The Accelerated Dragon: How to Play It as White and Black

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Table of Contents

Short Summary:

  • The Accelerated Dragon is a very dynamic and combative Sicilian Defense against 1.e4 which focuses on opening the center quickly and dominating it with active pieces
  • It differs from the traditional Dragon Sicilian by fianchettoing the king’s bishop sooner and favoring …d5 in one go rather than …d6 first, if allowed
  • The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon fianchettos the bishop even sooner, with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6. This has the benefit of not allowing the Rossolimo Variation, but allows some other potentially nettlesome moves from White
  • The Maroczy Bind (c4-e4 pawn setup) is the most challenging way to play against the Accelerated Dragon as White. Black has struggled with it but solutions have always been found

Introduction

If there were ever an opening to ignite “fire on board” faster than all the rest, it would be the Accelerated Dragon. This Sicilian variation for Black against 1.e4 really lives up to its name: sharp, fiery, and dynamic tactical battles, fast.

So if you’re not familiar with this opening and you are the type of player who likes to avoid slow, positional maneuvering and go for a fight, you’ll want to read on. This article will give you a proper introduction to the Accelerated Dragon, how it differs from the classical Dragon Sicilian and Hyper-Accelerated versions, what types of positions you can expect, and more.

What Is the Accelerated Dragon?

The Accelerated Dragon is a type of Sicilian Defense, which arises after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6, resulting in the starting position shown here:

Accelerated Dragon starting position

Starting position of the Accelerated Dragon

With the king’s bishop going to g6 in the fianchetto structure and the knight on c6, Black is looking to completely dominate the center with active pieces rather than pawns, especially after the thematic Accelerated Dragon pawn break …d5.

This quick opening and control of the center gives Black a lot of tactical possibilities in the center of the board as a result. The Accelerated Dragon is known as a very combative response against 1.e4 for that very reason.

In addition to all the usual anti-Sicilians that may arise after 1.e4 c5, such as the Alapin Sicilian, Closed Sicilian, Morra Gambit and others, Black usually has to deal with two major variations in practice: 5.Nc3 or 5.c4.

White plays 5.Nc3

Many different setups can arise from 5.Nc3, but the main line for 5.Nc3 typically goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 O-O 8.O-O.

5Nc3 Accelerated Dragon

Note that the typical Yugoslav Attack that is a key option for White in the ‘regular’ Dragon and other Sicilian variations isn’t quite as effective against the Accelerated Dragon. White’s f3 followed by developing the bishop to c4 only later is too slow, as Black will get in their early …d5 pawn break beforehand.

So back to the position above. These natural looking moves give way to a tactical trick by Black:

8…Nxe4!

This works because if White plays Nxe4, Black has …d5 forking the knight and bishop and regaining the piece. Now White is without any pawns in the center, and Black dominates it.

So White is probably better off playing 9.Bxf7+ Rxf7 10.Nxe4, leading to this position:

Notice the pawn structure. White has precisely zero pawns in the center, whereas Black has two beautiful ones ready to dominate it. It is much easier to play as Black here!

White plays 5.c4: the Maroczy Bind

So if setups like that are not so great for White, what is the most challenging try? By far it’s the Maroczy Bind (pronounced ‘ma-ROCK-zee’), a setup that is composed of White’s pawns on c4 and e4 dominating the center and preventing Black’s …d5 pawn break.

It arises after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3, which is the starting position:

Accelerated Dragon Maroczy Bind

So how could Black ever get any activity when White has the center so well locked down like this? Well, for many years, it was considered that Black could not get any significant activity against it! Many variations even led to a 60% score for White or better.

But consider this way of playing, championed by FIDE Master Kamil Plichta in his course Lifetime Repertoires: Accelerated Dragon. 5…Bg7 6.Be3 Qb6.

This move might look ugly at first, with White’s e3 bishop bearing down on the queen with a nasty-looking X-ray attack. But 6…Qb6 actually changes the nature of the game significantly, by attacking White’s knight and putting pressure on the queenside (namely the b2 pawn).

7.Nb3 Qd8 8.Qd2 Nf6

White protects the knight and b2 pawn simultaneously, and White retreats the queen out of harm’s way from the bishop. White prepares a battery on the c1-h6 diagonally to dislodge Black’s bishop, but Black responds in kind by attacking the e4 pawn, provoking 9.f3.

The move f3 has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it protects the pawn and stops Black from harassing White’s bishop with …Ng4. But on the minus side, it weakens the dark squares around White’s king a bit, and White would probably prefer to have this pawn on f4 as in other Sicilian variations, to attack White’s castle.

