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An Unusual Gambit

If White wishes to play the "Bird-Larsen" opening, he most often avoids the very direct 1.f4 d5 2.b3 move order. That is because Black has a chance to cut across this scheme with an early ...d5-d4, as in the game below. If the first player delays b2-b3 in favor of Kingside development, then Black can fianchetto with ...g7-g6 himself to hinder White's plan. In any case, those who play Bird's Opening have found ways to maneuver around this ...d5-d4 thrust, but an aggressive gambit alternative would be welcome too!

The following game was played in section 87NF11 of the 1987 US Correspondence Championship. White tested a little studied gambit which can be made a surprise weapon even today. The gambit arises after 1.f4 d5 2.b3 Nf6 3.e3 d4 4.Nf3 dxe3 5.Bc4 (or 5.Bb2), aiming to speed development and open central lines of attack. There follows 5...exd2+ 6.Nbxd2 and after 7.Bb2 next White will then place his Queen on e2 and castle Queenside with a very energetic position.

An Unusual Gambit

[Event "87NF11"] [Site "corr."] [Date "1989.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Pickard, Sid"] [Black "Stefanski, Mark"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A03"] [BlackElo "2382"] [Annotator "Pickard, S."] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "1989.??.??"] [EventType "corr"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.05.15"] 1. f4 d5 2. b3 ({White forestalls the Black fianchetto of his King's Bishop, as after} 2. e3 {(or 2.Nf3)} g6 {etc.}) 2... Nf6 3. e3 d4 $5 {[A disruptive move. White is compelled to offer a gambit or submit to a doubtful exchange on the e3 square.]} 4. Nf3 dxe3 5. Bc4 exd2+ 6. Nbxd2 e6 (6... Bf5 7. Bb2 e6 8. Qe2 Nc6 ({Or} 8... Bd6 9. O-O-O $15 {transposing}) ({but} 8... Bxc2 $6 9. Nd4 Bg6 10. f5 Bh5 11. N4f3 $13 {is dangerous.}) 9. O-O-O Bd6 $15 {and Black may stand a little better, but after} 10. Ne5 {the game is difficult.}) ({If} 6... Nc6 7. Bb2 Bf5 8. Qe2 Bxc2 $6 ({Too greedy. Instead} 8... e6 {transposes to the note above.}) 9. Ne5 $14) 7. Bb2 Bc5 ({Black may consider} 7... Nc6 8. Qe2 Bd6 9. Ne5 (9. g3 $5 $13) 9... O-O 10. O-O-O $13 {and complex play.}) ({A different development follows} 7... Nbd7 8. Qe2 Be7 9. O-O-O O-O 10. Ne4 c6 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. Ne5 $13 {unclear.}) 8. Qe2 Qe7 ({Castling with} 8... O-O 9. O-O-O Nbd7 10. Ng5 $44 {is interesting.}) 9. O-O-O {[The first player has 3 tempi in development for his pawn, roughly an equal trade.]} Nc6 10. Ne4 $5 ({ White could try 10.Kb1!?~~ as well, but} 10. Ne5 $14 {looks best.}) 10... Ba3 ( 10... Nxe4 11. Qxe4 Bd7 12. Rxd7 $1 Kxd7 (12... Qxd7 13. Rd1 Bd6 14. Ne5 $16) 13. Bxg7 Rhg8 14. Rd1+ Kc8 15. Qxh7 $14 {with good play.}) 11. Nxf6+ ({Better is} 11. Bb5 $14 {or 11.Ne5+/=, with a nice advantage in either case.}) 11... gxf6 12. Bb5 ({Another idea is} 12. Bxa3 Qxa3+ 13. Kb1 $13 {and equal chances.} ) 12... Bd7 13. Rxd7 $1 Bxb2+ ({Black might keep the tension with} 13... Kxd7 14. Rd1+ $13 {or 14.Nd4~~}) 14. Kxb2 Qxd7 ({Or} 14... Kxd7 15. Rd1+ Ke8 16. Nd4 $14 {and White has good play.}) 15. Rd1 Qe7 16. Nd4 $14 a6 17. Bxc6+ bxc6 18. Rd3 $5 ({Instead} 18. Nxc6 Qc5 19. Qf3 $44 {is much like the game continuation. }) ({But} 18. Qc4 $14 {is more direct, with an excellent game.}) 18... Kf8 19. Nxc6 Qc5 20. Qf3 ({Or} 20. Qe4 $14) 20... Re8 21. Rd7 $44 {[Black is ahead the Exchange, but his Rooks are bottled up for the moment. White must decide how to proceed.]} h6 (21... Rg8 {seems better.}) 22. a4 $5 Rh7 23. a5 (23. Rxc7 $14 {is a likely improvement.}) 23... Rg7 24. b4 Qc4 25. Rxc7 ({Perhaps it was better to play} 25. g3 $13 {instead.}) 25... f5 $15 26. g3 $2 ({Innocent looking, but fatal. More resistance was offered by} 26. Qd1 Rxg2 27. Rxf7+ Kg8 28. Rc7 Kh8 $15 {in the bad ending after} 29. Qd4+ {etc.}) 26... f6 $19 { [Black is winning now.]} 27. Qh5 Rxc7 28. Qxh6+ Kg8 29. Qg6+ Kh8 0-1


In those days computers weren't around, so now it should be easier to form a judgment about this gambit. In practical time-controlled tournament play White's pawn sacrifice is certainly playable, and offers active chances. This variation can be classed as a "positional" gambit, an opening pawn sacrifice for tempo and long term pressure - in spirit akin to the Smith-Morra gambit. However, this system awaits trials in high level computer analysis, and few top chess players seem willing to test the 1.f4 d5 2.b3 move order. All in all, a fertile field for investigation!



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