The Pirc Defence – a cult CD?

12/19/2003 – According to our reviewer Aleksei Lugovoi’s CD deserves a special praise. "When you learn a particular line, you are immediately challenged: ideas begin with illustrative diagrams, followed by texts and an immediate brainstorm therein. This method, I believe will pioneer the next-generation training CDs..." Read about it in Aryan's testimony II.

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The Pirc Defence

By Aryan Argandewal

As someone who feels more comfortable with creating, deploying and exploiting an attacking chess position than trying to find a strong move in a difficult defensive position, I was a bit reluctant to get a training CD on a non-aggressive Defence. While it may be due to my playing style generally, it may also have to do with the fact that less accomplished players tend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of match victory. A couple of weeks ago I asked a friend at the club whether one should concentrate on the study of the openings, middlegame or endgame. And he gave a very logical response: learn the openings first – you may never get to the endgame against a strong player even if you make a slight positional misjudgment in the opening.

But here’s the thing: the openings are more about memorization than deep positional analysis, thus not as intellectually challenging as the middlegame or endgame. But this stereotypical view was about to change for me. After losing a few games to players with ratings above Elo 2100 I was finally made to purchase a training CD exotically named: The Pirc Defence.

I’ve always believed that people have a great way of reading between the lines; they’re somehow magically able to tell the difference between authentic and fake. Maybe that’s why we have the ‘cult-culture’ in the West; it works: no fake product has ever entered the ‘cult arena’. Why? Because people are good at spotting something that is produced not just to generate huge profits. And when they do find something worthy of their praise, they vote for it with their pockets. I remember years ago when I read my first cult ‘horror fiction’: it was Stephen King’s The Dark Half. I hadn’t read the book even half way through when it struck me that I was holding a cult story in my hands. I still remember phrases from the book: …”and the sparrows are flying again”…I honestly believe that Stephen King became such a successful storyteller because he wrote his first few books with love. He wrote them not to get rich.

Aleksei Lugovoi’s The Pirc Defence undoubtedly belongs to the same category of cult writings, although much different in its intellectual capacity. It doesn’t take you long to discover that. From the very start it feels like you are being led by a well-established author and professional who is more keen on passing his knowledge onto his students than just to get away with a few unrelated topics and a few games squeezed into a database.

Let me begin by saying that in my view the most important part of a textbook is the general flow of ideas. Just like playing chess itself: it is a continuous process of ideas and counter-ideas. In other words, your thought process is challenged by your opponent’s equally aggressive brainstorm. The author must be aware of his readers’ reaction to a certain topic. Here, I must admit: I’ve not been let down by a single Russian author. They all seem to be more in love with the game than their bank accounts. There’s a firm feedback relationship between the author and his readers.

Reading through The Pirc Defence you are, sort of, building a house of ideas. “Understanding is a very subjective matter", says the author. "I’ll try to show you my understanding of the Pirc Defence”. And he does that throughout the CD with grace.

Aleksei Lugovoi’s The Pirc Defence deserves a special praise because it is probably the first ever book on how to learn an opening theory as opposed to memorization of theoretical lines. “You should understand the first moves, not just memorize them. The difference is essential,” the author reiterates. When you learn a particular line, the text ends with an illustrative game as in other CDs, but here you are immediately challenged: you start to view the game with a positional puzzle from the game. Ideas begin with illustrative diagrams, followed by texts and an immediate brainstorm therein. This method, I believe will pioneer the next-generation training CDs with a similar approach.

Let me clarify this: in a ‘normal’ training CD you get a grasp of the main lines with examples. But the training part is somewhat left in the background, it is an isolated entity within. You start off by learning the lines then you go to examples and back to the text. But no training is directly involved in the process. You can obviously go to the database and do the exercises if there are any but you are not prompted to push yourself while reading the texts.

In Lugovoi’s work in contrast, training is an integral part of the texts. This is of paramount importance. You have no choice but learn the lines systematically and simultaneously: Basic Theory <=> Text <=> Illustrative Diagram <=> Illustrative Game <=> Brainstorm all in one package. You don’t have to go back and forth, jump from text to the database and back. The author certainly delivers on the promise to pass on ‘his understanding’ of Pirc Defence.

Another point worthy of praise is author’s love affair with the philosophical, and most importantly, historical background of a given position. It may not seem important to a layman but to a chess junky it certainly is a bonus. Let me give a concrete example: in the f4 8.e6 variation you find this piece of very relevant information: “This position has been known since 1958. It was seen the first time in the game Krogius-Polugaevsky (USSR, 1958). Polugaevsky made the natural move 8…Bxb5, and for 30 years this move had been considered to be the only move here! But in 1988 it was found that the pawn could be taken in this position: 8…fxe6!

In the main variation Nf3 you read: “Now we shall look at a continuation which is rather unpleasant for Black: White develops his pieces slowly but harmoniously. This makes his position very solid and restricts Black’s opportunities of creating an active counter play. Karpov, Geller and many other strong players consider this variation to be the main weapon in the struggle against the Pirc Defence.” Do we want to know how Karpov reacts to a particular Pirc position? Yes please! You get this sort of ‘who plays what’ throughout the entire disk. Brilliant!

Having finished the disk I am sure I’ll be referring to it on daily basis. My perception of Attack and Defence has changed forever. The Pirc Defence helped me to understand that a game can be just as graceful defending a difficult position, as it is to deploy a deadly attack. Sometimes it is noble to display your endurance; your ability to find the strongest move in a seemingly passive position.

When you buy the disk first thing you should do is to take a look at the game played by my favourite Champ-GM Mikhail Tal (in the f4 variation-part one section) and see for yourself what I mean by falling in love with the Art of Defence. (Frederic: please make a playable direct link, if possible, to the game: Beliavsky, A-Tal World Championship 1988 1-0).

Aleksei Lugovoi’s The Pirc Defence is one beautiful piece of work. I absolutely loved it, it's an absolute must-have for a club wannabe. Go to the ChessBase Shop and get one right now!

The Pirc Defence
Texts: 10 out of 10
Illustrative Diagrams: 10
Philosophical, historical background of positions – a novelty: 10
Wealth of material: 10
Inter-relation of text and training – a novelty: 10
Puzzle Brainstorm: 10
Choice of games played by GMs: 10
My verdict: CLASSIC. Overall score 10 out of 10.

Read Aryan's Testimonial Part 1

About me:

Aryan Argandewal. I am of Afghan origin. About 200 years ago Afghanistan was called Aryana. This is where my name comes from (Aryan-a, man from Aryana) My family is based in North America and Australia. I study Law at university of Surrey, England. I fluently speak: English, Russian and Persian, am able to read and write Japanese, Arabic and Pashto. Member of Guildford Chess Club, Surrey, UK. I have black belt in Taekwondo; enjoy motor racing, swimming. I am a huge Formula1 fan and a dedicated fan of McLaren, favorite Driver J.P.Montoya.


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