The Pirc Defense is a chess opening for Black against 1.e4 which is named after the Slovenian Grandmaster Vasja Pirc.
It has a reputation of being flexible but double-edged, and it occurs after the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 (see the position on the right.)
The Pirc Defense is a choice of champions. The opening is frequently played by many top GMs including Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, as well as famous chess authors like GM Mihail Marin and GM Gawain Jones.
The Pirc Defense – Key Concepts
The Pirc Defense is a hypermodern opening. This means that Black does not try to control the center early on with his pawns, but spends some time fianchettoing his dark-squared bishop and only later attacks the center.
Generally speaking, Black’s plan is to attack White’s center with either c7-c5 or e7-e5, and perhaps also advance his queenside Pawns.
To put it into a simple formula: Black first leaves the center to White and then tries to conquer it back, taking advantage of his better development.
Why play the Pirc Defense against 1.e4?
There are several reasons to integrate the Pirc Defence into your repertoire.
- An Opening To Win With Black
Many positions in the Pirc Defense promise Black more active play than many other openings. Black is able to enter unbalanced positions, which allows him to aim for more than equality with the Black pieces.
Black can avoid premature simplifications, keep many pieces on the board and go for the full point. Therefore, the Pirc Defense is the perfect weapon for players who seek a complex strategic fight with the Black pieces.
- A Surprising Opening
Another advantage of the Pirc Defense is that many 1.e4 players won’t be expecting it. The Pirc Defense is not as frequently played as the Sicilian Defense, the French Defense or 1.e4 e5. Therefore, this opening will frustrate White players used to trying their pet lines against Black’s major openings.
- Psychological Advantages
Psychologically speaking, the Pirc Defense gives White a false impression of safety, increasing the risk of them becoming careless or over-optimistic in the middlegame. White has a natural space advantage in most lines and quickly takes over the center.
However, although Black’s position appears to be cramped during the opening, his strategic and dynamic resources are greater than one might think at a brief glance.
Many White players don’t even know how to use their space advantage. Often, White overextends his center and Black is able to turn the tables and destroy it.
The Pirc Defense According To GM Damian Lemos
This article includes a free three-part video series on the Pirc Defense by GM Damian Lemos.
The purpose of these videos is not to simply learn theory, but to understand the plans and ideas behind this opening.
You’ll come to understand the main strategic ideas of the Pirc, such as the different pawn breaks against White’s center and various pawn sacrifices which help Black to take over the initiative.
After you’ve completed the mini-series and you’re ready to dive even deeper into the opening, you can choose to move on to GM Damian Lemos’ new and bulletproof opening repertoire for the Pirc Defense, which you can now get with 50% off. You’ll find more details at the end of the article.
Let’s take a look at the powerful strategical and tactical opening ideas from one of the best chess openings against 1.e4.
The Pirc Defense – Move Order Tricks
It’s important to note that the Pirc Defense can be reached via different move orders. If you don’t want to be tricked in the opening, it’s important to enter the Pirc Defense via a precise move order.
GM Damian Lemos suggests the move order 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6. Black’s knight attacks White’s pawn on e4 and forces White to react. After 3.Nc3 Black plays 3…g6 and reaches the Pirc Defense.
Other move orders like 1.e4 g6 2.d4 d6 allow White to play moves other than 3.Nc3 (for example 3.c3 or 3.c4) as the pawn on e4 is not attacked.
Munich 1991: Beliavsky, Alexander (2640) – Anand, Viswanathan (2635)
Let’s go back in time and analyze a game the former World Chess Champion Vishy Anand played in his youth.
The game started with the moves 1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 (as we see, the Pirc Defense arises from various move orders) 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 (see the diagram on the right).
White goes for one of the most aggressive systems against the Pirc Defense – the Austrian Attack.
Due to the fact that the Pirc Defence is a hypermodern opening in which Black leaves White a lot of space in the center, White has the chance to establish a broad pawn center early in the game. The idea for White is to use f4-pawn to support a breakthrough with e4-e5.
5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be3 b6 (the move …b6 is not the main line, but Anand goes for an interesting idea here, attacking the center with Bb7 and c5) 7.e5 Ng4 8.Bg1 c5 (Black counterattacks in the center) 9.h3 Nh6 10.d5 Bb7 (see the diagram on the left).
Black is now ready to fight back against White’s strong center. 11.Qd2 (preparing to castle queenside) Nf5 12.Bh2 dxe5 13.fxe5 e6! (see the diagram on the right).
A strong move by Anand which blows up White’s center. The idea is that after 14.d6, Black can go for 14…Nd7, threatening to take on f3 and on e5.
14.0-0-0 exd5 15.Nxd5 Nc6. Black has managed to develop every single piece. Both bishops are doing great. The next task is to find a square for the queen and the rooks.
16.c3. This move seems to stop …Nd4, but Anand plays it anyway – 16…Nd4! (see the diagram on the left).
Anand continues with his powerplay and he is already a lot better here. White’s pieces are poorly coordinated. In the game, some more logical moves followed (which GM Damian Lemos explains in the free video) until the following the position was reached after White’s 28th move – 28.Nxh7 (see the diagram on the right).
Anand completely outplayed his opponent. Beliavsky, however, went all out for an attack against the Black king. It is Black to move here.
We recommend you to stop here and try to find the winning move for Anand. Remember – Black can’t play slow moves as White has serious threats against Black’s king.
If you want to see the solution, you can find it in the video.
