Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Urusov Gambit

The Urusov Gambit most often arises from the Bishop's Opening: 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3, but Scotch/Göring Gambit aficionados can also enter the line via 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nf3, or 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bc4.

White's idea is to meet 4...Nxe4 with 5.Qxd4, and if Black retreats the knight to f6, to put pressure on Black's kingside with Bg5 and Qh4 (hence Black does not really gain time on the queen by playing ...Nb8-c6).  The ideal setup for White is indicated here:

White continues with Bc4-d3, threatening Bxf6 and Qxh7 mate, and if Black plays ...h7-h6, then a strong Bxh6 sacrifice follows.  This position demonstrates the dangers of castling early against the Urusov Gambit.  Black may have formed the solid "Hungarian Defence formation" but it doesn't work against this sort of attacking setup and Black needs to improvise in order to distract White from getting the white pieces onto these squares.

At the Urusov Gambit section of my site I have chosen to give more of an "outline" type of coverage, highlighting the key lines and deviations and suggesting what I believe to be best play for both sides, while again offering some annotated illustrative games.  For those after a thorough analysis I recommend that readers have a browse of Michael Goeller's Urusov Gambit site, while Danish Dynamite contains some good analysis of the accepted lines of the gambit.

Some brief comments on the declined variations:

1.  Black's most reliable way to decline the gambit is with 4...Nc6 transposing to the Two Knights Defence, but 4...Bb4+ is also quite critical.  Here I recommend that White boldly sacrifices two pawns with 5.c3 dxc3 6.0-0, since 6.bxc3 d5 is strong for Black and I don't trust the line 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qxb4 dxc4 9.Ba3 Nc6 10.Qxc4 Qe6.

2.  I am in strong agreement with Goeller that 4...d6 should be met by heading for a line of the Antoshin Variation of the Philidor Defence, with 5.0-0, followed by Re1 and Nxd4 in most cases.  My investigations into this line have suggested that it is promising for White.  4...c5 should also be met by 5.0-0, and if 5...Nc6 then 6.Ng5 intending f2-f4, and 6.Re1 intending c2-c3, are both sufficient to give White a theoretical edge and attacking chances.  However, 4...c5 is not as bad as it looks and should not be underestimated.  Finally, 4...Bc5 should be met instead by 5.e5 intending 5...d5 6.exf6 dxc4 7.Qe2+ Be6 8.fxg7 Rg8 9.Bg5 as recommended at Goeller's site.

3.  I don't think 4...d5 5.exd5 Bb4+ equalises.  My main recommendation against this is 6.c3 Qe7+ 7.Be2 dxc3 8.Nxc3 rather than the more popular 8.bxc3.  Estrin and Panov's recommendation against this, 8...0-0 9.0-0 c6, does not appear to equalise after 10.a3 forcing the b4-bishop away to an inferior square.  White can also get an edge with 6.Kf1, which wins a pawn in most lines, but White's king ends up misplaced and holding onto the extra pawn at d5 can be tricky, so it is probably not as easy to play.

And onto the accepted variations:

1.  After 4...Nxe4 5.Qxd4 Black has no good alternative to retreating the knight with 5...Nf6.  Then, I am in agreement with Goeller and others that 6.Bg5?! is inaccurate as it fails to cover the d5-square and thus runs into 6...Nc6 intending 7.Qh4 d5.

2.  6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Qh4 Bb4 is a tricky sideline as the threat of shattering White's queenside pawn structure forces White to change plans and castle short, and this gives Black greater scope to play ...h7-h6, inviting a Bxh6 sacrifice, without suffering an immediate disaster.   See D.Grobler-J.Antal, email 2011.

3.  The main lines all seem to be holding up well for White.  The main line of the Urusov Gambit Accepted is probably 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bg5 Nc6 8.Qh4 d6 9.0-0-0 Be6 10.Rhe1! Bxc4 11.Qxc4 0-0.

