The Modern Defence
by GM Nigel Davies
It was in the late 1970s that I first made the
aquaintance of this provocative counter-attacking defence.
Under the influence of Raymond Keene, a great many British
players were playing it around that time and I decided to
jump on the bandwagon. Later on it proved quite difficult to
jump off again and play more classical openings, but then
that's another story.
With his first two moves, 1...g6 and 2...Bg7 Black makes
no attempt whatsoever to follow the tried and trusted
classical precept of occupying the center. Instead he calmly
fianchettoes a bishop and argues the he can attend to things
like development later in the game.
Some practitioners of the Modern (Colin McNab and David
Norwood for example) like to try and close the position up
with ...c6 and possible ...d5. But I have my own
interpretation involving a fierce counterattack against the
Above all I want that bishop on g7 to breathe fire, to
strike terror along the h8-a1 diagonal. Sometimes I play
...c7-c5, sometimes ...e7-e5, but always something against
the d4 square and with that long diagonal in mind.
There isn't enough time to show all the ins and outs of
this defence, but the following games show my interpretation
in action against a variety of White set-ups and how this
opening has served me faithfully in some critical games.
Amongst my victims with this opening are the likes of Bent
Larsen and Viswanathan Anand, but on this occasion I'll show
you the real crushes!
The first game was played in the last round of the
student team Championships in Graz 1981 in which the England
team was going for the silver medal....
Student Team Ch., Graz (Austria), 1981
1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4
According to the late Mikhail Botvinnik, setting up the
pawns on d4, c4 and e4 is the strongest answer to the Modern
Defence. I have usually preferred my `stock' recipe; a
counterattack against the d4 square.
4...Nc6! 5.Be3 e5! 6.d5 Nce7
Reaching a kind of King's Indian Defence in which the
fact that Black's knight has not been developed on f6 yet
means that he can sometimes play ...f7-f5 before bringing it
out. White takes immediate measures against this.
7.g4 c5 8.h4 Nf6 9.g5 Nh5 10.Be2 Nf4 11.Bf3 0-0 12.Nge2 f5
13.Qd2 Qa5 14.0-0-0 Rb8!!
One of the best moves I have ever played. The idea,
should White play quietly now, is to prise open the
queenside with ....b5 followed by ....a6. And there are
other points should White capture on f4.
15.Nxf4 exf4 16.Bxf4 fxe4 17.Bxd6
The line which most beautifully illustrates the power of
14...Rb8 is 17.Bxe4 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rxf4 19.Qxf4 Qxc3+ 20.Kb1
(or 20.Bc2 Bf5 21.Rd2 Qa1+) and now 20...b5, opening up the
b-file. White, by the way, loses a piece after 17.Nxe4
17...Rxf3! 18.Bxb8 Rxc3+! 19.Kb1
Or 19.bxc3 Bxc3 20.Qc2 Qa3+ 21.Kb1 Bf5 followed by
19...e3 20.fxe3 Bf5+ 21.Ka1 Rc2! 0-1
White lost on time by he could equally have resigned.
22.Qxa5 is met by 22...Bxb2+ 23.Kb1 Rd2+ followed by mate.
I still count this as my most artistic miniature.
This next game was one of the wins which earned my first
Grandmaster norm in Oslo 1988. After a few careless moves in
the opening Black develops a murderous attack. White, by the
way, is not a patzer. These days he has a rating of around
2500 and is on the verge of becoming a GM.
1.d4 d6 2.e4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.Be3 Nf6 6.h3
Preventing 6...Ng4 but losing time for development.
6...e5 7.dxe5 Nxe5 8.Bb3 0-0 9.Qd2 b5!
White's neglect of development allows Black to take the
10.f3 b4 11.Nd5 Nxd5 12.Bxd5 c6 13.Bb3 a5 14.a4 d5
Blasting open the center before White has got his cing
safe. If he had now tried to remedy this with 15.0-0-0
there would follow 15...Qf6 and after 16.Bd4 there is
16...c5!, distracting the bishop from the defence of b2.
15.exd5 Nc4! 16.Bxc4 Bxb2!
Suddenly White is in desperate trouble; the threats
include 17...Bxa1 and 17...Bc3, not to mention 17...Qh4+.
Even stronger than capturing the rook on a1, as that will
remain a threat.
18.Bf2 Qxc4 19.Rb1 Bc3 20.Nxc3 bxc3 21.Qd3 Re8+ 22.Kd1 Qa2!
23.Rc1 Ba6 24.Qxc3 Qxd5+ 25.Qd2 Rad8! 0-1
The final position shows the true extent of White's
Gausdal Peer-Gynt , 1990
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 Nc6
I was later to abandon this move after Dragan Velimirovic
answered it with 5.Bb5 in a tournament in Vrnjacka Banja in
1991. Since then I have answered the Austrian Attack (4.f4)
with 4...e6 followed by ...Ne7, ...Nd7, ...b6 and ...Bb7,
obtaining a similar set-up to the game.
