Reviews | June 11, 2013 13:35

Review: The Perfect Pirc-Modern

Review: The Perfect Pirc-Modern

The Perfect Pirc-Modern is Viktor Moskalenko's latest book on one of the openings he has been playing throughout his career. It is Moskalenko's fifth book, and recommended for players who want to try out this opening complex as well as players who already have it on their repertoire.

Viktor Moskalenko (1960) is a Ukrainian grandmaster who has been living in Spain for years, where he won many tournaments. He is also a good friend of Vassily Ivanchuk, whom he helped last weekend for his match against Anish Giri in León. Ivanchuk didn't do very well during the first two days, to put it mildly, which prompted Moskalenko to post the following bit of self-directed sarcasm on his Facebook page:

Dear friends, right now I'm working in ''Magistral Ciudad León'' as second of my old friend, the great Vassily Ivanchuk. The result is fantastic !!

Maybe it was also Moskalenko who suggested to Chuky to enjoy a nice beer? :-)

Anyway, the former Ukrainian Champion is well known as an author as well. So far he wrote The Fabulous Budapest Gambit, The Flexible French, Revolutionize Your Chess and The Wonderful Winawer. Especially the three books on openings were well received, and now there is a new member of the family: The Perfect Pirc-Modern. Published by New in Chess, it is 256 pages full of "strategic ideas and powerful weapons", according to the cover. As we will see, this is not an exaggeration.

The Pirc/Modern is an opening everyone should give a try at some point in his career. It almost always leads to interesting games where the position can get quite sharp, especially since these days many White players like to castle queenside. The opening is also very well suited for players who need to create winning chances with black; for instance Kramnik chose it in the last round of the London Candidates against... Ivanchuk.

The great Vassily wrote the introduction of the book, and described the opening as follows:

When playing the Pirc Defence, the black player does not aim to equalize the position. He tries to obtain complicated play, and even invites the danger of a direct attack on his king. But playing such positions, and making full use of one's (often far from obvious) resources, requires great skill, developing which is very valuable for players of all levels.

An opening like the Pirc/Modern is primarily a choice by Black on the very first move, so it is logical to suppose that The Perfect Pirc-Modern is a repertoire book for black players. However, Moskalenko does not want to limit himself to making suggestions for one colour only, and prefers to give full games where White players will find many useful ideas as well. And Moskalenko doesn't limit the options for Black either.

Since the early 90s, when I played the Pirc myself for a while (helped by John Nunn's The Complete Pirc), I have been fascinated by one of the most important variations: the Austrian Attack. I remember studying Nunn's lines, and seeing the famous Sax-Seirawan perpetual for the first time.

PGN string

Seirawan's amazing novelty has been repeated many times in games where both players were happy with a draw. However, either side can deviate, if they are more ambitious! White players usally make this decision, with moves like 8.Ng5, 8.h3, 8.Bxd7+, 10.Nxb5, 10.Qxg4 or especially 11.Nxb5. The last move was played for instance in the top level game Karjakin-Grischuk, Moscow 2011, which is given in full on the book, with a complete theoretical coverage.

I remember visiting the chess cafe Gambit in the 90s (it doesn't exist anymore) and seeing English grandmaster Stuart Conquest playing one of Black's alternatives to the forced draw which is still not well known: 6...Nc6!?

Moskalenko points out that this amazing idea (what about 7.d5?) was introduced by another English grandmaster, Peter Wells, in 1980. The opponent, by the way, was the same sharp attacking player Gyula Sax, and a young Wells managed to draw this game. The move is worth trying, as can be seen in the following more recent game:

PGN string

By the way, the above doesn't mean that Moskalenko gives 5...c5 as Black's main choice. It must be said that the move has always been considered slightly more risky than 5...0-0, and this move is discussed in another 75 pages, so there's plenty of information on that as well!

Also in the early 90s, I used to play the move 6.Be2 against 5...0-0. It looks slightly unnatural, especially since White often continues with Be2-d3 very soon! The main line goes 6...c5 7.dxc5 Qa5 8.0-0 Qxc5+ 9.Kh1 Nc6 10.Bd3

PGN string

and now White has the brutal plan of Qe1-h4, f4-f5, Bh6, Ng5, fxg6, Bxg7, Rxf6 and Qxh7 "checkmate". This attacking scheme is both very instructive and a bit dangerous for young players, because it tends to make you lazy. You bash out the moves, and fail to grasp the details of the positions, when it works and when it doesn't. (On a personal note, I still think that going through Nunn's opening books two decades ago, like his Pirc one but also his Beating the Sicilian series, has formed me as a white player as I'm still most dangerous in open 1.e4 positions. I also have the typical weakness of seeing lots of possibilities for myself, but being missing the ones for my opponent!)

