Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Falkbeer Counter Gambit

Ever since 1850, when Ernst Falkbeer published his analysis of 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4, the Falkbeer Counter Gambit has been a theoretically important system against the King's Gambit. For the last six years*, I have been answering 1.e4 with 1...e5 and playing the Philidor Counter Gambit after 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5. Not surprisingly, on the infrequent occasions when my opponent plays 2.f4, I have been countering with the Falkbeer, a gambit not unlike the Philidor in that Black gets active piece play in return for his sacrificed material.

Theory gives 4.d3 as White's best response. The problem with 4.Nc3 is that after 4...Nf6 5.d3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Black can gambit another pawn by 6...e3 7.Bxe3 O-O, as in Schulten-Morphy, New York 1857. That game continued: 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Re8+ 10.Be2 Bg4 11.c4 c6 12.dxc6 Nxc6 13.Kf1

Rxe2! 14.Nxe2 Nd4 15.Qb1 Bxe2+ 16.Kf2 Ng4+ 17.Kg1 Nf3+! 18.gxf3 Qd4+ 19.Kg2 Qf2+ 20.Kh3 Qxf3+ 21.Kh4 and 0-1, since Black mates in three. ECO gives 11.Kf2 as an improvement on 11.c4, continuing with 11...Bxe2 12.Nxe2 Qxd5 13.Re1 Nc6 14.Kg1 Qc5+! 15.d4 Qd5 with compensation. White's weak squares on e4 and c4 compensate Black for his pawn.

Candidate master Eric Smith once tried 4.d4 unsuccessfully against me in 1990 at a quad in Livingston NJ. That game continued: 4...Qxd5 5.c4 Qa5+ 6.Nc3 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nf6 8.a3

e3! 9.Qe2 O-O 10.Nf3 exd2+ 11.Qxd2 Ne4 12.Qc1 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Re8 14.Bd3 Nc5+, 0-1.

In all my games except one, I have answered 4.d3 with 4...Qxd5, which according to theory is slightly better for White. The one exception was a game against candidate master Fritz Gaspard at the Marshall Chess Club in 1990 when I tried the alternative 4...Nf6. Play proceeded: 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.Qe2 Qxd5.

Now, instead of 8.Nfd2 f5 9.Nc3 Qd4 10.Ncxe4 fxe4 11.Nb3 +/- as in Napier-Blackburne, 1895, my opponent played 8.Nc3 which let me off the hook after 8...Bb4 9.Bd2 Bxc3 10.Bxc3 O-O 11.Rd1 Nxc3 12.Rxd5 Nxe2 13.Bxe2 Nc6 14.Rd2 Bf5 15.Kf2 Rfd8 16.Rhd1 Kf8 and drawn in 61 moves.

A year later, against the same opponent at the Marshall, I tried 4...Qxd5 for the first time and was soon rewarded after 5.Qe2 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bb4 7.Bd2 Bxc3 8.Bxc3.

Here the theoretically correct move for Black is 8...Nbd7 which ECO gives as only slightly advantageous for White after 9.dxe4 Nxe4 10.Bxg7 Rg8 11.Be5 Nxe5 12.fxe5 Qxe5 13.O-O-O Be6. After my 8...Bg4, I was fortunate that my opponent missed 9.dxe4 Bxe2 10.exd5 Bxf1 11.Kxf1 Nxd5 12.Bxg7 Rg8 13.Re1+ Kd7 14.Rd1 Kc6 15.Bd4 Nxf4 16.Nf3 Nd7 17.Be3 Ne6 18.Kf2 +/-, Reti-Spielmann, Geteborg 1920. His inferior 9.Nf3 led to 9...O-O 10.dxe4 Nxe4 11.Be5 Nc6 12.Qc4 Qa5+ 13.c3 Nd6 14.Bxd6 cxd6 15.Qb5 Rae8+ 16.Kf2 Qc7 17.g3 a6 18.Qb3 Na5 and 0-1 because Black's threats of 19...Bxf3 followed by 20...Qc6+ and 19...Qb6+ followed by 20...Qxb2 are too much for White's queen to handle.

In the Marshall Chess Club Championship of 1992, my game as Black against candidate master Mitch Fitzko developed in the following manner: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.d3 Qxd5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 Ne7 8.Bxg7 Rg8 9.Be5 Nbc6 with a position that ECO rates as "with compensation".

The game continued: 10.dxe4 Qxe4+ 11.Kf2 Nxe5 12.fxe5 Qxe5 13.Nf3 Qc5+ 14.Qd4 Qxc2+ 15.Be2 Qg6 16.g3 Qb6 17.Rhe1 Be6 18.Rac1 Nc6 19.Qxb6 axb6 20.Bc4 Ke7 21.Bd5 Nb4 22.Be4 Rxa2 23.Rxc7+ Kf6 24.Re2 Rb8 25.Bxh7 Bd5 26.h4 Bc6 27.Ne5 Rf8 28.Nd7+ Bxd7 29.Rxd7 Kg7 30.Be4 Nc6 31.Rxb7 Nd4 32.Bd5 Ra5 33.Re5 Rb5 34.Rg5+ Kf6 35.b3 Nxb3 36.Bc4 Rb4 37.Rg4 Ke5 38.Rg5+ f5 39.Bxb3, draw.

