Flexing my King’s Gambit Muscles

by admin on June 3, 2017

How quickly can you spot the best move here?

stock sacrificePosition after 12. … Qxd5. White to move.

FEN: rnb2rk1/p4ppp/5n2/3q4/2Np1R2/3B4/PP4PP/RN1Q2K1 w – - 0 13

This position arose in a blitz (game/7 minutes) game that I played against Mike Arne this afternoon. Mike is a veteran player who was rated in the 2300s in his heyday. He has played tournament chess only sporadically in recent years, and this was the first time I had really gotten a chance to spend time with him, although he seems to know everyone in the Bay Area chess scene.

I liked his attitude. I played a King’s Gambit against him in our second game and got a very nice positional advantage, but then I lost the thread and lost the game. In our fourth game, when I was White again, he said, “Do you want to play another King’s Gambit?” I said, “Heck, yeah!”

So the game went 1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. ed ef 4. d4?! Bd6. Confused by my move order, Mike misses 4. … Qh4+. White’s game is still playable after 5. Kd2, but this is more suitable for speed chess than tournament chess.

We continued 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. c4 O-O 7. Bd3?! c5?! What is it with the missed checks? After 7. … Re8+ I was going to play 8. Kf1, but the computer doesn’t believe it and gives Black a nice advantage.

And now the game went 8. O-O b5? Black is trying hard to upset White’s applecart, but he is forgetting to develop his own pieces.

After 9. Ne5! cd 10. Bxf4 bc 11. Nxc4 Bxf4 12. Rxf4 I did a little bit of trash-talking. I told Mike, “Go ahead and take that pawn, I dare you.” Truth be told, if Black doesn’t take on d5 he’ll just have an inferior position, although he could try the trappy 12. … Bb7 13. Rxd4? Nc6!, which I might have fallen into. But he not surprisingly decided to play 12. … Qxd5, and we reached the position that I started this post with.

There are certain stock sacrifices in chess that everybody should know about. The “Greek gift” Bxh7+ is one of them. And exchange sacrifices on f6 are another. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I will mention that when I initially went into this line, with 9. Ne5, my plan here was to play 13. Rxd4?? Qxd4 14. Bxh7+, winning Black’s queen. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you noticed, 14. Bxh7+ is illegal because I’m in check! So I had to look for a Plan B, and it wasn’t very hard to spot.

The move 13. Rxf6! has at least three points to it. First, White weakens the defense of h7, so that mate is “in the air” in many variations. Second, and more important immediately, White removes the defender of Black’s queen. This means that after 13. … gf I can play 14. Nc3!, which gains a tempo with an attack on Black’s queen and completes my development. If 14. … dc, now 15. Bxh7+ is legal and wins the queen.

The last point of the exchange sacrifice is less obvious. In spite of the obvious mate threats on h7, with careful defense Black can keep that particular disaster from occurring. But over the long term, White is banking on Black’s shattered and weak kingside, along with the wide-open spaces for the queen, rook, and bishop, and the rock-solid attack-and-defense combination of a knight on d6. Every single White piece has a useful role to play, while Black’s minor pieces are still sitting at home.

If you’re curious, here is how the computer thinks the game would go with best play from both sides. Rybka says 14. … Qd8 is the best retreat (as it often is in this kind of position). Then 15. Ne4 f5 16. Ned6 occupies the virtually impregnable outpost on d6. This knight is already worth as much as a rook. Rybka recommends 16. … Nc6 17. Qf3 Bd7 18. Bxf5! (If the knight on d6 is worth a rook, it is also more valuable than the bishop. More concretely, 18. Nxf5? would run into 18. … Qf6, which looks slightly better for Black according to Rybka.) After 18. … Bxf5 19. Qxf5 Qe7 20. Qd5! we reach the diagrammed position.

stock sacrifice 2Position after 20. Qd5 (analysis).

FEN: r4rk1/p3qp1p/2nN4/3Q4/2Np4/8/PP4PP/R5K1 b – - 0 20

At this point we can say that White has gotten complete compensation for the exchange and then some. In fact, the computer here raises a white flag and says that Black’s best move is to return the exchange with 20. … Rac8 21. Nxc8 Rxc8. This restores material equality, and White still enjoys a slight advantage because Black’s pawn structure consists of four isolated pawns.

That’s some long-winded analysis just in case there were any doubters that the sacrifice 13. Rxf6 was sound even against best play. But here is the fourth justification of this kind of sacrifice: Your opponent is human. Especially in a speed game, it is difficult for Black to defend this kind of position. In fact, after 14. Nc3 Mike went wrong right away and played (instead of 14. … Qd8) 14. … Qg5? 15. Ne4 (now White is winning) 15. … Qg4? and oops, 16. Nxf6+. Black resigned.

I hope that this game isn’t too embarrassing for Mike. Obviously there were mistakes, but such things happen in speed chess. My intention here was not to embarrass him (he is a fine gentleman and doesn’t deserve that) but to point out a very common tactical theme. Of course, this doesn’t mean that rook sacrifices on f6 are always sound. Every case needs to be judged on its own merits.

I do have a saying, though: “Every King’s Gambit player needs to be willing to sacrifice the exchange.” This is true for all chess players actually, but it seems to me that exchange sacrifices are especially common in the King’s Gambit and the White player needs to know that they come with the territory.

Thanks to Mike for letting me flex my King’s Gambit muscles and get revenge for the game that I lost!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul B. June 4, 2017 at 10:38 am

After watching Dana’s Chesslecture on the King’s Bishop Gambit, it’s just about all I play. Playing the KBG is like asking a strange, beautiful woman for a date. The nervous anticipation, the wild gamble, the reckless high-wire dance raises chess to a different level of intensity. The KBG is my drug of choice.


Todd Bryant June 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

I got it, but it took me a good 2-3 minutes. In hindsight, maybe my intuition was lacking–Black king ripped open + huge development lead + tattered Black pawns is clearly worth an exchange.


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