The Austrian Attack in the Pirc

The board 1 game from last Thursday’s Schenectady A – Capital Region CDCL match was a Pirc Defense. For the last thirty years I have used the Pirc as my primary answer to 1 e4. At the Wednesday Albany Club meeting a young man asked me what I thought about the Pirc during some skittles play, and David Finnerman asked a similar question of me after his game ended. Not needing too much persuasion to write about the Pirc, it seemed the Sells – Finnerman game would a convenient platform where what little I have learned about this opening could be presented.

Let me first say I am far from an expert on this opening. There excellent books on the market about the Pirc where you can find true expert opinions about this opening. The one work that made the subject most clear for me is Alburt’s and Chernin’s Pirc Alert! It is still in print I believe. If you want to use the Pirc this is a valuable resource for players up 2200.

There is one caveat that is true for Pirc Alert!, and it applies to every other opening book I have read: The conclusions and recommendations are on many points only opinions of the authors. In this case true they are GM’s, but you will see in the illustrative games some very good players may not always agree with the ideas. In today’s article we will touch on the different opinions about the 5th move for Black. These differences are not mine, rather it is in large part what other Grandmasters seem to believe based on their games. I tend to give greater weight to what a GM plays as opposed to what he writes.

Most of the illustrative games are the work of World Champions before, during or shortly after their reigns. There is not enough space even on a blog to exhaust the supply of interesting Pirc Defense games. My goal will be achieved if this article inspires some to dig into the databases and discover more of the possibilities of this opening.

The game trundled on for some more moves in Finnerman’s effort to win the game and tie the match. The extra effort was not rewarded and the draw agreed. White understood exactly what was required to hold the position. This was the last game to finish in the match. Both players gave their all in a game of significance for both teams.}

The Illustrative games below set out some of the critical issues in the Pirc Defense, Austrian Attack. Which choice to prefer: 5…, c5; or 5…, 0-0? If 5…, c5; what to do about 6 Bb5+, and 7 e5? When using the Pirc, players of the Black pieces should be aware of Seirawan’s innovation in the 5…, c5; line. For the players of the White pieces avoidance of Yasser’s forced draw requires a willingness explore really tough chess.

Game 1 – The future World Champion demonstrates 5…, 0-0; can give Black chances to win.

Game 2 – A couple of years before things did not work out quite so well for him.

Game 3 – Using 5…, 0-0; was not confined to just Anand.

Game 4 – Seirawan shook up things in the Pirc when he sprung his innovation on the world. After Yasser demonstrated it, all was obvious. Beforehand that was not so.

Game 5 – Now we are getting into an area where theory gets deep. Playing here without familiarity with theory is very difficult’

Game 6 – A little history. Fischer’s Pirc was a big surprise to us onlookers in the 1972 match with Spassky

Game 7 – Spassky’s subsequent use of the Pirc against a tough opponent, along with the Fischer game started me thinking about this opening. I thought my then usual French Defense to 1. e4, was too predictable. My classical bias was strong, and it took another six or seven years before I switched.

Game 8 – The Pirc continues to appear in the games of the best players. Here is an example from not so long ago:

After that lengthy trip through the above collection of Pirc Defenses, Austrian Attacks how can it be summed up? Both 5…, 0-0; and 5…, c5; have their adherents at the highest levels of chess. With 5…, c5; Black aims for a transposition into a decent position from the Dragon Sicilian. If you mean to use 5…, c5; booking up on the Dragon-type middle games is time well spent. If you want to use 5…, 0-0; required is a certain amount of steely determination to wait for your chance to strike back in the center as David did in this game.

In the 5…, c5; line there are critical variations involving 6 Bb5+, and 7 e5. These are most difficult to workout over the board as I found in my own games. The difficulty seems to be because of a need to calculate precisely in positions that are rather different from what is seen in other more classical openings. Very accurate calculation in unusual positions is demanding.

To illustrate this point: A researcher, a Russian I believe, did an experiment with titled chess players. They were given a very brief look at two sets of chess positions; one set was of positions culled from actual games, the other were constructed positions with the pieces randomly placed. The subjects were then tested to see how accurate was their recall of the test positions. The positions from actual games were recalled in far greater accuracy than were the random positions. This experiment confirms that one of skills good players have is pattern recognition. The researcher further concluded that good players compare the position before them to the stock of positions from their experience and likely reach decisions, in part at least, through the comparison: this move worked elsewhere before, let’s see if it will work here?

When a Pirc game goes off into the rather un-classical situations of the 5…, c5 6 Bb5+ Bd7 7 e5 Ng4 8 e6, line, the room for error expands. With the Pirc not being a first choice opening for most, and the Austrian Attack positions rarer since it is not White’s only option, many, if not most players, do not have an extensive store of previous positions to draw upon. Right from the beginning of the game, Black, if he is well prepared, welcomes the incisive response of the Austrian. Black can play for a win. That is not something the more classical openings offer.

When 5…, 0-0; is Black’s choice the positions are not quite so strange. At a casual glance it often appears White is very dominant in the center. Black then needs to be very alert to find the right moment to hit back in the center. Iron nerve and self-confidence are essential for Black not to lose heart

As theory has advanced over the years White has developed and improved many alternatives to the Austrian: 4 Nf3, 4 f3, 4 Bg5, and so on. By not taking up so wide a center with 4 f4, White can keep the game more usual looking and avoid the fantasy Black seeks. If Black means to use the Pirc, he has to be ready to face these options also.


Author: Bill Little

I began playing chess at the Schenectady Chess Club in 1950. I was just a little guy, and the warm welcome there and then won my devotion to the game and to the Club. Over the many years with the Club I have won the Championship four or five times. My rating peak was just under 2100. Today I am lucky to hang in in middle 1900s.