Thursday, 11 December 2014

More on the King's Gambit- Fischer and Becker defences looking OK for both sides

Apologies for lack of updates- I haven't been doing quite as much with the online articles since taking up my new job (although I have joined Exeter Chess Club).

The latest update on the King's Gambit has involved increasing the amount of verbal explanation for the early moves of the game in the annotated games sections, while I have had a closer look at the lines discussed at Chess-Brabo.

The latest articles are here:
Modern Defence
3.Nf3 g5
3.Nf3 d6 and h6
Vienna Gambit lines
"Vienna Gambit lines" refers to the Hamppe-Allgaier and Pierce Gambits that normally arise from 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.Nf3 g5 5.h4 and 5.d4 respectively.  The King's Gambit move-order to those lines is typically 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.h4 or 5.d4, while 5.g3 is most consistent with a Quaade Gambit-based repertoire.

In the Fischer Defence, 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6, Black intends to play 4...g5 but without allowing the white knight on f3 access to e5, and thus preventing the Kieseritzky Gambit (3...g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5).

White can continue with 4.Bc4, which normally leads to a Hanstein Gambit after 4...h6! intending 5...g5 (rather than the immediate 4...g5?! which is met by 5.h4 and if 5...g4 6.Ng5 and White's knight and bishop both hit f7).
Instead 4.d4 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ng1 is the traditional main line but I don't think White gets enough development there to give much compensation for the pawn.

I am inclined to agree with John Shaw that continuing in Quaade Gambit style with 5.Nc3 with g2-g3 to follow.  Then "brabo" recommends 5...h6, which is at least as good as anything else that Black has.  6.g3 Bd7!? is an interesting suggestion of his, not allowing White the standard development plan of Be3, Qd2 and 0-0-0, and White probably does best to switch plans with 7.Bc4 and 8.0-0.  While I don't quite agree that "it is very difficult for White to keep the balance", Black certainly doesn't stand worse.  Instead, 6...fxg3 7.hxg3 allows Black to flick in ...Nf6-g4, whereupon White can allow the exchange of knight for bishop by playing Be3, Qd2 and 0-0-0, or meet ...Nf6-g4 with Be3-g1, which leaves White's pieces bottled up on the first rank but White still appears to get reasonable compensation for the pawn.

This is also relevant to the Becker Defence, 3...h6, which aims to avoid the Kieseritzky Gambit, since after reinforcing the g5-pawn, Black does not have to meet h2-h4 with ...g5-g4, and the interesting idea 4.b3, discouraging 4...g5, is well met by 4...d5 (or 4...Nf6- Shaw).

White again has the option of the Hanstein Gambit with 4.Bc4, but probably best is the Quaade Gambit style line 4.d4 g5 5.Nc3, and then Black's best is probably 5...d6, leading to the same position as I discussed earlier under the Fischer Defence.

This certainly appears to be one of the most critical positions in the early ...g5 lines of the King's Gambit at the moment.  White's better development counterbalances Black's extra pawn.

So, in conclusion, both 3...d6 and 3...h6 are probably about equal in value with 3...g5, though they narrow down Black's good options against the Quaade Gambit approach since if White plays 3...g5 4.Nc3 then Black has other good options besides playing 4...d6 5.d4 h6.   One significant advantage of 3...d6, however, is that it tempts White into the line 4.d4 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ng1, which is inferior to the Kieseritzky Gambit with 3...g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Two queen sacrifices on a6

I recently managed to get in an attractive queen sacrifice in an online "thematic" game in the Steinitz Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4).  The game was not without mistakes but the end result was very satisfying.

It was vaguely inspired by a similar queen sacrifice that I once pulled off in the French Defence, Winawer Poisoned Pawn variation at my local chess club some years ago, admittedly in a well-known theoretical line:

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5
I like the line 4.a3 intending 4...Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.Qg4, which leads to dynamically equal play and sometimes leads to Black coming under pressure on f6 after Bc1-g5, but on that occasion decided to take my opponent on in the main line.
4...c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7
I was involved in reading through some analysis of 7...0-0 at the local chess club a couple of months ago.  Although objectively Black is probably OK, I much prefer White in that line, for White gets reasonable long-term attacking chances against the black king.  My results as White against 7...Qc7 have been mixed.  I have also tried it out a couple of times from the black side in online games, with success.
8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 Bd7
11...dxc3 12.Qd3 d4 is most popular nowadays according to John Watson.
12.Qd3 dxc3 13.Nxc3
To my knowledge 13.Qxc3 is considered more critical, but the text move sets up a trap.
13...a6 14.Rb1 0-0-0?

Black needed to play a preparatory move like ...Na5 before castling queenside.  White wins material with 15.Qxa6! because if 15...bxa6 16.Bxa6+ Black's only legal move is to block with 16...Qb7.  I can't remember how the rest of the game went, but it was a fairly comfortable win due to the extra material and Black's exposed king.

Now onto the game in the Steinitz Gambit, which went as follows:

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4
This was a "thematic" game.  I would not normally play 2.Nc3 because of 2...Nf6 intending 3.f4 d5.  The only way the Steinitz Gambit can be reached via a 2.f4 move-order is 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4, or 3.d4 Nc6 4.Nc3, but in both cases Black does better to play 3...Qh4+ immediately.
4...Qh4+ 5.Ke2 d6 
This move isn't too bad but White should be able to get full compensation for the pawn against this.  More critical is 5...b6 intending ...Ba6+.
6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Bxf4 O-O-O 8.h3
The move played isn't clearly bad, but 8.Kd2 and 8.Ke3 are probably stronger here.
8...Bxf3+ 9.Kxf3 

Steinitz would have been pleased with White's king position, reinforcing the centre.  However Black could have caused White a few problems here with 9...Qf6, pinning the bishop on f4 and attacking d4.
9...Nf6 10.Qd2 Qh5+ 11.Ke3
Probably a bit too bold.  11.Kf2 is fine for White.
11...Ng4+ 12.hxg4?!
Not objectively best (it may well be deserving of a question mark), but I sensed that it was probably White's best practical choice, especially for an online game.  12.Kf3 g5 leaves Black with slightly the better of a messy position.
12...Qxh1 13.Nb5 a6 14.d5 Ne5 15.Qa5 
Objectively best was 15.Na7+ Kb8 16.Nc6+ Nxc6 (Not 16...bxc6? 17.Qb4+ followed by 18.Bxa6) 17.dxc6 with some attacking chances on the queenside, although Black stands better.
Best was 15...Qg1+ intending 16...Qc5 and Black should be winning with accurate play.
 16.Kd2 Rd7 17.Na7+ Kb8?
17...Kd8 was best although White has the upper hand after 18.Qb4.
 18.Nc6+ Kc8 
If 18...bxc6, 19.Qb4+ followed by 20.Bxa6+ wins for White.

19.Qxa6 Qxg2+ 20.Kc1 
The computer points out that 20.Kc3 actually forces checkmate because Black cannot exchange off the queen for White's bishop on f1.  20...Qf3+ 21.Kb4 Qxe4+ 22.Ka3 Qf3+ 23.c3 and Black runs out of checks.  Steinitz would certainly have been proud of White's king boldly marching onto the fourth rank.  However, the move played in the game wins comfortably because Black's only way to stop checkmate is to give up the queen.  In the game, Black allowed the checkmate.
20...bxa6 21.Bxa6#

Monday, 3 November 2014

King's Gambit, Quaade and Rosentreter lines revisited

I've been busy settling into my new life and job at Exeter recently, so it's been a while without any updates, but I've finally got around to updating my coverage of the Quaade (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Nc3) and Rosentreter (4.d4) Gambits.  The Quaade and Rosentreter approaches are discussed here:

I have also provided a separate page with discussion of the "Vienna Gambit" lines that arise from 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Nc3 Nc6, where instead of playing 5.g3, White plays 5.d4 (the Pierce Gambit) or 5.h4 g4 6.Ng5 (the Hamppe-Allgaier Gambit).  Note that John Shaw does not cover either of these lines in his book on the King's Gambit.
The more usual move-order into those lines is 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.Nf3 g5, which is why I have labelled them as part of the Vienna Gambit.  If you use that move-order you have to be ready for 2...Nf6 intending 3.f4 d5 (but not 3...exf4?!, since 4.e5 leaves the f6-knight without a good retreat square).  Michael Goeller's sadly-discontinued Kenilworthian blog has a discussion on the line ending in 3.f4 d5 for those who are interested. (scroll down past the most recent article and there are a few posts on that Vienna Gambit declined line).

