When one thinks of chess books published in English traditional names that come to mind are Quality Chess, New in Chess, Gambit and Everyman in Europe and McFarland, Russell Enterprises and Mongoose Press in the United States. Add to this list the Belgium firm Thinker’s Publishing which is not to be confused with the Iowa based Thinker’s Press.
Thinker’s Publishing has been around for a few years, enough time to judge the quality of its work, which to date has been excellent. Concentrating primarily on opening and improvement books, this newcomer has released a number of excellent titles including important works on the Accelerated and Hyper Accelerated Dragons and the Maróczy Bind.
Canadian IM Raja Panjwani’s “The Hyper Accelerated Dragon” fills a much-needed gap in the chess literature as the standard references on this opening, The Sicilian Accelerated Dragon by Peter Heine Nielsen and Carsten Hansen and Accelerated Dragons by your reviewer and Jeremy Silman, are both over twenty years old. Even Starting Out: The Accelerated Dragon by Andrew Greet has been around for over a decade.
The Accelerated Dragon has never been one of the most popular lines in the Sicilian and consequently it has not been as thoroughly analyzed as the Najdorf or regular Dragon, but transpositional possibilities make it more popular than one might think. Grandmasters arrive at the Maróczy Bind more frequently from the English or 1.Nf3 than 1.e4 while the opening sequence 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 is a popular way for White to try to dodge the Sveshnikov, albeit at the cost of 3…g6, offering an Accelerated Dragon but with White’s c pawn no longer free to advance.
As Panjwani’s title implies, his preferred move order is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 (the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon) and not the traditional move order 2…Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6. This is not to meet 3.d4 with 3…Bg7 as 4.dxc5 Qa5+ 5.c3 Qxc5 as 6.Na3! is no fun for Black. Rather, his idea is that after 3…cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 Black has sidestepped the Rossolimo (2…Nc6 3.Bb5) which the author feels is a good tradeoff for Black, judging 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4, 3.c3, 3.Bc4 and 3.h4 to be less of a problem. Note 2….g6 not only sidesteps the Rossolimo, but also takes 3.Bb5+ out of the picture – 2…g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 could be a nasty surprise for a White player not expecting the Dragon.
Panjwani’s analysis of 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 and 3.c3 are representative of what makes this a great book. The analysis is first rate with many original ideas and novelties. The author does a fine job of interspersing computer analysis with human interpretation, offering valuable advice regarding what positions are practical for humans to play and don’t require machine like precision.
The author has clearly made a decision to emphasize what he feels is most important and weighted his coverage accordingly, but readers who might face 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bc4 or 3.h4 will need to look elsewhere for coverage of these lines. This is not the only place in this book where material you might expect to find is missing.
After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 White has three major attempts to stop Black from playing …d5 in one go, an idea at the strategic heart of the Accelerated Dragon. They are 5.c4 (the Maroczy Bind), 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Bc4 (7.Be2 d5! is but one of many TNs over turning established theory to be found in this book – Panjwani also offers extensive coverage of 7…0-0 8.Nb3 d6) and 7.Nxc6. The latter is not as popular as the other two treatments, but definitely deserving of respect (Kasparov has played it with both colors). Here it receives only one small paragraph on 7…bxc6 8.e5 Ng8, giving analysis of 9.f4 but not the more popular 9.Bd4.
The heart of this book centers on 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Bc4 and the Maroczy Bind (5.c4), with Panjwani offering two choices – one solid and one adventurous – to counter the two variations. Against 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Bc4 the solid choice he recommends is the old main line 7…Qa5 which forces White to castle short, but sometimes lands Black in a poor version of the Classical Dragon after Nb3 and …Qc7. Panjwani’s solution to this is pretty shocking – retreating the queen directly to d8 after it is attacked. This leaves White a tempo ahead in many traditional lines, but the author feels the Classical is so innocuous it doesn’t matter. The …Qd8 retreat is not unknown, the great Accelerated Dragon expert Vladimir Malakhov having tried it, but it does look a little strange at first glance.
Panjwani’s other suggestion against 7.Bc4 is even more original. He advocates a Dragon-Taimanov hybrid system he has built from the ground up after 7…0-0 8.Bb3 a6.
