(see http://www.chesscafe.com/text/kibitz05.pdf for a PDF version of this article)
by Tim Harding
TWO KNIGHTS DEFENCE, THE AMAZING COUNTER-
Do you meet 1 e4 e5 by 2 Nf3 Nc6 and after 3 Bc4 wonder
whether you dare face the Evans Gambit after 3...Bc5? You think
that moves like 3...Be7 and 3...d6 are too passive and prefer to play
the Two Knights Defence. However, 4 Ng5 (the "duffer's move" as
Tarrasch called it) is not so easy to refute and you know White will
be ready for the 4...d5 main line and the Wilkes-Barre, 4...Bc5.
How about a move that your opponent has almost certainly not
considered, a move that may make him fall off his seat? I cannot
promise you it is 100 per cent sound but it has an excellent
practical chance of success below master level.
So here goes. After 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 4 Ng5 you play
the amazing counter-attack, 4 Nxe4!? (See Diagram)
Of course White can capture the f-pawn, but he can do that in two
ways in the Wilkes-Barre whereas after 4...Nxe4 the option 5 Nxf7
Qh4 is definitely bad for him: e.g. 6 0-0 Bc5 7 Nxh8 Nxf2! 8 Rxf2
Bxf2+ was given by Staunton 150 years ago; he also analysed 7
d4!? Bxd4 8 Nxh8 Nxf2 9 Bf7+ Kf8 10 Rxf2 Qxf2+ 11 Kh1 d6 12
Bd5 Bg4 13 Bf3 Bxf3 14 gxf3 Kg8 while the late V. Zagorovsky's
book Romantic Chess Openings gives instead 7...Nxd4 8 Be3 d6!
"with a very strong attack for Black."
Here is a practical example, a correspondence game played in
Germany in 1993, Rieszbeck- Leisebein: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4
Nf6 4 Ng5 Nxe4 5 Nxf7 Qh4 6 0-0 Bc5 7 Nxh8 Nxf2 8 Bf7+ Ke7
9 Rxf2 Qxf2+ 10 Kh1 d5 11 d4 Nxd4 12 Bg5+ Kd6 13 Nc3 c6 14
Na4 Bf5 15 Nxc5 Kxc5 16 c3 Nc2 17 Qf1 Qxf1+ 18 Rxf1 Bd3 19
Rf2 Rxh8 20 Bh5 d4 21 Rf7 dxc3 22 bxc3 e4 23 Rxg7 e3 24 Rxb7
e2 25 Bxe2 Bxe2 26 Bf6 Re8 27 Rxh7 Bd3 28 Re7 Rxe7 29 Bxe7+
Kc4 30 Bf6 Ne3 0-1.
I first encountered the move 4 Nxe4 in 1993 when a reader of my
Irish newspaper column asked what was wrong with it; after all, 5
Nxe4 d5 is dull and clearly OK for Black. I could not give a
satisfactory answer at the time but later I found articles by
Yugoslav IM Rudolf Maric in the first volume of the magazine
"Gambit Revue", nos. 6 and 7. I then traced variation back to
Steinitz's "Modern Chess Instructor" (p.102). Recently I tracked
down the analysis by Zukertort dating from 1875 which Steinitz
Evidently White should take on f7 with the bishop check, but what
then? It took me three years of research into old and new books
and periodicals to get (I think) to the bottom of the story of this
variation. White has a good variation, perhaps the only one, but it's
not obvious. Most books I looked into had wrong lines or nothing.
ECO was on the right track but stopped too early; only the 1989
edition of Euwe's "Theory of Chess Openings" edited by Heyken
and Fette gave the key reference in full, a wartime amateur game in
The earliest attempt to refute 4 Nxe4, as given by Bilguer (1839)
and later by Staunton (e.g. "Chess Player's Handbook" 1872,
p.145) followed the line 5 Bxf7+ Ke7 6 d3 Nf6! (6...Nxg5??