My opinion of most of the lines hasn't changed much since reading through John Shaw's book, but unfortunately he makes quite a strong case against the piece sacrifice line 4.d4 g4 5.Bxf4 gxf3 6.Qxf3 (6...Nc6 being the main antidote, counterattacking against d4, and if 7.Bc4 threatening sacrifices on f7, his suggestion 7...Qh4+ looks good).  I am also less convinced by White's compensation after 4.d4 g4 5.Ne5 Qh4+ 6.g3 fxg3 7.Qxg4 Qxg4 8.Nxg4 than in the analogous line starting with 4.Nc3.  However, to my mind the 4.Nc3 lines are currently holding up well.

One important line that I have not yet got around to looking at is the Fischer Defence (3...d6 intending 4...g5).  In my previous coverage I lumped this and the Becker Defence (3...h6) together with 3...g5, but for my updated coverage I plan to cover them separately (probably sharing the same section) because 3...d6 is particularly important and I need to examine Brabo's coverage of the line as it will probably improve on my earlier analysis.

Friday, 3 October 2014

King's Gambit 3.Nf3 g5 lines revisited- 4.h4 and 4.Bc4

After 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3, Black's most theoretically critical response is to hold onto the f4-pawn by playing an early ...g7-g5.  The most popular way of doing so is with the immediate 3...g5 although there is also a strong case for the Fischer Defence (3...d6 intending 4...g5) which I intend to take a closer look at in the near future.  I may also need to re-examine 3...Nc6 intending 4...g5, which I used to use quite a lot in my own games before being put off by certain lines where White plays a quick d2-d4-d5.  However, 3...Nc6 remains my favourite response to 3.Bc4.

For now my revisits to these lines have focused upon 4.h4 and 4.Bc4.

Traditionally most often recommended for White during the 1990s was the Kieseritzky Gambit, 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5.

John Shaw has a very extensive analysis of some attractive possibilities for White in the line 5...Nf6 6.Bc4 (best, instead 6.d4 d6 7.Nd3 Nxe4 is difficult for White) 6...d5 7.exd5 Bd6, stemming from some of David Flude's ideas.  I have chosen to just give a few sample lines- those interested in a very extensive analysis would be advised to get his book.  

However, it hasn't added to my enthusiasm for the line because I have seen nothing to change my assessment that 5...Qe7, envisaging a quick queen trade on the e-file, leads to a rather sterile equality, where if anything Black's chances of getting a slight "nibble" (as Mark Hebden used to call it) are greater than White's.  I have seen further evidence of why 5...d6 6.Nxg4 Nf6 7.Nxf6+ Qxf6 is regarded as drawish at high levels of play, though I think that at club level, there is plenty of scope for both sides to go wrong early in the game, so I don't think 5...d6 should bother club players too much.  Finally, there is 5...Nc6!? intending 6.d4 Qf6, which is a good way for Black to get unbalanced and equal play and a fair share of the attacking chances.

Meanwhile the Allgaier Gambit, 5.Ng5, is still looking somewhat dubious, though I can see scope for some players to have a lot of fun with it in casual games, since White does get a strong attack if Black plays inaccurately.  Both 5...f3!? and 5...h6 are looking strong for Black.  Fans of this approach are well-advised to try the Quaade Gambit (4.Nc3) with the aim of reaching the Hamppe-Allgaier Gambit following 4...Nc6 5.h4 g4 6.Ng5, where the inclusion of Nc3 and ...Nc6 improves White's chances.

Then there is 4.Bc4, which often leads to a Hanstein Gambit.

The piece sacrifice line 4...g4 5.0-0 gxf3 6.Qxf3 is still looking quite attractive for White, as long as White meets 6...Qf6 with 7.d3, rather than the further pawn sacrifice 7.e5, which is looking dubious.

However, Black does better to set up the solid f4-g5-h6 pawn chain.  John Shaw has suggested a couple of improvements over my previous analysis of the line 4.Bc4 Bg7 5.d4 d6 6.0-0 Nc6 7.c3 h6 8.Qa4 (which has been recommended and analysed extensively by Stefan Bücker).  The idea of that line is to encourage 8...Bd7 so that 9.Qb3 cannot be met by 9...Qd7.  The main idea is that after 8...Bd7 9.Qb3 Na5 10.Bxf7+ Kf8 11.Qa3 Kxf7 12.Qxa5, Black plays 12...Ne7, completing development, rather than hitting out at White's centre with 12...c5.  While I think Shaw is too dismissive of the line from White's perspective (White does have a strong pawn centre and a safer king to offset Black's better development and bishop-pair) a closer look at the line does suggest that if anyone stands slightly better, it is probably Black.  Alternatively, White can hack around with h2-h4 and b2-b4-b5, raising questions about where Black should put the king, since it is prone to attack on either side of the board, but again with accurate play Black should be able to get the better chances.

A reasonable alternative for Black is 4...Nc6, which often arises from the Bishop's Gambit: 3.Bc4 Nc6 4.Nf3 g5, but it will usually transpose into the same variations.

Thus I am no longer convinced that 4.Bc4 leads to dynamic equality with best play- Black may well be able to eke out a theoretical edge.  However, as I know from experience of playing the black side of these lines, it is far from easy for Black to demonstrate this at club level.

The next area to be revisited will be the Quaade and Rosentreter Gambits with 4.Nc3 and 4.d4, respectively, which I tend to favour from the white side.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

King's Gambit Modern Defence

I have been busy recently, away on holiday for two weeks and preparing to start a new job in mid-October (which will mean relocating to Devon from Yorkshire) so progress on my chess site has been quite slow recently.  However, as promised, I have been recapping on my King's Gambit coverage, revising it after taking a close look at John Shaw's enormous book on the opening.  My investigations have started with the Modern Defence: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5.

In general I think John Shaw may if anything be a little pessimistic from White's point of view in some of the variations, as reading through the book it is not clear if White can even reach equality.  I think that after 4.exd5 Nf6 (which clearly represents best play from both sides), White can get dynamically equal play with 5.c4!?, and that 5.Bb5+ and 5.Bc4 are both sufficient for dynamic equality.  After 5.Bc4 Nxd5 6.0-0 Be6 7.Bb3 c5 (Nakamura-Adams, London Classic 2011) I still think that 8.c4 and 8.d3 are probably good enough for equality, although I don't trust 8.d4 or Nakamura's 8.Kh1.  After 5.Bb5+ best play probably runs 5...c6 6.dxc6 Nxc6 7.d4 Bd6 8.0-0 0-0 9.c4 Bg4 with equal chances.

On the other hand, 5.Nc3 looks dubious (5...Nxd5 6.Nxd5 Qxd5 7.d4 Be7 8.c4 Qe4+, or 6.Bc4 Nxc3 7.dxc3 Qe7+) and I'm not sure that White gets enough for the pawn following 5.Be2!? Nxd5 6.c4 Ne7, intending ...Ng6 defending f4 (Shaw doesn't believe in White's compensation there).

In general though Shaw's coverage is impressively thorough, as he covers 5.c4, 5.Bb5+, 5.Bc4 and 5.Nc3 in considerable depth, and those who are interested in knowing about the ins and outs of the various sidelines would definitely benefit from his chapter on the Modern Defence.  My coverage is rather thinner by comparison but I hope that I have included the most important variations and ideas for both sides.

Friday, 22 August 2014

John Shaw's Kings Gambit book plus a look at the Halloween Gambit

A brief look at the Halloween Gambit

The Halloween Gambit is an aggressive but dubious piece sacrifice in the Four Knights Game, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5?!, which I have used about half a dozen times in casual games at the local chess club (though I would never use it in a serious tournament or match game).

White's idea is that after 4...Nxe5 White can strive to crush Black using the central pawns and force Black's knights to retreat to passive positions.  To my mind, the fact that White may objectively only be slightly worse after such a continuation reflects upon how rich in possibilities chess is.  If Black tries to hold onto the extra piece then White generally gets significant (though often not full) compensation for it.  One popular line runs 4...Nxe5 5.d4 Nc6 6.d5 Ne5 7.f4 Ng6 8.e5 Ng8 9.d6 cxd6 10.exd6, which gives White an imposing pawn on d6.

If Black plays ...Qb6 or ...Qf6 and then plays ...Kd8 to prevent the loss of the a8-rook to Nb5-c7+, then White generally gets good compensation for the sacrificed knight, although there is a flaw in this variation (with 10...Qf6 11.Nb5 Nxf4!, sacrificing the rook on a8, Black gets very good attacking chances).  

