Pirc Defence

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The Pirc Defence, sometimes known as the Ufimtsev Defence, is a chess opening characterised by Black responding to 1. e4 with 1. ...d6 and 2. ...Nf6 (see algebraic notation) and allowing White to establish an impressive-looking centre with pawns on d4 and e4. It is named after the Yugoslav Grandmaster Vasja Pirc (pronounced "peerts").

The Pirc Defence is a relatively new opening. In the 1930s it was considered inferior, but by the 1960s it was found to be quite playable. This opening is tricky to play and correct play is sometimes counterintuitive. Black, in hypermodern fashion, does not immediately stake out the center with pawns, but rather works to undermine White's pawn centre with pieces.

Move order is not so critical in the Pirc as in other openings, but a typical sequence might be 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6, with Black fianchettoing his bishop on g7 next move. A distinction is sometimes drawn between the Pirc and lines where Black delays the development of his knight to f6 — this is known as the Modern or Robatsch Defence.

White may adopt a variety of setups to counter those of Black. In placing pawns on d4, e4 and f4, he may establish a large centre, with plans to push in the centre and possibly attack on the king-side (this is the Austrian Attack); Black often counters with ...c5 to break the pawn centre up. A more modest plan for White is to not move his f-pawn and simply use his central pawns to cramp Black. Other approaches are to play f3 to bolster the centre or to fianchetto the king's bishop with g3 and Bg2. If Black delays ...Nf6, White may play c4 before Nc3, in which case the game might transpose to the King's Indian Defence.

Some of the systems employed by White against the Pirc Defence include the following:

  • 4. Bc4 : B07 Kholmov System (4.Bc4 Bg7 5.Qe2 O-O 6.e5 dxe5 7.dxe5 Nfd7 8.e6 Ne5)
  • 4. Be2 : B07 (sub-variants after 4..Be2 Bg7 include the Chinese Variation, 5.g4 and the Bayonet (Mariotti) Attack, 5.h4.)
  • 4. Be3 : B07 150 or "Caveman" Attack (4.Be3 c6 5.Qd2)
  • 4. Bg5 : B07 (Robert) Byrne Variation
  • 4. f4  : B09 Austrian Attack (sub-variants after 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 include 6.e5, 6.Bd3 and 6.Be3; also, after 4. ...Bg7 is 5.Bc4, the Ljubojevic Variation. Black also has the option to move into the Dragon Formation after 5.Nf3 with 5. ...c5.)
  • 4. g3  : B07 Sveshnikov System
  • 4. Nf3 : B08 Classical (Two knights) System (sub-variants after 4. ...Bg7 include 5.h3 and 5.Be2)

Black has an alternate system to employ against White, the Pribyl System or Czech Defence, where Black plays the early deviation 3...c6.

An unusual but quite reasonable deviation for White is 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.f3. Former world champion Garry Kasparov once surprised American Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan with this move. After 3...g6 4.c4, an unhappy Seirawan found himself defending the King's Indian Defense for the first time in his life. Black can avoid a King's Indian with 3...e5, which may lead to an Old Indian type position after 4.d5, or with 3...d5. This can transpose to the Classical Variation of the French Defense after 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 e6 6.Nf3, to the Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense after 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 e6 6.c3 c5 7.Nd2 Nc6 8.Ndf3, or even to the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit with an extra tempo for White after 4.Nc3 dxe4 5.Bg5 exf3 6.Nxf3.

A rarely seen early deviation by Black is 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5, which Zurab Azmaiparashvili has tried a few times. This can lead to unique lines after 4.dxe5, or can transpose to the Philidor Defence after 4.Nf3.

In the following game, Azmaiparashvili uses the Pirc to defeat then-reigning world champion Anatoly Karpov:

Karpov-Azmaiparashvili, USSR Championship, Moscow 1983 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O Bg4 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Qd2 e5 9.d5 Ne7 10.Rad1 b5 11.a3 a5 12.b4 axb4 13.axb4 Ra3 14.Bg5 Rxc3 15.Bxf6 Bxf3 16.Bxf3 Ra3 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Ra1 Qa8 19.Rxa3 Qxa3 20.Be2 Qb2 21.Rd1 f5 22.exf5 Nxf5 23.c3 Qxd2 24.Rxd2 Ra8 25.Bxb5 Ra3 26.Rc2 Ne7 27.f4 exf4 28.Bc6 Nf5 29.Kf2 Ne3 30.Rc1 Kf6 31.g3 Ke5 32.Kf3 g5 33.gxf4+ gxf4 34.h4 Nxd5 35.Bxd5 Kxd5 36.Kxf4 Kc4 37.Re1 Rxc3 38.Re7 Kxb4 39.Rxh7 d5 40.Ke5 c6 41.Kd4 Rc4+ 0-1

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