A stunning Dragon idea against the Pirc! 5.Qd2!?

January 12, 2024 Matthew Sadler 12 comments

I’ve been continuing my investigation of the Pirc together with Dragon 3.3. It’s slow progress because Dragon keeps on digging up exciting new ideas which I can’t resist analysing! In the next couple of posts, we stop in amazement to look at a virtually unknown idea in the Austrian Attack with some subtle and venomous points! In this post, I explain the main ideas and the White response to Black’s most natural human reactions. This should allow you to deploy this idea quickly as a surprise weapon. In the next post I look at the best engine response (which no human player would ever find!).

This post is accompanied by a video on my YouTube site (https://youtu.be/DuFfJwBgMD8) and some pgns from the usual location (http://cloudserver.chessbase.com/MTIyMTYx/replay.html) The pgns are organised as follows:

1. A pgn with this content

2. A pgn with this content PLUS a host of games and analysis from Stockfish, Leela and Dragon in these lines.

In this way you have a quick start to get you going, as well as an in-depth file with lots of deatil if you need it!

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7

Position after 4…Bg7

5.Qd2

Position after Dragon’s 5.Qd2!?

This sophisticated move is Dragon’s 3rd choice after 4…Bg7 (behind 5.Nf3 and the tricky 5.Bd3!? which was mentioned by Moskalenko in his recent book on the Pirc & Modern). It sets major obstacles in the path of Black’s main plan for counterplay (…c5) and strengthens a major White plan (the e4–e5 push) in an unexpected way. It is virtually unknown: there is one lowish-rated game in Chessbase and just 78 games in Lichess, with just one game where both players were about 2500 (not particularly well-played)

After punting …c5, Black typically must answer dxc5 with …Qa5 (for example after 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5) as endgames after …dxc5 are unpleasant for Black. The pin on the c3 knight by the queen on a5 means that 7.cxd6 can be met by 7…Nxe4. 5.Qd2!? negates this counterplay while the endgames after 5.Qd2!? c5 6.dxc5 dxc5 7.Qxd8+ are just as bad for Black even with a wasted tempo (Qd2xd8) for White.

A typical reaction to White’s push e4–e5 is …dxe5 when fxe5 is often the necessary recapture as dxe5 …Qxd1+ disrupts the harmony of White’s position. After 5.Qd2!? the exchange of queens occurs on d2, allowing White to recapture with a developing move (Bxd2) with queenside castling next on the agenda with a harmonious and strong position for White. This means that e4–e5 is a typical early plan from White against many different lines.

Looking at some drawbacks of 5.Qd2, how are you going to develop the dark-squared bishop on c1? Typically we will move the white queen to the attacking square f2 to allow the bishop to develop normally but the exotic b3 and Bb2 (a little like a Carlsen Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2 g6 6.b3 followed by Bb2) has been used effectively by the engines in a number of lines.

Let’s walk through Black’s most natural replies one-by-one.

A) 5…c5

Position after 5…c5

This would certainly be the wish of any Black player that was intending to meet 5.Nf3 with 5…c5. Unfortunately, it has some issues against 5.Qd2!? 6.dxc5 dxc5 (6…Qa5 has no point against 5.Qd2 and heralds total disaster after 7.cxd6 exd6 8.Nb5) 7.Qxd8+ Kxd8 8.e5 The wasted tempo 5.Qd2–7.Qxd8+ is of no consequence. The engines see this as completely winning for White.

B) 5…c6

Position after 5…c6

This “automatic” Pirc move – just like 5…a6 – might well be chosen by a surprised human opponent. 6.Nf3

B1) 6…Qb6 This might also occur to some human players, looking to strengthen the idea of …Bg4 by already hitting d4 (and b2) 7.h3 stopping …Bg4 (or …Ng4) is Leela’s idea with Qf2 and Bd3 to follow. (7.Be2 Bg4 8.b3 is a cheeky Stockfish idea that I like a lot!) ;

B2) 6…Bg4 Natural Pirc development, combining …c6 with …Bg4 hitting the knight as soon as it comes to f3. 7.Qf2 followed by Be3 is a simple way to play, tucking the queen on a flexible square and allowing the dark-squared bishop to develop.;

B3) 6…b5 A natural reaction, looking for rapid counterplay to exploit White’s awkward development with the queen on d2 blocking the bishop on c1.