7.Bxg5+ +-; 6...Nd6 7 Ne6! dxe6 8 Bg5+ Staunton) 7 Bb3 d5 8 f4
Bg4 9 Qd2 h6? leading to an easy win for White. Zukertort seems
to have been the first master to give anything like a proper analysis
of 4...Nxe4 for in the "City of London Chess Magazine" of 1875
(p.75) he revealed the resource 9...Kd7, played against him by Dr.
Stosch, a Berlin amateur, in 1867. After 10 Nf7 Qe8 11 Nxh8
exf4+ 12 Kf1 comes 12...Nd4! (Stosch played the much inferior
12...Bc5 against Zukertort.) 13 Nc3 Bc5 This turns the variation on
its head. White has no good defence, as Steinitz agreed, e.g., 14 h3
(Zukertort also analysed 14 Qe1 Qh5 15 Bxf4 Re8 16 Qd2 Be2+
17 Nxe2 Rxe2.) 14...Qh5 15 Nf7 Re8 16 Ng5 Be2+ 17 Nxe2 Nxe2
(17...Rxe2? 18 Qxf4) 18 g4 (18 Ne4 Nxe4 -+) 18...Nxg4 19 Ne4
Rxe4 20 dxe4 Ne3+ 21 Ke1 Ng2+ and mate next move in a game
Dufresne-Zukertort, 1869. Zukertort also examined 6 Nxe4 Kxf7 7
Qf3+ ("This attack cannot lead to anything, as White has no forces
in the field to proceed with."
7...Ke8 8 d4 d5 and 7 Nbc3 g6 ("a
far stronger move than the check with the queen"
8 0-0 d5 again
leading to advantage for Black.
As a footnote to the Stosch line, Gambit Revue published a game
Laks-Maric, Novi Sad, 1947, in which Maric played instead 9...e4
10 dxe4 (Better 10 h3) 10...Nxe4 11 Qxd5 Qxd5 12 Bxd5 Nxg5 13
Bxc6 (13 fxg5 Rd8) 13...bxc6 14 fxg5 Kd7! 15 Be3 Rb8 16 b3
Bb4+ 17 c3 Rhe8 18 Kd2 Rb5 19 cxb4 Rd5+ 20 Kc2 Rxe3 21 Kb2
a5 22 Ka3 c5 23 bxa5 c4 24 Kb4 c5+ 25 Kxc4 Kc6 0-1.
Therefore 6 d4!, (after 5 Bxf7+ Ke7) as rightly given by ECO, is
the only response that Black need fear when playing 4...Nxe4. (See
Not now 6...exd4?? 7 Bd5! Nf6 8 Qe2+ nor 6...Nxd4 7 c3 Nc6 8
Bd5+- (Steinitz) while 6...Nd6?! (hoping to rule out usual White
tactics) blocks Q-side development and allows 7 Ne6!! which wins
the queen for two minor pieces.
Most books therefore give Black the move 6..d5 which would be
all right after 7 dxe5 h6 (Zukertort only analysed 7...Nxe5.) 8 Nxe4
Kxf7 9 Nec3 d4 10 Ne4 (or 10 Qf3+ Kg8 11 Qd5+ Qxd5 12 Nxd5
Bf5) 10...Nxe5 (Keres) but White has 7 Nc3!! which is a
widely-published refutation following analysis by the Russian
player Lopukhin, e.g. 7...Nxc3 (7...Nf6 8 dxe5 Nxe5 9 Qe2 with
advantage to White) 8 bxc3 Qd6 (8...Bf5 9 Qf3 or 8...e4 9 f3! with
advantage to White in both cases) 9 a4 (threat Ba3) 9...Kd8 10
Bg8! Ke8 11 Bxh7 with advantage to White. I have two miniatures
in my database with 6...d5, both quick wins by White.
However, Maric made a good case for playing 6...h6!? in the
diagrammed position and this is where you should concentrate
your analysis if you are thinking of playing this line with either
colour. This gets a ? from ECO but that is misleading; I doubt if
anybody below GM strength would find the refutation over the
board without preparation.