Black’s idea is to play a quick …b5, …Bb7, …Qc7 and …Na5 with the Black d-pawn remaining on its original square to save an important tempo – essential as analogous lines in the Dragon where Black is already committed to …d6 don’t enjoy a great reputation. The Polish Grandmaster Tomasz Markowski use to play like this via 8…Qc7 and enjoyed success with it before losing an important game to Vassily Ivanchuk. This system is not well analyzed and Panjwani gives pages and pages of thought-provoking analysis.
Systems with 7.Bc4 don’t explain why there are not more Accelerated Dragon players. After all, if this was the best White had, Dragon players would use this move order (7…0-0 8.Bb3 d6) to avoid systems with 9.0-0-0 (instead of 9.Bc4) in their favorite opening. No, the reason why the Accelerated is not seen more often is 5.c4. The Maróczy Bind might not be a knockout blow, but it’s a hard system to generate winning chances against, although Panjwani tries.
He recommends two systems against the Bind and neither is the popular line with an early …Nxd4 forcing White to recapture with the queen. Instead his choices start with 5…Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 and now he branches out. His first recommendation is 7…Ng4 and after 8.Qxg4 Nxd4 9.Qd1 e5 when White’s traditionally most challenging course has been 10.Nb5. Here Panjwani has discovered the great novelty 10…d6! which he has used to win two nice games.
His analysis of this line looks so convincing that at first, I thought he had done the impossible – discovered a sound line against the Maróczy offering Black real winning chances. Unfortunately, such dreams are too good to be true. If White adopts a quieter treatment, as pointed out by John Shaw in the third and final volume of his magnificent 1.e4 opening repertoire series for Quality Chess, I don’t see much Black can do to create a double-edged position after 10.Bd3 0-0 11.0-0 d6 12.Rc1 Be6 13.Qd2 Rc8 14.b3 a6 15.Rfd1 (instead of 15.f3 or 15.Ne2 as given by Panjwani).
Now Shaw’s 15…Qa5 looks too obliging and 15…Qd7 a better try, but in general it looks like White should be a little better and not necessarily in a hurry to play f3. That said the line is certainly playable for Black, but dynamic it is not.
Matters are more complicated against Panjwani’s alternative against the Bind – namely 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be2 d6 9.0-0 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6. This dark-square strategy, championed by the late Bent Larsen and Icelandic Grandmaster Margeir Petursson, has done pretty well for Black and I can find no fault in Panjwani’s coverage of it. The problem with this system comes earlier as Shaw, whose tome on the open Sicilian came out a year after Rajwani’s book, points out. Black’s problem is the computer move 9.f3!, which has several subtle ideas behind it.
At first glance this looks like a very typical Maroczy move, and one suspects transposition to a familiar line is soon instore, but such is not the case. After 9…Nxd4 10.Bxd4 a5 (a very popular sequence envisioning …a4 and …Qa5) White has 11.Na4! This clever move shuts down Black’s plan and makes one immediately appreciate one of the virtues of 9.f3 – protecting the e-pawn – which makes the knight move possible.
Against the Larsen/Petursson variation White benefits from not having committed his king. After 9.f3 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 he has 12.0-0-0!
This surprising idea – previously castling queenside was considered heresy in the Maróczy Bind – is quite effective here. Such flexibility with the king is becoming the norm in this structure – see also the idea of putting the king on f2, used with success in Caruana-Antipov, Gibralter 2017 and Praggnanandhaa – Vocaturo, Xtracon 2019.
Panjwani finishes his book with bonus chapters on the Smith-Morra and 2.c3. In both lines Black fianchettoes his king bishop, using the same piece setup advocated earlier in the book. Against the Morra this involves declining the gambit with …d3 and if possible trading the dark-squared bishop for knight on c3, which definitely unbalances the position.
In summary this is a great book and clearly a labor of love for the author who is a strong International Master who uses the line regularly. Anyone rated above 2000, and particularly above 2200 will want to have this book with the caveat that it will need to be supplemented with material for lines that are either not covered or only minimally so – 3.Bc4, 3.h4 and 7.Nxc6 come immediately to mind. Also, it will be useful to check what antidote regular Accelerated players like the Azeri GMs Mamedov and Guseinov have found against the f3 idea for White.