Position after 6…b5

7.e5 b4 8.Nd1

Position after 8.Nd1

The slightly hilarious point is that the engines are very happy to tuck the knight away on d1 behind the queen on d2! (both in the 5…a6 and 5…c6 lines!) The additional nice touch is that the queen on d2 is attacking Black’s aggressive b4–pawn. So even here 5.Qd2!? has a point! (8.exf6 bxc3 is the point, exploiting the unusual position of the white queen for an intermezzo.) 8…Nd5 (8…Ne4 9.Qxb4 Sometimes these pawns gets offered as worthy sacrifices but the engines are not at all impressed here!) 9.a3 exchanging the b4–pawn after which c4 will drive away the knight from d5

C) 5…a6

6.Nf3 (6.e5 is always worth a look against …a6 systems. As described here – https://matthewsadler.me.uk/engine-chess/choosing-between-c6–and-a6–in-the-pirc/– there is a window of opportunity for White in …a6 systems where the knight on f6 needs to fend off the e4–e5 push by itself. Here the engines think Black is fine after 6…Nfd7 followed by …c5. Black hasn’t castled kingside yet so h4–h5 ideas are not quite as scary!) 6…b5 7.e5 b4 8.Nd1 See also 5…c6!

D) 5…Nc6

An unlikely human choice before castling, although it might be chosen by an opponent in a “provocative” mood, hoping for d4–d5. 6.e5 The standard 5.Qd2!? reaction and it’s the best move here. (6.d5 This is what Black is looking for. Pulling the white centre forward to attack it with …c6 is worth the lost tempi. 6…Nb8 7.Nf3 c6) 6…Nd7 7.Nf3 0–0 transposes to 5…0–0 6.Nf3 Nc6

E) 5…Nbd7

Unlikely to be chosen before castling in my opinion as 6.e5 leaves the black knights looking awkward. The aim of …Nbd7 is either to realise …e5 or …c5. 6.e5 Ng4 7.h3 Nh6 8.g4 is risky for Black. 8…c5 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.Qf2 0–0 11.Nge2 with Bg2 and Be3 to follow is very nice for White.

F) 5…0–0 6.Nf3

Position after 6.0-0

A) 6…c5

might be the choice of a black player who was desperate to play …c5 on move 5 already! 7.dxc5 dxc5 (7…Qa5 Once again has little point against 5.Qd2!? 8.cxd6) 8.e5 Qxd2+ 9.Bxd2 Here you see the power of 5.Qd2!? White recaptures the queen with a developing move and is ready to castle queenside. The engines consider this position to be winning for White (+3 to +4!).;

B) 6…Na6

Not likely to be chosen before castling in my opinion, but after castling it is a common idea seen in many lines. 7.e5 Nd7 8.h4 is again a very scary option! 8…c5 9.h5 cxd4 10.Nb5

Position after 10.Nb5

is a very dangerous Dragon idea 10…dxe5 11.hxg6 hxg6 12.fxe5 with Qg5–h4 to follow

C) 6…b6

This might occur to human opponents by analogy as 6…b6 is a good reaction to 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be3, preparing both …Bb7 attacking e4 and …c5 striking at the white centre when dxc5 can now be met by …bxc5. It was also played by Black in the only OTB game with 5.Qd2!? 7.e5 Nfd7 8.h4 is really scary for Black already! Black’s position is made much worse with the inclusion of …b6 due to the weakness of the a8–h1 diagonal. Fun fact: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.e5 Nfd7 7.h4 is OK for Black but 7.– b6 8.h4 is winning for White!

D) 6…Bg4

This might tempt an opponent, unsure of what normal plans would bring against 5.Qd2!? 7.Be2 followed by h3 is a safe edge for White (7.Qf2 Bxf3 8.gxf3 is a more aggressive option) ;

E) 6…c6

This “automatic” Pirc move – just like 6…a6 – might well be chosen by a surprised human opponent, either now or before castling. 7.Bd3 Bg4

Position after 7… Bg4

The combination of …c6 and …Bg4 is also natural and common in human play. Here however, 5.Qd2!? displays another useful point! 8.Ng5

Position after 8.Ng5

Skipping away from the attack and threatening f5 trapping the light-squared bishop. 8…h6 9.h3;

F) 6…a6

7.e5 Nfd7 8.h4 is another very scary line for Black!;

