Chess opening variations are subject to fashion, or rather periods of intense examination, as players explore sub-systems of popular ways to start a chess game. Naturally certain methods of playing chess openings recede into the theoretical background, perhaps for decades – perhaps never to be seen in Master practice again. In the case of Bird’s Opening with 1.f4 we find one such example in Lasker’s variation of From’s gambit, arising after 1.f4 e5 2.fxe5 d6 3.exd6 Bxd6 4.Nf3 g5, an attacking idea introduced by world chess champion Em. Lasker. Here almost complete attention is focused on 5.d4 and 5.g3 for White, with thousands of chess games available for our perusal. But what about the sneaky little move 5.c3, invented by Henry Bird himself?
A mere handful of chess games exist featuring this continuation – probably because Bird lost horribly when he played 5.c3 against Isidor Gunsberg in their Hastings 1892 game. Several more rapid defeats for White ensued, and the whole line was quickly forgotten. However, a few recent internet blitz games show that Bird’s idea is worth a second look, and several hundred hours of computer assisted analysis confirm that 5.c3 is not only playable but may be as good as other White continuations. So let’s survey this – what to name it? – Bird’s Defense to Lasker’s Attack in the From’s Gambit variation of Bird’s Opening!
We called 5.c3 “sneaky” because it’s based on a trick of sorts. After 5…g4 (natural and best) White plays 6.Qa4+, thinking to make a place for his King when his Knight moves and he has to face the nasty …Qh4+ attack. The main sequence of moves, then, is 5.c3 g4 6.Qa4+ Nc6 7.Nd4 Qh4+ at which point Bird’s original 8.Kd1 gives us the following weird chess position:
Now the fun really starts, as Black tries to prove that his pawn minus was well invested. And unless Black plays one key move right now (the move Gunsberg played here) White has no problems at all, usually going 9.Nb5 next. Furthermore, even if Black plays exactly White has apparently the resources to meet any threat. But what is Black’s best try now, on his eighth move? While you work on that chess puzzle, consider that White can also choose a gambit of his own – instead of 8.Kd1 in the diagram above he can play 8.g3 instead:
This sacrifice is a recent invention never imagined by Henry Bird. Black is forced to go in for 8…Bxg3+ 9.hxg3 Qxh1, and when White continues 10.Nb5 the second player has nothing better than 10…Kf8 11.Nxc7 Rb8 to save his Rook. In the end White has a pawn for the Exchange, the Bishop pair and a compact central pawn structure. It is White’s move, in addition, but is all that enough compensation?
Chess players who like gambit play will want to consider these positions in more detail. Extra suggestions and ideas in this chess opening can be found here at the Free Chess Area, and a free chess download with games and plenty of analysis and commentary is available to ChessCentral Members; it’s easy to join, free to use and full of great chess downloads and articles. Those players who want to know more about Bird’s Opening should click here for the Big Bird PowerBase, the most complete resource on this interesting chess opening.
Until next time!