Robert Byrne And My Modern Defence

The passing of Robert Byrne last week was a sad loss the the chess World. I met him only briefly but he impressed me with his calm demeanor and great knowledge.

He also played a significant role in my cogitations on the Modern Defence (1…g6 against just about anything), his system against the Saemisch Variation of the King’s Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 c6 followed by 6…a6, intending …b7-b5) formed the basis of my idea of 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c4 d6 4. Nc3 a6. If White then went for a Saemisch formation I would switch to his plan of a queenside expansion, the main difference being that I would delay …Ng8-f6.

Here’s a game Byrne won with this plan from a tournament played before I was born:

This is one of the fascinating things about chess, the players collaborate towards the development of our ancient game whilst trying to crush one another. Some of these players are particularly strong influences if we are attracted by the same concepts that they are. And Robert Byrne certainly influenced my Modern.

The following video features him in combat with Nigel Short on the BBC series The Master Game. A rye sense of humor comes through as he fails to beat the then young prodigy.

Nigel Davies


Author: NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Nigel has written a number of chess books that are available at Amazon: