GM Joel on the From's Gambit
September 28, 2009
GM Benjamin,
 
Years ago in his book Nigel Short on Chess, Nigel recommends this line against Bird's opening: 1. f4 e5 2. fxe5 (2. e4 transposes to King's Gambit) d6 3. exd6 Bxd6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. e3 Ng4, when Black is threatening Nxh2.

after5...ng4.jpg

Nigel thinks that 1. f4 is a mistake since it immediately weakens the king's position, and of course, the line he proposes takes advantage of that.  My question is simple: does Nigel's plan still work, or has white found a better continuation?  What would you recommend?
 
Thanks,
David McCann


David,

I didn’t read the book, but I doubt Short gave much detailed analysis.  His objection to the Bird’s is more on principle than Xs and Os.  White does indeed weaken his king position and gives Black a chance to fight for the initiative straight off.

5…Ng4 is the main move, bringing about a position that is analogous to the Pirc-Lisitsin Gambit:  1.Nf3 f5 2.e4 (2.d3 Nf6 3.e4 is another move order, though Black should play 2…d6) fxe4 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.d3 exd3?! 5.Bxd3

AfterBxd3Froms.jpg
There White has an extra tempo and Black is in immediate danger.

White has to play the clumsy 6.Qe2 to defend; 6.g3 h5 gives Black a strong attack.
after6.qe2.jpg

Black has nothing better than continuing his development with 6…Nc6.  Heroic play will backfire—6…Bxh2 7.Rxh2! (not 7.Nxh2? Qh4+ 8. Kd1 Nf2+) Nxh2 8.Nxh2 Qh4+ 9. g3 Qxg3+ 10.Qf2 with a White advantage.

There aren’t many games in the databases contested by strong players (a common problem for offbeat openings), so there isn’t really any continuation to point to from here.  Black of course has nice compensation with his active pieces but the center is still relatively closed and it isn’t easy to get at the White king.

But you should note that 5.e3 is just one possible move, and not even the main line.  5.g3 is more common, and the main line seems to be 5.d4.  Interestingly enough, both these moves are often answered by 5…Ng4 as well.

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