Soviet Union 1967: Volovich, Anatoly – Simagin, Vladimir
1. d4 – The Pirc Defense usually arises after the move order 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6. As we’ve seen in the first video, however, there are many move order transpositions.
This is another advantage of playing the Pirc Defense. Even if your opponent plays 1.d4, you can still play 1… d6 and provoke him to go for 2.e4, occupying the center right from the start.
1…d6 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 – Here we are. This is the starting position of the Pirc.
4. g3. This time, White goes for a more positional setup. 4…Bg7 5. Bg2 Nbd7 6. Nge2 O-O. So far, both sides played logical moves. 7. f4 (see the diagram on the left).
Instead of completing the development with some logical moves like 0-0, h3, Be3 Qd2, Rae1, White decides to grab more space in the center.
Now, Black has to prove that he is able to contest White’s pawn center. In the game, Simagin finds an instructive way to do so.
7…c5! – Challenging the center. 8. Be3 cxd4 9. Nxd4 Nb6 (see the diagram on the right).
This move might look strange at first glance. Knights are usually badly placed on b6. Here, however, there are several ideas connected with this move.
First of all, Black threatens to occupy the c4-square. Secondly, the knight move frees the c8-h3 diagonal and Black can play …Ng4 or …Bg4 at an appropriate moment. A third idea is introduced by Simagin in the game.
10. Qd3 – White prevents Black from playing …Nc4.
10…Ng4! – a typical move, attacking White’s strongest minor piece and freeing the h8-a1 diagonal for the bishop. 11. Bd2 e5! (see the diagram on the left).
An excellent move by Simagin. He opens the position as White’s king is still on e1. One opening chess strategy of the Pirc Defense is to play dynamically. In the game, Black succeeds in challenging Whitecentertre.
12. Ndb5 exf4 13. Bxf4 – This move is a mistake. At first glance, it looks logical to recapture with the bishop as Black’s pawn on d6 isn’t defendable anymore.
However, after 13.Bxf4, Black gets control over many important squares, especially the e5-square for his knight. 13…a6 14. Nxd6 Ne5 15. Bxe5 Bxe5 16. Nxc8 Bxc3+ 17. Qxc3 Rxc8 (see the diagram on the right).
After some more moves and some massive exchanges (which GM Damian Lemos explains in the video), we can try to evaluate the position.
White is a pawn up, but he faces a tough defensive task. His queen is attacked, his king is still on e1 and if the queen moves, Black can continue with dynamic moves like …Nc4 and …Qa5+.
In the game, White quickly lost control and couldn’t handle the tough task of defending. He resigned after a few more moves.
If you want to see how Black continued his powerplay, you have to watch the video!
Gent 1995: Surmont, Yves – Gurevich, Mikhail
1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 – This is the starting position of the Pirc. As we’ve already seen, this position can arise via other move orders as well.
4. f3. This time, White opts for an attacking setup as well. However, the resulting position is not as sharp as the Austrian Attack, which we saw in the first free video.
White wants to play Be3, Qd2 and Bh6, followed by h4-h5 with an attack against the Black king. 4…c6 5. Be3 Nbd7 6. Bc4 Bg7 7. Qd2 (see the diagram on the right).
Black chooses a flexible setup against White’s intentions to mate Black’s king. 7…b5. Now the idea of 4…c6 becomes apparent.
The move not only helps Black to control the d5-square but also prepares an expansion on the queenside with …b5.
As we already know, the Pirc Defence is an opening of counterplay. Black has less space and has to create counterplay in the center or on the queenside.
8. Bb3 a5 9. a3 (9.a4 could be met by …b4, followed by …Ba6, …Qc7 and …c5). 9…Bb7 (see the diagram on the left).
Black slowly but surely brings all his pieces into play. Once Black manages to counterattack in the center with …c5, the bishop can become a strong piece on the a8-h1 diagonal.
10. Nce2 – This is a slight mistake as White moves his knight to a passive square. 10…0-0 11. g4, White starts to go for an attack against Black’s king.
However, his king is still in the center. Hence, Black can counterattack in the center with 11…c5 12. c3 b4 (see the diagram on the right).
White is already under pressure. His king will neither find a safe place on the kingside nor on the queenside.
Moreover, White can’t take the pawn on b4 with 13.axb4 as 13…axb4 14.Rxa8 Qxa8 (see the diagram on the left) looks crushing.
Black not only threatens to enter White’s camp with …Qa1+, but also has to possibility to go for a nice combination. He could play …Nxe4! and White loses as his rook on h1 is hanging in the end.
Hence, White decides to keep the tension and plays 13.Nh3. After 13…a4 14. Bc4 d5! (blowing open the center) 15. Bxd5 Nxd5 16. exd5 Nb6 (see the diagram on the right), however, White is in huge trouble.
Less than ten moves later, White throws in the towel. Why? Watch the full video and listen to GM Damian Lemos’ great explanations on the game.
The Pirc Defense – The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening
In his comprehensive 9-hour Deep Dive course, GM Damian Lemos builds up your knowledge on one of the most dynamic chess openings for Black, the Pirc Defense, one of the most dynamic chess openings for Black.
Put your opponents on the defensive with a classic counter-attacking weapon against 1.e4, the Pirc Defense (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6).
With Super GMs like Grischuk, Ivanchuk, and Kramnik adopting this opening, you’re in an excellent company and can enjoy being a master of one of the most exciting opening options available to Black.
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