In old times, mapmaking was a fairly imprecise task, due to the lack of advanced technology for exploration purposes. So, to fill vast swathes of areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include graphic warnings of the dangers of going into uncharted territory. Such warnings took the form of sea serpents, dragons, cannibals and many other mythical and, sometimes, even real creatures.
But the saying “Here Be Dragons” soon thereafter fell into folklore, though the actual line was found only once in print (and in Latin, HIC SVNT DRACONES), on the fabled 16th-century Lenox Globe – but is way too cool to give up. And thankfully the once mythical Dragon at elite level came back to life to enliven the 9th London Chess Classic in a somewhat dull round two, which for the second successive day ended with all the games being drawn and everyone tied for first (or last!) place.
The Dragon is regarded as one of those openings you don’t just play, but can become more of a consuming passion – and it especially has a cult following among juniors around the world. And the Aussie/English IM Gary Lane once asked a group of his charges during a coaching session why exactly they favored playing the Dragon, and the almost universal answer he got was that “It has a nice name”!
So just how did the fire-breathing Dragon get its name? It seems that particular honor goes to the Russian master and amateur stargazer, Fedor Dus-Chotimirsky. He first coined the term “Sicilian Dragon” at Kiev, in 1901, explaining: “I was keen on astronomy, and studying the sky, and noticed the apparent resemblance between the Dragon constellation and the configuration of the black pawns d6, e7, f7, g6 and h7.”
But Bobby Fischer – after beating Bent Larsen in a famous game that appeared in his seminal work, My 60 Memorable Games – famously claimed that all White had to do to slay the Dragon was to open the h-file and sac, sac…mate! However, in 1971, another American, GM Andy Soltis, came along to breathe new fire into the Dragon by avoiding the h-file being prised open. And this line, the Soltis Variation, soon proved popular, especially here in the UK through the 1970s and 1980s, being practically the automatic weapon of choice for leading English stars Tony Miles and Jonathan Mestel.
It’s nice to think that Nakamura had perhaps played the Dragon in recognition of all the pioneering work done by Miles and Mestel, but the reality is that he had prepared this for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave at last month’s Palma de Mallorca final leg of the Fide Grand Prix, only for the Frenchman to instead play an Anti-Sicilian with 3.Bb5+. But nevertheless, here be a Dragon that at least kept everyone entertained.
1-10. M. Carlsen (Norway), L. Aronian (Armenia), F. Caruana (USA), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), W. So (USA), V. Anand (India), H. Nakamura (USA), S. Karjakin (Russia), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), M. Adams (England) all 1/2.
Photo | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – GM Hikaru Nakamura
9th London Chess Classic, (2)
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.h4 h5 11.Bb3 Rc8 12.0-0-0 Ne5 This is the starting position of the Soltis Variation. White will not be able to advance the h-pawn, unless the g-pawn is willing to be captured, with the resulting weakness of all of White’s kingside pawns. White has many plans here, but bringing the bishop to g5 is universally regarded as the best option. 13.Bg5 Rc5 From this ideal spot, the rook can perform many duties along the fifth rank, including assisting the advance of the b-pawn. Not only that, but with the rook on c5, Black also prepares the ground for doubling – or even tripling – major pieces down the semi-open c-file to threaten a sudden attack on White’s king. 14.Kb1 Re8 15.g4 hxg4 16.f4 Nc4 17.Qd3 There’s also the plan of 17.Qe2 putting pressure on the g4-pawn, but more importantly, not coming under attack after a …Nxb2 sacrifice, such as after 17…Qc8 18.f5!? Nxb2 19.fxg6 Nxd1 20.gxf7+ Kh7 21.Nxd1 Rf8 with unclear play. 17…Na5 Also a good alternative here is 17…Qc8, the idea being to put pressure down the semi-open c-file, whilst at the same time reinforcing the defense of the f5 square and his g4-pawn. 18.Bxf6N Normally we’ve seen White “getting on” with the kingside attack a la Fischer with 18.h5 here – but MVL has found an easier plan to execute. 18…exf6 And here’s the first problem for Black to deal with. Recapturing with the pawn looks ugly, but not nearly as ugly as the alternative which is fraught with danger. If 18…Bxf6 19.e5! is deadly, as not only is will there be heavy pressure down the semi-open d-file, Black’s immediate worry will be White’s deadly threat of Qxg6+ winning on the spot! Faced with this, the only way forward is 19…Nxb3 20.Nxb3 Bf5 21.Qd4 Rxc3 22.Qxc3 with a clear and decisive advantage. 19.Bd5 Nc6 20.Nxc6?! This immediately lets Nakamura off the hook. Critical for White was the simple hit on the weakened d6-pawn with 20.Ndb5! that leaves Black in dire straits. After 20…Be6 21.Bxe6 Rxe6 22.f5! gxf5 23.exf5 Re7 24.Nd5! Re5 25.Nbc3 and, with White’s firm grip of d5 with the dominant knight, it is hard to see how Black can survive this, as soon or later the g4-pawn will fall and open up the lines to the Black king. 20…bxc6 21.Bxf7+ Kxf7 22.Qxd6 Rxc3! [see diagram] It’s a not-so-typical Dragon exchange sacrifice on c3 – but Nakamura is nothing if not resourceful, and he has a cunning ploy in mind that nicely liquidates down to a drawish rook ending. 23.Qxd7+ Qxd7 24.Rxd7+ Ke6 25.Rxg7 MVL heads for a tricky double rook ending, as the point behind Nakamura’s crafty play is that after 25.Rhd1 he has the saving resource of 25…Bf8! 26.bxc3 Rb8+ 27.Ka1 Ba3 and White can’t make any progress here with the threat of …Bb2+ and …Ba3+ – and exchanging a set of rooks off with Rd8 doesn’t help, as even the R v B ending could be tricky for White to hold due to Black’s active king and better pawns. 25…Rf3 26.Rxg6 Rxf4 27.Rg1 Rxe4 28.R6xg4 Rxg4 29.Rxg4 f5 The dust has settled, and MVL may well have emerged with an extra pawn – but his weak back-rank and Black’s mobile f-pawn quickly coming down the board, supported by his active king, is more than enough to draw this rook and pawn ending. 30.Ra4 Rg8 31.b3 Rg4 32.Rxa7 f4 33.Kc1 f3 34.Kd2 Rxh4 Not only is the f-pawn far down the board, but Black’s king is ideally placed to support the pawn. 35.Ra8 Rh2+ 36.Kd3 Kf5 37.a4 The alternative 37.Ke3 Rxc2 38.Kxf3 Ke5 just leads to another technically drawn ending. 37…Kg4 38.a5 Rh1 39.Rg8+ Kf4 40.Rf8+ Kg3 41.Rg8+ Kf4 42.Rf8+ Kg3 43.b4 f2 44.Kd4 f1Q 45.Rxf1 Rxf1 46.Kc5 Rc1 47.Kxc6 ½-½ An enjoyable scrap! Both players agreed a draw here as after 47…Rxc2+ the Black king tracks back just in time to cover White’s b-pawn with 48.Kb6 Kf3 49.a6 Ke4 50.a7 Ra2 51.Kb7 Kd5 etc.