9.f3 O-O 10.Nc3 d6 (stopping Nc5 and preparing a queenside pawn attack), 11.Be2 (most likely according to the database) a5

Accelerated Dragon Maroczy Bind Strategy

And here is where Black gets counterplay. A battery will form on the queenside, and White will not have the easiest time defending. A sample line is something like 12.Na4 Be6 13.Bb6 Qb8 where Black’s pressure on the queenside is a force to be reckoned with.

It is by no means that Black’s problems in the Maroczy Bind are completely solved, but Black is certainly doing fine and can get a good game.

Is the Accelerated Dragon a sound opening?

Because of the positional difficulties Black faces in the Maroczy Bind, even up until recently theoreticians and high level players have questioned the viability of the Accelerated Dragon in top tier games.

However, recently Black has found ways to fight against the Maroczy Bind, as discussed above in the Maroczy Bind section. It turns out Black is doing fine in these situations and overall the Accelerated Dragon makes for a very dynamic and combative option to employ against 1.e4.

Is the Accelerated Dragon a good opening for beginners?

The Accelerated Dragon is not necessarily a bad opening for beginners, but beginners do have to be careful when playing with fire, so to speak. Because of the high potential for tactics and the really strategically challenging Maroczy Bind setup, it does take some tactical and strategic skill to play this opening. That said, it could also be a good opening to learn these essential chess skills! Perhaps you could call it ‘trial by fire’ 😉

Accelerated Dragon vs. Classical Dragon vs. Hyper-Accelerated Dragon

So why would you want to accelerate your dragon? Is the ‘regular’ dragon too slow?

There are pluses and minuses to both. Let’s compare the two setups.

The Classical Sicilian Dragon arises after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6, resulting in this position:

Starting position of the Sicilian Dragon

The Accelerated Dragon, in contrast, arises after the moves 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6, resulting in this position:

Starting position of the Accelerated Dragon

Notice that with the Classical Dragon, Black plays …d6 and delays the fianchetto of the king’s bishop by one more move. They also quickly develop the king’s knight to f6, to attack White’s e-pawn. This compels White to play Nc3, guarding the pawn – something that doesn’t happen in the Accelerated setup.

This is actually a major feature, because by not playing Nc3, White can play the pawn move c4, clamping down on the center with the notorious Maroczy Bind we discussed earlier. Thus, the Classical Dragon discourages the Maroczy Bind while the Accelerated Dragon encourages it.

But the Accelerated Dragon has some major benefits over the Classical Dragon, despite the Maroczy Bind. One is that Black goes for the …d5 pawn break sooner and in one go, rather than playing …d6 first. This is strategically a great success, because in most Sicilians, a major struggle for Black is making the …d5 break to liberate their center.

Perhaps an even greater benefit over the Classical Dragon is that it avoids the Yugoslav Attack, which has been known to be a very strong attack against the Dragon. This is because in Yugoslav Attack setups, White first plays f3 and later places the bishop on c4, but in the Accelerated Dragon this is too slow due to the early …d5 break in some lines and the possibility to play 7…Qb6, winning a pawn. .

Learn more about the Sicilian Dragon with this article.

So what then is the so-called Hyper-Accelerated Dragon? As the name suggests, Black fianchettos their bishop even sooner than in the Accelerated Dragon – on move 2, in fact! The Accelerated Dragon therefore arises from the moves 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6.

Starting position of the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon

Like the Accelerated Dragon, this too invites a Maroczy Bind, but it does avoid the Rossolimo Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5), which has been known to be a strong anti-Sicilian tool against the Accelerated Dragon setup (that said, the Rossolimo has not been doing well at top level play thanks in part to World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s handling of it). It does allow some other potentially annoying move orders, such as 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 which is much better for White according to theory.

The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon

The defining move of the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon is 2…g6. This move is played with the idea of avoiding the Rossolimo Sicilian, which arises after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 or 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+.

There is always a give-and-take in life and chess. Playing 2…g6 avoids the Rossolimo but allows white to meet 3…cxd4 with 4.Qxd4. Because black opened the a1-h8 diagonal with 2…g6 capturing on d4 with the queen attacks the rook on h8.

Fortunately for black, he can block the attack and develop a piece with 4…Nf6. Black will also develop his other knight with tempo by attacking the queen with …Nc6.

If White recaptures with 4.Nxd4, then 4…Nc6 brings us back to the Accelerated Dragon.

White Captures With the Queen

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4

White captures with the queen in the hope of disrupting Black’s development and gaining an advantage in the center. However, there is nothing to cause black any genuine concern.

After 4…Nf6, there are three main moves for white:

  • e5
  • Nc3
  • and 5. Bb5.

