You Can Win With the Sicilian Dragon
Eliminate all doubt about your ability to learn any chess opening now. The best chess openings all adhere to sound opening principles, and the Sicilian Dragon is no exception.
In fact, if you are a beginner, you will likely do a better job learning the more complicated openings than an intermediate or higher-rated player. The best way to learn anything is with a beginner's mind; as a beginner, you already have one.
The Sicilian Dragon is one of the few variations of the Sicilian Defense, where you develop your pieces quickly. In many variations of the Sicilian Defense, the numerous pawn moves early in the game can get black into trouble.
This does not happen in the Sicilian Dragon, and there are more than enough tactical opportunities to grant black excellent winning chances! Take advantage of the fact many chess players consider the Sicilian Dragon unsound and enjoy proving them wrong at the chess board.
Three of the Many Wins by Black
One of the most dangerous variations is the Yugoslav Attack, but Magnus Carlsen shows us that despite what many think, black is doing fine.
Leinier Dominguez Perez - Magnus Carlsen, 2009.03.01, 0-1, Linares Round 9, Linares ESP
Here is another victory for Magnus Carlsen with the Sicilian Dragon. Notice how the white knight on a7 remains out of the game. Black is effectively a piece up for most of the game.
12.Na7 is not necessarily a bad move; the problem was not exchanging it for the bishop on c8 fast enough. Even players rated 2672 make mistakes, which should help most chess players feel better about their play.
Liviu Dieter Nisipeanu - Magnus Carlsen, 2010.06.19, 0-1, King's Tournament Round 5, Medias ROU
Enjoy this battle between a world champion and a future world champion. The game ended because Black took advantage of the exposed king and undefended white pieces.
Kasparov will soon get his sacrificed material back after 32.Rxc2 Rb3+ 33.Ka2 (only move) Re3+ and 34…Rxe1 follows.
Viswanathan Anand - Garry Kasparov, 1995.09.28, 0-, Kasparov - Anand PCA World Championship Match Round 11, New York, NY USA
What Makes the Sicilian Dragon Such A Powerful Weapon?
We reach the starting position of the Sicilian Dragon mainline 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 9.0-0-0
The Sicilian Dragon gets its name from the black pawn structure. The solidity of the black pawn structure allows you to enter endgames an exchange down with good chances of holding or winning the ending.
There are few openings where you can play an exchange sacrifice and simplify to an endgame without worrying about holding the position.
Notice that both sides have castled and developed three minor pieces. Opposite-side castling is the most dangerous approach for White to adopt against the Sicilian Dragon.
A well-prepared player will have no trouble defending against kingside castling variations, such as the Fianchetto and Classical variations.
Because Black does not lag in development, it is possible to advance the two center pawns with …d5 and …e5 if needed. These two pawn moves are crucial to Black's defensive strategy against a flank attack.
A vital part of Black's attack on the queenside is the exchange sacrifice on c3. As mentioned, it is not only an attacking option but can be used to simplify to an endgame.
Would you expect an opponent to sacrifice the exchange without having a winning attack? The chances are that few of your opponents will defend against this strategy.
An Important Word of Warning for Black
There is a trap you must avoid when playing the Sicilian Dragon, and it is tied in with White playing Be3 before f3.
White is hoping to tempt Black into playing 6…Ng4??
After 6…Ng4?? 7.Bb5+ wins material and effectively ends the game.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bb5
The light-squared bishop is needed to defend the knight on g4, which means 7…Bd7 allows 8.Qxg4 since the bishop is pinned.
Blocking the check with 7…Nc6 does not work because White has the knight on d4 and bishop on b5 attacking c6. 7…Nc6 8.Nxc6 (attacking the queen) bxc6 9.Bxc6+ with a double attack on the king and a8 rook.
We all blunder, and if you play 6…Ng4, and your opponent responds with 7.Bb5+, take comfort that you are unlikely to make this mistake again. Apologize, shake hands and move on to the next game.