The other main accepted line of the gambit is 4...Nxe5 5.d4 Ng6 6.e5 Ng8 7.Bc4.  Here the most critical response is probably Max Euwe's 7...d5 8.Bxd5 c6 (8...N8e7 is also good), where White maintains compensation for the piece but with best play Black should be slightly better.

Thus the Halloween Gambit can be successful in rapid games and is the sort of line that can provide fans of unorthodox openings with a lot of fun.  However, I don't recommend it for use in serious games because Black has various ways to return the piece and reach at least an equal game, the biggest problem being Jan Pinski's suggestion 5...Nc6 6.d5 Bb4, which generally results in Black getting the majority of the attacking chances.  Indeed, even 5...Bd6 6.dxe5 Bxe5 looks at least equal for Black.  I have seen people compare the Halloween Gambit to the Cochrane Gambit, but this issue represents the most important difference between the two- in the Cochrane Black has no way to return the piece early in the game and come close to reaching equality, let alone a better position, and so must hold onto the piece and withstand White's attempts to squeeze Black using the central pawns.

The King's Gambit and John Shaw's book

After this bit of light entertainment, some "heavier" stuff is in order.  I intend to return to the Evans Gambit soon with a look at the declined variations, but for now, I feel it is time to update my coverage of the King's Gambit, especially in view of the large book that came out on the opening by John Shaw, and to expand upon it, as I don't think I got around to covering the declined variations (notably the Falkbeer and 2...Bc5- I have faced 2...Bc5 a few times from the white side recently as well).

My general opinion of the book is favourable- it is an impressively thorough coverage, and Shaw has come up with a number of suggestions for both sides that I hadn't considered, so there is plenty to examine.  He also agrees with me that the Quaade Gambit approach vs. the ...g5 lines (with an early Nf3 followed by Nc3) is probably White's best way to generate unbalanced, open-ended and equal play.  However, on the downside, I think he is too dismissive of some sidelines that fall outside of his main repertoire, most notably the King's Bishop Gambit (I have used 3...Nc6 as my main antidote to 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 for about six years, but I feel that calling it a refutation is too strong- I think White should be able to reach equality in the 4.d4 lines and maybe 4.Nf3 also) and the piece sacrifice lines of the Rosentreter for instance.  

Another important source that I expect to be using is the Chess-Brabo blog, which contains an interesting discussion on the Fischer Defence vs. the Quaade Gambit.  I definitely need to revisit those lines, especially as I sometimes get them from both sides of the board (mainly White, but I've had a couple of games as Black which reached these lines via transposition also).

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Cochrane Gambit vs the Petroff

Many 1.e4 players are frustrated by the Petroff Defence, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6, whereupon if White grabs the pawn on e5, 3.Nxe5, then 3...d6 follows, encouraging 4.Nf3 Nxe4.  However, in the Cochrane Gambit, White instead speculatively sacrifices a knight on f7:  4.Nxf7.

I was inspired to take a look at this line after examining David Bronstein's dubious piece sacrifice in the Two Knights Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.d3 h6 7.Nf3 e4 8.dxe4 Nxc4).  The Cochrane Gambit, despite looking crazy at first glance, is rather sounder because White gets a similarly strong centre, and also leaves the black king misplaced.  Black often spends time getting the king into a relatively safe position which allows White to build up a space advantage.  Rather than aim for a quick attack against the black king, White generally seeks a slower build-up, aiming to crush Black by pushing the central pawns forward, although many lines also give White long-term attacking prospects against the black king.

After 4...Kxf7 White generally continues with 5.d4, since 5.Bc4+ is met by 5...d5.  If Black plays 5...Nxe4?! then White wins the knight on e4 with 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Qd5+, or 6...Ke7 7.Qe2.  My examinations of the line have suggested that the line 5.d4 g6 6.Nc3 (if 6.Bc4+ Kg7 7.Nc3 Be7) 6...c5 may be the hardest line to crack, where Black aims to put the king on g7 and play to undermine White's d4-pawn, encouraging a pawn swap on c5 and a queen swap on the d-file.

In most of the other lines White appears to be able to get sufficient compensation for the sacrificed knight without much difficulty.  For example, 5...d5 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 leaves Black's knight unstable, 5...Be7 6.Nc3 c6 7.Bd3 Re8 8.0-0 is promising for White, and 5...Qe8 6.Nc3 c5 (suggested by John Watson) is fine for White after 7.Be3!? (a Rybka suggestion) and 7.Bc4+ Be6 8.d5.

5...c5 is tricky, since 6.Bc4+ is met by 6...d5 7.exd5 b5, and 6.Nc3 g6 transposes to 5.d4 g6 6.Nc3 c5, so White's best is probably 6.dxc5 Nc6 7.Bc4+ Be6 8.Bxe6+ Kxe6 (Short-Shirov, Dubai rapid 2002).  I am not sure if White's compensation is objectively 100% sufficient in that line, but with the black king considerably misplaced there will always be significant practical chances.  However, "Vass" at the forum suggested 6...d5!?, which appears good for Black.

A deviation is 5.Nc3 (Topalov-Kramnik, Linares 1999) which is probably no better or worse than 5.d4 theoretically, as I haven't been able to find a way for White to avoid the transpositions to the critical line with ...g6 and ...c5, while Black's other responses tend to give White enough compensation.  The Topalov and Short games are both analysed in my site's games and analysis section.

I think that the Cochrane Gambit isn't 100% sound with best play, but it is close enough to giving White full compensation to be fully viable at club level and maybe a fair way beyond that.   Those who consider the knight sacrifice to be too risky could consider the line 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 instead, while Michael Goeller wrote an extensive article on some approaches following 3.d4.

Another source on the Cochrane is Goeller's bibliography on the line.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Evans Gambit Part 3- 5...Ba5, 7.0-0 Nge7, 7.Qb3

My investigations into the Evans Gambit Accepted are concluded with a look at the most critical lines following 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.d4 exd4.  The illustrative examples are now complete as well.

After this I envisage taking a little break from the Evans and looking at the Cochrane Gambit and maybe one or two other "lighter" lines before returning to the Evans and covering the declined variations, as 4...Bb6 in particular will quite often be encountered.  I also think it will be well worth revisiting my coverage of the King's Gambit, having read most of John Shaw's book and seen some discussion of the relevant lines at

The main problem with 7.0-0 has always been 7...Nge7 preparing to strike out in the centre with ...d7-d5.  In these lines White can generally regain the gambit pawn but Black has little trouble equalising.

For instance 8.cxd4 d5 leaves White with nothing better than 9.exd5 Nxd5, and White can typically regain the pawn by playing Qb3 and Qxb7 but Black ends up quite comfortable.
More aggressive is 8.Ng5 intending 8...d5 9.exd5 Ne5 (not 9...Nxd5? 10.Nxf7) and then White should play 10.Qxd4 rather than the retreat 10.Bb3.  Play can get quite complicated, but the complications quite often burn out to a draw or an equal endgame.

Thus Nigel Short has preferred 7.Qb3, attacking f7 and preventing Black from carrying out the ...Nge7 and ...d5 plan immediately.  Play then typically continues 7...Qf6 8.d4 Bb6 9.e5 Qg6 10.cxd4.

This offers the sacrifice of a second pawn on d4, which gives White dangerous compensation if accepted, so Black generally acquires the bishop-pair with 10...Na5, but 11.Qa4 Nxc4 12.Qxc4 still gives White reasonable compensation for the pawn due to the strong centre and open lines for the pieces.  Mihail Marin recommended 8...Nge7 but I am not sure that Black's life is so easy after 9.cxd4 Bb6 10.e5 Qf5 11.Ba3.  Black can try to return the pawn with ...d7-d6, but it is not a definite equaliser.

I think 7...Qe7 is also similarly playable, leading to dynamically equal play, but it is perhaps harder for Black to handle the resulting positions over the board.  8.d4 Bb6 (8...d6 and 8...Nf6 currently look likely to concede some advantage to White, in spite of the pawn minus) 9.cxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Bxd4 11.Nc3 is the usual continuation which gives White dangerous compensation for two pawns.

