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A bit of fun, a couple of handy new ideas and a question; ‘Are these top players really all they’re cracked up to be’? Okay, don’t answer that!

Download PGN of February ’23 Dragon Sicilian games

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Dragon, Levenfish Variation 6.f4 Nbd7 [B71]

As the Levenfish doesn’t have a particularly good reputation, when I see a strong player deploying it, I suspect we are about to see a new idea and after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Nbd7 that’s just what we see in 7.Bb5:

I’m not sure whether in Grover, S - Williams, S the move came to the Indian GM in a flash of inspiration or whether it was home prep but the plan would be to try and force through the likes of e4-e5 and possibly on to e6. Unfortunately it’s Black’s move and the Ginger GM responded sensibly with 7...a6 and after 8.Bxd7+ opted for 8...Nxd7 to keep tabs on that e5-square. Then following 9.Be3 Bg7 rather than settling for the more prudent option of kingside castling, White cleared the way to go the other side with 10.Qf3 but after 10...0-0 was presumably bugged by the concept of ...e5 and hence came the prophylactic 11.Nde2?! All a little slow though and in 11...b5! 12.e5 Rb8 13.exd6 Bb7! 14.Qf2 b4 15.Na4 exd6 Black’s solitary weakness on d6 was easily counter-balanced by his piece activity elsewhere.

Dragon 6.Be3 Nc6 7.f3 h5 8.Qd2 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6 10.Bb5+ Kf8 11.Qf2 [B72]

This whole 6.Be3 Nc6 7.f3 h5 8.Qd2 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bh6 system continues to gain in popularity with plenty of games in it this month alone. Of those though I chose to feature the IM versus GM tussle Braeuer, F - Stocek, J which saw 10.Bb5+ Kf8 11.Qf2 Qa5 12.0-0 e5 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.Qxe3 Be6 15.Ba4 Qc5 16.Qf2 Rc8 17.Bb3 Ke7:

Okay so yes, we are heading for an endgame where the black king is nicely positioned. It should really be a draw but following 18.Rad1 a6 19.Na4?! Qxf2+ 20.Rxf2 b5 21.Nc3 Rc6 22.Rdd2 Rd8 23.Rfe2 Rc5 24.Nd1 a5 it was clearly Black making all the running and the way he grinds the win out is to be fair rather instructive.

Yugoslav Attack 9.0-0-0 d5 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Bc4 Be6 [B76]

I think it’s fair to say that after 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 d5 10.Nxc6 bxc6 whereas we have spent most time on 11 Bh6, the more innocuous looking 11.Bc4 has bugged Black players a little in recent times after the ‘biting on granite’ response 11...e6 but then 12 Bb3 Bb7 13 Na4!? From a Black perspective, I can’t say that I was overly concerned about it but nevertheless the fresh approach of 13...Be6 was welcomed this month in Zwirs, N - Antonio, V:

The black major pieces are connected along the back rank making ...dxc4 a threat but when you do the maths, White does actually have more on d5 than his opponent! Hence it remains a pawn sacrifice with open line compensation up for grabs as touched on in the annotation. We might see that sort of thing in practical games in the future though here White settled for 12.Bb3 but after 12...Qc7 13.h4 possibly underestimated 13...dxe4! Yes in 14.Bf4 Qb7 15.fxe4 c5 16.e5 Ng4 17.Bxe6 fxe6 Black has several pawn weaknesses but 18.g3 Nxe5 19.Qe2 Rab8 20.b3 Rf5 left him with active pieces in a game that he probably had the better of especially if after 21.Qe4 he had kept the queens on through 21...Qc8! rather than trading them off via 21...Qb4. All interesting stuff though!

Yugoslav 9.0-0-0 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bd4 e5 13.Bc5 Be6 14.Bc4?! [B76]

Okay, I’m not going to lie, when I saw the high level tussle Nepomniachtchi,I - Mamedov, R and specifically after 6.f3 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.0-0-0 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bd4 e5 13.Bc5 Be6 the move 14 Bc4?! I thought we might be about to see something special.

I mean regular subscribers here will know why I have always maintained that 14 Ne4 is easily best and that is reflected in the vast number of practical outings it has seen. However we’re talking a candidate to be World Champion here and I expected something after 14...Nxc3 15.Qxc3 Qg5+ 16.Kb1 e4 but no, in fact with 17.Bd4 Bxd4 18.Qxd4 Bxc4 19.Qxc4 e3!? it was Black making all the running, definitely retaining the edge in 20.g3 Rad8 21.Qe2 Rfe8 Such an anti-climax and just why Nepo went down this inferior line remains a mystery!

Yugoslav 9.0-0-0 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bd4 e5 13.Bc5 Re8 14.Nxd5 cxd5 15.Bb5 Be6 [B76]

The game Boyer, M- Clarke, B is just the sort of game that attracts Black players to the Dragon but to be fair this month saw the talented young Englishman experience both sides of the coin. You can check the annotations to see what I mean by that but our featured game then saw 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bd4 e5 13.Bc5 Re8 14.Nxd5 cxd5 15.Bb5?! Be6 when rather than take the exchange immediately, White flicked in 16.g4 (possibly the deprive Black’s light-squared bishop access to that square a little down the line) before 16...d4 17.Bxe8 occurred:

I have to say that simply taking that bishop on e8 looks very strong to me as from there here majesty can spring to c6 to scrutinise f3 as well as bring pressure down the c-file. Twinned with those centre pawns, I prefer Black’s bishops but instead we see the entertaining 17...Qd5 followed by 18.Bb5 Qxc5 19.Qd3 Bxa2 20.b3 Bxb3 21.Qxb3 Bh6+ 22.Kb1 Rb8 It’s just a joy to watch with 23.c4 a6 24.g5 Bxg5 25.Rhg1 Be3 26.Rg2 axb5 27.Rb2 b4 seeing Black go ahead on material and eventually force the promotion of one of those pawns.

Yugoslav Attack 9.g4 h5 10.g5 [B76]

This month, the very top players have definitely proven to be a bit of a disappointment as I was really hoping more from talented highly rated young Uzbek GM. So we’re talking 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 where fair enough Black goes a little bit offbeat through 9...h5 and interestingly rather than take on h5 or retain the tension through 10 h3, in Aronian, L - Abdusattorov, N White chose to close things on the kingside through 10.g5:

Even more interesting here is that rather than transfer the attacked knight to b6 via d7, seemingly thinking very much like a computer, Black continued with 10...Ne8 11.0-0-0 Qa5 12.Nb3 and then 12...Bxc3 13.Nxa5 Bxd2+ 14.Bxd2. Most Dragon playing humans take a little more pride in their Dragon bishop but whereas maybe a metal monster might be able to grind out a draw, the concession 14...f6?! followed by 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.gxf6 Nxf6 17.Bh6 Re8 18.Bc4+ Kh7 19.Bg5 Kg7 20.Rhg1! left him truly under the cosh and sadly on the road to more suffering and defeat.

Best wishes and back soon, Chris

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