd5 Qxd2 14.Nxe7+ ‘intermezzo trick’ but in 14...Kh8 15.Bxd2 Rbe8 16.Nd5 Nxd5 17.exd5 Nxf3! the question is just who had been tricking who! Yes, 18.Bxf3 Bxd4 19.Bh6 Bg7 was even Black for preference.

Soltis 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Bg5 Rc5 14.Kb1 b5 15.g4 a5 16.gxh5 a4 [B78]

My intro implied that if Black is interested in encouraging complex middlegames with tactics abound then as far as the 9 Bc4 Yugoslav Attack goes, then the Soltis variation is still where it’s at and the game Todorovic, G - Baglan, E is a case in point.

Yes, after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 there’s none of the 10 Kb1 ‘Anti-Soltis’ stuff (which of course Black does need to be prepared for) as we head straight into 10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Bg5 Rc5 and one of the popular old main lines with 14.Kb1 b5 15.g4 a5 16.gxh5 a4 promising some fun!

White is desperate to crack open that h-file for his major pieces although after 17.h6 Bh8 18.h7+ Nxh7 19.Bd5 b4 20.h5? I suspect both sides saw a ghost when it comes to grabbing that knight on c3. Nevertheless the complications most certainly remained and it was only after Nxg5 21.hxg6 e6 22.Rdg1? exd5 23.Rxg5 fxg6 24.Nxd5 Rxd5 25.exd5 Qf6! 26.Rhg1 Bg7 27.Qxb4 a3 28.b3 Be8 29.R5g3 Nd3! that things had crystallised in Black’s favour. Crazy stuff!

Best wishes, Chris

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