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I have an impression that at the high level, the Pirc defense is considered to be much more off-beat than the King's Indian defense; at least the latter has been a main weapon for many top players, starting from Bronstein and Geller and through Fischer and Kasparov to Nakamura, while the Pirc is mostly seen when Black is in a desperate must-win situation.

However, I struggle to discern the reasons for that. The main difference seems to be that in the Pirc, White plays Nc3 with a pawn on c2 rather than c4, but isn't it a concession on their part? Doesn't having a pawn of c4 just give White more control over the center?

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The c4 square is a natural development square for White's light-squared bishop, which targets the f7-square. Having a pawn on c4 takes away that opportunity.

In semi-open defences against 1. e4 the f7-square is shielded by a pawn on e6. But this creates dark-square weaknesses in Black's position when they have a fianchettoed kingside bishop on g7. So Black has to be careful of liquidating pawns in the centre in the Pirc, so as not to expose the f7-square to the White bishop.

Liquidation of pawns in the centre is less of a problem in the King's Indian Defence, because White is then left with a pawn on c4 which hems in his light-squared bishop (denying it the c4-square). So White doesn't gain a natural advantage by liquidating the centre in the King's Indian, but it's a viable proposition in the Pirc.

These two key strategic reasons are why the Pirc is "less sound", or more difficult to play, than the King's Indian Defence.

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  • Sorry, but I don't get this. More often than not in the Pirc Black will be playing b5. The bishop on c4 (as a Pirc player I admit) I see as a target if it goes there early, and if it doesn't it just won't get there at all due to Black's play on the Q side. James Vigus FM in "The Pirc in Black and White" discusses why super-GMs in general don't play the Pirc - if I get time later I'll dig out the relevant quotes, but the essence is that when a draw is a good result as Black to play for a win with the Pirc is not a good percentage choice. – Ian Bush Jan 26 at 8:40
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The two openings don't really compete with each other, as one is a defense against 1.d4/c4/Nf3 and the other against 1.e4. To understand their popularity, you have to compare them against alternative choices that they do compete with.

So say black is looking for a defense to use as a main part of their repertoire when attempting to win as black, that yields sharp and unbalanced positions without giving white too much of a good position, even if white expects the opening.

Against 1.e4, there is the Sicilian, in various flavours. It probably scores the best for black of all mainstream chess openings. There is just little reason to choose the Pirc over the Sicilian if you are looking for a sharp and unbalanced winning attempt.

Against 1.d4 there are many choices but none are obviously better than the King's Indian. The Dutch and Benoni are much more risky, and the Grunfeld and Nimzo/QID are more solid than the KID in return for also giving fewer winning chances.

So there is a place in the repertoires of some strong GMs for the KID, but there is less reason to choose the Pirc. The Pirc's niche is as a surprise weapon.

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    I'm not sure I understand the logic. If they were objectively equally sound for black, but black had much better options than Pirc against e4 and none better than KID against d4, this would just mean that d4 is a much stronger move :) – Kostya_I Jan 26 at 10:14
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    @Kostya_I: well the Sicilian is certainly a reason for many people not to play 1.e4. – RemcoGerlich Jan 26 at 10:17
  • The openings don't "compete" with each other because the Pirc is no competition for the King's Indian You can definitely reply 1...d6 do 1...d4, trying to play a Pirc-like system. People just choose to not do it! – David Jan 29 at 11:28
  • @David: yes, but if you did, white could then choose between 2.e4 or other moves. It'd still not be black making a decision between the KID and the Pirc. – RemcoGerlich Jan 29 at 12:15
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They are two distinct openings. Although I often find I have transposed into a Saemisch with white after they play a Pirc.

Look at the stats and see the results each has. Also consider personal taste and other psychological factors to make a decision.

The draw ratio favors the KID, needing a win then the PIRC is a better gamble. But you still have to play the game!

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