Continuing the walk down memory lane, I also vividly remember the one official training day for which I was invited by the Dutch Chess Federation – after I won the under 20 championship of my province. The training was given by Dutch chess legend Theo van Scheltinga, and he discussed the first match game Fischer-Larsen, a game from the KRO-match Ivanchuk-Timman and also the following game, where I heard about Ivanchuk for the first time, and saw the positional manoeuvre Qd8-a5, Rf8-c8 and Qa5-d8 for the first time!

PGN string

More than twenty years later, Moskalenko still suggests Ivanchuk's above "waiting strategy" as one of the possibilities to play against that naive little move 6.Be2!

Another very important move against the Pirc/Modern, and in fact the one I have been playing for years myself, is 4.Be3. I started creating my new "white versus the Pirc" repertoire when I saw the following game:

PGN string

Crystal-clear play, as always, by Mickey Adams. I was impressed by the plan of putting pressure on Black's queenside with both a4 (normal) and c4 (wow!). (I guess having "grown up", I'm not going for checkmate from the first move anymore.) The knight manoeuvre mostly seemed to free the white c-pawn, but I later read somewhere (that's how it goes with amateurs studying openings) that, of course, the knight on g3 also prevents Black's typical ...Nh5-f4 manoeuvre forever.

Slightly to my surprise, Moskalenko's treatment of this system, still one of White's most important answers to the Pirc these days, involves postpoing the move ...c7-c6. Postponing ...Bf8-g7 is still a good idea against the 150 Attack (this his how White's setup is called), because Be3-h6 is less strong with the bishop still on f8. But perhaps Moskalenko is convinced about Adams' plan above, as instead of 4...c6 he suggests 4...a6!?

PGN string

The main idea is that after 5.Qd2 (In this system White doesn't need to fear 5...Ng4 because 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 is questionable for Black) 5...b5 6.Bd3 (automatic development when b5-b4 is threatened) 6...Bb7

PGN string

White now has trouble defending e4. 7.a3 is not a move that fits in the Adams plan, and in fact Moskalenko says White should switch to the Sämisch setup a move earlier with 6.f3. To fix their repertoire, white players need to go back one more move: Moskalenko suggests 5.h3!? when 5...b5? is wrong because of 6.e5! with a strong initiative.

PGN string

And so after 5.h3 Bg7 White should probably go 6.a4 and then after 6...0-0 7.Nf3 b6 Black is doing OK in practice. A recent game with 8.Bd3!? was this:

PGN string

And so against both my Austrian and 150 attacks, Black seems to be doing fine theoretically. Somehow this is a comforting thought: I can always return to the very first opening I played with Black against 1.e4!

Of course this is not the complete picture; there are a few more important systems black players should know, particularly 4.Bg5, the system with Bc4, the classical 4.Nf3 (and the many move-orders in general), the fianchetto system and some early aggression like 4.Be2 and 5.h4. To my surprise, the latter is not mentioned by Moskalenko (only 5.g4) but I remember the main line given in The Complete Pirc: 5...c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 7.Kf1 Qxc5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.h5

PGN string

This is one of the rare theoretical positions where the ugly 9...gxh5 is recommended! With such an example of a "far from obvious resource" (Ivanchuk in the introduction) I'll finish this review. The Perfect Pirc/Modern is full of those resources, and the author does an excellent job of pointing them out, which makes the book both instructive and fun to read. 


Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Septimus's picture

"The result is fantastic !!"

Yeah right...getting hammered in the classical games is not really fantastic. Blitz and rapid games are gimmicks.

Anonymous's picture

Oh really septimus ? How many years of hard work to get to this conclusion ?

Remco G's picture

What part of "self-directed sarcasm" did you miss?

Anonymous's picture

Great report !

Anthony Migchels's picture

It's a great opening! It's very much like the sicilian in many respects (counterplay against e4!).

Helmer's picture

Since 4...a6 has become sound (and better analysed) in recent times the 150 attack isn't an acute danger for Black anymore.
The Austrian attack is now the most dangerous approach again (rightfully so):
In the Austrian attack White can either force Black to give up typical Pirc structures (and also typical Pirc play) by 5...c5
or can exert maximum pressure after 5...0-0.
It's a choice between two evils for Black.

choufleur's picture

White doesn't play h3 in
Vachier Lagrave, Maxime - Todorov, Todor
so the comment does not make much sense, does it ?

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