The Pirc Defense


The Pirc Defense is a chess opening in which the following moves are played:

The idea behind the Pirc Defense is: Black wants to achieve a solid setup in the opening, by quickly developing his pieces and castling.

The Pirc Defense can be divided into four major variations.

White can choose to play in many different ways: to start an attack immediately or to develop pieces first is a major decision.

The four major variations are:

  • Austrian Attack (4.f4)
  • Two Knights System (4.Nf3)
  • 150 Attack (4.Be3)
  • Byrne Variation (4.Bg5)

In the Austrian Attack, White decides to start pushing the Kingside pawns and plays f4. This means that he wants to start an attack against Black’s King.

The idea of playing f4 is to develop the Knight to f3 behind the pawn, and to eventually push f5 after developing all of the pieces.

In the Two Knights system, White develops the Knight without pushing the f-pawn.

This is a more solid and classical setup.

It is very easy to play as the development of the pieces is natural, and a great choice for players who don’t want to study too much opening theory.

In the 150 Attack, White wants to play in a straightforward attacking manner.

After playing Be3, the idea will be to play the Queen behind the Bishop (to d2), support the e4 pawn with f3 and eventually castle Queenside.

Then, White wants to start an attack against Black’s King.

White plays Bg5 to go into the Byrne Variation.

In this setup, White wants to attack Black’s King in a similar way as he does in the 150 Attack: by moving the Queen to d2 and castling Queenside.

This is a dangerous attacking variation.

What is the Pirc Defense?

The Pirc Defense is a chess opening. It belongs to the field of semi-open games, as White starts by moving the King’s pawn two squares but Black does not reply symmetrically.

You can see what it looks like below.

How To Reach The Pirc Defense

  1. First, White must move the King’s pawn two squares (1.e4).
  2. Then, Black’s reply should be to play his Queen’s pawn one square (1...d6).
  3. In return, White increases the control of the center by moving his Queen’s pawn two squares (2.d4).
  4. Black replies by attacking White’s pawn and developing the Knight (2...Nf6).
  5. White protects this pawn and develops his own Knight (3.Nc3).
  6. And Black opens up the way for the Bishop to be developed (3...g6).

Take a look at the moves below.

Why Play The Pirc Defense

The Pirc Defense is a solid opening with a great reputation.

Many great chess players, including World Champions, have employed it in their games.

In the Pirc Defense, Black develops in a natural way without creating many weaknesses, as he doesn’t advance his pawns too much.

It does not have much opening theory, and it is easy to play since the piece setup will be similar in every variation.

Every move explained

Austrian Attack (4.f4)

How To Reach It

The Austrian Attack appears on the board after the following moves:

  1. e4 d6
  2. d4 Nf6
  3. Nc3 g6
  4. f4

You can see the moves here.

Why play the Austrian Attack

The Austrian Attack is the most popular option in the Pirc Defense. It is an ambitious, direct and aggressive setup.

White tries to start an attack against Black’s King by expanding on the Kingside and naturally developing his pieces.

White's Moves

Play Bd3 followed by e5

White wants to develop the light-squared Bishop to d3.

The idea behind this move is to open up the way towards the King by pushing e4-e5. This is a good idea as the advance is supported by the d and f pawns.

Play d5 to gain space

Another idea that White can play is to gain space by closing the center with d5.

This makes sense especially because Black has played a solid setup in which no pawns have surpassed the sixth rank.

Attack by playing f5

One of White’s main goals in the Austrian Attack is to launch an attack against Black’s King.

An effective way of doing so is by playing f4-f5 at some point, since this creates tension with Black’s g6 pawn.

Black's moves

Challenge the center with c5

In the Pirc Defense, Black does not have much space nor central control.

A good idea for Black is to challenge White’s central domination by playing c7-c5. This move gains space because Black had not crossed the fifth rank with any pawn up to this point. It also may give Black some control over the center if he manages to exchange this pawn by the one on d4, or if he forces White to exchange on c5 himself.

Challenge the center with c6-d5

Often, there are many ways of doing the same thing.

Black’s idea: to challenge White’s center. He can do so by playing c5, as we have just seen, or choose a different idea, which is to push the d-pawn instead.

Expand with e5

Besides playing c5 and d5, Black also has another way of challenging White’s position.

It is to expand in the center with e5. This is a natural idea because the pawn on d6 supports this advance.

Two Knights System (4.Nf3)

How To Reach It

The Two Knights System appears on the board after the following moves:

  1. e4 d6
  2. d4 Nf6
  3. Nc3 g6
  4. Nf3

You can see the moves here.

Why play the Two Knights System

This variation is the second most popular line in the Pirc Defense.

White develops his pieces in a fast and natural way, without creating any weaknesses. The position is very easy to play even without knowing much theory.

