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Review: The Sicilian Dragon Move by Move, by Carsten Hansen

By Davide Nastasio

Everyman Chess, 2016
464 pages

One of my desires, written in a hypothetical bucket list, would be to play the Sicilian. From time to time I try and then give up, because the next tournament is coming and my preparation is not complete.  Then I forget all of what I studied, because the theoretical material is quite overwhelming.

I must admit I had a bad experience with the Sicilian Dragon. I tried to learn it using the opening volumes written by GM Alburt, et al.  I failed, but obviously the fault was mine because I didn’t have a good learning system for the openings.

 

chess_openings_for_black

 

Recently there has been a revival of the Dragon. It began with two DVDs (below) produced by Chessbase, the author of which was second only to Magnus Carlsen for the 2016 world championship: Peter Heine Nielsen.

 

sicilian_dragon_vol1sicilian_dragon_vol2

 

 

These were followed by GM Gawain Jones with two volumes on the Dragon!

 

the_dragon_vol1 the_dragon_vol2

 

 

Yes we are speaking of more than 640 pages!  How does someone remember all the material? I honestly don’t know. In this book there are only 464 pages, BUT The font is smaller than in other books of the Move by Move series, so I guess they could be considered 500 or more pages. Plus the author really delves into the material, without any non-chess-related comments like other authors do. So it is clearly a work of love, where the author gave all he knew on this opening.

Returning to my experience, I remember that before playing it in a tournament, I played it online and the results were clearly bad.  Learning more about chess, I got traumatized by Fischer who mockingly would refer to the Sicilian Dragon as “Sac, Sac and Mate.”

 

 

Now this game is quite old.  Let’s fast forward the movie to nearly 20 years later and watch what happened!

 

 

In any case, I didn’t give up because I like to play exciting chess, and I think the Dragon fits my chess personality. Hence, the reason I have this volume is because I want to try to learn it, and see if I can use it in my tournament games.  Let’s now begin to review this wonderful book published by Everyman Chess. The first thing I do when I don’t know a player is to discover something about him, in this case the author is Carsten Hansen, a FIDE Master from Denmark.  I noticed one thing we have in common: we both wrote book reviews for the now defunct site Chesscafe.   In Chessbase Megabase 2017 there are only 191 games played by Hansen. He had a peak Elo rating of 2313 in 1999, and nowadays it is around 2270.

 

hansen_elo_graph

 

Since I didn’t see games the author played in the book, I looked in the database to see if he played the Sicilian Dragon.  Out of 191 there are 10 games with the Sicilian Dragon, based on the following opening moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5. Nc3,g6;

 

sicilian_dragon_tabya

 

These are a couple of his games with the Dragon.

 

 

 

As we can see it is a sharp opening in which one can win or lose quite easily. That’s why I began this article talking about chess personality, because I think we should learn openings which most fit our personality. If inside we have a burning fire, then the Dragon is surely the right way to express it. If instead we are like water, then maybe the French is better.

The first part of this book covers the Non-Yugoslav attack, based on 4 different chapters which examine all White’s possibilities.  Chapter 1 is entitled Classical Dragon Early Deviations, and based on the following line: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5. Nc3,g6; 6. Be2,Bg7; 7. Be3,

 

chapter1_7Be3

 

 

Now let me tell you one thing I don’t like about the book. This book is clearly a repertoire for Black. The Sicilian Dragon is played by Black. Still all the diagrams in the book are from White’s side. This doesn’t make sense because obviously a reader could try some visual exercises reading the book without chess board. But it becomes difficult with the diagrams from White’s perspective.

I inserted the above moves in my main database, Megabase 2017, and I got as result more than 7,000 games. The first one is from 1905. I watched it because it was played by a player I admire: Joseph Henry Blackburne. Unfortunately for Blackburne, things didn’t go well. I’d like to share some of the games I saw, because they can give you an impression of the sharp play one could find himself in.

 

 

For a serious study of this opening, one should watch 60-80 games per line. This will give an idea of where to develop the pieces and the main tactical ideas, as well as the plans for both sides.

