Forward Chess Highlight: The Perfect Pirc-Modern

How time flies! Suddenly, we have a new version of Viktor Moskalenko’s The Perfect Pirc-Modern, flagged as ‘New Edition – 10 Years Later.’ 

What is new to this edition? 

According to the blurb: 

‘In this updated version of Moskalenko’s 2013 book of the same name, 33 of the 42 games are new, the structure has been updated in places, and there are fresh ideas on every page.’ 

In truth, the Pirc and Modern defenses have never matched the reputations of semi-open games such as the Sicilian, Caro-Kann, or French Defense and they are rarely seen at the higher levels of chess. When they do appear, they have a habit of making their reputation worse. 

Readers will no doubt remember game 32 of the great Anatoly Karpov – Viktor Korchnoi 1978 World Championship match, plus game nine of the 1983 Candidates match between Garry Kasparov and Alexander Beliavsky, and Vasily Ivanchuk – Vladimir Kramnik in the dramatic final round of the 2013 Candidates tournament. 

Karpov – Korchnoi 1978

Kasparov – Beliavsky 1983

Ivanchuk – Kramnik 2013

In each of those three games, the course of chess history would have been changed if Black had triumphed, and yet each ended in defeat for the second player. Therefore, Karpov kept his title, just when he seemed to be on the point of defeat, Kasparov sailed through the rest of his Candidate’s matches and into his extraordinary series of matches with Karpov (which saw the Soviet Golden Boy ultimately dethroned), and it was Magnus Carlsen, not Kramnik, who qualified to play Vishy Anand in the 2013 World Championship match and start his 10-year tenure on the throne, before his surprising abdication earlier this year. 
10 years… now there is a coincidence. Perhaps the Pirc Defense itself was not to blame for the three pivotal Black defeats mentioned earlier and the time is now right for a revival? 
As always, Moskalenko writes with an easy and accessible style, clearly on the optimistic side of the fence when it comes to covering his second-favorite defense to 1. e4. 

At first glance, of course, this new edition and the original look extremely similar, but a closer inspection reveals some interesting new ideas for Black – and, for that matter, for White too. 

Here is a striking example, in a popular variation. 
After 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 6. dxc5 Qa5 we reach one of the main lines of the Austrian Attack against the Pirc Defense.  

What do we make of 7. Qd4 in this position? 

Moskalenko calls it: ‘A recent, paradoxical, but strategically interesting attempt to fight for an opening advantage. In this line, White combines two basic ideas: establishing a favourable pawn structure and exchanging the queens.’ 

One point is that after the routine capture with 7…dxc5, 8. Qc4! ‘allows White to put his strategy to good use’ with 8. Qc4! ‘which changes the value of the line 7…dxc5.’ One of the points of this mysterious queen move is to trade the strongest pieces after (for example) 8…0-0 9. e5 Be6 10. Qa4! Qxa4 11. Nxa4 with ‘the desired endgame for White.’ 

Furthermore, ‘7…Nc6?!, attacking the white queen, is unfortunately refuted by 8. Bb5!’, with the attempt at a tactical rebuttal with 8…Qxb5… 

…failing to 9. Qxf6

Black is therefore advised to avoid trying to be too clever and to play 7…0-0 instead, when 8. cxd6 exd6! appears to give Black good play for the sacrificed material, especially as the White Queen will now be a target. 

Moskalenko provides examples of Black’s potential in his notes, including this drastic collapse. 
9.Bd2 Nc6! 10. Qxd6?? Rd8 11. Qa3 Qxa3 12. Bxa3 Nxe4 

Suddenly, Black is winning and has a position any self-respecting Pirc player would be delighted to see appear on the board. 
Make no mistake: playing the Pirc or Modern requires specific knowledge of key variations, a great sense of timing and a bag full of tricks. 
Careful study of this book, combined with active practice in over-the-board chess, should lead to some very rewarding victories indeed. 
Sean Marsh 

Sean Marsh

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