Three-quarters of a century ago, Siegbert Tarrasch said, “It is almost madness to play the King’s Gambit.” A half-century ago, Bobby Fischer professed to having refuted it. Nowadays, myriads of the less prominent scorn it as it belongs to a bygone period of devil-may-care sacrificing, but this swashbuckling opening refuses to die out completely.
The venerable old 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 dashing, d’Artagnan-like attacks.
Arguably one of the most famous “refutations” came from Fischer, after he was on the receiving end of a sore loss to arch-rival Boris Spassky, who was one of the most famous, high-profile practitioners of the King’s Gambit. After much research and head scratching, the American claimed 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 d6! was the solution - and this was soon christened “the Fischer Defence”, after his analysis was published in a 1961 article for the American Chess Quarterly, with the rather wishful title of, “A Bust to the King’s Gambit.”
Yet despite Fischer’s so-called bust, it still remains popular at club level and in open tournaments - and each Monday evening, trawling through the thousands of latest tournament games in Mark Crowther’s essential download, The Week in Chess, my heart always skips a beat every time I see a King’s Gambit - particularly a swashbuckling, sacrificial-fuelled one, such as today’s offering from the Zalakaros Open in Hungary, now held as an annual memorial to GM Gyula Sax (1951-2014).
IM Janos Tompa - Fruzina Szente Varga
36th Zalakaros Open, (5)
King’s Gambit, Falkbeer Counter-gambit
1.f4 e5 It's very common to see the From's Gambit (1.f4 e5 against the Birds Opening) transposing directly into a King's Gambit. 2.e4 d5 The Falkbeer Counter-Gambit is named after the Austrian master Ernest Falkbeer, who played it in an 1851 game against the great Adolf Anderssen - and still today, it's not Fischer's Defence but Falbeer's 2...d5 of over a century and a half ago that's considered the best route for equality for Black. 3.exd5 exf4 The more popular - and arguably safest - line here for Black is 3...e4 with the idea of trying to stymie White's development of his kingside knight by denying it access to f3. 4.Nf3 Bd6 5.Bb5+ The check throws in a little interference theme, forcing Black into gambiting a pawn back - but the hope is that Black will receive counter-play with rapid development and the better bishop-pair. 5...c6 6.dxc6 bxc6 7.Be2 Ne7 Instead of the natural development with ...Nf6, with ...Ne7 Black gives himself other options, such as ...Ng6 to bolster the protection of the f4-pawn, or perhaps even ...Nd5 (or ...Nf5) to eye the e3 square. 8.0-0 0-0 9.Nc3 Bg4 10.d4 f6 Black is looking to play ...g5 to over-protect the f-pawn, as the pawn gets in the way of White developing his bishop. But this plan comes with certain risks attached to it, notably the white square weakness on Black's kingside. 11.Ne1! A finely-timed retreat that highlights Black's white-square weakness and also attacks the f4-pawn - and if the f4-pawn falls, Black's position will collapse. So with that in mind.... 11...Bxe2 12.Qxe2 g5 13.Qe6+ Kg7 14.Ne4 Bc7 15.Nf3 Ng6 16.Re1 g4?! This is a mistake. Black is too optimistic with this pawn push, especially as it comes with considerable risk to his vulnerable king. 17.Qxg4! f5 18.Qh5 fxe4 19.Ng5 Qxd4+ 20.Be3 The only clear way to victory, as after 20.Kh1 Re8 21.Qxh7+ Kf6 22.Qxc7 Re7! 23.Qa5 Re5! 24.Nxe4+ Rxe4 25.Bd2 Rxe1+ 26.Rxe1 Qd5! 27.Re8! White should, eventually, regain the piece due to the back-rank pin with the better prospects - but winning the position is not so clear. 20...Qe5 If 20...fxe3 21.Ne6+ wins on the spot. 21.Qxh7+ Kf6 22.Bxf4!! The only logical King's Gambit continuation! With the further throwing of more wood on the fire, White keep's the momentum of his attack on Black's king. 22...Qxf4 The alternative fared no better: 22...Nxf4 23.Nxe4+ Ke6 24.Ng5+ and Black is set to lose both his queen AND his king! 23.Nxe4+ There's no greater sight in chess than a King's Gambit with White sacrificing material to drag Black's king up the board! 23...Ke6 24.Qxg6+ Kd5 The Black king takes the walk of shame, as no better was 24...Kd7 25.Nc5+ Kd8 26.Rad1+ Bd6 27.Rxd6+ Kc7 28.Ne6+ easily winning. 25.Nc3+ Kc5 26.b4+ Kb6 If 26...Kxb4 27.Re4+ Kxc3 28.Rxf4 Rxf4 29.Qg7+ quickly wins. And if 26...Qxb4 27.Qh5+ Kb6 28.Rab1 again wins the Black queen quickly followed by the king. 27.Nd5+ 1-0