In conclusion, Black appears able to keep the chances level after 4...Bxb4 5.c3 Be7, 5...Bc5 and 5...Ba5 but in each case White appears able to ensure that it is a dynamic rather than sterile type of equality, so the accepted lines of the Evans are looking in reasonable shape from White's point of view as well.  I would say that 7.Qb3 is looking more promising after 5...Ba5 6.d4 exd4 because although the resulting positions are only equal, it is much harder for Black to return the pawn and reach easy equality.  I think that 5...Bd6 is interesting, but with best play White should be able to get some advantage against it.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Evans Gambit Part 2- The Normal Position, 4...Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.d4 d6 and the Compromised Defence

I've been busy during the last fortnight but have come out with the latest update on the Evans Gambit.

Firstly, a recap on 4...Bxb4 5.c3 Be7.  In Nigel Short's preferred line, 6.d4 Na5 7.Bd3 d6, if White continues with 8.dxe5 then Black has the independent option 8...Bg4, as pointed out to me by Mark Nieuweboer, so White should in my opinion consider the move-order trick 8.0-0, intending 9.dxe5, and in that case 8...Bg4 is met by 9.Nbd2 reinforcing the knight on f3.

Instead, after 5...Bc5 6.d4 exd4 7.0-0 Bb6 8.cxd4 d6 (or 7.cxd4 Bb6 8.0-0 d6) we reach the so-called Normal Position.

Tim Harding wrote extensively about this in his two-part series about Chigorin and the Evans Gambit.  I don't really trust 9.d5 Na5 10.Bd3, but 10.h3, preventing 10...Bg4, might be good enough.  Instead 9.Nc3, the preference of Morphy and Chigorin, looks good enough to provide enough compensation for the pawn following 9...Na5 10.Bd3 Ne7 11.Nd5 (or 11.h3) and 10...Bg4 11.Nd5 (sacrificing a second pawn, also good is 11.Be3).  Black generally retains the extra pawn, so the "Normal Position" offers both sides good scope to play for a win.

Instead critical is 5...Ba5, whereupon after 6.d4 (I don't trust 6.Qb3 Qe7, followed by 7...Nf6, or 6.0-0 Nf6, both of which give Black chances to safely castle kingside) Black can play 6...d6 whereupon 7.0-0 Bb6 leads into Lasker's Defence.

Traditionally this has led to a double-edged game after a long and fairly forcing line: 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Qb3 (9.Qxd8+ Nxd8 10.Nxe5 Nf6 is equal) 9...Qf6 10.Bg5 Qg6 11.Bd5 Nge7 12.Bxe7 Kxe7 13.Nxc6 Qxc6 14.Nxe5 Qe6 15.Nc4 Rd8.  However, Mihail Marin pointed out the deviation 11...f6 in Beating the Open Games, which appears to be better for Black, and was successful in Kogan-Anand, Venaco 2005.  Thus White should avoid this line.

Thus White tends to continue 7.Qb3 Qd7 and grandmasters have largely abandoned the old main line 8.dxe5, striving to open the d-file.  I am guessing that this is because of Black's method of returning the gambit pawn with 8...Bb6, rather than the attempt to hold it with 8...dxe5.  White typically gets better piece play, but an inferior pawn structure, e.g. 9.Nbd2 Na5 10.Qc2 Nxc4 11.Nxc4 d5 12.exd5 Qxd5 13.Ne3 Bxe3 14.Bxe3 Ne7 (Li-Ni, Manila 2007).

Nigel Short has tried out 8.Nbd2 Bb6 9.a4 which worked well for him in Short-Sargissian, Wijk aan Zee 2008, but 9...Nf6 may be a more critical test than the 9...Nh6 played in the game.

Finally we come to the Compromised Defence with 6...exd4 7.0-0 dxc3, which is reminiscent of some lines of the Danish and Goring Gambits, but with improved chances for White.  The most critical line runs 8.Qb3 Qf6 (8...Qe7 9.Nxc3 sets up the dangerous threat of Nc3-d5, and if 9...Bxc3 10.Qxc3 and if 10...f6 11.e5) 9.e5 Qg6 10.Nxc3.

Most reliable is 10...Nge7 11.Ba3 0-0, getting the king to comparative safety on the kingside, but White can generate very strong kingside threats, particularly with the black queen exposed on the kingside.  Computers tend to assess these positions as equal but in practice Black's defence is very difficult.

An interesting sideline after 7.0-0 is 7...Nf6!?, also examined by Tim Harding at one of his later articles (  I think White's best bet is probably 8.e5 rather than the old book recommendation 8.Ba3 and the resulting positions are somewhat messy, but Black has to exercise considerable care to navigate through the complications without trouble.

Of course my coverage of the Evans isn't finished- there is still 7.0-0 Nge7 and the 7.Qb3 lines to examine, which are probably the three most important lines for the theoretical assessment of the Evans.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Evans Gambit Part 1- 4...Bxb4 5.c3 Bd6, Be7

The Evans Gambit begins 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4.  Unlike most of the other "Open Gambits" that I have looked at so far, where White (or less commonly Black) sacrifices the d or e-pawn, in the Evans White sacrifices a wing pawn in order to gain time building up a strong centre with c2-c3 and d2-d4.  The coverage is expanding here:

The Evans Gambit is a complex line with numerous options along the way for both sides, so it will probably take quite a while to complete the coverage.  However, I feel that a site devoted primarily to romantic-style gambits would be incomplete without covering the Evans Gambit, which was especially popular at high levels of play during the late 19th century and is still played occasionally by grandmasters today, such as Nigel Short and Alexander Morozevich.  I also had a lot of success on the white side of the Evans during my junior chess playing days.  In some variations White can take advantage of the missing b-pawn by playing Bc1-a3 and catching the black king in the centre.

Black most often accepts the gambit with 4...Bxb4 (although the declined variation with 4...Bb6 is also important), whereupon White usually continues with the immediate 5.c3, attacking the black bishop.  Instead 5.0-0 is less convincing because Black can play 5...Nf6 and strive for rapid castling, something that Black often doesn't get time for in the lines following 5.c3 without making concessions.


5...Bd6 is an unusual but fairly respectable move, reinforcing the pawn on e5.  The main problem with it is that Black blocks in the c8-bishop by blocking the movement of the pawn on d7, and this often leads to Black getting into a tangle in the early middlegame.  The usual continuation is 6.d4 Nf6 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1, and then Black can try 8...h6 (preventing the plan of Nf3-g5 followed by f2-f4) 9.Nbd2 Re8,

whereupon White is doing quite well after both 10.Qb3 (attacking f7) and 10.Bd3 (getting the bishop out of the way of any ...Nc6-a5 tricks).  Note that after 10.Bd3, Tim Harding's recommendation 10...Bf8 11.Nxe5 Nxe5 12.dxe5 Rxe5 13.f4 is flawed because of 13...Bc5+ followed by 14...Rh5, so White should prefer 13.Nf3.

The 8...Qe7 used in the main illustrative game Berelowitsch-Andersen, Bundesliga 2014 is less convincing because White plays 9.Nbd2 and if 9...Re8 10.Nf1 (preparing Ng5 followed by f4) and Black has serious problems maintaining the strong-point on e5.


This is a more important response which is often used by grandmasters, as it offers Black good scope to return the gambit pawn and reach equality (or at least get very close to equality), whereas the more critical 5...Ba5 makes it easier for White to insist on playing for compensation for a pawn.

An old favourite of Tim Harding's is 6.Qb3!? which attacks the f7-pawn immediately.  Although Black can get in the ...Na5 fork (of the queen on b3 and bishop on c4) White can force concessions in the black kingside by playing 6...Nh6 7.d4 Na5 8.Qb5 Nxc4 9.Bxh6.

This line offers good practical chances, but be warned: objectively, I think it is flawed, because Black can play 9...gxh6 here and then follow up with ...Rg8, taking charge of the half-open g-file.  For example, 10.Qxc4 exd4 11.cxd4 Rg8 12.0-0 d5! 13.exd5 Bh3, as played in Asker-Tosti, Brazil 1998.  My main illustrative example is Morozevich-Bacrot, Sarajevo 2000, in which Black instead played 9...Nd6 and got equality.

More reliable is thus the main line with 6.d4 Na5 and then the traditional main line runs 7.Nxe5 Nxc4 8.Nxc4 d5 9.exd5 Qxd5 10.Ne3, where White has the better central control but Black has the bishop-pair.  Since this line is probably no better than equal for White, most grandmasters have experimented with alternatives in the last two decades.  Garry Kasparov tried 7.Be2 instead in the 1990s, whereupon Black should probably defend e5 with 7...d6 rather than allowing 7...exd4 8.Qxd4. 
Nowadays most grandmasters, including Nigel Short, prefer 7.Bd3, which leads to roughly equal play after 7...d6 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Nxe5.  The game Short-Bruzon Batista, Poikovsky Karpov 2012, then continued 9...Nf6 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qc2 c5.