5.Be3 Nf6 6.Nf3 e6 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 Ne7 9.Nd2 b6 10.a4 a6
Black's usual way of challenging White's set-up from this
structure. Here it proves especially effective because White
has plalyed the rather artificial 9.Nd2.
12.Qf2 Bb7 13.Bf3 Qc7 14.a5 cxd4 15.Bxd4 b5 16.Bb6 Qc8
17.Rac1 Nd7 18.Bd4
18.Be3 was better, as now Black rips apart what is left
of White's center.
18...e5 19.Be3 f5!
The opening of the position proves good for Black as his
pieces are better placed. Note that White's king also proves
weak, a consequence of 4.f4!
20.g3 exf4 21.gxf4 b4 22.Nd1 Nf6 23.Qg2 fxe4 24.Nxe4 Nxe4
25.Bxe4 Bxe4 26.Qxe4 Qg4+ 27.Kh1
27.Qg2 Qf5 would also have been unpleasant for White.
A suicidal pawn snatch but it is already rather difficult
to give White good advice.
Taking the knight allows 29...Qh3+ followed by 30...Qg3+
29...Nxf1+ 30.Kxf1 Qf3+ 31.Kg1 Rae8 32.Qd2 Rxf4! 0-1
White has had enough. 33.Bxf4 is answered by 33...Re2
threatening both mate and the queen.
For a period of about 10 years I played nothing but the
Modern, but in the late 1980s I started to branch out into
other openings. Even eating caviar every day can become
Yet faced with the prospect of having to win my last
round game for a GM norm in a tournament in Budapest, I
could hardly answer 1.e4 with 1...e5, after which I would
get a boring Four Knights or Ruy Lopez. The only chance was
the Modern Defence, and this was it's finest hour.
First Saturday Tournament, Budapest, May 1993
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nge2
The safe way of introducing the fianchetto line for
White, as after the immediate 4.g3 there is 4...Nc6 and if
5.Nge2 then 5...Bg4. After the text move I either play the
immediate 4...Nc6, or sometimes 4...a6 5.a4 Nc6.
4...Nc6 5.Be3 Nf6 6.h3 e5 7.dxe5 Nxe5 8.Ng3 0-0
The safe way to play it would have been 8...Be6 9.Qd2
Nc4, but given that I had to win this game I was not afraid
9.Qd2 Re8 10.0-0-0 b5!?
A pawn for an open file - not a bad deal with opposite
wing castling. If White doesn't capture Black gets the c4
square for his knight on e5.
11.Bxb5 Bd7 12.Be2
After 12.f4 my opponent didn't like the look of 12...Bxb5
13.fxe5 Rxe5 14.Bd4 Qe7, which he felt gave me good
compensation for the sacrificed exchange. In the post mortem
we looked at 12.Ba6!? but then 12...Be6 wasn't clear.
12.... Qb8 13.f4 Nc6 14.Bf3 Qb4
Preparing to move a rook to b8 and threaten mate on b2.
15.a3 Qb7 16.e5 Rab8 17.b3
An alternative way to defend b2 was with 17.Na4, but
then Black has 17...dxe5 18.fxe5 Qb5! 19.exf6 Bxf6 20.b3
Rxe3 21.Qxd7 Bg5 and if 22.Kb1 then 22...Rxb3+.
17...dxe5 18.fxe5 Rxe5 19.Nge4 Qa6!
It is less good to play this move after a preliminary
exchange of knights on e4. Thus 19...Nxe4 20.Nxe4 Qa6 can by
met by 21.a4 after which White's defences hold.
The decisive mistake. White should take this opportunity
to exchange on f6, as for the time being Black is forced to
recapture with the bishop. After Black's next move it
becomes possible to take back on f6 with the queen.
20...Na5! 21.Nxf6+ Qxf6!
The point, after which the latent threats along the long
h8-a1 diagonal prove decisive. Perhaps White thought that
his next move made the capture with the queen impossible,
but a serious disappointment is waiting.
Ouch! Only now did he see that the intended capture of my
rook on e5 is met by 23...Qa3+ followed by 24...Nxb3.
KAPOW! White must kiss his castled position goodbye.
24.Bxe5 Qb6! 0-1
White has had enough. The threat is 25...Rb1+, the rook
is immune to capture because of the knight fork picking up
White's queen and after 25.Nc3 there is either 25...Nc4 or
25...Ra3, depending on Black's mood.
This event was brought to you by Warwick chess club (England)