Surely this position should be good for Black, who has castled, has no weaknesses, has almost completed development, and has an extra pawn, and has forced White's queen away from its aggressive post on h4?  Upon close inspection, apparently not.  White has several attractive attacking options, and the one that appeals to me the most is Max Burkett's innovation 12.h4, while 12.Rd3, 12.Re3 and 12.Qh4 also offer fair attacking chances. 

A key idea in many lines is the Rxe7 exchange sacrifice which undermines the protection of the knight on f6.  Carlos Torre (best known for beating Emmanuel Lasker with the Torre Attack, using 1.d4, 2.Nf3 and 3.Bg5) tried this sacrifice immediately at move 12 and won a fine attacking game with it, though it is probably better for White to defer the sacrifice until a better moment (e.g. after 12.h4 h6?! 13.Rxe7! and if 13...hxg5 then 14.hxg5!)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Danish Gambit- The Summing Up

I have completed the Danish Gambit coverage at my site and opted to update the format of the site again (the updated format has also been applied to the Scotch and Göring Gambit sections so far).

The main page features an introduction to the opening, then there are sub-pages providing a brief discussion of the critical lines (in ChessCafe.com article style) which contain links to the annotated games hosted at my 50webs site.  This allows me to combine the "encyclopaedic" and "illustrative games"-based openings coverage- this is likely to be helpful for some of the less-respected gambits due to the lack of high-quality, high-level games in some of the lines.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a way to host the HTML files directly at the Weebly site, but for those who don't like having to switch between two different sites, I've made all of the associated games available for download in PGN format directly from the Weebly site, at the end of each article.

Recapping on the previous blog entry, the 3...Ne7 declining variation is currently an issue because I keep coming across resources for Black.  For instance, I quite liked the look of the line 4.cxd4 d5 5.Nc3!? dxe4 6.Bc4 Nf5 7.Nge2 ("with compensation" - Danish Dynamite) 7...Nd6 8.Bb3.

It is too risky for Black to hold onto the e4-pawn so with accurate play, White rounds up the e4-pawn and is left with an isolated pawn on d4, but strives to compensate for this with active piece play.  However, Black can consider a kingside fianchetto with 8...g6 intending 9...Bg7 here and I don't think much of White's attacking chances against this.

The other line worth trying out is 5.e5 Nf5 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Nf3 0-0 8.Bd3 Nc6 (as per M.Voigt-J.Hector, Hamburg 2000) and now I think White has quite promising attacking chances on the kingside with 9.Bc2.  But Voigt more recently ran into 6...c5!? (M.Voigt-J.Sriram, Thailand 2011), which accepts an isolated pawn on d5 but gives Black a large share of the active piece play.  The game itself led to a rather dull draw.

The question of, "Which move-order?", is also dependent on which of the two Göring Gambit move-orders we're comparing with.  The brief lowdown is as follows:

A.  1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3.  This allows the Petroff (2...Nf6) but it avoids Black's third-move alternatives following 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3. If Black plays 3...d6 then White can get a good line of the Ruy Lopez, Steinitz Defence (4.Bb5) or simplify to a slightly better queenless middlegame with 4.dxe54.Bc4 is also worth considering- it will probably transpose to a reasonable sub-variation of Philidor's Defence.

B.  1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.c3.  This avoids the Petroff and opens up some additional gambit sidelines, which may or may not be to White's taste, and there is also the line 3...d5, though this should be slightly better for White after 4.Qxd4.  If White wants to avoid the line 4...dxc3 5.Nxc3 Bb4, then this move-order is problematic because of 3...Bb4+, but if White is happy to play the white side of that line, then I don't see any major objections to it.  I've had a number of games in this line which reached a Urusov Gambit after 3...Nf6 4.Bc4.  If Black plays 2...d6 then White can play 3.dxe5 or 3.Nf3 (the latter leads to a Philidor Defence) and if 2...Nc6 then Göring Gambit fans can play 3.Nf3 and be happy that they have again side-stepped the Petroff Defence.