Short now played 12.f4, which allowed Black to generate counterplay on the queenside with 12...c4 and Black soon got the upper hand.  I think that 12.Nd2 is probably best, covering the c4-square, and only then 13.f4, after which I slightly prefer White's position.

Repertoire/move-order issues

Another enhancement to my chess site is the addition of a brief section detailing some repertoire/move-order issues that players of these lines might come across (these will gradually be established across the site as I add new articles and update old ones).  This was inspired partly by reading through some debates on the Evans Gambit at the forum, where some members pointed out that a significant issue with the Evans Gambit is that White has to be prepared to face the Two Knights Defence (3...Nf6), which is also the main reason why I rarely face the Evans Gambit from the black side.

From White's point of view I would recommend either 4.Ng5 or 4.d4, depending on taste (the line 4.d4 exd4 is covered on my site via the Scotch Gambit), since 4.d3 tends to lead to relatively closed, slow games (especially if Black goes for solid defence rather than the more aggressive set-ups based on ...d7-d5 and/or ...f7-f5) and the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit is currently looking somewhat dubious.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit

My coverage of the Two Knights Defence is effectively concluded with my coverage of the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit, which runs 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bc4, or 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nf3, offering a sacrifice of the pawn on e4.

Although probably unsound, this gambit is better than it looks at first sight, since after 3...Nxe4 4.Nc3 Nxc3 5.dxc3, Black's only way to defend the e5-pawn is to play the weakening 5...f6, whereupon White can generate hacking chances on the kingside with 6.Nh4 threatening Qh5+, and meet 6...g6 by throwing the f-pawn forward (7.f4 Qe7 8.f5 Qg7 9.fxg6 being the typical continuation, leading to considerable complications).  Although Black can get the better chances with best play, there is plenty of scope for Black to go wrong (that said, in practice Black scores better than average according to my database).

White can instead defer the attack with 6.0-0, but this allows Black an extra move to organise a defence.  Probably best is 6...Nc6, leading to a position often reached via the Two Knights Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.0-0 Nxc3 6.dxc3 f6).  Then after 7.Nh4 g6 8.f4, Tim Harding recommends 8...f5, but I also think John Emms's suggestion 8...Qg7 (in Play the Open Games as Black) is equally good, since White has to attend to the threat of ...Qc5+, and after, say, 9.Kh1 d6 10.f5 Qg7, White cannot play 11.fxg6 safely because after 11...hxg6 Black gets the half-open h-file pointing at White's king.  White gets some, but insufficient, compensation for the pawn, but in my opinion Black's position is easier to play than after 6.Nh4, and Black has a plus score in practice.

Two Knights Defence players interested in an analysis from a specifically Two Knights perspective should check out the notes to Game 3 (Fabri-Ashton, Blackpool 2014) which covers 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.0-0 and 4.Nc3, including the "fork trick" line 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5.  It is important to bear this line in mind, since I think White actually has chances of an edge after 6.Bd3 dxe4 7.Bxe4 Bd6 (the standard "book" line) and so Black should look into alternatives at move 7, such as 7...Ne7 intending 8...f5 hitting out at the bishop on e4.  Via the Two Knights move order Black can also consider 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.0-0 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 (instead of 6...f6), returning the pawn, but I hesitate to recommend this because many games with this line end in draws (plus 6...f6 should be better for Black).

From White's point of view, the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit may appeal to some players- it certainly gives practical chances- but those after a reliable way to sacrifice the e4-pawn would be better off looking into the Urusov Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4, which can also be reached via 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bc4, or 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nf3).

For a second opinion, Tim Harding's article on the gambit is well worth checking out.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Two Knights Defence with 4.d3

With 4.d3 White quietly defends the e4-pawn from attack, and can either continue in "Giuoco Pianissimo" style, aiming for quiet development, or can continue by analogy with the closed lines of the Ruy Lopez, aiming to re-route the c4-bishop back to c2 and aim for c2-c3 and an eventual d3-d4.

My Gambiteers' Guild site coverage is here:

I feel that it is important to cover these lines, since many sources on the Two Knights Defence focus on White's aggressive tries with 4.Ng5 and 4.d4, which tend to allow Black easy counterplay, and so those who are attracted to Black's counterattacking possibilities may get depressed when White plays 4.d3 and aims for a closed manoeuvring game.  I don't advocate 4.d3 as it is rather against the spirit of my chess site (Dr. Dave Regis at Exeter Chess Club calls this sort of approach the "Old Stodge", especially as most club players don't know how to play Closed Ruy Lopez type positions in an ambitious way).  Thus, rather than the "encyclopaedic" type approach that I used in the case of 4.Ng5 and 4.d4, I have mainly focused on ways to generate aggressive play from Black's point of view.

The most obvious way to generate active play is 4...d5 but unfortunately this is somewhat dubious, since after 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.0-0 Black has no good way to defend the pawn on e5 (approaches with ...f7-f6 tend to be both passive and weakening).  The gambit line with 6...Bc5 7.Re1 0-0 8.Nxe5 Qh4 might work at rapid time limits but White can get a large advantage with 9.Qf3, or even 9.Nf3!?, inviting Black to take on f2.

Therefore Black does best to refine the plan by castling short quickly (to get the king off the e-file) and only then playing ...d7-d5.  4...Bc5 is the most active-looking post for the king's bishop, taking aim at f2 and envisaging 5.0-0 0-0 6.c3 d5, but 6...d5 doesn't work well against 6.Nbd2, while Black also has to have something ready against 5.Nc3, preventing ...d5.  The Canal Variation (5...d6 6.Bg5) is best met by 6...Na5, rather than 6...h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Nd5 Qd8 9.c3, which gives White chances of an edge because of the plan with d3-d4.

It seems that Black gets more scope for active play with the apparently-restrained 4...Be7, recommended by John Emms in Play the Open Games as Black.  In most lines, approaches with an early ...d7-d5 are playable (the line 5.0-0 0-0 6.c3 d5 is particularly effective here) and sometimes Black can offer a Ruy Lopez, Marshall Gambit-style sacrifice of the e5-pawn in return for kingside attacking chances.  The ...d7-d5 plan doesn't work against 6.Re1, but in that line Black can consider ...Kh8, ...Ng8 and ...f7-f5, striving to open the f-file and take advantage of the fact that Rf1-e1 weakens the support of the f2-pawn.  The 5.Nc3 variation can be met by ...d6 and ...Nf6-d7 envisaging ...f7-f5.

An alternative idea for Black is to leave the king in the centre for a while and push the kingside pawns towards White's king, which I have experimented with in my own games.  The bottom line is, it works well if White plays passively, but is dubious against White's more ambitious approaches, and queenside castling can run into a dangerous attack with a2-a4 and b2-b4-b5.  I have thus restricted myself to referring to a few high-level practical examples of this approach in the notes.

My next update will focus on the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit (which will most likely conclude my investigations into the Two Knights Defence), which is likely to feature a return to the "encyclopaedic" style of coverage, since some readers might also fancy trying it out from the white side.  After that I will most likely investigate the Evans Gambit with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Two Knights Defence- the 5...Na5 lines- Part 2

I have now completed the coverage of the 4.Ng5 lines in the Two Knights Defence.  I don't expect this to be the last of my investigations into the Two Knights Defence as there is still the popular 4.d3 to look at (I am currently researching into 4...d5, the suggestion of 4...Bc5 intending ...0-0 and only then ...d5, and Mark Nieuweboer's suggestion of 4...Be7 intending ...0-0, ...Ne8/Ng4 and ...f5) and the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit may be worth giving some brief coverage to also.

The last three illustrative games cover the lines 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 and now 8.Bd3, 8.Be2 h6 9.Nh3, and 9.Nf3.

8.Bd3 is a tricky move which covers the e4-square and may envisage c2-c3 and Bd3-c2, tucking the bishop away, but Mark Ginsburg's recommendation 8...Ng4 looks strong against this, so I don't think there will be too many takers for 8.Bd3 over the coming decade.

