The Sicilian Dragon is not for the faint of heart. Just browse through Edward Dearing's excellent and extensive work "Play the Sicilian Dragon," issued by Gambit Publications. You would see that just to survive, black often sacrifices pawns, light pieces, rooks and even a queen.

Taming the Dragon

The fighting defense came under scrutiny in the recent Russian women's championship in Samara. The title went to Alexandra Kosteniuk, scoring nine points in 11 games and finishing a point ahead of Tatiana Kosintseva. The young Nataliya Pogonina, a stubborn Dragon defender, faced both winners and turned them into dragon slayers.

Kosteniuk-Pogonina

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 9.0-0-0 Nxd4 (The central strike 9...d5 is the most popular choice.) 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Kb1 Qc7 12.h4 Rfc8 13.h5! (White gains time with the pawn sacrifice and does not need to support this advance with his g-pawn.) 13...Qa5 (It has been known since the game Evans-Zuckerman, New York 1966, that accepting the pawn 13...Nxh5? is suicide. It continued: 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.g4 Nf6 16.Qh6+ Kg8 17.e5! dxe5 18.g5 Nh5 19.Bd3 e4 20.Rxh5 gxh5 21.Nxe4 Qf4 22.Nf6+ exf6 23.Bxh7+ Kh8 24.Bf5+ Kg8 25.Qh7+ Kf8 26.Qh8+ and black resigned, since after 26...Ke7 27.gxf6 mates.) 14.hxg6! hxg6 15.a3 (Moving away the target on a2.) 15...Bc4 (Fighting for the control of the square c4. Preparing the attack with the b-pawn by 15...Rab8 is covered in the next game.)

16.g4!? (Something new. Opening the second rank for the queen, white also threatens 17.g5. Black was doing fine against the previously played 16.Rh3. Curiously, white can win a tempo on Bennedik's idea 16.Bxc4 Rxc4 17.Qc1!, used in the next game.) 16...Bxf1 17.Rdxf1 Rc4 18.Be3 Rac8 19.Bh6 Bh8 20.Nd5! (The knight begins to move around as if on a carousel, performing mostly defensive duties.) 20...Qd8 (After 20...Qxd2? 21.Nxe7+ Kh7 22.Bxd2+ wins.) 21.Ne3! R4c5 22.Rh3 Rb5 23.Nd1 (Finally stopping any attacking illusions on black's part.) 23...Qa5 24.Qd3! (Keeping Her Majesty on the board and protecting the pawn on a3. White would also like to rearrange her pieces for the final storm. It is too early to go for a direct mating attack with 24.Qh2?! Qxa3 25.Bc1 Bg7 26.e5!?, since after 26...dxe5 27.Rh1 Kf8 28.Rh8+ Ng8 29.Bh6, black does not play 29...Qxf3? 30.Bxg7+ Kxg7 31.g5! and white wins, but 29...Rd8! with counterplay, e.g. 30.c3 Qb3 31.Ne3 Ra5!) 24...Qa6 25.Rfh1 Nd7 (After 25...Bg7 26.Bxg7 Kxg7 27.Qd2 Ng8 28.Rh7+ Kf8 29.Rh8 wins.) 26.Bc1 (Playing it safe.) 26...Bg7 27.Qd2! Qa4? (Loses by force. Black should have defended with 27...Rbc5 28.Qh2 f6, although after 29.Ne3 white is clearly better.) 28.Qh2 (Tripling the heavy pieces on the h-file is deadly.) 28...Qd4 29.Rh8+! Bxh8 30.Qh7+ (After 30...Kf8 31.Qxh8+ Qxh8 32.Rxh8+ Kg7 33.Rxc8 white is a piece up.) Black resigned.

A few rounds later Pogonina ran into analysis published by the Chess Informant two years ago.

Kosintseva-Pogonina

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 9.0-0-0 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Kb1 Qc7 12.h4 Rfc8 13.h5 Qa5 14.hxg6 hxg6 15.a3 Rab8 16.Bd3! (In his book Dearing prefers this bishop move over 16.g4, which would transfer to the game Yakovich-Pogonina, played earlier in the championship. After 16...b5 17.Qg5 Qc7 18.Bd3 b4 19.Nd5 Bxd5 20.exd5 bxa3 21.b3 Rb4 22.Ba1 a2+ 23.Kc1 Rxb3 24.Kd2 Rb4 25.Bxg6 fxg6 26.Qxg6 Qc5 27.Rh2 Rd4+ 28.Ke1 Rxd1+ 29.Kxd1 Qg1+ white resigned.) 16...Bc4 17.Bxc4 Rxc4 18.Qc1! (A discovery of a correspondence player, Martin Bennedik, threatening 19.Nd5!) 18...e6 (After 18...Rbc8 19.Nd5! white wins either after 19...Rxc2 20.Nxe7+ Kf8 21.Qf4!; or after 19...Nxd5 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 [on 20...Rxc2 21.Qh6 f6 22.Bxf6 decides] 21.Rxd5 R4c5 22.Qh6+ Kf6 23.Qh4+ Kg7 24.b4 wins material.)

19.g4 b5? (Too slow. Black needs to shatter white's queenside, and the 2002 e-mail game Dahl-Aguilar accomplished that after 19...Rbc8 20.g5 Nh5 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.Rxd6 with an exchange sacrifice 22...Rxc3!? 23.bxc3 and bringing over the knight 23...Ng3. After 24.Rhd1 Ne2 25.Qb2 Nxc3+ 26.Ka1 Qxg5 27.Rxe6 Kg8 28.Re8+ Rxe8 29.Qxc3 a draw was agreed.) 20.g5 Nh5 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.Rxh5! (A decisive sacrifice. The black king is left without a good defender.) 22...gxh5 23.Qf4 Qd8 (A new move. The 2002 correspondence game Bennedik-Demian continued: 23...Kg8 24.g6! f5 25.Rxd6 Rxc3 26.Qe5! Rc7 27.Qxe6+ Kg7 28.exf5! b4 29.f4 bxa3 30.Rd7+ and black resigned.) 24.Rxd6 Qc7 (After 24...Qe7 25.Qe5+ Kg6 26.f4, threatening 27.Nd5!, white wins.) 25.Qf6+ Kg8 26.g6! (Breaking down black's defense.) 26...b4 27.Nb5! Qb7 (After 27...Rxb5? 28.Rd8+ Qxd8 29.Qxf7+ Kh8 30.Qh7 mates.) 28.Rd8+ (Switching the rook to the kingside 28.Rd2 Rc6 29.Rg2! also wins.) 28...Rxd8 29.Qxd8+ Kg7 30.Nd6 Qc6 (After 30...Qb6 31.Ne8+ Kg8 32.Qg5 fxg6 33.Qe7, threatening 34.Nf6+, wins.) 31.gxf7 Black resigned.

Solution to today's problem by E. Plesnivy (White: Kf7,Re4,Bc6,Ng2,P:e2,h4; Black: Kf5,Nf1,P:a6,b6,e5,g3,g4,h6): 1.Bb7! h5 2.Rxg4! Kxg4 (2 . . . hxg4 3.e4 mate; 2 . . . e4 3.Rg5 mate.) 3.Bc8 mate; or 1 . . . a5 2.Rb4! axb4 3.e4 mate; or 1 . . . b5 2.Rc4 bxc4 3.e4 mate.

White mates in three moves.