Interesting Resource for the Pirc Defence against the Byrne Variation

Looking for some improvement over a recent lost (Heinechen) I re-opened the much-recommended book ‘The Pirc, move by move’ by GM Nigel Davies (Everyman Chess). There I stumbled upon an ambitious and unorthodox idea that caught my attention: …d5!?, an interesting resource for the Pirc Defence against the Byrne Variation.

It happens to me way too often. Good opening preparation. A few decent moves in the middle game. Time pressure, blunder, and curtains down. Believe me, I know how truly painful that is. I play just two or three International Rating Tournaments a year so every missed opportunity over the chessboard is like a knife in the thigh.

Exactly a month ago I confronted a FIDE Master for the first time in a classical game. Of course, I was a bit nervous but at the same time quite confident about my prep. My opponent played a bit overconfidently and allowed me to take the initiative with the black pieces rather early. All thanks to the aforementioned resource.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bg5 Bg7 5.Qd2 O-O 6.O-O-O

Pérez-Duba, Realidades II 2018 (1), position after 6.0-0-0

The Pirc Defense has been part of my repertoire for some time and could not be a surprise for anyone —even when I doubt very much the Master had prepared anything special for such a low-rated player. The position is not common. Instead of castling, Black usually plays 5…h6 chasing the bishop to g3 after 6.Bh4 g5 7.Bg3 Nh5 8.0-0-0, as in Heinechen-Duba, Encarnación, 2018.

I didn’t feel much comfortable about weakening the kingside early so I decided to keep the tension and castle. Actually, the diagrammed position has been reached at the top level a couple of times, the main continuation being 6…c6. Instead, I went for the unnatural 6…d5!?. Suddenly, White is being asked some questions in the center. 7.e5 Ne4 8.Nxe4 dxe4.

position after 8…dxe4

The pawn on e4 is quite annoying for White. It hinders the natural development of the knight and premature attempts to capture it will allow serious counterplay for Black, for example, 9.Qe3 Bf5 10.Ne2 c5! preparing …Qa5 and putting pressure on the e5 pawn. Pérez reacted a bit hasty and played 9.h4. I was expecting 9.f3 when after 9…c5 the position is already complex.

9…c5! an attack on the flank is answered by a break in the center. At this moment White grasped the danger in the position and after a long think of twenty minutes he came up with 10.c3?! compromising, even more, his situation. 10.d5 would have just dropped the e5 pawn. 10.h5 would have allowed Black to play 10…Qxd4 11.hxg6 hxg6 12.Qxd4 cxd4 13.Rxd4 Nc6! 14.Rxe4 Bf5 15.Re1 and the e5 pawn is doomed as well. The main problem with the text is that it allows 10…Qa5.

position after 10…Qa5

I was very pleased as to how the game had developed so far. The initiative is in Black’s camp. I had played my moves quite fast and that surely adds to the overall pressure on the White player. The king is under attack while Black’s pieces will start developing smoothly to natural squares.

11.Kb1 was a necessary move. The main problem with 11.Bc4 is that it stands awkwardly placed on the c file after …cxd4. For example 11…Nc6 12.Ne2 Bg4 13.h5 cxd4 14.cxd4 Rac8 and suddenly things don’t look so good for White. 11…Bf5 12.Ka1 Nc6.

position after 12…Nc6

Black has completed its development. Its pieces occupy optimal squares. Both bishops point menacingly to the king. The knight exerts pressure on the center while threatens to join the attack via b4. Finally, the rooks are connected and about to enter the scene. Nothing to complain about so far.

On the other hand, White needs at least two moves to complete its development. Its king is starting to sweat and there’s no easy plan to fix the problems of its position. Pérez chose the very line I was expecting and sadly it triggered my first mistake. 13.d5 Nxe5 14.Bxe7 Rfe8 15.d6.

position after 15.d6

Stockfish gives an evaluation of minus four which I translate into ‘close to winning’. I had seen this position in advance and my first —and only— choice was to play 15…Nc6, threatening the bishop and stopping all d7 nasty ideas. I played it instantly without even pondering other moves. Note to self: don’t do this again man!

15…Be6 was the beginning of the end for White. To be completely honest, I’m not sure whether I would have played it or not if someone had pointed it to me —while it looks dangerous for White I don’t see a clear win here. But anyway, the point is that I should have looked at the board as always and ponder some alternatives.

The text is not bad at all but allows White to seize the important a2-g8 diagonal, 16.Bc4. Black’s still winning but the attack has slowed down considerably. 16…Nxe7 17.dxe7 Rxe7 18.Qg5. I had overlooked this strong move.

position after 18.Qg5

I was quite confident of my position and started thinking about winning chances. I’m a pawn up. And not any pawn. That …d5 pawn which inspired the piece of chess article you’re reading is still on the board and doing its magic! Moreover, at this moment I also started dreaming with powerful sacrifices on c3 to achieve glory. And to add a bit more, White isn’t developed yet!

I decided to calm down and play it cool, avoiding double-edge lines which will benefit my strong opponent. With hindsight I believe that was an error. Sometimes you have to take some risks in order to weaken even more the enemy’s position. That being said I went for 18…Rae8 19.Ne2 e3 20.f3 b5.

position after 20…b5

Pérez spent some time in this position. Only after playing my last move did I notice that White can play 21.g4. That was exactly the kind of move I wanted to avoid. Now the engine gives minus five but I’m far away from Stockfish’s horizon. My intention was to play the position slowly, maybe exchanging some pieces and then playing the passed pawn.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It reflects my complete lack of understanding of the position. 21.g4 is just the last bravado my opponent could wield. The remaining moves weren’t the worst but step by step allowed my opponent to reorganize and finally achieve an equal position which he converted without mercy. Only words of praise for him.

The reason of this article was just to share the interesting resource for the Pirc Defence against the Byrne Variation so the rest of the game go without commentary. 21…Bc2 22.Rc1 bxc4 23.Rxc2 Rd7 24.h5 Rd6 25.hxg6 hxg6 26.Nc1 Ra6 27.Re1 Rae6 28.f4 Rd6 29.f5 Qa4 30.Kb1 Qd7 31.fxg6 Rxg6 32.Qxc5 Qxg4 33.Rxe3 Rxe3 34.Qxe3 Bh6 35.Qe8+ Kg7 36.Qe5+ Kh7 37.b3 Bxc1 38.Rxc1 cxb3 39.axb3 Qg2 40.Rc2 Qf1+ 41.Kb2 Qf6 42.Qxf6 Rxf6 43.c4 Kg8 44.c5 Rc6 45.b4 a6 46.Kb3 Kf8 47.Kc4 Ke7 48.Kd5 Kd7 49.Rf2 f6 50.Rh2 Rc7 51.c6+ Kd8 52.Kd6 1-0

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