It’s often said that there's no adventure in chess as romantic as the venerable King’s Gambit, the history of which is almost as old as our modern game itself. But after years of being shunned and neglected at the top echelons of the game, could we be going 'back to the future' with a dramatic comeback for this ancient, yet still very much-loved of openings?
The King’s Gambit was first analysed in Guilio Polerio’s manuscript of the sixteenth century, and was almost de rigueur in chess as it reached its zenith by the nineteenth century, only for it to die out by the late twentieth century as modern defensive techniques taught us how best to thwart all those exciting, d’Artagnan-like swashbuckling attacks.
Arguably one of the most famous “refutations” came from Bobby Fischer, after he was on the receiving end of a bad loss to it against arch-rival Boris Spassky. After much research and head scratching, the American claimed 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 d6! was the way to take it on - and this variation was soon christened “the Fischer Defence”, after his analysis was published in a 1961 article for the American Chess Quarterly, entitled "A Bust to the King’s Gambit".
Yet despite Fischer’s so-called bust, it remains popular at club level - and any new publication on it is eagerly sought-out, the latest - and arguably some would say the best - coming in 2013 from the very reliable Quality Chess stable, The King’s Gambit, and could be best described as being a labour of love from its author, Scottish grandmaster John Shaw. I saw it recently referred to as ‘The King’s Gambit Bible’ by one of its disciples - and with nearly 700 pages, its almost as weighty a tome as the good book itself!
But we’ve seldom seen the King’s Gambit at the elite level since the days of Spassky in his pomp…so you can imagine that my heart beat considerably faster while watching the live coverage of the second round of the 48th Biel GM tournament in Switzerland this week, as the young and often unpredictable Hungarian, Richard Rapport, opted to deploy it against Englishman Michael Adams - and as often as not in the King’s Gambit, it turned out to be a wild, torrid affair.
Richard Rapport - Michael Adams
48th Biel GM, (2)
King’s Gambit Accepted
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Be2?! Provocative, and not a line that's recommended in John Shaw's book on the King's Gambit; but then again, Rapport has been known to experiment with off-beat openings. More usual in the KG is 5.Bc4 - but perhaps Rapport was inspired by Hikaru Nakamura, who also played 5.Be2 against Evgeny Tomashevsky in 2012? 5...Nxd5 6.c4 Ne7! Tomashevsky played 5...Nf6 against Nakamura, but this is the best square to develop the knight (as recommended in Shaw's book), as it can come to g6 to shore up the defence of the f4 pawn that hinders White's development. 7.Nc3 A novelty from Rapport. After 7.d4 Ng6 Black is a little better, says the author. 7...Ng6 8.h4 Be7 9.h5 Nh4 10.Nd5 Hang on to your seats, it's going to be a bumpy ride! 10...Nc6 11.d4 Nxg2+ 12.Kf1 Ne3+ 13.Nxe3 fxe3 14.d5 If 14.Bxe3 Bf5 is strong. 14...Nb4 15.a3 Na6 16.Bxe3 0-0 Black has to be much better here, as not only does he have the pawn, but he also has the compensation! The White king is also surrounded by a 'lot of air' - but somehow Rapport managed to complicate matters further that confuses his opponent just enough to save the game. 17.Qc2 Bg4 18.h6 g6 19.Qc3 There's a lifeline down the c3-g7 diagonal. 19...Bf6 20.Bd4 Be7 21.c5 The young Hungarian is brave, as he had the instant option of bailing out with a draw after 21.Bf2 Bf6 22.Bd4 21...Re8 22.c6! Further complicating matters; Rapport loves to play such wild, unusual positions. 22...Bf8 23.cxb7 Rb8 24.Bxa6 Qxd5 25.Kf2 Bxf3 26.Bc4 (See Diagram) 26...Re2+? Adams misses his best shot here with 26...Qe4! 27.Rae1 Qf4 28.Bxf7+! (stopping the deadly...Qxd4+ after Qxf3) 28...Kxf7 29.Qxf3 Qxf3+ 30.Kxf3 Rxe1 31.Rxe1 c5 32.Be3 Rxb7 33.Re2 Rb3 and Black has the upper-hand with the extra pawn and White tied down to defending h6 and b2. 27.Bxe2 Bxh1 28.Rxh1 Qxh1 29.Qxc7 Qh4+ 30.Kf1 Qh1+ The game will also end in perpetual check after 30...Rxb7 31.Qe5! f6 32.Bc4+ Rf7 33.Bxf7+ Kxf7 34.Qd5+ Ke8 35.Qc6+ Kf7 36.Qd5+ 31.Kf2 Qh4+ 32.Kf1 Qh1+ 33.Kf2 ½-½ Who says the romance in chess is dead?