For example, Csanyi-Maric, Vojvodina Champ. 1949, continued
from the diagram: 6 d4! h6! 7 Nxe4 Kxf7 8 d5 Ne7 (Not 8...Nd4? 9
c3! Qh4 10 Ng3 Nb5 11 0-0 and f4 with no good defence for Black
according to Maric) 9 Qh5+ Kg8!! In Maric's opinion, Black now
has an initiative worth at least equality. Most books, if they give
anything, mention only 9...g6? 10 Qxe5 Bg7 11 Qf4+ Kg8 12
Nbc3, a variation inaccurately attributed to Staunton by Steinitz.
This line is given by Zukertort and it is probably his, for he
remarks of 6.d4 (City of London Chess Magazine 1875, p.144) that
"This move was first proposed by Mr. Staunton, but he neither
analysed its consequences exhaustively nor did he prove the
insufficiency of 6.d3." After the improvement 9...Kg8!, the Maric
game continued 10 Qxe5 d6 11 Qd4 c6! 12 dxc6? (12 c4 cxd5 13
cxd5 Qa5+ 14 Nbc3 Nf5 is obviously more critical.) 12...d5! 13
Ng3 Nxc6 14 Qa4 Qe8+ 15 Ne2 Bb4+ 16 Bd2 Bg4! 17 f3 Nd4!!
18 Qxe8+ Rxe8 19 Bxb4 Rxe2+ 20 Kd1 Rxg2! 21 fxg4 Nxc2 22
Bd2 Nxa1 23 Nc3 Kh7 24 Kc1 d4 25 Ne4 Rc8+ 0-1.
White should instead of 8 d5, play 8 dxe5, as recommended by
ECO and Estrin. This wins a pawn (8...Nxe5?? 9 Qh5+ Ng6 10
Qf5+) and the question is whether Black can get compensation,
unlikely with his king still unsafe. Maric in fact met 8 dxe5 by
8...Qe8 and his game with Krgin at Novi Sad 1950 continued 9
Qd5+ Kg6 10 f4 Nb4?! and he eventually won but he wrote that he
should have played 10...d6 as there were a lot of errors in this
game. The remaining moves were: 11 Qc4? (11 Qb3 d5 12 Ng3
Qc6 13 Na3 Bc5) 11...d5! 12 exd6 Bxd6 13 0-0 b5 14 Nxd6 (14
Qe2 Bc5+ 15 Kh1 Bf5 16 Nbc3 Bd4 17 g4 Bc8 unclear) 14...bxc4
15 Nxe8 Rxe8 16 Na3 Ba6 17 c3 Nd3 18 Nc2 Re2 19 Nd4 Rae8!
20 Nxe2 Rxe2 21 b3 Bb7 22 Rf3 Bxf3 23 gxf3 Re1+ 0-1.
In my opinion 8 dxe5 is definitely stronger than 8 d5; White should
be opening lines, not closing them. Also the extra pawn means that
Black cannot afford slow play.
White has two dangerous possibilities against 8...Qe8. Firstly, he
could play 9 Qh5+!? (Maric doesn't mention this obvious move.)
but after 9...g6 10 Qf3+ Kg7 11 Qf6+ (11 0-0!? Qxe5! unclear)
11...Kg8 12 Qxc6! although White obtains some advantage the
resulting position may be defensible. Finally we come to the real
problem with 4...Nxe4. After 8...Qe8 ECO gives 9 f4 d6 10 0-0
when Maric gave 10...Kg8 (to play dxe5) and he claimed Black
should have few problems. However, he apparently did not know
the continuation quoted by Heyken and Fette: 11 Nbc3 dxe5 12 f5
Qf7 13 Nd5 Bd7 14 f6 g6 15.Ne7+! and White won in van
Steenis-Vlagsma, Beverwijk 1942. Had Black played 8...Qe7
instead of 8...Qe8 this would have been even worse for him, as
after 9 f4 d6 10 0-0 Kg8 11 Nbc3 dxe5 there would be 12 Nd5
attacking the queen.
Can Black's game be salvaged? Can something better be found
after 6...d5 7 Nc3 or a different sixth move altogether for Black?
Over to you!