The Kingside Pawn Storm Need Not Be Feared
Bobby Fischer once famously said all it took to win against the Sicilian Dragon was "sac, sac, and mate." However, Black has enough resources to make this approach a double-edged sword.
Against weaker or unprepared players, it is possible to pile up your pieces on the Kingside and crash through Black's defenses. Still, an observant defender will counterattack in the area you have left undefended.
Fedorov has used this approach to defeat many grandmasters in his chess career. In his 2001 game against Garry Kasparov, he tried the same strategy, and the game ended quickly with a mating attack.
Only this time, the attacking masterclass was put on by Kasparov, who demonstrated the perfect counterattack.
The Sicilian Dragon adheres to the opening principles of rapid development and centralization, so there is no reason for it to be unsound.
If you are following the classical opening principles, you can have faith that you can defend against any attack. In this instance, Black can strike back in the center by exchanging on d4 and playing …d5 or …e5.
If Magnus Carlsen can use the Sicilian Dragon to defeat players rated over 2600 Elo, then the rest of us can play it in our games with complete confidence!
The Three Main variations of the Sicilian Dragon
The most popular approach by white is 6.Be3 when we have the mainline with 9.0-0-0 or the Yugoslav Attack with 9.Bc4. The idea behind 9.Bc4 is to stop Black playing 9…d5!
In both the Mainline and the Yugoslav Attack, White plays Qd2 and castles long.
The second most popular move is the Classical Variation (6.Be2), often leading to both sides castling short. Although not as dangerous as the other two variations, it does not pay to underrate this approach.
Meet the Sicilian Dragon Mainline With Success
One of the advantages of playing the Sicilian Dragon is that the first eight moves are pretty standard and easily remembered. You develop your kingside pieces, castle short and then bring your queenside forces into play.
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 9.0-0-0 brings us to the starting position of the Sicilian Dragon Mainline.
When you are behind in development, initiating contact with your opponent's pieces is not a good idea. Fortunately, in this position, Back is not lagging in development and can respond with 9…d5!
Rather than wait for White to start a kingside attack, Black initiates play in the center.
One of the greatest lessons you will learn from playing the Sicilian Dragon is how dynamic piece play can compensate for material. White has a knight and pawn controlling the d5-square and can activate the queen and rook with Nxc6.
After …bxc6, the best Black can do is have three pieces (queen, knight, and c6 pawn) defending the d5-pawn. This is not enough to save the pawn since White has four attackers (queen, knight, rook, and e4 pawn), but look at the excellent open lines for the black bishops.
There is no way to save the white queenside pawns without creating weaknesses for Black to attack! Attacking in chess is more fun than defending and will win you more games.
One amazing way for White to play against 9…d5 involves giving up the queen for two rooks after 9…d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Nxd5 cxd5 13.Qxd5 Qc7 14.Qxa8 Bf5 15.Qxf8+ Kxf8 16.Bd3 Qe5
The chess engines assess this position at around -2, if not more, in Black's favor.
In this variation, the crucial move for Black is 14…Bf5 threatening mate on c2. This threat forces White to play 15.Qxf8+ because there is no time to retreat the queen to safety.
Although the black a-pawn looks vulnerable, it proved itself a hero in this game between two 2400-rated players.
Drazic, S. - Yang Kaiqi, 2019.02.10, 0-1, Third Sat 105 GM 2019 Round 8.3, Novi Sad SRB
Pull the Rug From Under the Yugoslav Attack
Thanks to its aggressive nature, the Yugoslav Attack is the choice of many white players. Thanks to chess becoming more dynamic, there is no need for Black to worry about being checkmated quickly.
Once again, the secret is to distract White with a counterblow in the center aided with simplification to reach a playable middlegame or endgame. Surprisingly it is Black who often makes use of advancing the g-pawn.
Playing …g5 gives a knight access to the g6 square from where it defends the e7-pawn and can settle on f4.
Of course, it is foolish to underestimate the powerful Yugoslav variation, but there is no reason to enter it with less confidence than your opponent.
