Pirc Defense is a King’s Pawn Opening that starts with 1. e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6. It is a hypermodern opening. It means that black is not going straight to attack white’s center as in 1.e4 e5 or 1.e4 d5 (Scandinavian defense). Black’s aim is to quietly complete the development, castle as quickly as possible and only then play for center. Black is also ready to surrender the e5 square to white in order to quickly finish the development. Pirc defense is a very good choice for positional players.
White has three main choices here. 4.f4 is the Austrian attack which is the most aggressive form of play from white. 4.Be3 is possible with the idea of creating a pawn storm, similar to the style of Sicillian dragon variation. 4.Nf3 is the classical system where white also prefers a positional kind of play.
The Austrian attack with 4.f4
4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 is called the Austrian attack. White wants to make the most of his space advantage and goes to occupy the e5 square quickly.
The main line goes 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 Bg4 8.Be3 and both sides have completed their development. It appears that white controls more center with his three pawns d4,e4, and f4. But black is now ready to challenge the center with direct 8…e5 which is the most popular choice.
After 8…e5 real fight for the center begins and both forces are fully developed to fight.
However, instead of 6.Bd3, white can also choose a more aggressive move 6.e5.
After 6…dxe5 7.fxe5 Nd5 Black has a good game forward. Black can also choose to simply retreat with 6…Nfd7 with the idea of challenging center with c5. After 7.h4 c5 the game could take a sharp turn. For example, the game could go 8.h5 cxd4 9.hxg6 dxc3 10.gxf7+ Rxf7 11.Bc4 where white has sacrificed a piece temporarily for a good attack.
Black is currently material ahead but has to be very careful because white’s pieces are very active and black’s king is weaker. The open rook on h file, the threats like Ng5 and Qh5 are always in the air. Black has to be very precise to defend here.
White can choose to castle on the opposite side and create a pawn storm with 4.Be3 Bg7 5.Qd2 c6 6.f3 b5 7.g4 Nbd7 8.0-0-0. Here black can play 8…0-0 9.h4 accepting the challenge and play of opposite wings attack or black can delay his short castle and continue with either b4 or a5.
But it is clear that the battle is going to be sharp and it is a question of which side delivers a faster attack. This position is similar to some of sicillian dragon variation positions where this opposite wings attack is normal. Therefore it is recommended to also study that opening to understand the differences and similarities between two openings.
4.Nf3, the classical system
The most positional system white can play is 4.Nf3 Bg7, where black has nothing immediate to worry about. But white also keeps his slight space advantage for long term.
The main line goes 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 Bg4 with a long positional battle. White can also play 5.h3 restricting the development of black’s light squared bishop. After 5…0-0 6.Be3 c6 7.a4 black can play 7…d5 or 7…b6 and Bb7 with a good game.
The pirc defense is a very good choice for black against almost any opponent because white’s advantage depends on how well he can maximize his very slightly better control of the center. It takes precise positional play to maintain that slight advantage; On the other hand black has no problem in completing the development.
Black’s set-up resembles that of the King’s Indian defense against 1.d4. So if you like to play the King’s Indian defense against 1.d4, the pirc defense is really an option worth considering. Also, black has the advantage that white is forced to play 3.Nc3 and not 3.c4 which could transpose to the King’s Indian defense. Thus black also maintains a good control on d5 square and play d5 if the position is appropriate.