Double Bishops’ Gambit 10: Final exam

An Internet chess server told me that I’d played 64 Double Bishops’ Gambits, which moved me to finishing this series of blog posts. Chessplayers are weird about the number 64.

We talked about 1. e4 e5 2. f4 as immediately worthless, but gambling that after 2…exf4, White will soon be paid off with a mobile center majority by d2-d4, and balancing the material deficit by Bc1xf4.

But 2..exf4 threatens 3…Qd8-h4+, so what does White do about that. The interpositions g2-g3 and Ng1-h3-f2 don’t cut it, while fleeing to e2 (3. Nc3 or 3. d4 Qh4+ 4. Ke2) is cumbersome, and fleeing to f1 (3. Bc4 Qh4+ 4. Kf1) can be hard on the king rook.

If White doesn’t want to interpose, or flee following 3…Qd8-h4+, there’s capturing by 3. Nf3 Qh4+ 4. Nxh4 — it’s happened — though it’s more likely that Black will aim to hold the cramping pawn on f4 by 3…g7-g5. Then 4. h4 g4 5. Ne5 and 5. Ng5 might not lead to as original a position as hoped.

Then there’s Stamma’s move 3. h2-h4, which does two things: 1) Prevents 3…Qd8-h4+ by putting Rh1xh4 in store, and 2) suggests against …g7-g5, because h4xg5 opens the rook’s file.

The Syrian master Philipp Stamma (1705?-1755?) invented the coordinate grid notation in universal use today. His 1745 book The Noble Game of Chess — like so many others — was forgotten when Philidor’s Analysis of the Game of Chess debuted in 1749, on its way to becoming a landmark in modern chess theory.

In The Noble Game of Chess, Stamma labeled 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Bc4 the Bishop’s Gambit, which still stands. He called 3. Nf3 the Knight’s Gambit, which no one uses today because the opening’s identity will be made specific later. He called 3. h4 the Pawn’s Gambit, though the literature evolved to turn 3. h4 into the Stamma Gambit, as if the guy ought to be remembered for something.

Modern chessplayers want to play like their computers, so 1. e4 e5 2. f4 is too speculative for them. And 2…exf4 3. h4 would cause their heads to explode, because it is so bad.

2. f4 didn’t do anything immediately but place a bet on future prospects. 3. h4 is less useful than that — it does nothing for White’s center control or development, and is aimed solely at inhibiting a couple of Black’s good options.

3. h4 doesn’t appear in opening books, because the strong players who write opening books think — correctly — it’s not worth mentioning to players at their level. I mention it — and have played it a couple hundred times — because I’m not at their level; I’m at yours.

Black should blink at 3. h4 for being unusual, then go about his business with 3…d7-d5 or 3…Ng8-f6. But the spirit of Morphy’s opponent George W. Lyttelton lives within today’s average players, who see the pawn on h4, and play 3…Bf8-e7 to threaten to capture that pawn with check. Chessplayers love to capture with check — the late master Eric Schiller taught lessons about the wondrousness of capturing with check. A Schiller student might hop right on that 3…Be7 bus.

Then White can play 4. Ng1-f3 to guard that pawn, though I think White should prefer to treat 3…Bf8-e7 as a harmless threat, and ignore it by 4. Bf1-c4.

Black will play 4…Be7xh4+ with delight, and here’s the difference between the Bishop’s Gambit 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Bc4 Qh4+ 4. Kf1 and the Double Bishops’ Gambit (‘double’, because two bishops in play, and two pawns sacrificed) 1. e4 e5 2. f4!? exf4 3. h4? Be7 4. Bc4 Bxh4+ 5. Kf1: In the Bishop’s Gambit, White’s king rook is stuck behind the king on f1. In the Double Bishop’s Gambit, the h-pawn is gone, so the rook is free.

OK, here’s your test. I’ve been telling you for years which parts of the lecture would be on the test, and now you can show that you’ve been keeping notes or listening.

If it were White’s move again — let’s imagine White gets to make two moves in a row, an additional move to accompany 5. Kf1 — what does White do?