8.Be2 h6 9.Nh3!? puts the knight on the rim and invites ...Bc8xh3, which I reckon will tempt most club players (it would certainly tempt me if I wasn't familiar with the line) but it is an error as White can shore up the kingside with Be2-f3-g2, or perhaps 0-0 and Kg1-g2, and enjoy the advantage of the bishop-pair.  Instead Black should play around the knight on h3 and can expect to get full compensation for the pawn- indeed White often re-routes the knight back to f3 via g1 after a while.

9.Nf3 is the main move for White, after which play often continues with 9...e4 10.Ne5 Bd6 11.d4 exd3 12.Nxd3 Qc7.

I'm aware that there are authorities on the Two Knights Defence who are much higher-rated than I and who believe in Black's chances in this position but I personally think that after the strong plan with 13.b3 followed by Bb2, putting pressure on the black kingside, Black is struggling to maintain full compensation for the pawn.
But it may not matter, because the main alternative for Black, 10...Bc5, invites 11.c3 (threatening a pawn fork with b2-b4) and then Black continues with 11...Bd6, arguing that White's extra tempo with c2-c3 is harmful as it makes the plan with b2-b3 hard to engineer successfully.  I think that after 10...Bc5, Black is having few problems demonstrating full compensation for the pawn (a view that has recently been shared by some of the regular contributors at

Thus, the 4.Ng5 lines with 4...d5 5.exd5 Na5 continue to look dynamically equal with best play, though of course at club level we often don't encounter best play.  In my experience (having played both lines from the black side) the Ulvestad variation (5...b5), though less likely to provide full compensation for the pawn with best play, tends to be met less accurately than 5...Na5 at club level, so the choice between the two at club level is more a matter of taste and tolerance for risk, but at grandmaster level 5...Na5 is definitely the more reliable.

Finally, for further opinions on these lines, I refer readers to the section of Michael Goeller's bibliography on 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 that he dubs the "Duffer's Attack", which covers each of the 4.Ng5 lines that I have recently investigated.

I have also updated the Scotch Gambit coverage (mainly just the format, and fixing the links from the main Two Knights page) for of course players of the Two Knights Defence need to have something ready against 4.d4, which after 4...exd4 transposes to the Scotch Gambit line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6, which I have already looked at extensively.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Two Knights Defence 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 lines Part 1

I have half-completed my investigations into the main lines of the Two Knights Defence with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5.

This is Black's most reliable way of securing compensation for a pawn, although having said that, I believe that there is a strong case for Black's practical chances at club level (and possibly a fair way beyond that) in the 5...b5 variation, and possibly 4...Bc5 as well.  After 4...d5 5.exd5 Nxd5, however, I would much rather be White.

My investigations (with one annotated example of each) have focused on 6.d3, 6.Bb5+ Bd7 and 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Qf3.

I had always been interested in David Bronstein's piece sacrifice line 6.d3 h6 7.Nf3 e4 8.dxe4!? Nxc4, which gives White two pawns and an imposing array of central pawns for the sacrificed piece, especially as I occasionally try out these 4.Ng5 lines from the white side as well.  Unfortunately for White, it strikes me as an inferior relative of the Cochrane Gambit against the Petroff Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7!?), in which White gets a similarly imposing pawn centre and also exposes the black king.  In the piece sacrifice line stemming from 6.d3, Black's king generally ends up pretty safe, and this makes it much harder for White to generate anything particularly concrete in return for the piece.  At rapid time controls it might work, though, as Black might defend inaccurately and allow White to crush Black with the central pawns, as Bronstein did in the "stem game".
The main continuation, 8.Qe2 Nxc4 9.dxc4 Bc5, is quite grim for White in spite of the extra pawn.

The next deviation is for Black, with 6.Bb5+ Bd7.  Black is more likely to regain the gambit pawn in this variation but is less likely to get a long lead in development, and I think that White has more chances to get a slight edge than after the more popular 6...c6.  The critical continuations are 7.Qe2 Bd6 8.Nc3 0-0 9.Bxd7 Qxd7 10.a3 b6 11.d3 Be7 (improving on the 11...c6?! of Morozevich-Sokolov, Sarajevo 1999) and 7...Be7 8.Nc3 0-0 9.0-0 c6 10.dxc6 Nxc6 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.d3 Re8.  In both cases Black has fair compensation for the pawn but White might have a slight edge.

Finally there is 6...c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Qf3.  I don't think this continuation is very promising for White, since 8...Rb8 (as played in the main illustrative game, Vallejo Pons-Inarkiev, Khanty-Mansiysk 2007), 8...h6 and 8...Be7 all appear to give Black fully adequate compensation for the pawn.  After 8...Rb8 and 8...Be7, it is very risky for White to grab a second pawn on c6, so White generally prefers to retreat the bishop with 8.Bd3, which leaves the bishop quite awkwardly placed.  Black can even consider the exchange sacrifice 8...cxb5?! 9.Qxa8, which I think is theoretically unsound, but even so, I would hesitate to take White in the resulting positions, and Black's score in practice has been quite good.

Next article

The next blog article on the 4.Ng5 lines of the Two Knights Defence will conclude my investigations into 4.Ng5, by focusing on the main lines with 8.Be2 (where after 8...h6 White chooses between 9.Nf3 and 9.Nh3) and 8.Bd3, which has received some attention at grandmaster level.  

I will be particularly interested to see what I find in the main line with 8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Bd6 11.d4 exd3 12.Nxd3 Qc7 13.b3.  Tim Harding claimed an advantage for White with this 13th move in his Kibitzer article a while back (well worth checking out for a second opinion on these lines):
13.b3 has also been favoured by GMs Alexander Morozevich and Nigel Short, and has scored quite well for White in the database.  However, there is also 10...Bc5 to consider (Harding also indicated the move as a possible improvement for Black in his article), which has been scoring very well for Black recently.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Some more on the Two Knights Defence with 4.Ng5 - Traxler, Fritz, Ulvestad and Fried Liver Attack

I've been promising this for a while, and finally got around to working on it: the coverage of a wide range of critical 4.Ng5 lines of the Two Knights Defence.

Previously I had just looked at the Fried Liver and Lolli Attacks (following 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 and now the dubious 5...Nxd5, which allows White a choice between sacrificing on f7 immediately with 6.Nxf7, or deferring the sacrifice with 6.d4).  For now, I maintain that 6.d4 is the more likely of the two to provide a theoretical edge, but that some players may well be better-served by 6.Nxf7, as it forces Black's king out into the middle of the board, and provided that White avoids the over-exuberant rook sacrifice with 6...Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 Ncb4 9.a3?!, White should get enough compensation for the sacrificed knight (9.Qe4, 9.0-0 and 9.Bb3 are all good.)

However, Black has an interesting sideline at move 4, 4...Bc5!?, the Traxler Counterattack (Frank Marshall named this the Wilkes-Barre Variation, but this name has fallen largely into disuse as Traxler played the line many times before Marshall found out about it).  It isn't as reliable as the main line with 4...d5 5.exd5 Na5, but following 5.d4 and 5.Bxf7+, Black gets a playable position, with partial compensation for the sacrificed pawn, while 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+, remarkably, appears to give Black enough of an attack for the material, even after going a rook and piece down in some cases, regardless of whether White plays 6.Kxf2 or 6.Kf1.  The bad news for Black is that the line 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1 generally leads to a draw, although in practice White often goes wrong and loses.

For a second opinion there is Stefan Bucker's article, Seven Ways to Refute the Traxler.  I broadly agree with his conclusions except that I think 5.Bxf7+ is about as good as 5.d4, and in my coverage at my site I have cited that article in numerous places.

The alternative approach to 4...d5 5.exd5 Na5 is to try 5...Nd4 (the Fritz Variation) or 5...b5 (the Ulvestad Variation).  White's best bet against these is 5...Nd4 6.c3 b5 7.Bf1, or 5...b5 6.Bf1 Nd4 (6...h6 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 8.dxc6 is an interesting, but probably insufficient, alternative) 7.c3, transposing to the same position.  Then after 7...Nxd5 8.Ne4, Hans Berliner's 8...Qh4 gives Black dangerous attacking chances but is theoretically somewhat dubious, but Black can get sufficient compensation for the pawn with 8...Ne6.  Unfortunately for Black, after 8.cxd4 Qxg5 9.Bxb5+, as has been discussed a fair amount at the forum, I don't think Black gets enough for the pawn.  It's one of those, though, where at club level your chances of encountering a player who knows/finds this continuation, and knows what he/she is doing, is quite small, and White has a lot of inferior tries at move 6, especially after 5...b5.

I had one interesting encounter on the white side of the Traxler recently over at  Although I won the game, Black had reasonable chances around the middle part of the game.

