Modern Defense (Robatsch Defence) – 1…g6 (Theory)

Modern Defense

The Modern Defense, also known as the Robatsch Defence, is a provocative and somewhat unconventional chess opening that has gained considerable recognition among players seeking a more dynamic and less predictable game.

Its essence lies in the immediate flank pawn move 1…g6, which contrasts sharply with the traditional opening principle of controlling the center immediately with pawn and knight moves.

Move Order of the Modern Defense

King’s Pawn Modern Defense

The Modern Defense can be introduced after 1.e4 with 1…g6. Black’s approach in this opening is to allow White to occupy the center with their pawns.

Modern Defense

Then, Black plans to undermine and attack this “pawn center” from the flanks and potentially the squares directly in front of White’s pawns.

While the exact move order can vary depending on the specific variation chosen by the players, the typical sequence is 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7.

Queen’s Pawn Modern Defense

The Queen’s Pawn Modern Defense is characterized by 1. d4 g6.

modern defense - 1. d4 g6

When the Modern Defense is played against 1. e4 and 1. d4, the positions often transpose into each other, with white following with 2. d4 or 2. e4, depending on which move was played previously.

Theory, Strategy and Purpose of the Modern Defense

The Modern Defense is a hypermodern opening, meaning it seeks to control the center indirectly from a distance, rather than attempting to occupy it straight away.

By fianchettoing the bishop on g7, Black aims to exert pressure on the long diagonal, primarily targeting the d4 square.

The usual plan involves undermining the white central pawn structure with moves such as …d6 and …c5, or even …e5 in some cases.

The overall purpose of the Modern Defense is to provoke White into overextending their position, after which Black hopes to counter-attack and exploit weaknesses.

Variations of the Modern Defense

There are a variety of ways the Modern Defense can be played, each with their own specific ideas and plans.

Some of the main variations include:

  1. The Averbakh Variation: 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6.
  2. The Pterodactyl Variation: 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c5.
  3. The Tiger’s Modern: 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 Nf6.

Each of these variations leads to distinct middlegame plans and structures, offering a wide range of strategic and tactical possibilities for both sides.

Modern Defense from Caro-Kann Defense Transposition

The Modern Defense can also be played from a Caro-Kann Defense beginning, usually referred to as the Gurgenidze Variation of the Modern Defense (black will play g6 and c6 on moves 1 and 2, in any order).

Modern Defense: Gurgenidze Variation (Caro-Kann Defense) - 1. e4 c6 2. d4 g6 3. Bd3 Bg7
Modern Defense: Gurgenidze Variation (Caro-Kann Defense) – 1. e4 c6 2. d4 g6 3. Bd3 Bg7

This is not usually played much at the super-GM level given it enables white to grab control of the center and get an early lead in development.

Evaluation of the Modern Defense

1. e4 g6 is generally evaluated around +0.50 for white.

1. d4 g6 is generally evaluated around +0.60 for white.

1. c4 g6 is generally evaluated around +0.30 for white.

Theory & Continuation Lines of the Modern Defense

Below we can find some common theory and continuations from 1.e4 g6, 1. d4 g6, and 1. c4 g6 that you’d see at the highest level of play.

1. e4 g6

2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 a6 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Qd2 b5 7. Bh6 O-O 8. Bxg7 Kxg7 9. Bd3 

2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 Nf6 5. Qd2 O-O 6. f3 c5 7. dxc5 dxc5 8. e5 Qxd2+ 9. Bxd2 Nfd7 10. f4 Rd8 11. Be3

2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 Nf6 5. Qd2 O-O 6. Nf3 c5 7. dxc5 dxc5 8. Qxd8 Rxd8 9. Bxc5 Nc6 

2. d4 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Be3 Bg7 5. Qd2 O-O 6. Nf3 d5 7. e5 Ne4 8. Nxe4 dxe4 

2. d4 d6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. Be3 Nf6 5. Qd2 O-O 6. f3 c5 7. dxc5 dxc5 8. e5 Qxd2+ 9. Bxd2 

