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The Queen’s Gambit Declined, Semi-Grunfeld

We know from chess openings like the Grunfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) that Black may control the center with pieces instead of pawns. But what about the Grunfeld’s poor cousin, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 g6, clearly a member of this hypermodern family? The first issue of Kamikaze Times (November, 2002) called this line the “Alekhine Defense” against the Queen’s Gambit. Alekhine did play this opening, but the editor correctly notes that Blackburne takes precedence. Unusual and seldom seen, there is not much theory to learn nor many games to consult; those who enjoy offbeat chess openings may investigate further. First we have Blackburne at work:



The Steinitz Gambit

Check out Kevin Butler’s new chess video introduction to the Steinitz Gambit, covering the important ideas underlying this wild chess opening! After 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2 the White King is perfectly comfortable behind his strong central pawns, and the monarch even plans on better placement in case of any endgame. Very bold! Kevin’s video explains what’s going on, and shows how you can use the fighting King in your chess openings.


A Discarded Chess Opening

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!

Chess on Reality TV

The game of chess has seen a number of attempts to make it on television, the best being The Master Game which ran on BBC from 1976 to 1982. Good, solid chess entertainment and instruction. Today we learn of a new TV series called American Chess Star featuring chess bitch Jennifer Shahade among others – a show aiming to compete in the crowded television “reality” genre. Apparently the show’s host will conduct players through several challenges, producing a winner. After watching the trailer below one might think the whole thing a hoax; after all, the atmosphere feels like a cross between Blue’s Clues and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. But the show is produced by the Xtreme Chess Champs, a group which certainly exists on Facebook and Twitter. Make up your own mind, but we rather hope this project confines itself to a series of obscure web episodes, the better to limit the embarrassment of all chess players.

Fritz 13 ‘s “Let’s Check” Videos

Let’s imagine the realm of chess as a world of its own. How much of this world have we discovered already? Actually, no one can answer this question precisely. Probably less than we believe. We know some elementary endgames quite precisely, and some of them we can only evaluate correctly with the help of the computer. But analyzing with engines also altered the evaluation of certain openings significantly. Maybe we already know some continents – certain openings and variations – in the realm of chess. But maybe these are just islands? Are there still unexplored areas, white spots on the great map of chess openings? Presumably.

Hitherto everyone calculated for himself. Now we can all research together. What will we discover? Things are going to be exciting…with Fritz 13 Chess Playing Software.

See Fritz 13’s Let’s Check Videos here

Let the Trend be Your Friend

Young chess players who today live on the internet might be shocked to learn that personal computers were a rarity in the mid-1980s. At the beginning of that decade chess study consisted of countless hours pouring through stacks of books – you know, those bound paper objects that needed the page turned manually when you got to the lower right hand corner. And a physical chess board had to be set up on which the book moves were played.

Before you say, “Eww! Gross!” imagine TWO chess boards, one to play out the main line and one for the notes and variations. Yes children, that’s how grandpa learned the game and some of us (somehow) actually got good at chess before computers took over the world.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Is it an accident that more and more pre-teens are becoming chess Masters, or that 9-year-old Samuel Sevian recently earned his Master rating? If we assume that the human brain hasn’t changed much in thirty years the only explanation lies in electronic computerized chess study. Today’s chess player can literally see dozens of chess games in the time it took Bobby Fischer to play through a single game – and he could absorb a chess book very quickly indeed!

Humans adapt, and chess Luddites who disdain technology handicap themselves needlessly. Paper chess books will always be with us, but we suggest that “the trend is your friend” and that all chess players should at least try an electronic chess book.

Chess Openings for Beginners (Part 3)

These three short articles, appearing weekly, gives us 21 days to master the King plus Bishop and Knight vs. lone King checkmate. Plenty of time; indeed we should clock ourselves at, say, 5 minutes against anybody. We can do that because we’re not thinking about chess openings. Of course we like to play chess games and there sits the start position every time, so let’s learn a chess opening that’s safe and sound, allows for rapid piece development, keeps our pawn structure solid and provides opportunity to transition into standard openings when ready. Finally, our “universal system” has to work for both the White and Black pieces while avoiding chess opening theory where possible.

Keeping these points in mind, consider the virtues of 1.Nc3 as White and 1…Nc6 as Black:

We develop our Queen’s Knight to its most natural post, attack two central squares and preserve all options for our pawns. This first move is early without objection, including the fact that very little is known about this “Queen’s Knight Attack”. Let’s look at what can happen when we bring out the Queen’s Knight immediately.

After 1.Nc3 as White we’re playing the “Dunst” or “Van Geet”  opening, called the “Sleipner” in Germany. Here we can enjoy free form chess, making up our own chess opening as Black reacts. The common 1…e5 isn’t a very good answer because of 2.Nf3 and then 3.d4 next. If 1…d5 by Black we go 2.Nf3 or 2.d3 or 2.e3 – and even 2.f4 is also good. The same ideas hold for 1…c5 and 1…Nf6, and White can never be forced to play a mainstream opening. But note that we can easily add traditional chess openings; the Veresov  following 1.Nc3 d5 2.d4, the Closed Sicilian after 1.Nc3 c5 2.e4 and the Vienna after 1.Nc3 e5 2.e4 are just three examples. So 1.Nc3 offers much to the chess beginner and the novice chess player too.

What about Black after 1…Nc6 then? Now everything depends on White’s first move, but our Queen’s Knight is ready for any case. If 1.e4 Nc6 we have the Nimzovich Defense, an underrated and little known chess opening. Next 2.d4 by White meets with 2…d5 (and 2…e5 is fine, but not until we know 3.Nf3 the Scotch Game), and 2.Nf3 on White’s second move is answered 2…d6, 2…e6, 2…Nf6 or later the “normal” 2…e5 when we add the Ruy Lopez to our opening arsenal. Should White go 2.Nc3 we have 2…e6 and 3…Bb4 afterward, and we can always add the Vienna Game later on with 2…e5 instead.

Nothing else White can do is very fearsome after 1.e4 Nc6, but that leaves 1.d4 Nc6 to examine. Once again Black is well placed to defend unexplored ground or add main line chess openings as we please. For example, 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5 can enter variations of Chigorin’s Defense to the Queen’s Gambit, or Black may steer the game his way with 2…e6 or 2…d6 here. If 1.d4 Nc6 2.e4 we’re back in the Nimzovich Defense where 2…d5 was our answer. That leaves only the sequence 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5, pushing around our Queen’s Knight in an opening we’ve dubbed the “Bozo-Indian Defense“. And if White avoids 1.e4 or 1.d4 on his first move, then there is no stress for Black at all with our 1…Nc6 answer.

In summary, we can do quite well with our “Queen’s Knight Attack”, provided we follow up with rapid development of each piece and keep our pawns in good order. Make one or two pawn moves, bring our men out efficiently, then castle. After a few moves we’ll cash in on that time spent learning middlegame chess strategy, tactical combinations and chess endings. By the way, did you know that a King plus two Knights can checkmate a King if he has one pawn? Study that fun checkmate instead of chess openings – bring out the Queen’s Knight on move one!