GM Joel on the Pirc Print E-mail
By GM Joel Benjamin   
October 15, 2007
Dear Joel,
I have recently been checking out any Chess Life Magazine that I can from our local library; some are dated as far back as 1993. I came across a variation in the Pirc that I had been looking at independently.
1.e4 d6
2.d4 Nf6

The article that I read suggested that 3…e5 is a good response.  I strongly disagree; let me explain.  If the pawns are exchanged by 4.dxe5 dxe5, then the queens also get exchanged and black cannot castle.  I reason that this is not the intent of black, but rather to open the diagonal for the queen, with the hopes of winning an exchange.
Position after 3...e5

4.dxe5 Nxe4
5.fxe4 Qh4+
6.g3 Qxe4+

forking the Rook.  But 7.Qe2 Qxh1 allows a discovered check with  8.exd6, now Black has 3 choices: 

Position after 7...Qxh1

A. 8…Kd8 and get checked again with dxc7+, practically forcing the King to capture on c7, or he can play
B.8…Kd7, which looks bad, exposing the king and locking in the c8-bishop
C. The main line, 8…Be6, which seems the most natural.
  White's next move will be 8… Nf3 locking in the black queen, with the intent of Kf2, followed by Bg2 winning the queen.  
9. Nf3 Bxd6
With the idea to open the h-file for the queen to escape. White would then cover the g3 square with 10.Kf2, and the Bg2 threat still remains.
10. ...Nc6
 hoping for Nd4, forcing the Nf3 to capture Nxd4 is prevented with
11.c3 if then 11… Ne5 12. Nbd2, ... and Black's queen will soon be lost. What do you think of my analysis?
 Edward L. Journey
Last rated 1781 (to the best of my remembrance).

I applaud your willingness to question authority, but here I cannot agree with your conclusions—or your assumptions, for that matter.  At the end of your analysis Black need not lose his queen.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.f3 e5 4.dxe5 Nxe4 5.fxe4 Qh4+ 6.g3 Qxe4+ 7.Qe2 Qxh1 8.exd6+ Be6 9.Nf3 Bxd6 10.Kf2 Nc6 11.c3 Ne5 12.Nbd2

Position after 12.Nbd2

In fact, White is not even threatening to win the queen; if he could move again, 13.Bg2 Ng4 mate would not be to his liking.  Black has a host of winning moves—12…Ng4+, 12…Bc5+, 0-0-0—take your pick.

But let’s back up a little. 

Position after 5...Qh4+

You assumed that White must play 6.g3, but White can simply take his king to d2.  It looks awkward, but Black has only one piece out and no time to exploit White’s walking king.  For instance, 6…Qxe4 7.exd6 Bxd6 8.Qe2! and White kills the attack by exchanging queens.  Better is 6…dxe5, but after 7.Qf3 (White can give a second pawn with 7.Nf3dxe5 8.Qe2 Qd5+ 9.Ke1 Nc6 10.Nc3 but I think that gives Black more chances in the long run) 7…Bg4 8.Qg3 Qh6+ 9.Qe3 Qf6 10.Nf3 Nd7 11.c3 White’s king will be pretty safe on c2 and he has an extra piece to enjoy.

You might be cheered to hear that I once risked the knight sacrifice against GM Boris Gulko in a similar position:  1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.f3 e5 4.d5 Nxe4!? 
Position after 4...Nxe4

Some annotators give this a “?” but Black has fared well with 5…Nxe4 in very limited practice.  I don’t think White has a big advantage, and the position is quite complicated.


You made another faulty supposition even earlier. Black does indeed intend to recapture on e5.  Losing the castling option is not nearly so important with the queens exchanged.  White sometimes plays this line looking for a slow squeeze, but Black more or less holds the balance:  1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.f3 e5 (this is the most common move order) 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 Ke8 (6…Be6 has also been played but White has better long-term possibilities there).  I’ve played this position without problems in the past, for instance:

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