It was the signature opening of chess’s 19th century Romantic Era, but has become a rare visitor to modern tournament chess. Paul Morphy used it for some of his greatest wins, Bobby Fischer claimed to have refuted it, and even today, some key lines remain a subject of intense theoretical dispute.
The King’s Gambit is one of the most aggressive openings at White’s command, giving up a pawn (and exposing the White king in the process) on Move 2 in exchange for rapid development and, if Black is not careful, a quick checkmate.
GM Richard Rapport, the enterprising 19-year-old Hungarian star, has already shown earned a reputation for trying offbeat and rarely-seen openings. At the annual Biel GM Tournament now underway in the Swiss city, Rapport rolled out the King’s Gambit against the veteran English GM Michael Adams and lived to tell the tale. The two engaged in a nice cut-and-thrust game that ended in an exciting draw.
The thrust 3…d5 is now considered the best route to equality for Black (Fischer’s “bust” started with 3…d6), but Rapport still manages to inject some early drama with 8. h4!? Be7 9. h5 10. Nd5!?, when U.S. GM Alejandro Ramirez, analyzing the game for Chessbase.com, notes that 10…Bg5?! leads to murky complications after 11. h6! Nxf3+ 12. Bxf3 0-0! 13. d4!. White is still down a pawn and seems to have little compensation after 13. Nxe3 fxe3 14 d5 Nb4 15. a3 Na6 16. Bxe3 0-0, with White’s king apparently more exposed than his Black counterpart.
But White gins up significant pressure on the long diagonal after 17…Bg4?! (better may be 17…h6) 18. h6 g6 19. Qc3 Bf6 20. d4, and Adams displays some cool-headed defense with 20…Be7 21. c5 (Bh8? f6) Re8! (Qxd5?? 22. Bh8! f6 23. Bc4 wins the queen) 22. c6 Bf8 (good enough, but Ramirez suggests 22…b5 23. Bc5 [Bxb5? Qxd5] f6) 23. cxb7 Rb8, and now Black has consolidated and can go onto the attack.
Black’s counterattack nearly triumphs, though the human grandmasters can’t quite plumb the complications of the wild position: 25. Kf2 Bxf3 26. Bc4, when strong for Adams would have been the simplifying 26…Qe4! 27. Bxf7+ Kxf7 28. Qxf3+ Qxf3+ 29. Kxf3 Rxb7, and Black is a pawn up with good endgame winning chances. Instead, the craziness ends in a draw by repetition after 26…Re2+?! 27. Bxe2 Bxh1 28. Rxh1! Qxh1 29. Qxc7 (White’s advanced passed pawn on b7 is enough to convince Black to take the draw in hand) Qh4+ 30. Kf1 Qh1+ 31. Kf2 Qh4+ 32. Kf1 Qh1+ 33. Kf2.
Play in the six-grandmaster double round-robin concludes Thursday .
While Morphy’s greatest King’s Gambit games tended to be short, violent affairs (he defeated Germany’s Adolf Anderssen with the opening in their 1858 world title match in just 19 moves), the deeply-studied gambit today can actually lead to more positional play. That’s what happened at the recent Swedish Championships, where GM Emanuel Berg deployed the gambit against GM Nils Grandelius and wound up nursing a small positional edge for more than 50 moves into a winning rook-and-pawn ending.
The defense beginning with 3…g5 4. h4 g4 is considerably sharper that Adams’ line, but here the dynamic quickly shifts after a tricky early skirmish: 9. Nc3 (one sign of the landmines lurking in this opening is the variation 9. Nxg4?? Ng3 10. Rh2 Qe7+ 11. Kf2 h5 12. Ne5 Bxe5 13. dxe5 Qc5+ 14. Kf3 Bg4+! and wins) Qe7 10. 0-0 Bxe5 11. Nb5 (dxe5? Qc5+) Nd7 12. dxe5 Qc5+ 13. Qd4 Qxd4+ 14. Nxd4 Nxe5 15. Bb5+ Bd7 16. Bxd7+ Nxd7 17. Bxf4 — the queens are off, but White can claim a slight but clear edge. His bishop outranks the Black knight and his queenside pawn majority is in better shape than Black’s kingside pawns.
Taking the bishop now poses problems for Grandelius, as can be seen in lines such as 17…Nxf4?! 18. Rxf4 0-0-0 (h5 19. Re1+ Kf8 20. Ne6+ Kg8 21. Nxc7) 19. Re1! (Rxf7 Ne5 20. Rg7 Rxd5) Nb6 20. Rxf7 Nxd5 21. c4 Nb6 22. Ne6 Rd7 23. Nf8! Rd8 (Rxf7 24. Re8 mate) 24. Nxh7 Nxc4 25. Ree7.
