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Modern Defense

The Modern Defense (also known as the Robatsch Defence after Karl Robatsch) is a hypermodern chess opening in which Black allows White to occupy the center with pawns on d4 and e4, then proceeds to attack and undermine this "ideal" center without attempting to occupy it himself. The opening has been most notably used by British Grandmasters Nigel Davies and Colin McNab.

The Modern Defense is closely related to the Pirc Defence, the primary difference being that in the Modern, Black delays developing his knight to f6. (The delay of ...Nf6 attacking White's pawn on e4 gives White the time to sometimes blockade the g7-bishop with c2 c3.) Transpositional possibilities between the two openings are rife. The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings classifies the Modern Defense as code B06, while codes B07 to B09 are assigned to the Pirc. The tenth edition of Modern Chess Openings (1965) grouped the Pirc and Robatsch together as the "Pirc–Robatsch Defense".


Main lines

A typical move order for the Modern Defense is 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7, with main lines:

  • 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 c6 5. Nf3 Bg4 (ECO code B06);
  • 3. c4 (ECO code A40) d6 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Be3 e5 6. d5 Ne7 (7.g4 will be answered by 7...f5 8.gxf5 gxf5 9.Qh5+ Ng6 10.exf5 Qh4 11.Qxh4 Nxh4 12.Nb5 Kd8).

Fischer's suggestion: 3.h4!?

Bobby Fischer suggests the move 3.h4!? as an enterprising try against 1...g6 2.d4 Bg7, in his annotation to a game against Pal Benko. (Fischer played 3.Nc3 in the actual game.) The idea is to pry open Black's kingside by h4–h5 followed by hxg6 (...gxh5 would greatly weaken the cover to Black's king) with an ensuing kingside assault.[1]

Unusual White responses

The flexibility and toughness of the Modern Defense has provoked some very aggressive responses by White, including the attack crudely named the Monkey's Bum, a typical sequence being 1.e4 g6 2.Bc4 Bg7 3.Qf3. (A more refined version is the Monkey's Bum Deferred, where White plays Bc4 and Qf3 only after developing his queen's knight.)

Other unusual openings can be reached after 1.e4 g6. The Hippopotamus Defence is one such system. Another is the Norwegian Defence (also known as the North Sea Defence) which begins 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Nf6 3.e5 Nh5. (If White plays 4.g4, Black retreats the knight with 4...Ng7. On 4.Be2, Black can retreat the knight or gambit a pawn with 4...d6!? If White plays 3.Nc3 instead of 3.e5, Black can transpose to the Pirc Defence with 3...d6 or continue in unconventional fashion with 3...d5!?)

Kavalek vs. Suttles

In the following game played at the Nice Olympiad in 1974, Canadian Grandmaster Duncan Suttles, one of the Modern's leading exponents, defeats Czech-American Grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek:

1. e4 g6 2. d4 d6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Be2 Nf6 5. Nc3 (Pirc Defence by transposition) 5... a6 6. a4 0-0 7. 0-0 b6 8. Re1 Bb7 9. Bc4 e6 10. Bf4 Nbd7 11. Qd2 b5! (initiating a deep combination; Suttles later remarked that Kavalek has occupied the center and developed his pieces in the manner advocated by Fred Reinfeld, yet now stands worse) 12. axb5 axb5 13. Rxa8 Qxa8 14. Bxb5 Bxe4 15. Nxe4 Nxe4 16. Rxe4 Qxe4 17. Bxd7 Ra8 18. h4 Qb7! (despite his material advantage, White is in trouble; note that his bishop on d7 is nearly trapped) 19. d5 e5 20. Bh6 Qxb2 21. h5 Ra1+ 22. Kh2 Qb1 23. Bxg7 Qh1+ 24. Kg3 Kxg7 25. Bh3 Qc1 26. h6+ Kf6 27. c4 Qxd2 28. Nxd2 Kg5 29. Ne4+ Kxh6 30. Bd7 f5 31. Nf6 Ra7 32. Bb5 g5 33. Ng8+ Kg7 34. Ne7 Kf6 35. Nc6 Ra3+ 36. Kh2 h5 37. Nb8 h4 38. Na6 g4 39. Nxc7 Ra2 40. Kg1 g3 41. fxg3 hxg3 42. Kf1 e4 0 1[2]


  1. Bobby Fischer, My 60 Memorable Games, 2008, p. 286
  2. Kavalek vs. Suttles, Nice Olympiad 1974 at

Further reading

ca:Defensa moderna cs:Modern obrana de:Moderne Verteidigung es:Defensa moderna fr:D fense moderne it:Difesa Robatsch (Moderna) he: lb:Modern Verdeedegung lt:Modernioji gynyba nl:Koningsfianchetto no:Moderne forsvar pl:Obrona Robatscha pt:Defesa Moderna simple:Modern defence fi:Moderni puolustus sv:Modernt f rsvar zh:

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