Sunday, 31 October 2021

Another suitably festive post for Halloween

 I remember that one of my most recent updates to my site was on Halloween and featured an article on the Halloween Gambit.  I still need to update the site to address the fact that some pages are in disarray, but so far "life" has been getting in the way of me completing that.  I hope to manage it at some point in the next few weeks.

With it being Halloween, I've completed my first complete Lichess study (I've also got a couple ongoing on the Scotch Gambit and the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit) which is on the Halloween Gambit.

My conclusion is unchanged though from last time: it's dangerous, but unsound. I recently played in a thematic tournament where I played the 7...d5 line with Black and converted the extra piece, although my opponent missed an opportunity to complicate matters.  When I played White, my opponent went 7...Bb4 instead, and I had an opportunity to generate a strong, if not winning, attack, but I missed my chance and lost.

As I mentioned in the Introduction, Black can try to transpose to the Stafford Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6) with 4...Bc5.  Objectively the transposition with 5.Nxc6 dxc6 is good for White, but I'm inclined to suggest 5.Nf3 instead, which allows White to retain an extra pawn without permitting Black as many hacking chances as in the Stafford Gambit.  I'm currently playing in a thematic tournament in the Stafford, as it happens (the first time that I've ever played it with either colour), and have so far got good positions with both colours, but it's still early days there.

A good source on the Halloween Gambit and the history of it is Tim Krabbe's site at  My investigations seem to bear out the old masters' view that the lines ending 7...d5 and 7...c6 (Chapters 9 & 11) are the biggest test for White, but White still gets some (but objectively not enough) long term attacking chances there.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Revisiting the Scotch Gambit: the Two Knights Defence with d4

I'm currently writing a Lichess study on the Scotch Gambit/Two Knights Defence position that arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 (or 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6).

I think this is especially worth revisiting because there have been quite a few new developments since I last examined the line in some depth, mainly in the 5.0-0 lines:

(a) 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Nc3?!, the Nahkmanson Gambit.  

Until recently I had rejected this out of hand, but I was first introduced to one of the key points behind this a couple of years ago at my local chess club (6...dxc3 7.Bxf7+, with the idea of Qd5+, and then usually Re1 followed by recapturing on e4).  It's not very sound, largely because Black can settle for a one-pawn advantage after 6...Nxc3 or 6...Nd6, so I can't recommend it as a serious tournament weapon.  But it has been gaining some popularity at online blitz in particular, where it offers White plenty of hacking chances, especially if Black accepts the piece sacrifice.  Thus, in the study that is currently work in progress I have devoted a chapter to this line.

(b) 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 d5 7.Bxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc3 Qd7!?.

I don't think I have previously covered that line in much detail, but it has emerged as a serious alternative to the main lines (8...Qa5, 8...Qh5).  It aims to improve over the 8...Qd8 line (Black probably isn't fully equalising after 8...Qd8 9.Rxe4+).  Graham Burgess gave it a good look in his updated version of Chris Baker's A Startling Chess Opening Repertoire.  After 8...Qd7 9.Nxe4 White should be no worse, as White can put the knights onto active posts so that they aren't inferior to Black's knight and bishop, but it is trickier to generate winning chances.

The Max Lange line with 5.0-0 Bc5 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 8.fxg7 is now looking roughly equal with best play, although I'd still rather have White in that line, and it's still looking better than the old main line 8.Re1+ Be6 9.Ng5 Qd5.

Via a search of the ChessBase database, I have also found a new try for White in the main line of the Canal Variation (5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 d5 7.Nc3 dxc3 8.Bxd5 Be6 9.Bxe4 Qxd1 10.Rxd1 cxb2 11.Bxb2 f6 12.h4) which complicates matters and so could be a good practical try for rapid games and especially online blitz, though I still think Black's better with best play in that variation and that 7.Nc3 is therefore not as reliable as 7.Bxd5.

My fresh investigations into the 5.e5 lines are only just starting, so I'll have to see if anything new turns up in those.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Managing too much of a monstrosity

I have a confession to make.  

