Playing the Modern Defense with any regularity is a sign that you truly love chess. From the very first move, you are indicating to your opponent (and to the jury deciding on the brilliancy prizes!) that you would like to play an unbalanced position. Then the thrill of the fight courses through your veins and you simply must trust yourself to handle developments better than the other player. For a very long time this truly was the absolute frontier, the Wild West of opening theory: if it went well you looked like a genius, if it goes badly you got mated in 20 moves, and most likely neither of you ever really made the analysis which you so badly needed to remember at the board.
A certain air of reckless abandon, of pure devil-may-care mischief, was needed to play it successfully, and to some extent still is. Something of this passion was conveyed into printed form by Swedish GM Tiger Hillarp Persson when he wrote his Tiger’s Modern. Even within the Modern, the crème de-la-crème of the opening, when I learned it from his book almost a decade ago was the famous Hippo setup, the epitome of the adventurer’s spirit.
While White goes about stationing his pieces aggressively, controls the centre, etc., Black nonchalantly places nearly all his pawns on the third rank and shuffles his pieces behind them! For some reason this appealed to the 15-year-old me: the idea that I could take the game to my opponent in a way that I chose, rather than by preparing endlessly for some subtlety on move 27 of the Poisoned Pawn Najdorf.
Throughout the year 2010 I played the Modern almost exclusively; it filled the gap between my 1…e5 phase and my 1…c6 phase. (The latter remained my main reply to 1.e4 until I began learning the Najdorf in 2018, but I do still enjoy regularly mixing it up with the Modern; there are more than 20 references to my own games in the text.) What might surprise you is that 2010 was the year in which my chess career started progressing by leaps and bounds! I became an IM relying very heavily on it; an example from one of my norm tournaments can be seen in Part I (Lahiri-Fernandez.) I embraced the complexity, the audacity and the novelty whole-heartedly, and it embraced me back.
I hope this book proves to be informative as well as ground-breaking; that it reinforces your knowledge while infusing it with passion and some new discoveries; and above all that you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
It remains for me to thank those who have been instrumental in the creation of this book as you hold it today: Thinkers Publishing for being (extremely) lenient with deadlines; numerous colleagues and friends for sharing their ideas and input freely (but especially fellow GMs Negi Parimarjan and Justin Tan); and of course my
parents, for putting up with so much of my chess mania during the second half of my childhood and beyond.
Sydney, June 2020