The Modern Defense is a chess opening characterized by the early fianchetto of black’s dark-squared bishop. A common more order to reach the Modern Defense is 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7
Black allows white to occupy the full center with their pawns and gain a space advantage, in the hopes of pressuring white’s center from afar before later striking back with …c5. This opening philosophy was popularized by the “hypermodern” school of thought in the early 1900s.
While giving white a free hand in the center is not without its downsides, the Modern Defense remains popular to this day with players seeking an imbalanced, strategically complex game!
I have often found it difficult to study the Modern Defense, because both players have so many options! Without any early threats or pawn tension, each player has a lot of flexibility in their piece development. There are some key lines to know though, so let’s take a look:
This is one of white’s most aggressive options against the Modern Defense, taking more space and planning an attack on the kingside or in the center.
4…Nf6 is a popular reply, but now the game transposes to a well-known line from the Pirc. The Pirc is a close cousin of the Modern Defense, but by delaying the development of this knight to f6, black leaves the bishop open and makes white’s early e4-e5 ideas less effective, as there is no knight to kick away.
Instead, 4…a6 is very much in the spirit of the Modern Defense. Black plays another non-committal move, intending to expand on the queenside with …b5. The other bishop can come to b7, the knight can use the d7 square, and an eventual strike at the center with …c5 is still in the table.
The game might proceed 5. Nf3 b5 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. e5 c5
This is a good illustration of each side’s plans. White has a large pawn mass in the center and has blunted the g7-bishop for now, but black is fighting to pry the center back open! If the center dissolves, both black bishops could be very strong on their respective long diagonals. 8. Be4 is often played here to attack the rook, but black can simply save it with 8…Rb8 and the game will go on.
This is another popular way to take on the Modern Defense. White opts for a setup known from many openings where a kingside pawn storm is intended. White may castle queenside in some lines, and play h2-h4-h5 and later Bh6 to exchange off black’s bishop and attack on the kingside.
Black can play 5…b5, and now 6. f3 is white’s most popular move, stabilizing the center. After 6…Nd7 7. h4, black’s most popular reply is 7…h5, stopping the pawn in its tracks.
Black can follow up with …Bb7, …Rc8, and finally …c5, striking at the white center. Black’s king is stranded in the center for the time being, but it’s not easy to see how white can exploit this!
7. a4 is another alternative for white, striking at the complete opposite side of the board! I covered this line in the video above – it’s a good illustration of the flexibility both sides have in the Modern Defense to play on either side!
We’ve looked at black playing …c5 much later in the game, but what if black plays it right away?
White can go into an Accelerated Dragon with 4. Nf3, but they’ve lost the chance to play the Moroczy Bind. Instead the critical test to this ambitious move is to accept the pawn sacrifice with 4. dxc5
Now 4…Bxc3+ gives white trippled pawns (4…Qa5 has also been tried, and might be more prudent in light of the following line!), but after 5. bxc3 Qa5 6. Qd4! Nf6 7. Qb4, white manages to hold everything together.
White has tended to score well here, despite the trippled pawns.
After 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c4, a lot of black’s early …b5 ideas are off the table.
3…d6 4. Nc3 is the typical continuation, leading to the following position:
If black plays the natural 4…Nf6, we transpose into the main line of the King’s Indian Defense. Many players choose this route, but 4…e5 can be played instead to keep the game in Modern Defense territory.
White has tried all kinds of moves from this position – 5. Nf3 to defend the d-pawn, 5. d5 to gain a space advantage (which black has sometimes even met with an immediate 5…f5, getting kingside operations under way!), and taking on e5 are all on the table.
If you want to avoid the transposition to the King’s Indian, this fourth-move alternative might be worth investigating!
The Modern Defense leads to complex, imbalanced games, which makes it a favorite of players who want to rely on knowledge and positional strength over rote memorization of opening theory. Both players will get their fair share of winning chances in the resulting middlegame positions.
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