I created the bulk of my site,, at a time when I wasn't in full time employment and had plenty of time to devote to thoroughly analysing a wide range of gambits.  In recent years I've been in full time employment and have inevitably had rather less time, and over time it has become rather too daunting for me.  This has resulted in a large number of pages falling into disarray as procrastination set in, my previous site got discontinued, support for Flash disappeared and some of the ChessBase-based replayable diagrams have stopped working properly.  

I haven't been blogging much or updating the site much recently partly because the whole thing has got too much for me to handle and has kept putting me off.  

Had I been older and wiser when I first started the site, I would probably have gone for a more selective, article based approach, possibly more along the lines of what Tim Harding used to do in his excellent column, writing about lines that particularly interest me and branching out over time to eventually end up with a pretty comprehensive site.  But then again, some of the tools that are currently available for this sort of thing weren't available back then.  I'm attracted to the idea of doing studies on and creating articles that essentially embed said studies into the articles.  When I first started out, the best PGN viewers were rather more primitive.

I wouldn't want to get rid of what I already have on the site, though.  I'm considering keeping it up as a sort of archive and then reverting to this more article-based approach, but I'm open to other suggestions.  It's not ideal, but I need to change something or I'll just keep on saying that I'm going to push forward with updates and then releasing one or two updates per year if I'm lucky.

In the meantime I've been discovering some famous chess streamers - I chanced upon Eric "Oh no my queen!" Rosen and then branched out from him to Levy Rozman ("GothamChess") and Alexandra Botez (who coined the concept of the "Botez gambit", where you blunder your queen and then do your best to pretend that it was a sacrifice). 

This well-known position arose from 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 d5 7.Bxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc3.  My opponent played 8...Be6??, allowing 9.Nxd5, but somehow I lost because I let Black's d4-pawn run forward and queen.  I played that game a long time ago so can't remember the specifics, but it was one of my most embarrassing losses (though in my defence it was just an online blitz game).  8...Be6?? is the move that most springs to my mind when I think of the Botez gambit.  Anyway, I'm pleased to see these people streaming and stressing the importance of playing chess primarily for fun.

Eric Rosen has been having a lot of fun with the Stafford Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6?! 4.Nxc6 dxc6) in online blitz games.  

When I first looked at it, I rejected it out of hand, seeing it as basically a tempo-down version of the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit (which, although dangerous, is not fully sound), but when I looked closely, it's one of those lines that Tim McGrew might refer to as having a high "Caltrop Coefficient" - with best play Black ends up a pawn down for just vague hacking chances, but whereas a slip by Black tends to result in being a pawn down for nothing (which isn't such a big deal at fast time controls, especially online), a slip by White can often lead to instant ruin.  But it's quite telling that in Eric Rosen's recent over-the-board games in Vegas he passed up opportunities to play the Stafford Gambit, preferring the just mildly offbeat 2...Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bb4+ 5.c3 Bc5.  It's one of those lines that can be a lot of fun in online blitz and lead to good attacks, but in slow over the board games risks producing a number of depressing losses and draws where you never really had much for the pawn.

Interestingly one of his other pet lines is the London System (1.d4 and 2.Bf4) which, in contrast, has a reputation of being very solid and very sound, though it can certainly be played in an aggressive way, e.g. involving queenside castling and, if Black goes kingside, throwing forward the kingside pawns.  I guess he doesn't pre-move 2.Bf4, as otherwise the Englund Gambit (1...e5) would become very attractive.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Getting active on during a difficult 2020

 As many will know, the year 2020 has been plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has meant that I have played very little over-the-board chess this year.  However, I have been increasingly actively involved on, playing mainly fast games, but also some correspondence type games as well.  It has to be said, though, that even though we're allowed 3 to 7 days per move in those games, in practice I rarely spend much longer on an individual move than I would over the board.

I am a member of a group known as "The Unsound Openers", which seems to me to be very apt, especially as 10-15 years ago I quite often played the Englund Gambit with 1.d4 e5 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7, including using it once in a serious game.  