The characteristic move of the Yugoslav Attack is 9.Bc4, which places the bishop on an aggressive diagonal. A bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal pins the f-pawn and means the only recapture after hxg6 is …hxg6 opening the h-file.
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
The bishop on c4 is too powerful to leave unchallenged, so 10…Be6 is a thematic response after exchanging on d4. If White captures on e6, the doubled pawns increase Black's control of the center and the critical d5 square.
Black will also get the semi-open f-file and the chance to place a rook on f7, which can be helpful in defense of h7. That explains why White's most popular move is to retreat the bishop to b3.
9…Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Bb3 Qa5 12.0-0-0 b5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Nd5 Bxd5 15.exd5 Qb5
Recapturing with 15.Bxd5 costs White a pawn after 15…Nxd5 16.exd5 Qxd5. Note the intermezzo 16.Bxg7 fails to 16…Nc3+ when 17.Bxc3 loses the queen after 17.bxc3 with a discovered check from the queen.
The queen moves out of the way of the a-pawn and controls the c4 square. White is forced to enter the endgame with
16.Qd3 Qxd3 17.Rxd3 Nd7 18.Re1 Ne5 19.Rdd1 g5
Controlling the f4 square gives Black an excellent outpost on e5 for the knight.
Do not fear losing your e7-pawn in these endgames because Black's three queenside pawns control the four white pawns, and White has a bad bishop on b3.
Be careful not to play Re8 with a knight on d7 and allow White to exchange his bad bishop with Ba4 pinning the knight.
Dynamic piece play is worth more than a pawn, and keeping the bishop out of the game for the cost of a pawn is a small price to pay.
The Sicilian Dragon is a defense you choose to win with black against 1.e4. Players who feel uncomfortable going a pawn or more down in an endgame might prefer to play another chess opening.
Although the next game lasted forty-nine moves, Black obtained a winning advantage on move thirty-one. The active black rook took advantage of the weak white pawns on the queenside.
Szelag, Marcin - Kanarek, Marcel, 2013.04.15, 0-1, POL-ch Round 3, Chorzow POL
White Wastes No Time Advancing on the Kingside – 9.g4
This variation is a dangerous sideline that can catch the unprepared black player b surprise. What makes it so dangerous is that the best response by Black is the counter-intuitive 9…Be6.
There are very few variations in the Sicilian Dragon where you play …Be6 before exchanging knights on d4. The danger from Nxe6 is not the doubled pawns, but the fact White has a light-squared bishop to attack the e6-pawn from c4.
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.g4
10.Nxe6 fxe6 11.Bc4 Qc8 12.Bb3 Na5 13.0-0-0 Nxb3 14.axb3 Nd7 15.Rfd1 a5
Black initiates play on the queenside and the center in standard Sicilian Dragon fashion. The pawn on b3 provides an excellent hook to help Black's attack.
Keep in mind the move …Qc8, which attacks the bishop on c4 and defends the pawn on e6.
The drawback to 9.g4 is the weak pawn on f3. Always look for ways to attack this weakness. If White does not open the f-file by capturing on e6, then consider attacking f3 with …Ne5.
Another crucial move for Black in this variation is the central thrust …d5. This move is particularly useful when White goes all-in with a kingside attack and plays 10.h4.
Again, we react classically by meeting a wing attack with a counterattack in the center.
Knowing the typical opening strategies is essential to getting the most out of your opening repertoire. The d5 thrust occurs in many variations, and knowing when to play it will save you from remembering lots of extra theory.
Notice how Black uses the f7 square for the knight in this excellent game by Adam Tukhaev.
Zinchenko, Yaroslav - Tukhaev, Adam, 2006.05.05, 0-1, Evpatoria tt U20 Round 2, Evpatoria
Take Control of the Classical Variation (6.Be2) With Ease
The move 6.Be2 was a favorite of Anatoly Karpov against most variations of the Sicilian Defense. However, it is a popular choice for many and is the second most popular move, behind 6.Be3, against the Sicilian Dragon.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2
The queen and bishop ensure that a bishop on e3 cannot get attacked by …Ng4. White intends to play Be3, f4, and attack on the Kingside.
