Why is the King’s Gambit beautiful? The importance of each move is critical. There are points where the conflict is heightened. There are beautiful final positions which can easily be reached. In short, there is daring, and risk. — Bronstein
1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4
Before White can fulfill his positional ambition of d2-d4 to control the center, plus Bc1xf4 to equalize material while gaining time, he must contend with …Qd8-h4+, a check that is inconvenient at least, and overpowering at worst.
There are three methods of dealing with a check. White has tried all three in response to …Qd8-h4+. In ascending order of popularity:
That most colorful grandmaster Tartakover played 3. Nh3 against Grunfeld (Budapest 1921), anticipating 3…Qh4+ 4. Nf2. Grunfeld did the right thing: 3…d5, drawn in 31 moves. I’m determined to play some games with each of the moves mentioned here. My online opponent was a beginner (the global pandemic in 2020 brought about a surge in online chess and first-time players): 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nh3 d5 4.Nxf4 c6 5.d4 dxe4 6.Nc3 Bd6 7.Nxe4 Bxf4? 8.Bxf4 and White won quickly. 7…Bxf4 is very bad; White isn’t thrilled about 4. Nxf4, but it makes a useful interposition of g2-g3 in case of …Qd8-h4+, and gets the knight into play. 7…Bxf4? means White recaptures Bc1xf4 with gain of time anyway, and Black has set himself up for 9. Nd6+.
Breyer’s move 3. Qf3 is worthier than its popularity indicates. The queen does three jobs: 1) inhibiting …d7-d5; 2) directly threatening f4 (and f7 behind it); and 3) protecting the h1-rook in case of 3..Qh4+.
In 1919 — 16 years before he won the world championship — young master Max Euwe played the first of two training matches with Gerard Kroone, who represented the Netherlands in the Olympiad.
White’s 3rd moves that permit the queen check before fleeing can be the most double-edged. White’s forfeit of castling rights plus Black’s exposed queen make for additional imbalance in a game that already promised tactical complexity.
3.Qe2 is an intriguing move by the English master Basman, a fountain of quirky opening ideas since the ’70s. 3…d5 is inhibited because 4. exd5+
discovers check, while d1 is opened as a flight square. The preference for fleeing to d1 instead of f1 is so the h1-rook won’t be blocked by the king. On the other hand, the uncastled king is stuck in the center, and White will have to make another queen move to free the king bishop.
3. d4 and 3. Nc3
The most provocative 3rd moves are 3. Nc3 — the great Keres played it — and 3. d4, which world champion Steinitz tried. In both cases, White intends 3…Qh4+ 4. Ke2.
By all means, experiment with these, though I’ve grown mistrustful. The white king is more exposed on the second rank than the first, and blocks queen and bishop.
The Bishop’s Gambit is the best, most logical choice among the moves that precede taking flight. It’s the choice of Fischer and Polgar, the topic of tomorrow’s entry.