Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Kasparov plays the Mason Gambit

Happy New Year everyone!

Just stumbled upon a game from last August where Garry Kasparov, like Magnus Carlsen before him, wheeled out the Mason Gambit in blitz (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3!?).

Unlike Carlsen's opponent, Karjakin did venture the critical response 3...Qh4+ but then after 4.Ke2 he went for the rather passive 4...Qd8.  As it was a blitz game he probably wanted to "play it safe" and the idea isn't completely without merit, for 4...d6 5.Nf3 Qd8 is one of Black's better responses, as discussed by John Emms in his 2000 book Play the Open Games as Black, giving a Fischer Defence where White has two extra tempi but one of them is the undesirable Ke1-e2.  As "brabo" discussed at the forum some time ago, the most critical response of all is probably 4...Ne7 covering d5.

However, after the immediate 4...Qd8, Kasparov's continuation 5.d4 Nf6 (5...g5? 6.h4 doesn't work for Black) 6.Bxf4 regained the sacrificed pawn and led to a rather interesting middlegame where White relied on a strong centre to compensate for the exposed position of the white king.

It would seem that Kasparov lost his way into the early middlegame and was lucky to get a draw, but fair play to him for continuing in the spirit of the opening and going all-out, which is usually the best way to swindle a win or draw in a blitz game. 

43...Qc6+ would have won for Black, with the idea 44.Kg1 hxg6.  Instead 43...Qd2+? was played (it was a blitz game after all!) and Kasparov managed to get a draw.

Earlier on, the computer offers 7.e5 as a reasonable alternative to the 7.Bg5 played in the game, and also suggests 7.Nd5, although I would find it difficult to psychologically justify allowing the opening of the e-file towards the white king with ...Nxd5, exd5.

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