Modern Defense: ECO B06

Introduction

The Modern Defense is a complete chess opening system for black. It avoids the mainstream sort of memorization involved in most openings, and is solid enough to see a good deal of GM play.

It is characterized by the move: 1 ... g6! and it is amazing how versatile it is. Its strength lies in its flexibility and is one of the rare openings that let black dictate how the game will go. A fairly common dialogue I've had is as follows:

Chessperson: What do you play against e4?
Me: g6
Chessperson: How about d4?
Me: g6
Chessperson (now eyeing me strangely): How about c4, b4, f4, Nc3, Nc6?
Me: g6, g6, g6, g6, and... umm... g6.

Do you see a trend here? I hope so. The Modern is everything you need, once you understand the basic ideas behind it. That and its power to transpose into a number of other openings (preferably when white's pieces are on the wrong squares) makes it a complete repetoire for black wrapped up nicely in one theoretical package with very little memorization. I've been playing it at the amateur level for 7 years now, and have not considered another line for black for at least six. I'll get to why I had trouble with it early on in my analysis.

Main Line

The main line is more positional than a list of moves. Move order can be very subtle in the Modern, and that often gives an advantage to the player with the black pieces. The basic idea is to play the g pawn to g6, the d pawn to d6, and the dark square bishop to g7, Against the very common 1. e4 ... 2. d4 followed by a knight developing to c3 or f3 or a bishop perhaps to c4, the Modern lives up to its name, giving up physical control of the center in exchange for intense pressure on the flanks. The idea is to let white build up a big center and then prove that his center makes a better target than a point of attack.

In most of the common positions after move two, black controls the long dark square diagonal. If you have a hankering to waste that by pushing e5 at some point, forget about it. It's usually better to trade the fianchettoed bishop off, rather than subject it to imprisonment, and perhaps waste moves trying to make it active again. GM David Norwood wrote a book several years ago called "Winning with the Modern." In this book, every example and line he used (with very few exceptions) turned the g7 bishop into a useless lump. This is why I had a very hard time playing this opening in the beginning. I'm an attacking player, and to develop a piece and then trap it indefinitely seems to me absurd. For a patient and passive player, it may work, but it wasn't working for me. And at the time, I wasn't entirely sure why. Then I read a couple of articles by GM Nigel Davies on the Modern, where he specifically denounced any attempt to block the dark square diagonal, and said "You want that bishop to breathe fire down the long diagonal." He went on to illustrate a couple of games that demonstrated his using the Modern as an attacking opening. I have never looked back since then.

If you are playing a 'main line' Modern, you should avoid bringing your g8 knight to f6. This wanders into Pirc territory instantly, and while that's not a bad thing in itself, you should be prepared for any transposition you might make into a more mainstream opening.

Other important ideas in the Modern are getting your knights to possibly d7 and e7 to increase your remote pressure on the center, and preparing for an eventual center attack with d5, c5, f5, or however you have gathered it together.

Transposition

One of the great things about the Modern is its potential transpositional power. You are committing nothing by g6. You could follow it up with c5 and go straight into a Silcilian if you wished (although I don't recommend it, as one of the beauties of the Modern is avoiding analysis out to move 31, and the Sicilian has definitely been analyzed to death). You are forcing white to show their hand, and then you can even take a couple of more moves before you decide what road you want to take.

If you think about how many black openings use g6 with a fianchettoed bishop, it's easy to see the possibilities. It's very common to transpose into a Caro-Kann or Pirc, depending on your preferences, and among players who don't shun books full of theory, the KID and Sicilian can also come easily from g6.

One of my favorite closed positions that arises from the Modern is the Gurgenidze position against the Austrian Attack. The move order can vary, but it is usually something like this:

  1. e4 g6
  2. d4 Bg7
  3. Nc3 c6
  4. f4 d5!

This move forces white to push the e-pawn, or lose everything he has built in the center. Followed by h5!?, it weakens f5 severely, and if you manage to get a knight over there, just watch as your opponent ruins his position trying to dislodge it. Other ideas in the Gurgenidze include Bg4 to pin the knight, followed by an exchange for it, which would prove more useful in a very closed position, bringing the dark square bishop back to f8 where it can be useful, and locking up the center tightly with an eventual e6. Play will obviously be on the flanks, so I suggest against castling kingside (or usually castling at all). The first time I used this opening in tournament play, I lost, but not before giving my opponent (then rated 300 points higher than me) a very strong fight. He came to me about 30 minutes later, as I was smoking outside and said in an accusing tone "You tricked me into a Caro-Kann!" as if I had comitted some crime against humanity in doing so. This is the very sort of thing that makes playing the Modern warm my heart.

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