Starting Out — The Accelerated Dragon

Andrew Greet

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Everyman Chess
320 pages

Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon by IM Andrew Greet is the first book offering comprehensive coverage of the sequence 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 to appear in quite some time. As an added bonus it also covers the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon lines arising after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4.

Greet has chosen to organize his material into ten chapters as follows:

Chapter 1: Hyper-Accelerated
Chapter 2: Classical (White develops with Be2)
Chapters 3 and 4: Yugoslav Accelerated Dragon (7.Bc4)
Chapter 5: Lines with Nxc6
Chapter 6: Maroczy Bind: Classical Variation
Chapter 7: Maroczy Bind: Gurgenidze Variation
Chapter 8: Maroczy Bind: 7……Ng4
Chapter 9: Maroczy Bind: Avoiding Exchanges with Nc2
Chapter 10: Maroczy Bind: Sidelines

Before looking closely at each chapter, it’s useful to take a moment to discuss exactly who this book is geared for. Normally Everyman’s Starting Out series is aimed at players below 2000 and provides a broad overview of an opening with lots of explanatory prose and not much detailed analysis, but Greet aspires to more.

Books on the Accelerated Dragon in 1998, by the teams of Ca.Hansen and P.H.Nielsen (The Accelerated Dragon) and Silman and Donaldson (Accelerated Dragons) were each 300 plus pages and offered only scanty coverage of 2……g6. Today the 320 pages of Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon, including 40 pages on 2……g6, is clearly not enough space to offer an encyclopedic treatment but is much more advanced than a guide for club players. Though intended primarily for amateurs, Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon offers theoretical novelties and useful advice that will interest the most experienced users of this solid Sicilian line.

IM Greet’s examination of 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 is the first in depth look at the Hyper Accelerated Dragon to appear in print. Running almost 40 pages long, it focuses primarily on alternatives to 3.d4 and when it does examine the latter it is almost exclusively on 3……cxd4 rather than 3……Bg7 – Black using 2……g6 more as a transpositional tool to avoid the Rossolimo (2……Nc6 3.Bb5) than a way to generate more dynamic play against White’s attempts to set up the Maroczy Bind. Greet does examine 2……g6 3.d4 Bg7 from White’s point of view, taking a look at the popular line 4.dxc5 Qa5+ 5.c3 Qxc5 6.Na3 which had been scoring well until the antidote 6…Nf6 7.Nb5 b6 8.e5 Ng4 9.Qd4 Nxe5! was discovered.

Greet suggests that White avoid 10.Qxc5 Nxf3+ 11.gxf3 bxc5 12.Nc7+ Kd8 13.Nxa8 Bb7 and instead play 10.Nxe5 Qxe5+ 11.Qxe5 Bxe5 12.f4 a6 13.fxe5 axb5 14.Bxb5, “when White’s Bishop pair ought to suffice for a slight edge. 14.Be3!? also looks interesting.” I would say White’s advantage is extremely slight to non-existent after 14.Bxb5 Ba6 or 14.Be3 Nc6 15.Bxb6 Nxe5 16.Bd4 f6 17.Bxb5 Ba6.

Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon does an excellent job of covering 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c3 d5 and offering ways to defuse 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 – the latter being White’s major attempt to take advantage of the move order 3…cxd4.

When White attempts to head for a Classical Dragon with Be2 setups, Greet opts to keep the game in Accelerated territory by not playing …d6. Against Be2 and Be3 Black has …d5 – 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 d5. If White stops this with 8.Nb3, Greet’s answer is 8……a5 9.a4 Nb4 continuing to angle for …d5. On 8.f4, the answer is again 8……d5 9.e5 Ne8 10.Bf3 e6! when Greet intends to meet 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bc5 with his novelty 12……f6!

This is all very good stuff but when White dispenses with Be3 Greet has something else quite different in mind, namely 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Nb3 (intending Be2 and Bg5 or Be2 and Rel systems) 6……Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Nf6 8.Bd3 d5 which also enjoys a good reputation.