White Plays 5.e5

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.e5

This is the most natural move, hoping that black will move the knight when e6 creates a lot of mayhem in the black position. Before making a defensive move, it is always good to consider your attacking options, and in this position, black has …Nc6.

5…Nc6 6.Qa4 Nd5 7.Qe4 Nb6 8.Nc3 d5 9.exd6 Bf5 10.Qe2 Qxd6

Remember to meet Rd1 with …Qb8 where it cannot get attacked with Nb5.

White Plays 5.Nc3

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3

Knights before bishops is the classical approach, and you cannot fault this natural developing move.

5…Nc6 6.Qa4 d6 7.e5 dxe5 8.Nxe5 Bd7 9.Nxd7 Qxd7 10.Be3 Bg7

Once again, black must be careful when retreating his queen, or it could again come under attack with Nb5. In light of this, retreating to c8 is better than c7.

White Plays 5.Bb5

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.Bb5

White hopes to disrupt Black’s development by pinning the d-pawn and can meet …Nc6 with Bxc6. Although Black gets doubled b-pawns, the advanced b-pawn prevents white from playing Nc3.

5…a6 6.e5 axb5 7.exf6 Nc6 8.fxe7 Qxe7+ 9.Qe3 b4 10.0-0 Qxe3 11.Bxe3

To activate the queenside knight, white will play c3 allowing black to exchange one of his doubled pawns.

Despite how weak the pawns appear, Zivkovic was able to make excellent use of them to win an exchange. He used his material advantage in the endgame to win additional material.

The Accelerated Dragon in action: game analysis

Let’s see how a legendary player wields the Accelerated Dragon in an actual game – against the Maroczy Bind, no less!

Wilbert Paige vs. Roman Dzindzichashvili

1993 US Open – Philadelphia

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 d6 7.Be2 Nxd4

Accelerated Dragon Analysis 1

GM Dzindzichashvili lures White’s queen to d4 where it will be under future X-ray attack by the Dragon bishop. At the same time, exchanging a set of minor pieces is always convenient for the side with less space..

8.Qxd4 Bg7 9.Bg5 O-O 10.Qe3 (White will have to get the queen out of the center sooner or later) 10…Be6

This is the start of Black’s plan. He is pressuring the c4 pawn, trying to induce b3, which will weaken the dark squares on the queenside – the perfect battleground for the monstrous bishop on g7 (there could be discovered attacks on the White knight on c3 and rook on a1).

11.O-O Qb6 (the a8-Rook would be happy to enjoy an open file from its original square if White plays Qxb6). 12.Rab1 Rfc8

Accelerated Dragon game analysis

And here’s where we see the plan really coming to life. With much pressure on the c4 pawn, White has no choice but to play b3. Much like we saw in the Maroczy analysis, this is where Black’s counterplay comes – queenside!

13.b3 Qxe3 14.Bxe3 a6 (stopping Nb5) 15.Bf3 (adding more defense to e4 because the c3 knight is in a precarious position) Nd7 a typical move opening up the Dragon bishop and rerouting the knight to a better square, c5 16.Rfc1 Nc5 17.Nd5 Bxd5! 18.exd5

Accelerated Dragon analysis 2

Great strategic play by Black. While 17…Bxd5 gives White the bishop pair, it releases the Maroczy Bind. Plus, White’s bishop pair is aiming at nothing in this closed position while Black’s minor pieces are reigning over the board.

18…a5 (shutting down b4) 19. Bxc5 (taking out the strong knight, since White’s bishop is not that great in the closed positionThis leaves us with a good bishop vs. bad bishop scenario that totally favors Black. Rxc5 20.a4 (forced, as Black could play ..a4 himself and wrip open the a-file for his rook to invade the 2nd rank)Rc7 21.g3 Bd4 22.Rd1 Bc5 a skillful reroute of the bishop. With the queenside under control by White, it wasn’t doing much on g7. Now it controls the only break from White and has a new lease on life targeting the kingside.

Accelerated Dragon game analysis 3

23.Bg4 Kg7 24.Kg2 h5 25.Be2 e6

White taking on e6 would be strategically desirable to give scope to his Bishop but would encounter tactical problems on f2. f2-f4 is no solution because Black has plenty of pawn breaks to blow open the kingside. 26. Bf3 e5 27. Rb2 f5

Accelerated Dragon analysis 4

The players shift into endgame mode. Black’s Kingside majority look menacing, and you better believe he is going to try to create a passed pawn. Notice the quality of each bishop. With the Dragon bishop’s new post, it controls many key squares, whereas White has nothing better to do than get steamrolled!