My next step will be to cover the important 4...d5 5.exd5 Na5 lines, which I think are fully sound.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

More on the Morra: the declined variations

I've been pretty busy with other things recently but have got around to including some coverage of the Morra Gambit Declined, with 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 where Black does not take on c3.

 So far I've got around to covering all lines except for 3...Nf6, but I expect to follow up with three practical examples of 3...Nf6 in the very near future.  The link is here:

Unlike most other sources on the declined variations of the Morra, I have devoted rather more coverage to 3...d5 than to 3...d3, a decision which was partly influenced by some analysis by Mark Nieuweboer illustrating that it is harder for White to claim a substantial advantage than many sources (including Esserman) suggest.  I don't think much of 3...d3, which allows White to set up a favourable version of the Maroczy Bind, such as in the following diagram:

3...d5 probably does not equalise fully, since by comparison with the Danish Gambit Declined, Black is one move further away from developing the kingside pieces (due to having played ...c7-c5 rather than ...e7-e5), but I think that with accurate play White only gets a small edge in a typical "isolated queen's pawn" situation, with active piece play providing compensation for having an isolated pawn on d4.  After 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.cxd4 Black has to choose between setups based on ...Bg4, ...e6, or ...e5.  I think the continuation with 5...Nc6 6.Nf3 Bg4 is a bit suspect due to the sharp ending that arises from 7.Nc3 Bxf3 (7...Qa5 8.d5) 8.Nxd5 Bxd1 9.Nxc7+ being favourable for White, but after either 6...e6 or 6...e5 (the immediate 5...e5 is also worth considering) Black gets quite a reasonable game, though probably falls short of full equality.

I have not yet examined the 3...Nf6 lines (which, after 4.e5 Nd5, transpose directly into the Alapin variation of the Sicilian, 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 exd4).  I have found three attractive attacking high-level games from White's perspective but my preliminary impression is that theoretically Black should be doing fine.

A little recap on the 3...dxc3 lines

Daniel King was quite dismissive of the gambit in his recent "How Good is your Chess?" article for Chess Monthly, referring to the line 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6 7.Bg5 Nf6 8.Bxf6 gxf6 9.0-0 Bg7 10.Nd4.

I didn't even mention the line starting with 7.Bg5 in my own coverage, but I have no regrets about this, since as King points out, this position is an Open Sicilian position (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 Nc6 7.Bxf6 gxf6 8.Bc4 Bg7 9.0-0) but where White is missing a pawn on c2, and thus it is no surprise that White struggles to obtain decent compensation for the pawn.  7.0-0, intending 7...e6 8.Bf4, is the way to go against the Taylor Defence starting with 6...a6.

However, my opinion of the Morra has dropped a little after, with the help of Mark Nieuweboer, uncovering a few move-order tricks for Black which, while not really changing the assessment of the line from "dynamically equal", suggest that there may be certain lines where the onus is more on White to prove full compensation for the pawn, than on Black to prove equality.  Nonetheless, I expect to continue employing the Morra at times, alongside the Open Sicilian, for the foreseeable future.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Extensive updates on the Morra Gambit Accepted

The Morra (or Smith-Morra) Gambit against the Sicilian Defence runs 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3, though it is also sometimes reached via 2.Nf3 and then 3.d4 cxd4 4.c3, or 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 and then 4.c3.

At my Gambiteers' Guild site I have finally completed an extensive coverage of Black's various defences in the accepted lines of the gambit.  Each of the main lines contains discussion of a high-level practical example (indeed, each game has players rated no lower than 2295 Elo) and (and references to other examples in the notes) as well as analysis of alternatives for both sides.

It has proved to be a large undertaking, highlighting the issue that the Morra is not a good way of trying to avoid the heavy theory associated with various lines of the Open Sicilian (with Nf3, d4 and Nxd4).  However, most club players should be able to get by with a working knowledge of the key ideas for White against Black's various defences, and if you know what you're doing you can pull off some fine attacking wins.  As far as I'm aware, Black has at least a few defences that are sufficient to keep the game level with accurate play, but no refutations, and some of Black's more popular defences, such as the Classical Main Line with ...d6, ...e6 and ...e5, actually give White good chances of a theoretical edge, such as in this position, from G.Compagnone,G-R.Pietrocola, ICCF email 2011:

A key factor behind the recent revival of the gambit is the realisation that although in the lines with ...d6 and ...e6 with the black queen left on d8, White's best approach is a slow build-up starting with Qe2 and Rd1, against many of Black's other defences, White is advised to go for a more "gung-ho" approach, and should not be afraid to sacrifice further material in order to break through to Black's king, particularly the Nc3-d5 sacrifices.  In some lines the Qe2, Rd1 approaches simply leave White a pawn down for not much.

Here are a few attractive piece sacrifices, which, to my knowledge, are not only 100% sound, but also represent best play for White in the following positions:

1) The Chicago Defence, 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 e6 5.Nf3 a6 6.Bc4 Nc6 7.0-0 d6 8.Qe2 b5 9.Bb3 Ra7 10.Rd1 Rd7 11.Be3 Nf6

12.Nxb5! (G.Souleidis-B.Kohlweyer, Germany 2000)

2) The early ...Nge7 defence:  1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 a6 7.0-0 Nge7 8.Bg5 f6 9.Be3 Ng6 10.Bb3 b5

11.Nd5! (M.Esserman-L.Van Wely, Orlando 2011)

3) The early attempt to undermine White's e4-pawn by playing ...b7-b5-b4:  1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 e6 5.Nf3 a6 6.Bc4 b5 7.Bb3 Bb7 8.0-0 b4

9.Nd5! (M.Esserman-J.Sarkar, Miami 2008)

Of course you have to take care when going all-out for glory like this - for instance, the Nd5 sacrifice tends not to be particularly sound when Black is only one move away from castling kingside (though even here, there are exceptions where White then gets a crushing kingside attack).

Black does have various ways of declining the gambit, including 3...Nf6, 3...d5 and 3...d3, and I intend to update my coverage of the gambit by discussing examples of these as well, as they are all frequently encountered in practice.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Another outing in the Göring Gambit, Scandinavian Gambits coverage completed

The Göring Gambit revisited

After many years of trying, I finally got a game in my favourite line of the Göring Gambit, which reaches this position after move 10:

Black's main options are 10...h6, 10...Ng6, 10...cxb5 and 10...Neg4, all of which lead to fascinating complications, though they have been heavily analysed.  My opponent went for 10...Neg4:

As is usual for club-level internet games, there were numerous mistakes, but it was certainly the sort of bloodthirsty and tactical game that I associate with the line.  Black's best response at move 12 is generally considered to be 12...b4, preventing White from taking on b5, after which White often ends up regaining the gambit pawn on h7 instead, whereupon the knight on h7 can turn out to be misplaced.  However, I don't see much wrong with 12...h6, which appears to lead to interesting and equal play.

I had previously intended to meet 10...Neg4 with 11.Be2, whereupon after 11...h6 12.Nf3 d5 13.h3, White hits out at the knight on g4, but Black has a few options that involve a tricky piece sacrifice, starting with 13...dxe4.

As well as adding coverage of "new" lines, I also intend, when I get time, to update the coverage of lines that I have previously covered at my Gambiteers' Guild site, with the aim of making the coverage more readable, with more explanations of the key ideas for both sides, cleaning up move-order issues, and doing a bit of trimming where I went into too much detail on some minor sub-sub-variation, and also getting some more practise with the ChessBase publishing format.   I have updated the Göring Gambit coverage at,, and but my opinions on most of the lines have not changed significantly since I last looked at them extensively.  

 Scandinavian Gambits revisited

I had posted earlier that I needed to put up coverage of White's important third-move deviations after 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6.  Otherwise, players itching to play 3.c4 e6 or 3.d4 Bg4 may be very disappointed if White wheels out 3.Be2 and then what?

I think the "Scandinavian gambits" and the Göring are quite closely related, as both involve challenging the opponent's e-pawn with the d-pawn and then offering it as a gambit, and Carl Theodor Göring, according to Stefan Bücker, also introduced the line 3.d4 Bg4 into master play.  The key difference, though, is that as Black has a tempo less, the approaches with an early ...c7-c6 tend to be unsound unless White plays c2-c4 first.

The last of those four links contains the analysis of 3.Nc3, 3.Nf3, 3.Be2 and 3.Bb5+.  Three of the four illustrative games feature the Australian grandmaster David Smerdon on the black side, who is the leading exponent of these lines from Black's point of view nowadays.  His games have suggested that the line 3.Nf3 Bg4 is probably as playable as 3.d4 Bg4.