The only problem with this is that White can avoid 6……Bxc3+ by adopting the move order 5.Be2, not committing his Knight to c3 until Black plays …...Nf6. If Black wants to stay in the Accelerated Dragon he may do so with 5.Be2 Bg7 6.Nb3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.0-0 a5 9.a4 Nb4 but this sequence is not covered in Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon.

White players trying to gain an edge against the Accelerated need to control d5 and Greet spends most of this book (250 pages) focusing on 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 and 5.c4 while also giving some space to the exchange on c6 (5.Nxc6 and 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nxc6). Failure to control the d5-square may allow Black to play …d7-d5 in one move instead of …d7-d6-d5 as in the Dragon.

Trying to transpose into the Yugoslav Attack via 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 offers Black several options including 7..…Qa5 and 7……0-0 when after 8.Bb3 (Greet does an excellent job of showing how Black should handle the often seen but inaccurate 8.f3) Black has several possibilities, with Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon focusing on 8……Qa5, 8……e6 and 8……a5.

There is a brief discussion of the attempt to transpose into a favorable line of the Dragon via 8……d6 9.f3 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5. Usually Black can’t reach this position via the Dragon as White doesn’t typically commit his Bishop to b3 so early but in the Accelerated Dragon move order he doesn’t have a choice. Greet points out that White does better with 10.h4 and considers 10……h5, but not the more testing 10……a5 with the idea 11.a4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Be6 transposing to the line 9……Nxd4 (or 9……a5) 10.Bxd4 a5 11.a4 Be6 but with the inclusion of h4 which rules out White castling kingside and focusing on the b5 and d5 squares – a common antidote to …a5 in the Dragon. This idea has not received extensive tests but could be important.

Trading on c6 is usually not a critical idea in the Sicilian and 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nxc6 presents no problems but 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nxc6 does make sense as after 7……bxc6 8.e5 Black either has to sacrifice a pawn or retreat his Knight to the back rank. Both lines are covered by IM Greet, but I should warn the reader that after 8……Ng8 9.Bd4 Qa5 10.Bc4 Bxe5 11.0-0 Nf6 12.Re1 d6 13.Bxe5 dxe5 14.Qe2 Bf5 15.Bb3 e4 16.Qc4 0-0 17.Qxc6 Black is fine but the position is very drawish. This sort of dilemma – theoretically equal but no real winning chances – is a common occurrence in the Accelerated and arises in many lines, but especially in the variations after 7.Bc4 0-0 8.Bb3 a5 and in the Maroczy where Black plays an early …Nxd4 and later White plays Nd5 and trades soon clear the board of all but a pair of Bishops for each side.

Throughout Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon Greet adopts the very understandable stance that equal positions for Black are acceptable and realizes that many readers of his book will be club players whose opponents are not likely to play the resulting positions perfectly. This is all true, but keep in mind some of these positions can be really dead! Of course such positions can occur in all openings but they are reached more often in many theoretical lines of the Accelerated. The moral is there is no free lunch – if you want a safe King and solid pawn structure you have to pay a price. In the Accelerated Dragon it’s living with less space and accepting many drawish positions.

Speaking of the Maroczy, Greet focuses primarily on his personal favorite 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be2 d6 9.0-0 Bd7 followed by …Nxd4, …Bc6 and …a5 and the Gurgenidze system 5……Nf6 6.Nc3 d6 7.Be2 Nxd4 8.Qxd4 Bg7. In the latter he examines the newly popular sequence 9.Be3 0-0 10.Qd2 a5 as a practical alternative to the more well established and heavily analyzed main lines where Black goes for the setup ……a6, ……Be6, ……Qa5 and ……Rfc8.

Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon is highly recommended for all those interested in taking up this opening. More experienced users will find gold scattered throughout the book in the form of well considered novelties and thoughtful advice but they should not be expecting a comprehensive up to date work – about 600 pages would be needed.