White's Moves

Expand on the Queenside with a4

In this variation, White can aim to gain space on the Queenside.

The best way of doing so is by pushing the a-pawn, first to a4 and then eventually to a5, in order to restrict Black’s position.

Play Be3 followed by Qd2 and Bh6

White can also try to start an attack against Black’s King.

The best way of doing this is by maneuvering the pieces. One of the main ideas is to develop the dark-squared Bishop to e3, play the Queen behind it to d2, and eventually play the Bishop to h6.

Play e5 to gain more space

The Knight on f3 supports the advance of the e-pawn.

If White prepares this move, it can be a good idea to gain more space and attack Black’s Knight on f6, forcing it to lose time.

Black's moves

Activate the Bishop by playing Bg4

It is not easy for Black to find a place for his light-squared Bishop.

The best idea is to play Bg4 - it threatens an exchange on f3 and the Bishop will be well-placed there. This is the best square for the Bishop: it cannot go to f5 as that square is controlled by White’s pawn on e4; if it were to move to e6, it could easily be attacked by the move d4-d5; on d7, it would take away the Knight’s natural development square. This leaves us with g4 and explains why Bg4 is such a good idea for Black.

Play a5 followed by Nb4

As we have seen, one of White’s main ideas is to play a4.

In order not to allow his position to be restricted, Black should reply with a5 himself, and follow by playing Na6-Nb4.

There, the Knight will be extremely active.

Challenge the center with d5

One of Black’s main problems in the Pirc is that he doesn’t have enough space for his pieces.

In order to create space, it is important to challenge White’s central control, and the best way of doing so is by playing d5, supported by c6.

150 Attack (4.Be3)

How To Reach It

The 150 Attack appears on the board after the following moves:

  1. e4 d6
  2. d4 Nf6
  3. Nc3 g6
  4. Be3

You can see the moves here.

Why play the 150 Attack

White’s idea is very straightforward: to launch a quick attack aimed at Black’s King.

The main idea is to play Qd2 and castle Queenside, and follow the attack by playing the Bishop to h6 and advancing the h-pawn.

White's Moves

Play Qd2 followed by Bh6

The main idea behind this setup is to play Qd2, behind the Bishop, in order to support the move Bh6.

White tries to exchange the dark-squared Bishops.

Without the Bishop, the dark squares around Black’s King will be weakened, and so will his King.

Play f3 to support the e4 pawn and allow g4

One of the most important moves for White in this setup is f3.

This move gives stability to the center because it protects the e4 pawn, and it also supports the attack by allowing the g2-g4 advance to happen.

Attack the King with h4-h5

After placing all of the pieces ready to attack and safeguarding his own King on the Queenside, White starts his attack.

One of the most dangerous ideas is to push the h-pawn to h4 and then to h5, creating tension on g6 and eventually opening up the h-file.

Black's moves

Expand on the Queenside with b5

Since White wants to attack the Kingside, it is natural for Black to attack on the Queenside.

One of the best ideas for Black is to play b5, supported by the pawn on c6.

Place the Knight on c4

By playing c6 and then b5, Black will increase control over the c4 square.

It is a good idea to bring the Knight to this square, because from there, the Knight controls the Queenside and the center.

Develop the Queen to a5

The move c6 opens up the way for the Queen.

On a5, the Queen could potentially help create an attack against White’s King. It also pins the Knight on c3, and, in many cases, the e4 pawn could be hanging.

Byrne Variation (4.Bg5)

How To Reach It

The Byrne Variation appears on the board after the following moves:

  1. e4 d6
  2. d4 Nf6
  3. Nc3 g6
  4. Bg5

You can see the moves here.

Why play the Byrne Variation

This variation is extremely sharp and aggressive, similarly to the 150 Attack.

White develops quickly and has a straightforward attacking plan, which is not easy to defend with the Black pieces.

White's Moves

Play Qd2 to support Bh6

White plays the move Bg5 with an idea that is very similar to that of the 150 Attack: to play Qd2 in order to support the move Bh6.

White wants to exchange the dark-squared Bishops in order to create weak squares around Black’s King.

Take the Knight on f6

The main difference between this variation and the 150 Attack is that White can eventually take the Knight on f6 and ruin Black’s pawn structure.

Black's moves

Expand on the Queenside with b5

Since White’s setup is aimed at attacking Black’s Kingside, Black must react on the other side of the board.

An effective way of doing so is by expanding on the Queenside with c6 and b5.

Chase the Bishop away with h6

One of the main differences between the Byrne Variation and the 150 Attack is that the Bishop on g5 is more vulnerable.

Black can attack this Bishop with h6, forcing it to drop back and prevent an exchange.

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