Eric Smith improved upon his earlier 4.d4 by playing 4.d3 against me in Bayonne NJ later that year. After 4...Qxd5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 Ne7, he varied from Fitzko's 8.Bxg7 with 8.Qe2 Bf5 9.dxe4 Bxe4 10.Rd1 Qf5 11.Nf3 Nbc6 12.Bxg7 Rg8 13.Be5 Nxe5 14.fxe5 Nc6 15.c3 Bxf3 16.Qxf3 Qxf3 17.gxf3 Nxe5.

The game was eventually drawn but not without winning chances for both sides in the endgame. Here are the concluding moves: 18.Kf2 Ke7 19.Bh3 Rad8 20.Rhe1 Kf6 21.Bf1 c5 22.b3 a6 23.a4 h5 24.Be2 Kf5 25.Bc4 h4 26.Bf1 a5 27.Bh3+ Kf6 28.Bf1 b6 29.Bb5 Kf5 30.Bf1 Rxd1 31.Rxd1 Kf4 32.Rd6 Rg6 33.Rxg6 fxg6 34.Be2 h3 35.Bd1 Nd3+ 36.Ke2 Ne5 37.Kf2 Nd3+ 38.Ke2 Nc1+ 39.Kd2 Nxb3+ 40.Bxb3 Kxf3 41.Be6 Kg2 42.Ke2 g5 43.Bg4 Kg1 44.Bxh3 Kxh2 45.Be6 Kg3 46.Kd3 Kf4 47.Kc4 Ke3 48.Kb5 Kd3 49.c4 Kc3 50.Kxb6 Kb4 51.Bd7 Kxc4 52.Kxa5 Kd4 53.Kb5 c4 54.Kb4 c3 55.Kb3 Kd3 56.a5 Kd2 57.Bf5 g4 58.a6 g3 59.a7 g2 60.a8=Q g1=Q 61.Qa2+ Ke1 62.Qb1+ Kf2 63.Qc2+ Kg3 64.Qxc3+ Kf4 65.Qf6 Qg5, draw.

My game as Black against candidate master George Krauss at a Hamilton NJ quad in 1993 followed the last two games through 7...Ne7 but varied with 8.dxe4 Qxe4+ 9.Ne2 Nbc6 10.Qd3 Qxd3 11.cxd3 O-O 12.O-O-O Nd5 13.Rd2 Bg4.

Already Black is slightly better due to White's weak d-pawn. After 14.g3 Rfe8 15.Kb1 Rad8 16.Nc1 b5 17.Rf2 b4 18.Bd2 Nd4 19.Bg2 c5 20.h3 Bc8 21.Re1 Rxe1 22.Bxe1 h5 23.Bd2 Bf5 24.Rf1 a5 25.Re1 f6 26.b3 a4 27.bxa4 Nc3+ 28.Bxc3 bxc3 29.Be4 Bxh3 30.Nb3 f5 31.Bh1 Nxb3 32.axb3 Rxd3 33.Kc2 Rxg3, Black had a material advantage and 0-1 in 54 moves.

At a Somerset NJ quad in 1993, candidate master Steve Anderson as White steered clear of the main line in his game against me as follows: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.d3 Qxd5 5.dxe4 Qxe4+ 6.Qe2 Qxe2+ 7.Bxe2 Bf5 8.c3 Nf6 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.Bb5 Bd7 11.O-O Bc5+ 12.Kh1 O-O 13.Nbd2 a6 14.Ba4 Rae8 15.Nb3 Ba7 16.Nbd4 Nxd4 17.Bxd7 Nxd7 18.Nxd4 Bxd4 19.cxd4 Re2.

Black is clearly better here because of his control of the e-file, not to mention White's weak d-pawn, and went on to win in 44 moves.

Recently, at a Hamilton NJ quad in 1995, candidate master John Mather as White avoided 4.d3 in favor of 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.d3 Bb4 6.dxe4 Nxe4 7.Qd4 Qe7.

Here ECO gives 8.Be2 O-O 9.Bd2 Nxd2 10.Qxd2 c6 11.Nf3 cxd5 12.O-O Nc6 unclear, Bardeleben-Blackburne, London 1895. Instead Mather tried 8.Nge2 O-O 9.Bd2 Nxd2 10.Qxd2 when 10...c6 was worthy of consideration. After my 10...Bg4 11.O-O-O Nd7 12.Re1 Rfe8 13.h3 Bxc3 14.Qxc3 Bxe2 15.Bxe2 Qe4 16.Qf3 Nb6 17.Qxe4 Rxe4 18.Bf3 Rxf4, Black had recovered his gambited pawn but stood worse in the endgame after 19.Re7 Rc8 20.Rhe1 g6 21.d6 cxd6 22.Rxb7 Rfc4 23.c3 R8c7 24.Re7 Rxe7 25.Rxe7 Ra4 although the game ended in a hard-fought draw on move 73.

*{This article originally appeared in the January-February 1996 issue of Atlantic Chess News}