My verdict, in short:

The Icelandic or Palme Gambit, 3.c4 e6, is reasonably sound, but White might be able to get a small theoretical advantage with best play.  The critical line is 4.dxe6 Bxe6 5.Nf3.  Black's objectively best tries are then 5...Qe7 6.Qe2 Nc6 7.d4 Bf5, and 5...c5, which lead to an early queen trade, but Black's piece activity comes close to providing full compensation.  The lines with 5...Nc6, and 5...Qe7 6.Qe2 Nc6 7.d4 0-0-0, are more double-edged, but concede a larger advantage to White.

The Portuguese or Jadoul Gambit, 3.d4 Bg4 is theoretically dubious, but if it can work at grandmaster level, it should be sound enough for use at club level.  The main line, 4.f3 Bf5 5.Bb5+ Nbd7 6.c4, gives Black just a small theoretical disadvantage and good piece play after 6...e6 7.dxe6 fxe6.  5.g4 requires rather more courage to play from the white side, but is more theoretically critical.

If Black is happy to risk 3.d4 Bg4 then I think there is a compelling argument for meeting 3.Nf3 with 3...Bg4 as well, which is similarly dubious, but similarly offers good practical chances.

3.Be2 wipes out Black's gambit ideas but Black can get a combative game with 3...Qxd5.

3.Bb5+ can be met by either 3...Nbd7 or 3...Bd7.  Dave Smerdon's preference 3...Nbd7 is more likely to lead to double-edged play, while I don't think much of Black's winning chances in the line 3...Bd7 4.Be2 Nxd5 5.d4- though I am left wondering if Black can get away with playing 4...Bf5 before recapturing on d5.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Update on changes to format of openings articles at my Gambiteers Guild site


After posting previously about an expected "trimming down" of the format, focusing just on providing verbal introductions rather than providing illustrative games, I got some feedback, notably from Mark Nieuweboer, warning that it could lead to a decline in quality.  It is an important point, as there is no point in producing these articles if their quality is not high enough to make them valuable to fellow chess players.

I had been generating the databases/PGN files using ChessBase 11 and could not find a way to output them to HTML in a "readable" format without having to do significant editing of the HTML, which, while not as time-consuming as producing the analysis, is harder to motivate myself to keep doing, especially as I do it as a hobby rather than as a profession.  The free PGN/HTML editor Palview, and its associated interface, PalMate, is pretty good for the amount of control that it gives over the formatting, but it still requires a fair amount of work to get it looking as I want it.

This also contains the problem that if I want to update the analysis, I have to edit the HTML formatting all over again.  However, ChessBase 12 has largely solved that problem by providing facilities to export the whole lot (including formatting, diagrams, labelling of key squares etc.) and host the games on my Gambiteers Guild website, using a replayable java board from ChessBase's own servers, so my (admittedly not inexpensive) solution has involved upgrading to ChessBase 12.


As a result, I don't expect the format of the openings coverage to change as significantly as suggested in my previous post.  The main change is that instead of the "games and analysis" sections being provided at an external site, they will be hosted at the main site, and if anything, the coverage may well end up more, rather than less, detailed, for it will be easier to provide captioned diagrams and illustrations of key squares and ideas for both sides, for example.

I also plan to carry this across to the openings coverage that I already have on the site, which shouldn't be too time-consuming as the main articles are stored in PGN/database files.

I am currently testing this method out, on what will soon become a new section on the Morra Gambit (or Smith-Morra Gambit, as it is more commonly known in the USA, after Ken Smith who used and promoted the gambit regularly, but had little success with it against grandmasters- I remember reading about Bent Larsen attaching a "?" to his opponent's 1.e4 e6, saying that "stronger is 1...c5 which wins a pawn").  The work-in-progress site is at for those who are interested to see how the annotated games may look.  I purchased a copy of Marc Esserman's book Mayhem in the Morra a while ago, which has helped to revive my enthusiasm for the opening (although I still quite often play the Open Sicilian too).

The downside of this format is that it is dependent on the availability of ChessBase's servers (the same problem as we get with the likes of pgn4web, another good free way of posting games to a website or blog, as I have done on several occasions with this blog), but I am relying on the probability of this happening in the near future being low.

Monday, 14 April 2014

"Scandinavian gambits" following 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6, and news on upcoming updates to the Gambiteers Guild site

Black can play the Scandinavian Defence (or Centre Counter) as a gambit, with 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 (2.d4 transposes to the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, but taking on d5 is objectively best, for as noted in earlier blogs, the BDG is probably not 100% sound) 2...Nf6.

Black's main weapons here are the Icelandic or Palme Gambit with 3.c4 e6!?, and the Portuguese or Jadoul Gambit with 3.d4 Bg4!?.  I think that 3.c4 e6 is fully sound, while 3.d4 Bg4 probably does not give Black full compensation for the pawn, but both lead to similar play and can produce many entertaining victories.

The following game of mine in the 3.d4 Bg4 variation, however, was a disappointment, as I lost after spurning a couple of good chances:

This game followed one of the most critical lines for the assessment of the 3.d4 Bg4 variation, although Black can also consider meeting 6.c4 with 6...a6. I played 16...Kb8 to avoid any tricks involving snaring the black king with Bf2-g3, but 16...Bd6 would have been a better way of covering this threat, for while ...Kc8-b8 is often a good prophylactic move after castling queenside, in this particular position it left Black vulnerable to tactics on c6 and b7. Then I somehow missed 20...Nd2, which would probably have left White with insufficient compensation for being an exchange down. In general, White is slightly better in this variation but it is not a serious threat to the soundness of 3.d4 Bg4. As Stefan Bücker has noted, 5.g4 is more theoretically critical, but it takes some guts to play this way as White, as the plan of cramping Black by pushing the kingside pawns forward leaves White's king lacking pawn cover.

I have added an article on these variations at my Gambiteers Guild website at and plan to expand on most of that site's openings articles to make them into more of a Wikipedia-style overview, to cater for those who would prefer to get a good overview without having to read through annotated games.  Although I have not got around to analysing any high-level games in these Scandinavian lines, I have added a PGN file containing 66 unannotated high-level games in the critical lines, to provide readers with good practical examples to browse through and reach your own conclusions about the practical chances that these lines offer..

I have started by expanding the discussion of the Albin Counter-Gambit at  There's nothing really new here in terms of analysis, although again, I have added a PGN file for the benefit of those seeking high-level practical examples in the important lines, this time containing 95 games.  It is an example of the sort of Wikipedia-style overview that I am thinking of.  I also removed the comment along the lines of, "just a small edge for White with counterplay for Black", because as Mark Nieuweboer pointed out to me a while ago, there is considerable room for argument with that statement, depending on how attractive or unattractive one finds Black's game in the lines following 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3 and 5.Nbd2 (I believe that 5.Nbd2 is probably more accurate as 5...Nge7 and 5...Bf5 are both ineffective due to 6.Nb3, so Black should play 5...Bg4 or 5...Be6, whereupon 6.a3 follows, transposing back into 5.a3 lines).  However, I think it is harder to be dismissive of Black's practical chances in the 5.g3 variation following either 5...Bf5 or 5...Nge7.

In the coming months I expect to add some discussion on my Gambiteers Guild site of some other gambit lines, including some in relatively mainstream openings, e.g. I am interested in quite a number of pawn sacrifice lines in the Queen's Gambit, Ruy Lopez, French Defence and Open Sicilian, and I expect also to be adding an overview of the Morra Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3) in the near future.  I am also still yet to address the glaring omission of the Evans Gambit, which has been played a lot with success by Nigel Short.  More offbeat stuff is likely too, e.g. I am envisaging covering the Latvian and Elephant Gambits at some stage (which, like the Englund Gambit, are theoretically bad, but have many followers who enjoy playing them and get good results despite their lack of soundness).  I have been playing a fair number of "thematic" online games at recently and experimenting with different openings at the chess club which has got me more interested in a wider range of openings.  I doubt I will have the time to produce analysis of annotated games in many of those lines in the future (perhaps just the odd such article, like I did in the 5...Nxd5 line of the Two Knights Defence).  However, I intend to maintain all of the analysis that I've already done on illustrative games, and keep the associated links working, and also produce PGN files containing a wide cross-section of relevant high-level games as a starting point for those with database and/or PGN software.