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: http://tws27.weebly.com/two-knights-defence-4d3-4nc3.html

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 Chesspublishing.com 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 Chesspublishing.com).

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 Chesspublishing.com 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 Chess.com.  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.