Black will gain counterplay in typical Sicilian Dragon fashion by expanding on the queenside and creating play in the center.
Play might continue with 6…Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Bg5 Nc6 9.Nb3 a6 10.f4 b5 11.Bf3 b4 12.Na4 Bd7
In this position, a standard move for Black is …Rb8 to avoid the knight on c6 being pinned after e5. 12.Na4 might look strange, but the knight will soon return to c3 after a3 and axb4.
Variations with opposite-side castling are more dangerous for black, and even though the white pawns on f4 and e4 look dangerous, Black has enough defensive resources to deal with the attack.
There are an equal number of black defenders to white attackers on the Kingside – a rook and two minor pieces each.
The challenge that White faces is getting his pieces over to the queenside is not easy. The black bishop on g7 can quickly attack the white queenside pawns after the knight on f6 moves.
Osmanodja, F. - Petursson, Mar, 2015.10.11, 0-1, World Rapid 2015 Round 6.79, Berlin GER
Fight the Sicilian Dragon Fianchetto Variation Fearlessly
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.g3
The move order in the Fianchetto Variation is important because if you continue in standard fashion with 6…Bg7 White has 7.Bg2 Nc6 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.e5!
The correct move for Black is 6…Nc6 when play is likely to continue with 7.Nde2 Bg7 8.Bg2 0-0 9.0-0 Rb8 10.a4 a6
White retreats the knight from d4 to prevent it from getting exchanged and keeps the h1-a8 diagonal open. The knight on c3, queen on d1, and bishop on g2 all help control the d5-square.
However, Black has removed his rook from the h1-a8 diagonal, avoided tactical tricks involving a discovered attack on the rook, and developed his other pieces onto perfect squares. Unsurprisingly, it is easy for Black to achieve equality in this variation.
Black can enjoy reaching easy equality and play for a win with little risk in the Fianchetto Variation.
Pucher, S. - Svane, R., 2014.05.05, 0-1, 32nd Metz Open Round 4.11, Metz FRA
The Levenfish Variation - A Fish Out of Water
Almost no longer played at the master level, the Levenfish Variation can prove tricky at lower levels. The Levenfish Variation or 6.f4 is popular with players who employ 6.f4 against other variations of the Sicilian Defense or are looking for an alternative to the Yugoslav Attack.
As in the Fianchetto Variation 6…Nc6 is the move of choice for black.
One of the main ideas for White in the Levenfish Variation is to play an early e5, so playing …Nc6 helps prevent e5 or makes it less effective.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Nc6
White can continue thematically with 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5, but this does not pose much of a threat.
Here is an excellent miniature by Black that shows how to meet this plan.
David Henry Butler - Heinrich Kracke, 1956, 0-1, corr
A more dangerous plan is to play in Grand Prix Attack fashion with 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Bd3 0-0 9.0-0 b5
Black requires vigorous play because White has excellent attacking opportunities if given enough time. The queen will reach h4 via e1 and support an attack with f5.
If White captures the b5-pawn, there are tactics involving …Qb6+ and …Nxe4, using the overloaded defender no matter how White captures the pawn.
Hector, Jonny - Smirin, Ilia, 1994, 0-1, Antwerp op Round 4, Antwerp BEL
When you choose to take up the dynamic Sicilian Dragon, do not rush to dispel any ideas of your chosen defense being unsound. The more of your opponents who discount the Sicilian Dragon, the better.
The Sicilian Dragon is an excellent fighting defense to 1.e4 for those looking to play for a win with black. There are not many variations you need to study, and you can use the Dragon setup against many Anti-Sicilians.
Any well-rounded chess player will find playing the Sicilian Dragon enjoyable while offering enough variety to keep your games interesting.