Yearning for some dark squares
Nigel Davies' new Pirc-DVD reviewed by Steve Giddins
As readers of my book 'How to build your chess opening repertoire' will know, I am a firm believer that players should stick to their openings, and not chop and change every couple of years. Having said that, there are some advantages in switching to a different opening once in a while. In my own case, having played the French Defence for over 20 years, it is all about colour prejudice. As any French player knows, especially if one plays the Winawer Variation, one must get used to having dark squares, which are just so many open wounds. All those pawns on white squares, with no dark-squared bishop…Naturally, one has compensation, in the form of White’s doubled pawns, etc. but even so, 20 or more years of playing Winawer positions as Black does tend to leave one feeling desperate, every now and then, to have a position with a bit of dark square control.
Now if it is dark squares you are after, there are few openings more suitable than the Pirc Defence, 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6. Here, Black sets out his stall right from the start, allowing White to occupy the centre with pawns, but setting up counterplay on the central dark squares. The key bishop on g7 fires down the long dark diagonal, and Black follows up with moves like e5 or c5, hammering away at the dark squares and seeking to undermine White’s centre.
The Pirc, and its closely-related twin, the Modern Defence, are not hugely popular at top level nowadays, but they retain a hard core of supporters, and it is clear that from a theoretical point of view, Black does not face any desperately serious challenges. Objectively, White is probably a bit better in various lines, but no more so than in most other openings. In addition, most Pirc/Modern positions offer greater scope for active counterplay than many other openings, whilst heavy early simplification is usually avoided. This makes the Pirc ideal for the player who wants to play for a win as Black.
Amongst strong GMs, Ponomariov is a regular Pirc practitioner, but Mikhail Gurevich is probably the most successful exponent of the opening. It is interesting to note that he combines the Pirc with the French, as his two defences to 1 e4, which rather supports my theory about colour complexes. Come to think of it, the great Mikhail Botvinnik, having spent half his career defending the Winawer, became a Modern player in his final years, too! In England, Ray Keene was the great populariser of the Pirc in the 1960s and 70s, but since his retirement from active play, it is Grandmaster Nigel Davies who has assumed his mantle.
Although himself less active than in former years, Davies remains to my mind one of the deepest of English players. Even as a youngster, his style was characterised by his subtle appreciation of involved English-Reti systems, and the Pirc/Modern as Black. Although his style has broadened in recent years to include 1 e4 as White, and 1 e4 e5 as Black, I have always felt that it is in the subtle positional labyrinths of the hypermodern systems that his play remains at its most impressive. That being so, he is the ideal person to introduce the Pirc Defence to the average player, which is what he does on this DVD. In over 7 – yes, seven! - hours of instruction, he presents a full repertoire for Black, based on the initial moves 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6.
The depth of coverage is shown by the fact that no less than 13 separate lectures are devoted to the Austrian Attack, 4 f4. Against this, Davies eschews the oft-recommended 4…Bg7 5 Nf3 c5 variation, which allows White to force a draw by 6 Bb5+ Bd7 7 e5 Ng4 8 e6 fxe6 9 Ng5 Bxb5 10 Nxe6 Bxd4 11 Nxd8 Bf2+ 12 Kd2 Be3+ etc. Instead, he recommends the line with 5…0-0 6 Bd3 Na6, which leads to sharp positions, where Black’s defensive resources allow him to hold his own against White’s various attacking ideas
Other particularly dangerous systems for White are those introduced by 4 Be3, and Robert Byrne’s old system, 4 Bg5. On the various occasions when my desperate longing for some dark squares has led me to consider playing the Pirc, it is the latter which has worried me the most. Having seen Davies’ coverage on this DVD, there remains one specific sequence where I still have a few doubts about Black’s position, but otherwise, the lines presented here seem to offer Black excellent counterplay. As a long-time Pirc player himself, Davies naturally has a variety of ideas of his own, in different variations, and these are shared with the viewer, throughout the DVD.
Overall, I believe that any player interested in the Pirc Defence will find a great deal of valuable material on this DVD. Naturally, as with any repertoire book, the player can always substitute another variation for one or more of those recommended on the DVD, if he finds that a specific line does not appeal to him, but in general, Davies has gone out of his way to recommend the most solid and reliable lines for the Black player. Next time somebody opens 1 e4 against me, and I can’t face another of those dark-square gambits that masquerade as the Winawer, I think I know what I will play…