1. d4 g6

2. e4 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Be3 O-O 6. Qd2 c6 7. a4 Qa5 8. Be2 c5 9. dxc5 dxc5 

2. e4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Be3 O-O 6. Qd2 d5 7. e5 Ne4 8. Nxe4 dxe4 9. Ng5 

2. e4 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Be3 Bg7 5. Qd2 O-O 6. f3 a6 7. h4 b5 8. O-O-O b4 

2. e4 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Be3 Bg7 5. Qd2 O-O 6. f3 c6 7. h4 Nbd7 8. Bh6 Bxh6 9. Qxh6 

2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Be3 O-O 6. h3 e5 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. Bc4 Qe7 9. Qe2 Nc6 10. Rd1 Be6 

1. c4 g6

2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 c5 6. d5 O-O 

2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Rb1 c5 8. Nf3 O-O 9. Be2 cxd4 10. cxd4 Qa5+ 11. Bd2 Qxa2 12. O-O Bg4 

2. d4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. h3 c5 6. dxc5 Ne4 7. Nxe4 dxe4 

2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Nf3 c5 8. Rb1 O-O 9. Be2 cxd4 10. cxd4 Qa5+ 11. Bd2 Qxa2 12. O-O Bg4 13. Be3 Nc6 

2. e4 e5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nf3 Bb4+ 5. Nbd2 Nxe4 6. dxe5 d5 7. a3 Bxd2+ 8. Nxd2 

Magnus Carlsen teaches the Modern Defense like a boss!

History of the Modern Defense

The Modern Defense has a relatively recent history compared to other chess openings.

It began gaining popularity in the mid-20th century, associated with the rise of hypermodern ideas in chess.

One of the early proponents of the opening was Austrian Grandmaster Karl Robatsch, after whom the defense is alternatively named.

The opening has been played by many top-level players, including World Champions such as Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov, although not as their main weapon against 1.e4.

Whether the Modern Defense Is Good for Beginners or Intermediates

The Modern Defense can be a reasonable choice for both beginners and intermediate players who are comfortable playing less traditional openings.

While it breaks the classical opening principles, it offers an exciting and dynamic game with many tactical opportunities.

However, it requires a good understanding of positional play and the ability to handle unbalanced positions.

For beginners, learning and playing the Modern Defense can provide a unique way to develop these chess skills.

How Often the Modern Defense Is Played at the Grandmaster Level

Although the Modern Defense is not as popular as main line defenses like the Sicilian, French, or Caro-Kann, it does make regular appearances at the Grandmaster level.

Its appeal lies in its flexibility and the imbalanced positions it often leads to, allowing for rich, tactical battles.

It is typically used as a surprise weapon rather than a staple opening.

World-class players, including Hikaru Nakamura and Jon Ludvig Hammer, have used it in their games with success.

How Is the Modern Defense Related to the Pirc Defense?

The Modern Defense and the Pirc Defense are two distinct chess openings, but they share some similarities and strategic ideas.

Here’s how they are related:

Shared origins

The Pirc Defense is an older opening, named after the Slovenian Grandmaster Vasja Pirc, who popularized it in the 20th century.

The Modern Defense, on the other hand, is a more recent development, evolving from the Pirc Defense.

The Modern Defense is sometimes referred to as the Robatsch Defense, named after the Austrian Grandmaster Karl Robatsch, who contributed to its development.

Pawn structure

Both openings typically involve Black playing d6 and e6 early on, aiming for a solid pawn structure.

This structure provides flexibility and can lead to various setups, allowing Black to prepare counterattacks against White’s center or on the flanks.

Hypermodern approach

Both the Pirc Defense and the Modern Defense follow a hypermodern approach to chess, where Black initially allows White to occupy the center with pawns, only to undermine and attack it later.

Instead of directly challenging the center, Black often seeks to control it from a distance and then launch counterattacks.

Development of the dark-squared bishop

In both openings, Black often fianchettoes the dark-squared bishop, placing it on g7 (for Black) or g2 (for White).

This bishop can influence the central and queenside squares while also aiming at the opponent’s king’s position.

