Barsky’s book is an excellent study of the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence in its modern guise.
When it is reached, in other words, via the Pirc move order: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 (the author considers other moves as well, such as 3.Bd3 and 3.f3) e5. Although the opening is sound and easy to learn, it gives rise to a fair range of complicated and interesting positions.
There is the queenless middlegame that occurs after 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8; both players are still able to set problems for their opponent here. There are the various double-edged options for White, such as Shirov’s bayonet thrust (4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!?) and the lines involving a bishop sacrifice on f7 and the king’s knight landing on e6 (two ways in which this can happen are 5.Bc4 Be7 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ng5+ and 6.Ng5 0-0 7.Bxf7+ Rxf7 8.Ne6). Black can equalise here, rest assured, but only if he defends (and in time counterattacks) accurately. Finally, there is the complex and strategically rich middlegame that arises in the mainline of the opening (that is, after 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 or 7.Qe2, etc.). The best player, assuming preparations are equal, is certain to come out on top.
Alekhine used to play the Hanham Philidor in his early days and some grandmasters who essay the opening now are Ivanchuk, Morozevich and in particular Bologan: 6 of the 50 illustrative games in this book see Bologan taking the black pieces.
To end, it might be helpful to compare The Modern Philidor Defence to The Black Lion, a book which I will review shortly on this site. Naturally, there is some overlap of material between the two books and in many key lines (involving Bxf7+, say) similar conclusions are reached. The Black Lion gives Black the further option of 3…Nbd7, so avoiding the exchange of queens after 3…e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8; however, Black need not fear this simplifying line. But The Black Lion focuses on Marco’s antiquated and, to my mind, not very sensible plan of …Nd7-f8-g6–f4, whereas The Modern Philidor Defence presents mainlines that are more positionally based, sounder and (in my view) more mature. On a bare body count, the Hanham lines in Barsky’s book have more grandmaster adherents. And the ubiquitous ‘branding’ of The Black Lion (it is the Philidor!), an irritating feature of the book, is wholly absent from The Modern Philidor Defence.
Barsky’s fine study ably allows you to add the Hanham Philidor to your repertoire of defences against 1.e4.
You can read a pdf sample from the book here.
By Vladimir Barsky
Chess Stars, 2010