In my series on The Panther, I wrote about the power of animal names in helping us identify with our opening lines. "Animals are good to think with" after all, and Jonathan Rowson might point out that they are useful symbols for our own myths about ourselves as players. So we shouldn't be surprised that a regular critter craze seems to be stampeding across the land of chess publishing. Witness the success of Chess for Tigers, Chess for Zebras, The Hippopatomus Rises from the Swamp, and Tiger's Modern. Likely the publishers have taken a page from the wine industry, where marketers have learned (thanks mostly to the success of Yellow Tail Shiraz) that so-called "critter labels" have the power to move product. As a recent article by Rob Walker tells it, "According to ACNielsen, the market-research company, 438 viable table-wine brands have been introduced in the past three years, and 18 percent--nearly one in five--feature an animal on the label" ("Animal Pragmatism," New York Times Magazine, April 23, 2006, p. 30). ACNielsen's summary states: "'Combined with existing critter labels, sales of critter-branded wine have reached more than $600 million.'" Though chess probably doesn't sell as well as wine (no matter what Tarrasch says about it), I wouldn't be surprised to hear that chess critters are similarly successful at outpacing the rest of the herd.
Yet for all of their potential attraction for chess consumers, whose favorite product tends to be opening manuals, there are surprisingly few openings named for animals. In their amusing collection, The Complete Chess Addict, Mike Fox and Richard James offer up a list of "Chess Openings and Variations with Zoologial Names," yet they are stretching to make a dozen with Bird's Opening [sic], Orang-Utan, Dory Defense [sic], Dragon Variation, Pelikan Variation [sic], The Rat, The Hippopotamus, The Krazy Kat [sic], The Hedgehog, The Monkey's Bum, The Vulture, and The Pterodactyl. As you likely notice, at least three of these actually take their names from famous players (including Henry Bird, who lends his flighty patronym to the oddball 1.f4 and the Spanish with 3...Nd4). We obviously could use more openings named for animals and I wouldn't be surprised if I help to start a trend by talking about my new pet line, the Mad Dog (aka The Kholmov Variation of the Pirc Defense).
"Mad Dog" is GM Tiger Hillarp Persson's catch-all for anti-Pirc weapons with Bc4, which he says are mainly used by players who failed "to outgrow [their] infantile obsession with combining the queen and bishop towards f7." Like some rabid dog foaming at the mouth, they just want to kill you as quickly as possible, with no regard for their own safety. The particular "mad dog" line I want to look at typically begins 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bc4 Bg7 5.Qe2 Nc6, when the move 6.e5!? creates some hair raising situations for both players.
M. Thomas, who wrote the last extended consideration of these lines from White's perspective, Pirc Defence: A Line for White (The Chess Player 1980), recommended this variation and was the first and last to explore its intricacies. As he wrote: "This system is ideal for club and tournament players because it is of a sharp tactical nature and weak opening play by Black is rapidly punished." What's more, while Black has at least one likely equalizing line, even with best play he must concede White a significant initiative or space advantage. A more recent consideration (and one that inspired the present article) was written by Stefan Kalhorn and Carsten Herrmann at their Schachblätter weblog in a piece titled "Pirc Anrempeln" (March 26, 2006). After I read that piece, I started a thread about the line at Pete Tamburro's excellent Openings for Amateurs forum, and (with a little book research) now have plenty to present on this nearly forgotten variation in need of restoration.
In this articles, I want to examine a line that has practically vanished from the opening manuals: 6...Nxd4!? White is now forced to sacrifice his Queen and at least a pawn for three minor pieces and the initiative following 7.exf6 Nxe2 8.fxg7 Rg8 9.Ngxe2. But that is hardly something to trouble the mad dog...
Videos on the Kholmov or Mad Dog Pirc (also named after Short by some)