Play the Pirc like a Grandmaster Vol. 1 by GM Mihail Marin

by Davide Nastasio
3/8/2018 – The Pirc is an opening which can give White the false confidence of having the initiative. Black lets White build a huge central pawn structure, and then, like in a guerrilla warfare attacks those pawns, and the weak squares behind. Don't miss the chance to learn an opening which will deepen your understanding of many pawn structures! Davide Nastasio has the review.

Play the Pirc like a Grandmaster Vol. 1: Positional lines Play the Pirc like a Grandmaster Vol. 1: Positional lines

In the positional systems White does not try to refute the Pirc from the very first moves, but aims for a long strategic battle to prove that his space advantage and better development will finally give him the better position.


A review

GM Marin is a famous author of both Chessbase DVDs, chess magazine articles, and of course too many books to mention. He is still an active chess player, with many tournament wins under his belt.

He begins the DVD reminding us of one important truth about the former Soviet Union. While the opening is called the Pirc in western countries (with various pronunciations) in the Soviet countries was called Ufimtsev, from the name of the Kazakhstan champion who contributed to the theory of this defence back in the 1930s.

The first game I found played by Ufimtsev with this defence is the following:


However, one of the first games with the "Pirc" can be witnessed in a match against Amos Burn from the also famous Reverend John Owen, I guess before finding 1...b6; (the opening which also bears his name — Owen's defence) he experimented with different openings!


So why do we ascribe the opening to Ufimtsev or Pirc? Because also if they weren't strong world champion level players or the literal first to historically play such defence, they wrote articles on the opening and played it consistently throughout their careers.

But let's come to Marin. Why or how did he learn the Pirc? That story is quite interesting too! His father, in 1980-81, gave him a book on the Ufimtsev defence in Russian...

I feel there is a pattern about Marin and Russia. For example, I remember another story in which he learned Russian thanks to reading a book on Rubinstein in Russian, while he was in the army!

The more I read or listen to Marin's stories and more I think it was nearly a written fate his Russian connection would become deeper than books, chess, and Russian language itself...

Pushing the fast-forward button we discover that years later Marin tried to rekindle his love of the Pirc, because his trainer told him he was good with pawn structures. Marin followed his advice, he had a great tournament, thanks to using d6 against 1.e4 and 1.d4, but he also said after each game he studied it a little more, and improved his understanding of an opening which is not based on memorizing long variations, instead it is based on understanding what to do when dealing with different pawn structures. Like many GMs, he had his own theory of the right move order, and this is also a factor to keep into consideration.

Unfortunately in 2004 Marin lost very badly against Laurent Fressinet:


This put a stop to his Pirc's usage, like someone falling from a horse becoming afraid to ride again. But once more fate makes an appearance in our story, a couple of years later Marin had the chance to meet Fressinet, in a blitz tournament. He decided if he would win he would return to play the Pirc. Notice how risky is Marin's reasoning, the game I'm going to present was the last round, which would decide if one would get the money or not, depending if he won or not, and Marin won!

Here the game for those who want to assist to a spectacle of a gladiator fighting for his life!


Marin's explanation of how he returned to play the Pirc is of utmost importance, and worth the price of the DVD, because one can understand that he became another player, more harmonious, in tune with the position instead of a sterile computer-like logic which many players follow today.

Marin divides the material in the first volume as Positional lines, those with Nf3 and g3, and there is a second volume in which the sharp attacking lines are taught.

However, even from my ageing adult body, within I’m like a child, and obviously, I couldn’t stop myself from beginning to play the Pirc even before watching the videos. A few months ago I wrote reviews on the King’s Indian Defence (KID) and then I also didn’t study all the material but watched many games and I grasped the ideas — enough to play bullet because honestly, we all love to play bullet... In any case, I got smashed many times while trying to understand where to put the b8-knight in relation to what White chooses as his central pawn structure. But thanks to Marin I used the idea of playing a game and then studying a little, and in this way, I combined the best of both worlds: the excitement from playing bullet, and (the comparatively boring one) studying.