After 32. Kxg3 f5 33. Bd2, the White bishop is clearly superior to the knight, able to cover both sides of the board while keeping the Black pawns in check. And with 32…Rf7 34. Bg5 Kd7 (the threat was 35. Re8+ Kd7 36. Rd8 mate) 35. Re6 f4+ 36. Kf2 Ne7 37. Rh6, White’s positional edge has finally resulted in the gain of a pawn.
Berg makes his job a little harder by missing the more incisive 42. dxc6! (instead of the game’s 42. Re8!?) Kxc6 43. Rd4 Nxg5 44. hxg5 Rf5 45. g6 Rg5 46. Rxf4 Rxg6 47. Kf2, but does not spoil his endgame advantage. A misguided check by Black hastens the end.
Thus: 51. Rxb7 Rf6+? (tougher was 51…a6 52. Rb4 g3 53. Ke2 Rf6) 52. Kg1 Ra6 (now 52…a6 is met by 53. Rg7 Rf4 54. Rg6 a5 55. Rg5+) 53. a4 Rc6 54. Kh2 Rc3 55. b4 a6 56. Rb6 Rb3 (no better was 56…Rc4 57. a5 Rd4 58. Kg3 Ke5 59. Kh4 Kf5 60. b5 axb5 61. Rxb5+) 57. b5 a5 58. Ra6, and Black resigned the hopeless ending.
Correction from last week: The column was fine, but my headline got it wrong. It was Akshat Chandra, not Awonder Liang, who won the U.S. Junior title this year. My apologies to both.
Rapport-Adams, 48th Biel GM Tournament, Biel, Switzerland
1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d5 4. exd5 Nf6 5. Be2 Nxd5 6. c4 Ne7 7. Nc3 Ng6 8. h4 Be7 9. h5 Nh4 10. Nd5 Nc6 11. d4 Nxg2+ 12. Kf1 Ne3+ 13. Nxe3 fxe3 14. d5 Nb4 15. a3 Na6 16. Bxe3 O-O 17. Qc2 Bg4 18. h6 g6 19. Qc3 Bf6 20. Bd4 Be7 21. c5 Re8 22. c6 Bf8 23. cxb7 Rb8 24. Bxa6 Qxd5 25. Kf2 Bxf3 26. Bc4 Re2+ 27. Bxe2 Bxh1 28. Rxh1 Qxh1 29. Qxc7 Qh4+ 30. Kf1 Qh1+ 31. Kf2 Qh4+ 32. Kf1 Qh1+ 33. Kf2 Draw agreed.
Berg-Grandelius, Swedish Championship, Sunne, Sweden, July 2015
1. e4 e5 2. f4 xf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. h4 g4 5. Ne5 Nf6 6. Bc4 d5 7. exd5 Bd6 8. d4 Nh5 9. Nc3 Qe7 10. 0-0 Bxe5 11. Nb5 Nd7 12. dxe5 Qc5+ 13. Qd4 Qxd4+ 14. Nxd4 Nxe5 15. Bb5+ Bd7 16. Bxd7+ Nxd7 17. Bxf4 0-0-0 18. c4 Rde8 19. Bd2 Ne5 20. b3 Ng3 21. Rf4 Nh5 22. Re4 Ng6 23. Rae1 Rxe4 24. Rxe4 Nf6 25. Re1 h5 26. Rf1 Ne4 27. Bb4 f6 28. Re1 Re8 29. Ne6 Ng3 30. Ng7 Rg8 31. Kh2 Rxg7 32. Kxg3 f5 33. Bd2 Rf7 34. Bg5 Kd7 35. Re6 f4+ 36. Kf2 Ne7 37. Rh6 Nf5 38. Rxh5 Ng3 39. Rh8 Ne4+ 40. Kf1 c6 41. Rd8+ Kc7 42. Re8 Nxg5 43. hxg5 cxd5 44. cxd5 Kd6 45. Rd8+ Kc7 46. Rg8 Kd6 47. g6 Rd7 48. Rf8 Rg7 49. Rxf4 Rxg6 50. Rf7 Kxd5 51. Rxb7 Rf6+ 52. Kg1 Ra6 53. a4 Rc6 54. Kh2 Rc3 55. b4 a6 56. Rb6 Rb3 57. b5 a5 58. Ra6 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.