But when I recently revisited the most critical line of the Englund proper with the aid of Stockfish and Leela Chess Zero, the modern computers have been showing it to be even more unsound than I previously thought.  For example, in the position following 1.d4 e5 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7 4.Bf4 Qb4+ 5.Bd2 Qxb2 6.Nc3 Bb4 7.Rb1 Qa3 8.Nd5! Ba5 9.Rb5 Bxd2+ 10.Qxd2 Kd8 11.e4 a6:

I examined this in some detail with Stefan Bucker back in the late 2000s, and we concluded that Black's defence is very difficult but that with best play Black might be able to hold, with White's poor pawn structure being the main source of hope for Black.  But Stockfish points out that 12.Rb3 Qxa2 13.Bc4! is very strong, with the idea of sacrificing the rook on h1 for an unstoppable attack after 13...Qa1+ 14.Ke2! (14.Qd1? Qxd1+ 15.Kxd1 leaves White with inadequate compensation for a pawn) 14...Qxh1 15.Qg5+ Nge7 16.Nxe7 Nxe7 17.Bxf7.  Black can play 13...Qa5 (or perhaps 12...Qa5 instead of 12...Qxa2) but White's attack appears to be close to winning in all lines.  The line 11.Ng5 Nh6 12.f4, suggested by Boris Avrukh, also appears to be close to winning.

Black's best bets appear to be 5...Qc5 (instead of 5...Qxb2, but this rather defeats the point of the opening) and 8...Bxd2+ 9.Qxd2 Kd8 (instead of 8...Ba5, or 8...Bxd2+ 9.Qxd2 Qxa2, whereupon 10.Rd1 is very strong) but they aren't much fun for Black either.  I had already given up on 3...Qe7 about 10 years ago, and on the rare occasions that I have used 1...e5 since, I have usually gone for 3...Nge7 instead, and these findings are unlikely to change that.

These days my openings tend not to be quite as unsound as that, but there are certainly a fair number that can be said to be at the margins of soundness, including the Blackmar-Diemer, the double pawn sacrifice in the Goring Gambit, the "Smerdon's Scandinavian" complex, the Albin Counter-Gambit and the Ruy Lopez Steinitz Defence Deferred piece sacrifice line 4...d6 5.0-0 Bg4 6.h3 h5.

I'm hoping that progress will pick up on updating my main chess website soon, as I've got to grips with the game/analysis replayer (which you can also embed onto a website, at least if you have some sort of premium membership on there - I recently went for Gold, which is the least expensive) and I hope it might address the problem with the ChessBase replayer, which tends to have many levels of nested variations which can be hard to follow for some.  I note that Jonathan's blog 200 Open Games has been using the replayer for a while.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Fun with a chess variant

As I prepare for another revamp of my main chess site, here's a bit of light entertainment.

At Exeter Chess Club I was recently playing in a chess variants tournament.  One of my favourites is the variant where if the king reaches one of the central squares (e4, d4, e5, d5) it is an automatic win for the player whose king reaches that square.  Otherwise normal rules of chess apply.  I was playing Black and reached the following position with White to move:

I had given up a queen for a rook in order to get my king out to d6.  In normal chess this position would be a straightforward win for White, but in this chess variant White has to be extremely careful as Black is only one move away from bringing the black king to the central squares and winning.

In the game White played 1.Qxe4 and resigned immediately after 1...Re8!.  In a normal game 2.Qxe8 would win, but in this chess variant, 2.Qxe8 would be met by 2...Kd5 0-1.  And if 2.Qxf5, Black wins normally with 2...Re1#, exploiting the weakness of the back rank.

A question is whether White can save this position despite being a queen for a rook ahead - this is the sort of chess variant that wouldn't work with computer analysis.  An obvious try is 1.Qb5, covering the central squares for the time being, but after 1...Nd4 2,Qg5 f5 or 2.Qa5 b5, White is struggling to keep the central squares covered and stop the black king from advancing.  1.Qa5 is probably best, but White has to watch out for ...Rc8-c5 and ...Re8-e5 ideas.

The opening saw me on the black side of a Four Knights Game (via an unusual move order, 1.Nc3 Nc6 2.Nf3 e5 3.e4 Nf6 I think).  My opponent then played 4.Bc4, allowing 4...Nxe4.  He remarked afterwards that in this chess variant the Halloween Gambit (4.Nxe5, the subject of my Halloween update to my website) would have been strong as in various variations it is difficult for Black to stop White from safely moving the king forward towards the centre.

I imagine that the Mason Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3!?) and the allied Steinitz Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4!?), inviting ...Qh4+, forcing Ke2, would also be good in this particular variant.