 

 

 

In the beginning of my chess learning, I didn’t know I had to watch a lot of games. But they are essential for learning an opening. In order to avoid to get bored, I watch games with names of players I know or who are famous champions, like the following:

 

 

 

Notice the result is not really important. The game teaches us no matter the result. If White won, we learn why Black lost. If Black won, we need to find the reason, especially if we plan to play the Dragon in tournament.  Our opponents playing White will have analyzed the reasons Black won, and likely found a way to neutralize it, or to better understand the position.

The author does a great job in outlining which deviations are dangerous, and who are the main proponents. For example, at page 10 after the moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,g6; 6.Be2,Bg7; 7.Be3,0-0; 8.0-0,Nc6; the author mentions that Kamsky’s favorite is 9.Qd2.

 

deviation_9_qd2

 

Now once more the study of the classics becomes important, because maybe Kamsky found such a deviation thanks to the use of the database and the good results against the players of Black in the latter part of the 1800s.  Consider the following game, where one of the best players in the world loses quite easily.

 

 

And then we can see how Kamsky used such a deviation to bring despair to his opponents!

 

 

gm_kamsky (1)

GM Gata Kamsky

 

 

Obviously I’m not doing all the homework for the readers of this review, since it would become boring and too long. But if one reads the book, he will know how to avoid the problems which afflicted Black in the previous two games. In reality, and here comes handy the Megabase 2017, the last game (Kamsky vs. Shabalov) was deeply annotated also by GM Rogozenco, so there are multiple sources to teach us how to play and why.

 

GM_dorian_rogozenco

GM Dorian Rogozenco

 

Let me now lightly detail the two other parts of the book.  Part 2, also comprised of 4 chapters, is dedicated to the Yugoslav attack lines without Bc4.  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,

 

yugoslav_attack_without_Bc4

 

The author warns us this is one of the most critical lines. And of course the author outlines what Black needs to do, and what he will find. He is honest, and says one will have to sacrifice pawns or play some exchange sacrifice in order to generate activity and counterplay. This is why I say an opening must fit our personality.  We cannot play it just because a champion did, or our best friend did. But at the same time the book becomes an indispensable tool of self-discovery, because going over the deeply-annotated games one can decide if he likes it or not. Then like in all the series of Move by Move books, the author intersperses the annotations to the game with questions we should answer, like in a training exercise.

 

move_by_move_training_question

 

 

In the second part the line I found interesting, treated in chapter 8, is the one with 9.g4.  Clearly it shows how fast an attack can be, and Black must be definitely ready!

 

yugoslav_attack_9_g4

 

 

The third part is the largest in the book with 8 chapters! It treats the Yugoslav attack with Bc4.  Many of the chapters bear the names of the GMs that have contributed to the theory, like the Soltis variation: 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,Rc8; 11.Bb3,Ne5; 12.h4,h5;

 

soltis_variation

 

Now, the good thing about having the best database in the world is that it allows me to satisfy my curiosity, for example when Soltis played it for the first time, and if he was successful.  I inserted the position above and the name Soltis, and the result was 6 games in which Soltis was Black, and the result was amazing!  Out of 6 games, Soltis won 5 and drew 1!  I’d like to share two of them, because I love Soltis’ books; I must admit, however, that I never saw his games.  I was pleasantly surprised to see he was a tactical monster!

 

 

 

One last thing: the book has a total of 80 deeply-annotated games which I think is really a lot of material, and shows that Carsten Hansen really worked hard!

 

number_of_games

 

At the end of the book, as customary, there is the index of the variations, quite handy if one must locate a certain chapter for reference.   The index of the games is in alphabetical order.   I’m sure I didn’t cover enough, but the topic is huge and it doesn’t make sense to write something bigger than the book as a review! I believe Carsten Hansen did a good job in explaining the ideas behind many moves, but once again this opening is huge.  The book should come with some memory pills, or a memory card to insert in our brains!

 

 

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