Play the Accelerated Dragon

By Peter Lalić

Play the Accelerated Dragon
Play the Accelerated Dragon
Everyman Chess (2014)
176 pages
Reviewed by John Donaldson
Play the Accelerated Dragon by Peter Lalić is the latest book on the position that arises after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6. Black is aiming to play …d7-d5 and White has three principal ways to deal with this: (1) controlling d5 by 5.c4 (the Maroczy Bind), (2) with pieces after 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 or (3) trading on c6 after the sequence 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nxc6. Normally exchanging on c6 isn’t a particularly effective strategy in the Sicilian but in this particular situation it makes sense as after 7...bxc6 8.e5 Black must either retreat with ...Ng8 losing time or sacrifice a pawn with 8...Nd5.

The author’s solution to attempts by White to transpose into the Yugoslav Attack variation of the Dragon via 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 is 7...0-0 8.Bb3 a5. Lalić does an excellent job of showing what to do if White gets his move order wrong (7.f3 and 8.f3 in particular). This is important as at the club level these sidelines are likely to pop up quite often.

One drawback for Black after 8...a5 9.f3 d5 is theory is well developed and can lead to drawish endgames after a long forced sequence of moves. While this might present problems for a higher rated player in a game where both players are rated over 2200, it’s not as much an issue for the author’s intended target audience. This is a dilemma for Black in many lines of the Sicilian – not just the Accelerated.

The critical test of Black’s resources is not 9.f3 but 9.0-0 where White shifts to positional play and tries to exploit the weaknesses caused by 8...a5. It’s true that after 9.0-0 a4 10.Nxa4 Nxe4 Black has an extra center pawn but White is often able to put pressure on it with Nb5, c4, Qe2 and putting a rook on d1. Play the Accelerated Dragon offers the reader the high level test Svidler-Topalov, where after 11.Nb5! Ra6! (exclamation marks by the author) 12.Qe2 d6 13.c4 Nf6 14.Rfd1 Bd7 15.Nac3 Qb8 16.h3 Rc8 17.a3 Ne5 Lalić writes: “I always tell you the truth: objectively speaking Black is slightly worse, as a result of his disconnected rook at a6.”

This is true. It would be fair to add that this game was played in 1999 and much has happened since then. The author dismisses 11...d5!? as too loose after 11.Nb5 but in fact this is precisely what Black plays these days and White has not been able to show an advantage. It’s a different situation after Khalifman’s recommendation of the more precise sequence 11.c4! d6 12.Re1! (12.Nb5 Nc5 is what Black is hoping for). Here 12...Ne5 has not fared well and 12...Nf6 is an admission by Black that he not going to get the dynamic position he was hoping for (...Nc5 being preferred if it doesn’t drop a pawn). White doesn’t have a large advantage after 12.Re1! but there is no denying he has a steady pull and Black limited counterplay.

The author does a good job of keeping the ball in Black’s court if White tries to steer for a Classical Dragon with the sequence 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 0-0 meeting 8.0-0 with 8...d5 and 8.Nb3 with 8...a5 meeting 9.a4 with 9...Nb4 aiming for ...d5 once more. Likewise after 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Nde2 Nf6 7.g3 he proposes the little-played 7...d5. This certainly changes the character of the game from the more technical positions that arise after a transposition to the Dragon with ...d6. The question is it sound? The model game (from Black’s perspective) that is trotted out, S. Farago-R.Mueller, does lead to exciting play after 8.exd5 Nb4 9.Bg2 Bf5 10.Nd4 Bg4 11.Qd2 Nbxd5 12.Nxd5 Nxd5 13.Nb5 Qb6! but after the prosaic 13.h3 Bc8 (there is nothing better) 14.0-0 0-0 15.Rd1 White has a slight but persistent advantage and an easy to execute scheme to finish developing with b3, Bb2 and c4. There is nothing wrong with this line at the club level but it is unlikely 7...d5 will develop a following at higher levels. Nonetheless Lalić deserves credit for finding a way to keep Black’s repertoire thematic and easy to remember for those below 2200.

The sequence 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 only receives two pages in this book with the author restricting himself to 8...Ng8. It is true that this variation is seldom seen in games between non-titled players but it is important and can easily lead to an early defeat if Black is not well prepared as the play is quite different than other lines of the Accelerated. Lalić examines 9.Bd4 f6 10.f4 Qa5 examining the more commonly seen 11.Qe2 and 11.Qd2 but leaves out the dangerous 11.Bc4 Bxe5 12.Qd3 which leads to interesting play.

The biggest chapter in Play the Accelerated Dragon is on the Maroczy Bind, and rightly so. If White didn’t have the opportunity to play 5.c4 a lot more people would play the Accelerated Dragon. The author starts off by spending 26 pages explaining strategic ideas for Black and another 32 on the Gurgenidze variation (5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 d6 7.Be2 Nxd4 8.Qxd4). The first part should be helpful for the intended audience but be careful and think critically. Model game 38 is Furman-Spassky, USSR ch. 1957, which opened 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nh6!?7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be2 f5! 9.exf5 Bxd4! 10.Bxd4 Nxf5 11.Bc5 d6 12.Ba3 Nfd4 and Black went on to win a fine game.

If only Black’s life were so easy in the Maroczy Bind. If White answers 9...Bxd4! (Lalić) with 10.Bxh6! (instead of 10.Bxd4?) Black is in trouble. Exchanging on c3 has not worked out well and the full-press against f2 falls short after 10.Bxh6 Rxf5 11.0-0 as 11…Qb6 is stopped in its tracks by the natural 12.Nd5. One point is 12...Qxb2 13.Nxe7+! Nxe7 14.Rb1 Qc3 15.Rb3 and White recovers the piece with much the better game.

One interesting proposal by the author for Black in the Gurgenize occurs after 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 d6 7. Nc2. This a very critical line for Black and after 7...Bg7 8.Be2 0-0 9.0-0 Nd7 10.Bd2 Nc5 11.b4 Bxc3 12.Bxc3 Nxe4 13.Bb2 Black defenders have had a very difficult time. Lalić recommends 13...e5 14.Qe1 Be6. This isn’t new but hasn't been played much. Houdini likes Black's prospects.

Play the Accelerated Dragon is a good introductory work on the subject for players up to about 2200, but definitely not more. One quirk that some may love but others hate is the author’s love of references to popular culture and his use of quotes sprinkled throughout the book to reinforce points he is making. Some of the books Lev Alburt publishes also do this. It can be potentially useful but is not easy to repeatedly find reference that are really germane. A case in point is found on page 97 (“Do not bring out your queen too early”) – sound advice in a beginner’s book but not really appropriate for a more advanced audience.