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Opening Fluke? Print E-mail
By Joel Benjamin   
September 13, 2006
Dear Joel,

I was looking at the Sicilian Dragon opening in a online database. I saw that this line is an almost 50% win for black: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bd7.

Is this a statistical fluke, or is Bd7 actually a strong move here? If it is a good move, why?

Jerry MacDonald


Statistical scores can often be misleading, especially in openings or variations that do not occur frequently. I recommend that you factor in the average rating for White and Black before you get too excited about any success rate.

In this case, 5...Bd7 is a rare move and a specialty line that has been favored by a number of grandmasters, including Kupreichik, Kengis, and the late Polish-American GM Aleks Wojtkiewicz.. Most of the time it has been used against lower-rated players, though Ivanchuk once played 5...Bd7 against Topalov (without success)!

I wouldn't call 5..Bd7 a "strong" move, but it is certainly playable. As in the Najdorf 5...a6, Black prepares e7-e5 (5...e5 6.Bb5+ is considered sketchy for Black), while keeping options of a Scheveningen (e7-e6) or even Dragon treatment (g7-g6).

The line briefly caught the attention of strong Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev (try saying that three times fast), who tried 5...Bd7 against me twice in our World Championship Tournament match (Groningen 1997). The first game was a sharp draw:

Topalov's 6.f3 looks like a logical alternative. After 6.Be2 e5 is also possible, with the idea 7.Nb3 Bc6!?

After the first game I did a little research and found a testing possibility:

Apparently 25.Nb7+ ( instead of 25.fe4) Kc7 26.fxe4 Kxb7 27.exd5 exd5 28.Rf3 would have offered more winning chances. In the game I won a pawn as well, but could not convert the point that would have won me the match!

The main virtue of 5...Bd7 is that is different. It puts White players, expecting more main lines, a bit off-balance. But I don't think it will ever achieve main line status.

Joel Benjamin