A Pirc Quirk

A Pirc Quirk

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Dsachs asked:

I had a question about a tactic in the lines of Pirc where white plays Bc4. For example, 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bc4 Bg7.

In this setup Black has the chance to play ...Nxe4 when Nxe4 ...d5 forks e4 and c4 and regains the piece. I know White is able to win the pawn back with Bxf7+, but I’ve also noticed my opponents very rarely find this line. So I’d like you the phrase your response in a parallel dimension of chess where this isn’t possible, if you’re willing to do so.

Basically, I’m not sure how important being able to win this pawn should be to Black’s goals. Lately I’ve been ignoring …Nxe4 in favor of castling and improving Black’s position for a few moves. My reason for doing so is to avoid wasting opening tempi just for a pawn. Is this crazy? 

Dear Mr. Dsachs:

I have no way of knowing if you (or I, for that matter) are or are not crazy, demented, schizophrenic, bi-polar, or simply whacked out of your mind. However, I’d bet that even in a parallel dimension not taking a free pawn when it’s given to you is karmic folly since you are purposely spitting on a gift from the gods for reasons that defy understanding. Have no doubt that these elder gods WILL get back at you for this affront – do you really want to make an enemy of Kali?

But, let’s leave your parallel dimension and return to the asylum planet that we actually reside on. Though madness is the norm here, even the most cracked individual will snort up a pawn if it’s freely offered (I prefer to smash it into powder first, but the pawn will fit if you breathe in very, very hard). Thus after 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bc4, 4…Nxe4 would be the only intelligent move IF it actually won a pawn. But … it doesn’t. First off, 4...Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Bd3 regains the pawn, while 4…Nxe4 5.Bxf7+ Kxf7 6.Nxe4 also creates material parity. In fact, it’s the latter line that has chased most players away from 4…Nxe4 since, though Black has two Bishops and more center pawns, his iffy King position and the potential weakness of e7 and e6 appears to be in white’s favor.

So, allow me to implore you to take free pawns if they are really free (or only cost a few cents). I should add that you not winning the e4-pawn just because your opponents can’t find the two “I’m easily getting my pawn back” variations is disturbing. You shouldn’t make decisions based on the hope that people won’t see the obvious, but rather make your decisions on the truth of the situation.

Now let’s jig our way to the value of 4.Bc4. This system, with the addition of 4…Bg7 5.Qe2, used to be very popular and very dangerous, but now it’s not thought to be that big a deal. Here’s a quick taste of its theory: 

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bc4 Bg7 5.Qe2 Nc6!

The discovery of this move stopped the bleeding that often occurred from other lines:

5…c6 6.e5 Nd5 7.Bd2 0-0 8.0-0-0 Be6 9.Nf3 Nxc3 10.Bxc3 Bxc4 11.Qxc4 b5 12.Qe2 Qb6 13.Kb1 b4 14.Bd2 c5 15.dxc5 dxc5 16.h4 Nc6 17.h5 Rad8 18.hxg6 hxg6 19.Rde1 Nd4 20.Nxd4 Rxd4 21.Bh6 Bxh6 22.Rxh6 Kg7 23.Reh1 Rg8 24.Qf3 f5 25.exf6+ exf6 26.Rh7+ Kf8 27.Rb7 Qe6 28.Rxa7 Re4 29.Rd1 Qf5 30.Rd8+ Re8 31.Rxe8+, 1-0, Silman - M.Sullivan, San Francisco 1977.

5…0-0 6.e5 dxe5 7.dxe5 Ne8 8.Bg5 c6 9.h3 h6 10.Bh4 b5 11.Bb3 Kh7 12.Nf3 a5 13.a4 b4 14.Ne4 f6 15.g4 Ba6 16.Qe3 fxe5 17.Nc5 Bc8 18.Nxe5 Qc7 19.Nxg6 Rf6 20.Bxf6 Bxf6 21.Nf8+, 1-0, Silman - Ballone, C. Capps Memorial 1977.


Sharp, scary, but perhaps not best. James Vigus makes a case for 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Bb5 in his excellent book, The Pirc in Black and White (Everyman Chess, 2007).


6…Nd7 7.Nf3 Nb6 8.Bb3 0-0 9.h3 (9.Bf4!?) 9…Na5 10.0-0 d5 11.Bf4 f6 12.Rfe1 c6 13.Nd1 (13.e6!?) 13…g5 14.Bd2 Nac4 15.exf6 exf6 16.Bb4 Nd6 17.Qe7 Qxe7 18.Rxe7 Rd8 19.c3 Bf8 20.Re2 Bf5 21.Ne3 Bd3 22.Ree1 Re8 23.h4 h6 24.hxg5 hxg5 25.Nh2 Kf7 26.Nhg4 Nbc4 27.Rad1 Nxe3 28.Nxe3 Bg6 29.f3 a5 30.Bc5 Rxe3 31.Rxe3 a4 32.Bxd5+ cxd5 33.Re2 Re8 34.Rxe8 Nxe8 35.Kf2 Nc7 36.Bxf8 Kxf8 37.Ke3 Nb5 38.Kd2 a3 39.b3 Nd6 40.Rh1 Kg7 41.Re1 Kf7 42.Rh1 Kg7 43.Re1 Kf7 44.Rh1 Kg7, 1/2 -1/2, D.Pruess - M.Molner, US Chess League 2006.

6…Nxd4 7.exf6 Nxe2 8.fxg7 Rg8 9.Ngxe2 was thought to be just good for White since three minor pieces can often run rings around a Queen. However, there’s been some argument about this assessment over the years, though I personally would rather play with the three minor pieces.


7.e6 was given several trials in its day, but was found wanting after 7…Nxd4 8.Qxg4 Nxc2+.

7…0-0 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.h3 Nh6 10.Nf3 c5

Ripping open the position for black’s Bishops.

11.dxc5 Bb7 12.Bxh6 Bxh6 13.0-0 Rb8 14.Rab1 Bg7 15.exd6 exd6 16.cxd6 Qxd6 17.Rfe1 Qc6 18.Qe3 a5 19.Qf4 Rfe8 20.Rbd1 Re6 21.Rxe6 fxe6 22.Qg5 Rf8 23.Rd8 Qb6 24.Rxf8+ Bxf8 25.b3 Bxf3 26.gxf3 Qc6 27.Ne4 Qxc2 28.Qxa5 Qc1+ 29.Kg2 Qf4 30.Qg5 Qf7 31.Qb5 c5 32.a4 Qf4 33.a5 Kg7, 1-0, A.Kveinys (2535) - S.Keskinen, Jyvaskyla 2001. Though Kveinys won this game, it’s not clear if White really achieved a significant advantage in the opening.

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