Flexible setups

Both the Pirc Defense and the Modern Defense offer a variety of flexible setups for Black, allowing for different pawn breaks, piece placements, and tactical possibilities.

The setups can vary based on individual player preferences and the specific variations chosen.


Despite these similarities, there are also notable differences between the Modern Defense and the Pirc Defense.

The Modern Defense is generally more aggressive and seeks to unbalance the position early on, whereas the Pirc Defense is often characterized by a solid and more restrained approach.

The move orders and specific move sequences in both openings can differ as well.

It’s important to study and understand the nuances of each opening individually to effectively employ them in your chess games.

FAQs – Modern Defense

1. What is the Modern Defense (Robatsch Defence)?

The Modern Defense, also known as the Robatsch Defence, is a hypermodern chess opening where Black allows White to occupy the center with pawns on d4 and e4, then attempts to undermine and counterattack this “ideal” center without directly occupying it themselves.

It begins with the move 1…g6. This opening can lead to many different types of positions, but they are generally characterized by a complicated and strategically rich middlegame.

2. What are the main ideas behind 1…g6?

The Modern Defense aims to challenge the conventional opening principles, which prioritize early control of the center with pawns.

Black allows White to build a large pawn center early, planning to undermine it later with moves like …d6 and …c5 or …e5.

Black’s typical setup involves fianchettoing the dark-squared bishop on g7, where it exerts pressure on the long diagonal, coupled with development of the knight to f6 and a timely castling.

3. What are the key lines in the Modern Defense?

The Modern Defense can transpose into many different openings, but the most common response by White is 2. e4, aiming to control the center.

Then Black might play 2… Bg7, preparing to undermine White’s control of the center.

Key lines could continue as 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 a6 (the Averbakh System), or 3. Nc3 c6 (the Gurgenidze System).

4. What are the potential weaknesses of the Modern Defense?

The primary drawback to the Modern Defense is that it allows White to establish strong central control early in the game, which can lead to an advantage in space and development.

If White can effectively maintain their central control, Black can end up with a cramped position and limited counterplay.

Additionally, the dark squares around Black’s king can be weakened by the fianchetto setup, particularly if the g7 bishop is exchanged or diverted.

5. How can White best respond to the Modern Defense?

White should try to establish a strong central control and develop their pieces harmoniously.

They can do this by playing 2. e4, followed by Nc3, Be3, and Qd2 in some order. It is important for White to not rush in launching an attack but patiently build up their position.

Moves like h3 or f3 could be helpful to prevent Black’s thematic …Ng4 move, aiming for the e3 bishop.

6. Are there any famous games played with the Modern Defense?

Yes, many top-level players have used the Modern Defense.

Notably, Grandmaster Tiger Hillarp Persson is known for his use of the Modern Defense.

One particularly famous game was Anatoly Karpov vs. Viktor Korchnoi in their 1978 World Championship match, where Karpov as Black used the Modern Defense to secure a draw.

7. How can I study and improve my play in the Modern Defense?

Studying opening theory is always beneficial. There are many books and online resources available that deal specifically with the Modern Defense.

Watching and analyzing games played by top players can also help.

Beyond that, practicing the opening in actual games and working with a chess coach can be very beneficial.

Finally, understanding the common pawn structures and middle game plans associated with this opening can help improve your play.

8. Is the Modern Defense suitable for beginner players?

The Modern Defense, being a hypermodern opening, involves a lot of strategic subtleties and tactical nuances that might be challenging for beginners to fully comprehend.

It is often recommended for players to start with more traditional openings that involve direct center control.

However, once they have a grasp of basic principles, the Modern Defense can be a good opening to diversify their understanding of different types of positions.


In summary, the Modern Defense, with its initial move 1…g6, represents a break from conventional opening strategies and offers a unique and dynamic setup.

It invites the player to engage in a battle of ideas and strategies, where understanding the principles behind the moves can be more valuable than rote memorization of lines.

Whether you’re a beginner seeking to expand your chess horizon or an intermediate player looking for diversity in your games, exploring the Modern Defense can prove a challenging and rewarding journey.

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