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Austrian Attack: ECO B09

"As one by one I mowed them down, my superiority soon became apparent"
    - Jose Raul Capablanca, former World Champion (1888-1942)

Introduction

The Austrian Attack is a strong offensive opening in chess for white against the Pirc/Modern systems. It is supposedly named for Miska Weiss, an Austrian player from the 19th century who played the earliest recorded game with this opening. It's a solid game for white, but is somewhat heavy in theory and the crafty Pirc or Modern player can easily push you into strange territory for which you may not be prepared. White did so well for a long time, in fact, that people stopped playing the Pirc as black at the highest levels of chess. Needless to say, better lines have been found and the happy 1. ... d6 and 1. ... g6 players are everywhere once again.

The primary characterization of the Austrian is that it is a massive grab of the center to counter the so-called hypermodern style of black's play. It's the most assertive and aggressive opening for white in my repertoire--barring gambits--and is often dreaded by the player with the black pieces if they are not well prepared. There are a number of ways an Austrian can work out, so lets go ahead and get into a little theory.

Note: This writeup is intended not intended as an exhaustive treatment of this opening, as that would take many, many books. It's a survey of a few primary lines and their respective ideas so that one can make an educated decision as to whether to add the Austrian Attack to their repertoire. Recommended reading is found at the end of this writeup. All annotation herein is mine.

Definition

The Austrian Attack is characterized by white pawns on d4, e4, and f4 with the knights on c3 and f3, and given the flexibility the Pirc/Modern system allows for black, there are quite a few move order possibilities and even positions that can arise, but for the sake of clarity, I'll show the ECO moves so that you can get a feel for what this attack entails.

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4

As you can see in Diagram 1, white has asserted him or herself with a broad pawn center to counter the hypermodern approach of black's defense. Black will eventually fianchetto the dark square bishop to g7, and castle kingside, and white hopes to storm down the center for a quick and forceful win.


                           Diagram 1: After 4. f4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |   |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BP |   |BN |BP |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |WN |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

New Main Line

The current main line continues (from the position in Diagram 1 regardless of move order) with 4. ... Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 6. Bb5+ Bd7 (see Diagram 2).

The foray into the center with c5 was the move that brought the Pirc back from the dead in high-level play. It challenges white's broad center at the long diagonal (a1-h8, where black's fianchettoed bishop waits to gain control) with a flank pawn. White counters with Bb5+ in order to keep the idle black knight on b8 from jumping in to defend the contested d4 square. White usually continues with the push of the e-pawn to e5 for a powerful center attack. The lines arising from this are generally highly tactical in nature and provides chances for both sides.


                          Diagram 2: After 6. Bb5+
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |BN |   |BQ |BK |   |   |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |   |BB |BP |BP |BB |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BP |   |BN |BP |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |WB |BP |   |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |WN |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Solid and Stodgy

Another possibility--and not necessarily a bad one--for black is to simply finish his normal Pirc configuration while ignoring your bold center with the highly common line 4. ... Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Bd3 (see Diagram 3). Black finishes his Pirc with many options remaining available and white makes normal developing moves to complement and reinforce his or her broad center while pointing toward the kingside for a possible attack.

This way leaves black open to many possibilities, such as Nc6 followed by Bg4 or the peculiar-looking Na6 followed by c5 attacking your center in a manner somewhat similar to the main line. There are many possibilities in this line, and it's entirely possible that you'll end up with a locked center and slow play unless you force the issue. Your best bet from here--in my opinion, anyway--is to play the way the position dictates by building up an attack on the fianchettoed kingside position before black can gain enough space to counter you.


                           Diagram 3: After 6. Bd3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |BN |BB |BQ |   |BR |BK |   | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BB |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BP |   |BN |BP |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |WB |   |WN |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Accelerated Gurgenidze

One of the beautiful things about the Pirc/Modern system for black and why it appeals to many players is its extreme versatility. It is very easy to vary move order so as to hedge your bets and see what white is up to before committing to a particular defense. This versatility can also cause an Austrian Attack player some headaches if he or she isn't careful. This particular line is how I play against a potential Austrian Attack as black, and it's actually a Caro-Kann position which is extremely positional in nature. The Gurgenidze position, named for Bukhuti Gurgenidze, is a very slow maneuvering position with chances for both sides.

1. e4 g6 2. d4 d6 3. Nc3 c6 4. f4 d5!

Here you need to push the e-pawn to e5 or you've wasted your time demanding the center and will probably have a terrible game as a result. As you can see in Diagram 4, the center is going to become completely locked and therefore the tactical player is going to find themselves in an annoying state needing to dance around on the back line working for pawn breaks. Black looks as if he or she has wasted a move with the double pawn move on the d-file, but in actuality, a move was saved as the dark squared bishop would have to be moved back to its starting position if it were on g7, since with the center locked, it will only be useful if it can get outside the pawn structure. Things you should be aware of are that black's next move will be h5 (followed by an eventual h4), to defend the weak square f5, where he will eventually try to place a knight. I don't recommend letting that knight live. Take it out with the bishop as soon as it mounts that square. In positions like this knights, particularly outposted knights, are vastly more powerful than bishops anyway. Also be aware that black is very unlikely to castle, because it would be extremely difficult to defend a castled position if white storms either flank. So keep that in mind when planning where to force pawn breaks. All in all, this situation is not at all bad for white unless he or she is caught unaware or is otherwise uncomfortable in highly strategic closed positions.


                         Diagram 4: After 4. ... d5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |   |   |BP |BP |   |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |BP |   |   |   |BP |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |WN |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

In Closing

The Austrian Attack is arguably the best and most forceful answer to the Pirc/Modern system. As has been shown, it can rise to meet all sorts of occassions, and that combined with a gigantic pawn center makes it appealing as an attempt to refute the hypermodern school of thought. If properly prepared, white scores quite well against all types of replies.


Recommended Reading:

Being primarily a g6 player, I have studied all of the following books from the black point of view, and my opinion as to what is unpleasant for black comes from my own many losses. The Austrian Attack, sadly, has no known books of its own, but it is discussed in every book on the Modern or Pirc, so I recommend you persuse the appropriate chapters of these books to find out why black feels uncomfortable facing this attack as well as more thorough analysis of many lines.

  • Winning with the Modern - David Norwood
  • The Modern Defence - Jon Speelman and Neil McDonald
  • The Ultimate Pirc - John Nunn and Colin McNab
  • Starting out: The Pirc/Modern - Joe Gallagher
  • The Pirc Defense - Grandmaster School St. Petersburg (ChessBase training monograph).

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