28. Be2 Kf6 29.h3 Rh8 30. Rh1 g5 31.f3 Re7

Black’s plan is clear. With a phalanx of pawns on the kingside and the rooks lined up behind them, he’s getting one of those bad boys to the other side of the board! It is not clear what White’s plan is, on the other hand, other than mere defense.

Accelerated Dragon analysis 5

32.Bd3 h4 33.g4 e4 34.fxe4 fxe4 Black creates passed pawn number 1!

35.Re2 Rhe8 36.Rf1+ Kg7 37.Bc2 Re5 38. Bb1 e3 39.Bd3 How sad White’s life is. Nothing better to do than mark time with the bishop! Black is in complete control. Black continued to press his advantage with the passed pawn, which he ended up sacrificing for a winning passed pawn on the h-file. Black’s endgame technique is well past our analysis of Accelerated Dragon strategy, but the rest of the game went:

Rf8 40.Rxf8 Kxf8 41. Re1 Kg7 42. Kf3 Re7 43. Ke2 Kf6 44.Rd1 Ke5 45.Bf5 Kf4 46. Rf1+ Kg3 47. Rf3+ Kg2 48. Bg6 b6 49. Bd3 Bb4 50.Bg6 Be1 51. Rxe3 Rxe3+ 52.Kxe3 Kxh3 53.Kf3 Kh2 54. Ke2 Bc3 55.Kf1 Kg3 56. Bf5 Bd4 57. Be4 Kxg4 58. Kg2 h3+ 59. Kh2 Kh4 0-1

Notice how Black’s pressure on the queenside led to concessions in the center, which Black was eventually able to open up and dominate.

This game shows the rich potential for positional play in the Accelerated Dragon. Black’s dark square “Dragon bishop” is always a looming threat in the position, and this showed in White’s weakening of the queenside structure and constant concerns over attacks on the d4 queen in the beginning, and later on c3 knight and a1 rook.

Summary

If these are the types of positions that appeal to you, you may find yourself to be an Accelerated Dragon player. You can learn the Accelerated Dragon for free on Chessable with Short & Sweet: Accelerated Dragon. FIDE Master Kamil Plichta covers all the major ideas and gives you some exciting lines against the Maroczy, anti-Sicilians and more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is the Accelerated Dragon a sound opening?

Yes. Although many top level players and theoreticians have evaluated Black’s chances with the opening as poor in previous years, due to White’s ability to play the Maroczy Bind (c4-e4 pawn setup), contemporary theory has found ways for Black to counter the Maroczy and achieve strong positions.

How do you counter the Accelerated Dragon?

The most challenging setup against the Accelerated Dragon is the Maroczy Bind, having the c4 pawn and e4 pawn clamp down on the d5 square, preventing Black from occupying the d5 square with their own pawn. This is very challenging for Black strategically, because as in most Sicilians, the strategic struggle revolves around Black trying to make the …d5 push to liberate his position in the center.

What is the difference between the Dragon and Accelerated Dragon?

The Dragon Variation begins with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6. Notice that the …d6 move is played and the fianchetto starts on move 5. Also note that because White played 5.Nc3, the Maroczy Bind (c4-e4 pawn structure) cannot be achieved.

Contrast this with the Accelerated Dragon, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6, where Black goes for the fianchetto even sooner. Notice in this variation White doesn’t have a knight on c3, allowing the Maroczy Bind, and …d6 hasn’t been played.

Though Black allows the Maroczy, they eliminate the possibility of a Yugoslav Attack, which is a formidable attack against the Dragon setup. Black doesn’t stop with …d6, but rather intends to play d7-d5 all in one move, which will make their life easier strategically as the battle in most Sicilian games revolves around Black trying to achieve this …d5 push.

What is the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon?

The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon is where Black initiates the fianchetto on move 2, i.e., 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6. This still allows the Maroczy Bind setup, but has an interesting characteristic of not allowing the Rossolimo (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bg5)

Why is it called the Sicilian Dragon?

It is said that the Sicilian Dragon got its name by the resemblance of its pawn structure (h7-g6-f7-e7-d6) to a dragon.

What does the ‘accelerated’ part mean?

The Dragon variation is accelerated by an earlier fianchetto and playing d7-d5 in one go, rather than first playing …d6.

Is the Accelerated Dragon sharp?

Yes – the Accelerated Dragon lends itself to plenty of tactical possibilities. Like the name of the opening suggests, it can get fiery!

How do you play against the Dragon?

It depends on which Dragon you’re facing. If it’s the Accelerated Dragon, the Maroczy Bind is a solid strategy by White to clamp down on the center. Against the Dragon, White has many options, namely traditional attacking setups such as the Yugoslav Attack. Another option is to avoid it altogether with anti-Sicilian setups like the Rossolimo and Closed Sicilian.

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