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!)


  1. Goeller's line K3c2 equalizes: 4...Nxe4 5.Qxd4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Qh4 Bb4 8.O-O Bxc3 9.bxc3 O-O 10.Bg5 (not that dangerous as both pawn e4 and knight c3 are eliminated) h6 11.Bxh6 gxh6 12.Qxh6 d5 13.Rad1 Ng4 14.Qh4 and oddly enough Goeller neglect Nf6 when 15.Qg5+ Kh8 16.Rxd5 Nxd5 17.Qh6+ Kg8 18.Bd3 Nf6 forces the draw.
    We shouldn't be surprised if we count the attacking and the defending pieces after 12...d5.
    There is also Grobler-Antal, ICCF 2011 to consider with 13...Re8 iso 13...Ng4.
    The Urussov might be in trouble.

    1. Oops, premature. You analyze the game on your site. Still you neglect 13...Ng4 14.Qh4 Nf6.

  2. With the aid of my computer I've found the following two possibilities for White at move 16 (I agree that 16.Rxd5 Nxd5 gives White no good alternative to accepting the draw by perpetual).

    A) 16.Qh6+ Nh7 (16...Kg8 17.Bd3) 17.Rxd5 Qf6 18.Qh5 Kg8 where White has two pawns and some attacking chances for the piece, though it's not clear if they are sufficient (a similar scenario to the Grobler-Antal game)

    B) 16.Bxd5 initiates a long and forcing line: 16...Nxd5 17.Qh5+ Kg7 18.Rxd5 Rh8 19.Rg5+ Kf6 20.Rf5+! Bxf5 21.Qg5+ Ke6 22.Re1+ Be4 (22...Kd6 23.Qxf5 +/-) 23.Rxe4+ Kd6 24.Qf4+ Kc5 25.Qe3+ Kd6 26.Ng5. White grabs the f7-pawn and the rook on h8 and ends up with three connected passed pawns on the kingside in return for the sacrificed piece.

    In view of line B in particular I think that Antal's 13...Re8 is more critical, though I agree that 13...Ng4 at least deserves a mention.

    1. Black also has 16.Bxd5 Nh7 17.Qh5 Qf6 (this is an important defensive idea) 18.Be4 Qg7 and now 19.h3 might be best. It prevents both 19...Bg4 and 19...Rg8 (as 20.Ng5 wins). But after 19...Ne7 20.Rfe1 Ng6 I don't see how White can make any progress.
      I think both 13...Re8 and 13...Ng4 critical as the first is a winning attempt and the second a drawing attempt.

    2. Today it occurred to me that 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Qh4 Bb4 8.Bg5 might be stereotypal; 8.Bd2 is quite logical too if the pin doesn't work that well. Three sample lines:
      a) 8...Qe7+| 9.Kf1 O-O (possibly better 9...d6 10.Re1 Be6 11.Ng5 d5 12.Bxd5 O-O-O 13.Nxe6 fxe6 14.Bxe6+ Kb8) 10.Re1 Qd8 11.Bg5 Bxc3 12.bxc3 d6 13.Bd3 h6 14.Bxh6.
      b) 8...O-O 9.O-O-O d6 10.a3 Ba5 11.Bd3 h6 12.b4 Bb6 13.Bxh6 Bxf2 14.g3.

  3. I agree that White should look into the 8th-move alternatives. I had a quick glance at 8.Bd2 last night and have had a closer look at it today. It may well be the way to go for White, since in your line, while I couldn't find a way to avoid draws after 12...h6, or 11.Bd3 d5 12.Bg5 h6, it seems that if White switches the move-order, 10.Bd3 is promising for White. The line starting with 9...d6 might suffice for dynamic equality but from White's perspective I would be happy enough with that.
    An alternative for Black is 8...d5, trying to return the pawn (9.Nxd5 Bxd2+ 10.Nxd2 0-0=), but 9.0-0-0!? (intending 9...dxc4 10.Bg5) 9...Be6 10.Bd3 0-0 11.Rhe1 may give White enough for the pawn- here 11...h6 12.Bxh6 is quite a strong sacrifice with no immediate draws.

    8.Bg5 Qe7+ 9.Kd1 Bxc3 10.bxc3 d6 11.Re1 is quite interesting (S.Tiitta-K.Kiik, Finland 2006) but it seems that 8...Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 0-0 is a problem. White can improve over the Grobler-Antal game by castling long, 10.0-0-0, when after 10...h6 (10...d6?! 11.Bd3 is += at least) 11.Bxh6 gxh6 12.Qxh6, Black has no way to play for a win, but after 12...d5 intending 13.Bd3 Qd6, it looks like White has to take one of the various draws on offer.