The other day I borrowed "Starting out: the sicilian dragon" from the massive, Vatican-esque Kenilworth chess library. I like the Starting Out series a lot. In a way that few other books do, most books in this series cut a balance between being accessible and providing enough ammunition for you to go to war with your new opening knowledge. If nothing else, they provide an aesthetically pleasing survey of the basic ideas, and the writing is generally very reader-friendly (it helps that they are written by English grandmasters).
However, within this series there is a real imbalance in both quality and breadth. I was mildly disappointed in "Starting out: the nimzo-indian" because it generally failed to provide any substance beyond move 8 or 9 in many lines, and its overly large type meant that 170 pages felt more like 100. I think it's suitable maybe all the way through class C play, but after that the lack of depth wilts in the face of tougher competition. Contrast that with Craig Pritchett's Scheveningen Sicilian book in that same series which uses a slightly smaller font in 200 pages along with substantial GM game analysis to provide a one-stop shopping resource for the opening that I think even experts or masters (I'm speculating here) should find useful. It stops well before Kasparov and Nikitin's technical level of detail on the subject (as it should) though my one complaint is that the book as a whole is not as accessible to beginners as it perhaps should be. The book I've seen that hits the golden mean is John Emms' book on the Scotch Game, though he had the benefit of a less expansive topic.
So it was with mixed expectations that I looked at Andrew Martin's effort on the sicilian dragon. This is a daunting topic, with masses of theory on the ultra-complex Yugoslav Attack. (Or is it complex? 'Pry open the KR file...sac, sac, mate!' - R. Fischer. If only we could match up 1971 Fischer with 2009 Carlsen to find out for sure). In a 208 page book, 117 pages are devoted just to this topic, which is at least appropriate given its popularity and the fact that it is undoubtedly the best response to the Dragon. The question is whether even this much coverage is sufficient for the club player. The answer in my view is 'mostly'. Given the number of diagrams and the easy-reading font size, there's only so much room for real analysis or description of ideas. Despite this, Martin gives ideas in the intriguingly named named 'Dragondorf' and 'Nordic Variation', and 30 pages devoted to mainline Yugoslav Attack. That's all well and good, but in such a sharp opening the details are crucial and this is where the book occasionally comes up short. While the book is clearly aimed for the Black player in the dragon, the coverage on the Chinese Dragon comes up short:
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. O-O-O Rb8
White to move and lose?
This is a critical position in the modern Dragon, with Black starting to rack up some impressive wins. In Martin's defense, he outlays succinctly why it is that 10...Rb8!? has value when compared to the mainline moves (in essence the plan is unsurprisingly to open the b-file for attack on the king, and it is perhaps beneficial not to have committed the Black queen yet because it may be needed on different squares depending on how the attack develops). However, to discuss this opening Martin provides 3 games, which all end 0-1. He goes on to call this 'the most promising line to come along for Black in ages'....which may well be true, but errs toward suggesting that White is helpless in the coming battle, a concept that is not borne out by statistics of recent Grandmaster games.
On the other hand, there is surprisingly ample coverage of alternative lines, such as the Classical Dragon, Levenfish Attack, and even the Neo-Classical Dragon (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Bc4, with plans of kingside castling for White). Indeed there is a full 15 pages devoted to that last line, which may be one of the better alternatives to the Yugoslav Attack. On the whole the book does well to address such a challenging topic in a manageable way, but for the veteran Dragon diehard Dearing's 'Play the Sicilian Dragon' is to be recommended instead.
Who should read it: Players rated 1400-1900.