G) 6…Nbd7

This might be chosen by Black players looking to achieve …c5 somehow. It’s also a setup highlighted a few times by Moskalenko in his recent book on the Pirc and Modern. However, since White can achieve e4–e5 easily in this line, this line doesn’t feel kind to Black’s knights! 7.e5 Ng4 8.h3 Nh6 9.g4 c5 transposes to 5…Nbd7 6.e5 Ng4 7.Nf3 0–0 8.h3 Nh6 9.g4 c5

Position after 9…c5

10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Bg2 is again very pleasant for White;

H) 6…d5

This was one of my first thoughts, concretely attempting to exploit the awkward placement of White’s queen with central action. …c5 and …e5 both apparently have issues so let’s try …d5! Leela had its own approach to this move which worked very well against Stockfish (always a good sign!) 7.e5 Ne4 8.Nxe4 (8.Qe3 is the Stockfish preference which it sees as a clear advantage, but I prefer Leela’s approach.) 8…dxe4 9.Ng5 Bf5 10.h3 h5 11.Rg1 h4 12.Qf2 If this is best play for Black, then I don’t give a human player much chance of holding this position.;

I) 6…e5

I would certainly take a quick look at this during a game if confronted with 5.Qd2. 7.dxe5 dxe5 The engines are only looking at 7…Nh5 which shows what they think of 6…e5! 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.fxe5 Ng4 10.Bg5 followed by Nd5 is horrible for Black.

J) 6…Nc6

Position after 6…Nc6

5.Nf3 0–0 6.Bd3 Nc6 and 6…Na6 are common lines, so Black players might easily opt for one of these against the unusual 5.Qd2.

7.e5

Just like against 5…Nc6 – indeed most lines just transpose.

7…Nd7

7…dxe5 8.dxe5 Once again exploiting the point of 5.Qd2!? 8…Qxd2+ 9.Bxd2 is a very pleasant endgame for White.

8.h4

8.Qf2 Nb6 9.Be3 is the solid option, but if you’ve shocked your opponent with 5.Qd2!? it’s nice to have the option of REALLY making him worried!

Position after 8.h4

8…dxe5 9.dxe5 Nb6 10.h5 Nb4 11.Qe2 Bf5 12.Kf2 Bxc2 13.h6 Bh8 14.Be3 Bd3 15.Qd1 Bxf1 16.Rxf1 Qxd1 17.Raxd1 is a forcing engine line with lots of compensation for White. Bc5 and Nb5 are threats.

Hope you’re enjoying this! The next post will examine the crazy best engine response!  

12 Comments on “A stunning Dragon idea against the Pirc! 5.Qd2!?

  1. Very much appreciate you highlighting this idea and explaining both the human and engine lines. This looks likely to cause significant problems for Black at my level. Imagining the looks that will follow after 5.Qd2

  2. It is remarkable to see that 5.QD2 although being only the third option of Dragon is a such effective.
    The lesson to remember here is that it is not only the first line of play (which sometime a human might put all the focus on it) that can bring good dividends.
    This is a good lesson Matthew. Thanks.

  3. Hi Matthew, noteworthy that Carlsen just tried 5 Rb1, a move with some similar aims to 5 Qd2 first suggested as far as I know long ago n Lalic and Okhotnik’s The Carpathian Warruor, am exhaustive analysis of anti-…c5 ideas for White in the Austrian. Best wishes, James

  4. Dear Matthew,

    Thank you so much for this blog!
    Today, I followed your suggestions and won an interesting game:

    1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Qd2 c6 6. Nf3 b5 7. e5 b4 8. Nd1 Nd5 9. a3 bxa3 10. Rxa3 O-O 11. c4 Nc7 12. Ne3 d5 13. h4 dxc4 14. h5 Nb5 15. Ra4 Be6 16. hxg6 hxg6 17. g4 Bd5 18. Qh2 Re8 19. Nxd5 Qxd5 20. Be2 Nxd4 21. Nxd4 Qxd4 22. Rxc4 Qd5 23. Rc3 e6 24. Bd2 a5 25. Rh3 Kf8 26. Rh7 Ra7 27. Rxg7 Qxh1+ 28. Qxh1 Kxg7 29. f5 Rh8 30. f6+ Kg8 31. Qg1 Rb7 32. Qd4 Rd7 33. Qb6 Kh7 34. Bxa5 Rd5 35. Bc3 Nd7 36. Qc7 Rf8 37. Bf3 Rd3 38. Ke2 Nc5 39. Qe7 1-0

    With best regards, Marco

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