C.  1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3.  This move-order has the advantage over A that it avoids the Petroff, but I don't see many reasons to prefer C over B, even if White intends 3...dxc3 4.Nxc3.  After 4...Bb4, if 5.Nf3 Nc6, or 5.Bc4 Nc6 leaving White with nothing better than 6.Nf3 since 6.Nge2 Nf6 leaves White with insufficient control over the e5-square.
There is one line that can catch White out if White goes for 3...dxc3 4.Nxc3: 4...d6 should be met by 5.Bc4, since 5.Nf3?! Be7 6.Bc4 Nf6 allows Black to castle before White hammers f7, i.e. 7.Qb3 0-0.  However I still believe that 4.Nxc3, as Nigel Davies recommended in Gambiteer I, is fully sound.

The main line Danish Gambit with 4.Bc4 is looking shaky in my view, for as well as the "equalising" 4...cxb2 5.Bxb2 d5 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2=, there is 5...Nf6 6.Nc3 (6.e5 d5 7.exf6 Bb4+ 8.Nc3 Qxf6) and Black chooses between 6...Bb4 and 6...d5!?, returning one pawn in order to assist development.  "PANFR" at the Chesspublishing.com forum has recommended 5...Bb4+ which is also critical, though with best play it probably transposes to 5...Nf6 6.Nc3 Bb4.

There is also 3...d5 4.exd5 Nf6!? with the idea 5.Bb5+ Bd7 6.Bc4 b5!? which probably leads to equal chances for both sides.  4...Qxd5 5.cxd4 Nc6 does not force play into the Capablanca Variation because White has 6.Be3 as well as the idea 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Be3.  I think 6.Be3 leads to similar positions after 6...Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Qb3, but with Black not committed to ...Bg4, there are a few independent options for Black.  I tend to think that 6.Be3 is only worth a go if White doesn't like the line 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Nc3 Bxf3 which leads to a sharp endgame with equal chances.

But for some, the main objection to move-order C may well be 3...Ne7 as discussed above.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Danish Gambit Declined

The Danish Gambit commences with 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3.

The Danish Gambit is essentially a Göring Gambit with the moves Nf3 and ...Nc6 omitted.  In some lines play often transposes into the Göring Gambit, especially the lines with 3...d3, 3...d5, and 3...dxc3 4.Nxc3, as Nf3 and ...Nc6 often follow, but there are some important differences.  I am currently preparing to upload some updated games and analysis to supplement the Danish Gambit part of my Gambiteer's Guild site and have been looking over the declined lines.  If White wishes to meet 3...dxc3 with 4.Nxc3 then the Danish Gambit move-order is probably no better or worse than the Göring Gambit version, but if White wants to offer the second pawn with 4.Bc4 then I strongly recommend that White plays Nf3 before c3, since the "pure" Danish Gambit with 4.Bc4 has numerous additional drawbacks.  In the next blog article I expect to be able to explore these after having looked at some recent games in the line.

Perhaps the most important difference in the declined lines concerns the declined variation with 3...Ne7, known as the Svenonious Defence, although this line continues to be surprisingly neglected at high levels of play, and there are few practical examples.  In the Göring Gambit version with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 Nge7, White can get quite a good position with 5.Bc4 d5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.0-0, but in the Danish Gambit version, White has no way to transpose into that line.  For example, 4.Bc4 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nf3, hoping for 6...Nc6, is thwarted by 6...Nb6, which gives Black a comfortable equality, while 4.Nf3 d5 5.exd5 (5.Qxd4 Nbc6 6.Bb5 Bd7) 5...Nxd5 6.Bc4 Nb6 transposes.

Thus White's best option against 3...Ne7 is 4.cxd4 d5 and now 5.e5 isn't too bad, since if 5...Nbc6, inviting 6.Nf3 Bg4, White side-steps the pin with 6.Nc3.  White will aim to generate play on the kingside while Black will try to undermine White's centre.  In the game Voigt-Hector, Hamburg 2000, following 5...Nf5 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Nf3 0-0 8.Bd3 Nc6 

9.Ne2 f6 10.a3?!, White got into trouble following 10...fxe5 11.dxe5 Nh4, but could have improved with 9.Bc2, or 10.0-0, both of which promise White some attacking chances although objectively the chances are approximately equal.  