But why I’m telling you this? Because I got smashed by the Austrian Attack, and in Volume 1 there are some interesting theoretical articles which treats it. So if one doesn't want to watch a video, and prefer to learn like from a book, with the theoretical articles included in this DVD it's possible! Why do I say "from a book"? Because the article on the Austrian attack is made by more than 20 annotated games, and about 11 lines (the lines are just theory, and one can update them after a tournament, or add one’s own evaluation, in this way they can be used as a reference always in progress) like we find in a book.

What will you find inside the DVD vol. 1?

The first ten videos are dedicated to the line:
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 c6


While watching the videos one cannot help being excited by Marin's explanations, and the games he shows, such as the following one (please notice also the move order, the Pirc is quite flexible — and of course the rook offer at move 14 accepted few moves later):


From video number 12, Marin begins with the line: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h3 0-0 6.Be3 c6


The lines treated by Marin are quite deep theoretically, and at the cost of becoming annoying, I'm trying to give them in this review, because I've noticed many readers often think the GM or titled player doing a DVD doesn't treat everything. When the truth is, it's more editorial, in a review one is afraid to bore the reader to death by giving all the lines considered.

For example video 12 and 13 deepen the line which as a tabiya begins at the end of move 9 with this position: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h3 0-0 6.Be3 c6 7.a4 Qc7 8.a5 Nbd7 9.Qd2 Re8


The videos from 15 to 18 treat the lines coming out from: : 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be3 0-0 6.Qd2 a6


Videos 19 and 20 deal with the fianchetto system, and video 21 deals with possible deviations within the fianchetto system, 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.g3 Bg7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.Nge2 e5 7.h3 c6 8.a4 a5 9.0-0 Na6


The last video of volume 1 treats 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.f3


Volume 1 ends with 10 interactive quiz videos, where Marin asks questions and we must find the correct answer.

Volume 1 has a database with 47 games played by Marin, giving us material to model our style toward his.
And another database with games and analysis for a total of 132 games.

Today there are many tools we can use to learn the openings we study. If we don't have Chessbase 14 and Megabase 2018, we can still gain knowledge of the latest games played in that opening thanks to the Chessbase Account.

I generally go to the Live Database and I look for the main opening lines given  in  the DVD.

I do this before watching the videos because I want to have an unbiased opinion of what I'm studying, not be too influenced by the author. And eventually I download one game or two, annotate them, so I can have a feeling for the main problems I will encounter in that opening. The following is one of the games I studied for the last line given in volume 1: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.f3


Pro and cons

Sometimes Marin mentions the names of foreign players too fast for me to understand them. I say this in relation to some names he mentioned as a group of players who were against the Pirc. I'd like to see them, so I can eventually look at their games, and understand their ideas. This criticism is due to the fact that I consider each of Marin's phrases good wisdom, and try to pay attention because it will surely help me improve my chess.  

At 11 minutes 35 seconds, Marin says: "I saw a recent game by Ivanchuk, he beat Harikrishna..."
If I understood Marin's well, then he is not correct, because the game I found provided with the Database, was a draw, here the game:


Maybe Marin mistook the result with a similar game, not played recently, in which Ivanchuk actually won. The game:


However, I'm just pointing out at little mistakes, to show I did my job as a reviewer, but those mistakes are totally irrelevant. Instead, the ideas behind the moves, are what matters, and that is what Marin is teaching.

Final thoughts

Marin says the Pirc can give a false sense of initiative to White, and I felt this is true. Many times, when I was attacked violently by White, it came out the attack would fade, and Black would be materially better. If this review is received positively by our readers, I'll work on Volume 2.

One last update: Marin just published a book on the Pirc, for those who cannot live without chess books here the title:

Maria Yugina

WFM Maria Yugina | Photo: Mihail Marin


Davide Nastasio is a novel chess aficionado, who has made of chess his spiritual tool of improvement, and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."
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