5.Nc3!? is also worth investigating: 5...dxe4 6.Bc4 Nf5 7.Nge2 "with compensation" was suggested in Danish Dynamite, and play can then continue with 7...Nd6 8.Bb3.

With best play White will generally regain the pawn on e4 and emerge with a typical isolated queen's pawn position with equal chances for both sides, since it is risky for Black to try to hold onto the extra pawn.  For example, pushing with ...f7-f5 runs into Ne2-f4 and Black's light squares around the king end up very weak.

I don't think White needs to worry too much about 3...d3 4.Bxd3, with the idea 5.Nf3 and following one of the two favourable plans in the analogous Göring Gambit variation (either 0-0 with the idea Nd4 and f4, as in D.Velimirovic-A.Muratovic, Serbia 2005, or a plan with Bf4, Nbd2, Qc2, and castling to either side.)  Black ends up with a passive position.

3...Nf6 4.e5 is not much of an issue for White either, though following 4...Nd5 White's best is probably 5.Qxd4 since the attempt to transpose into Göring Gambit lines with 5.Nf3 runs into 5...d6, challenging the pawn on e5.

The most important of Black's declining lines, though, is 3...d5 which will be encountered very frequently in over-the-board play.

Here White has no good alternative to 4.exd5, since after 4.Bd3?! dxe4 5.Bxe4 Nf6, there is no knight on c6 for White to trade the e4-bishop for, and 6.Bg5 Be7 7.Bxf6 Bxf6 doesn't really help White.  Black keeps an extra pawn for limited compensation.

After 4.exd5 Black can try 4...Nf6!? after which White's best way to mix things is probably 5.Bb5+, when one of the most important continuations is 5...Bd7 6.Bc4 b5!? 7.Bb3 dxc3 8.Nxc3 b4 9.Nce2 Bd6.  Chances are roughly level in this position.

In the main line with 4...Qxd5 5.cxd4 Nc6, White normally transposes into the Göring Gambit with 6.Nf3, whereupon White can avoid Capablanca's Defence with Mark Nieuweboer's suggestion 6...Bg4 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Be3, and if 8...Qa5 then 9.Qb3, though this allows the deviation 7...Bxf3 which leads to a sharp endgame which offers equal chances.  White has also experimented with 6.Be3, which will lead to a very similar situation after 6...Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Nf3 (8.Nge2 is less convincing because of 8...Bg4), and again 8...Qa5 is dealt with via 9.Qb3.  This avoids the aforementioned 7...Bxf3 line, but allows Black a few alternatives to transposing with 9...Bg4, such as 9...0-0 (F.Nepustil-F.Cottegnie, email 2006), 9...Ne4 (which is best met by 10.Rc1) or 9...Be6.  I don't see a way for Black to prevent White from achieving dynamic equality, though, so 6.Be3 appears to be a reasonable deviation.

Finally, there is 3...Qe7, which counterattacks against e4 and is more effective than it is against the
Göring Gambit.  White should seek compensation for a pawn with 4.cxd4 Qxe4+ 5.Be3 (although the dubious second pawn sacrifice 5.Be2 Qxg2 might work in blitz games).  Danish Gambit aficionado Martin Voigt won quite an attractive attacking game as White in this line, although Black overlooked some important defensive resources (most notably 14...g6!)  My feeling is that White gets sufficient compensation for the pawn in this line, but no more, which means that the rather cheeky 3...Qe7 is a reasonable alternative to 3...dxc3 if Black wishes to hold onto an extra pawn.  Note that 4.Qxd4?! Nc6 5.Qe3 avoids the loss of a pawn but transposes into a poor line of the Centre Game (White would normally play Nb1-c3 rather than c2-c3).