The Spanish Four Knights Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5) is not something I had looked at much over many years of playing chess, except as it occurred in some of the classic games of the 1890s-1920s that I've played through. But when I dropped by Fred Wilson's Chess Shop the other day, we discussed his recent lectures on the Four Knights as"A 'Real Man's' Opening," and he shared with me some of his lecture notes. He had some good ideas about the opening and, at the very least, he convinced me to take it seriously. He also intrigued me by calling it a "real man's" opening. I guess what Wilson means is that it always leads to a struggle where the pieces are very much engaged, practically like wrestling or hand-to-hand combat. The "manly" idea may also arise because of its association with the heroic and combative players of the last century (including Lasker, Capablanca, Rubinstein, Spielmann, Botvinnik, and Tal).
Though it has a reputation for being drawish, since the pawn formations are rather locked and very balanced, the Four Knights has been used by many GMs over the years to play for a win. Nigel Short, for example, adopted it in match play and inspired a number of other English players (including Nunn and Gallagher) to do the same. After all, balanced play is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you are playing to keep the draw in hand (as many match and tournament players do). And the game is never without chances, especially since most players as Black are rather underprepared.
I have been doing some analysis of lines in the Four Knights and will likely present some of that here in the next week or so. For now, here is a brief bibliography of web and book sources I have been consulting, leaving out the classics (such as Euwe and Keres and ECO). I may return to add some more web links since I was rather disappointed by how few web resources I was able to turn up (all the more reason, I suppose, that I should contribute a thing or two myself). If nothing else, it seems to fit with my recent interest in the Two Knights Sicilian, Two Knights French, and Two Knights Caro-Kann. Hey, "Knights before Bishops," right?
Chesscoach. "Understanding the Spanish Four Knights." Chess Opening Secrets Revealed weblog (January 11, 2006). Uses plenty of diagrams to introduce the main lines of the Four Knights with 4.Bb5. But there are more moves and diagrams than commentary.
Chessgames.com "Four Knights (C48)." Over 699 games with the line from 1857-2006. I find Chessgames a good site to look through when learning a new opening, since you can very quickly play over a large number of games to see the basic ideas.
ChessOps. "The Four Knights Game."
Draper, Mervin. "Shirov-Kramnik, Match 1998." Michigan Chess Association.
Kavalek, Lubomir. Chess. Washington Post (April 3, 2006)
Annotates the game Najer-Shirov, Siberia 2006 which featured a nice win by Black in the Rubinstein variation (4.Bb5 Nd4 5.Bc4!?)
Morss, Mark. "The Classical Defense to the Spanish, Part 1." The Campbell Report's Hard Chess column. The link takes you directly to the section on 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Bc5 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Nxe5, which can also arise via the Four Knights.
"Paulsen-Morphy, USA 1857." Good annotations and java replay of this classic Four Knights game.
Wikipedia. "Four Knights Game." A fair overview with links.
Books and Articles
Davies, Nigel. Play 1.e4 e5! A Complete Repertoire for Black in the Open Games. Everyman 2005. 156-161.
Davies recommends the traditional Spanish Four Knights (with 4.Bb5 Bb4) from the Black side with good coverage over two games. Reviewed in detail by Michael Jeffreys at Chessville.
Emms, John. “The Spanish Four Knights.” Play the Open Games as Black: What to Do When White Avoids the Ruy Lopez. Gambit 2000. 142-158.
Emms recommends Rubinstein’s 4…Nd4, for which he offers excellent coverage. This is one of the few sources to take 5.O-O seriously as a significant variation (as recommended by Fred Wilson) and to discuss Black's 5...c6! 6.Ba4 Qa5 counter. An indispensable book for anyone who plays 1.e4 e5 as Black or White.
Evans, Larry M. and Ken Smith. An Unbeatable White Repertoire After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3. Chess Digest 1988.
Seeing this book suddenly back in print was the first thing that got me to take the Four Knights seriously again. Evans’s coverage of the main lines is very fair and balanced (if occasionally dated, since it likely came from an older volume on the Four Knights alone published by Chess Digest) while Smith offers a good standard treatment of all Black alternatives after 1.e4 e5, finding an advantage for White at every turn. This is an excellent repertoire book for anyone interested in the Four Knights despite some inevitable weaknesses due to its age.
Flear, Glenn "Four Knights Opening." New in Chess Yearbook 27 (1992)
Hazai, Laszlo and Peter Lukacs. "4...Nd4 - Old Wine in a New Bottle." NIC Yearbook 49 (1998)
Hazai, Laszlo and Peter Lukacs. "A Pawn Sacrifice!" NIC Yearbook 64 (2002)
Kaufman, Larry. The Chess Advantage in Black and White. Random House / David McKay 2004. 327-342
Kaufman recommends the odd-ball 4…Bd6, which he claims leads to equality.
Leach, Colin. Spanish Four Knights' Game, Part 1 and Part 2 (Self-published, 1990).
Two 100-page volumes, the second focused more accurately on the Three Knights Game (with 3...Bb4). Like most of Leach’s other opening books, this two-volume work is made practically unnecessary by modern databases.
Lukacs, Peter and Laszlo Hazai. "Another Pawn Sacrifice in the Rubinstein Variation." NIC Yearbook 65 (2002)
Nunn, John. New Ideas in The Four Knights. Batsford 1993.
This may well be the best book on the Four Knights ever written, with an excellent division of the material and choice of games.
Pickett, L. M. Four Knights and Belgrade Gambit. Notingham: The Chess Player 1976.
This 80-page pamphlet devotes nearly half its pages to the Belgrade Gambit, yet it does a fair job of covering the main Four Knights lines. I always like to look at older materials as they often discuss lines that current works take too much for granted
Pinski, Jan. The Four Knights. Everyman 2003.
I must say that I was very disappointed in this book as someone only interested in learning the traditional Spanish Four Knights line (following 4.Bb5), which receives a scant 40 pages of coverage, while the Scotch Four Knights, Belgrade Gambit, and Glek System (with 4.g3) each receive a similar-length treatment despite their much less significant theoretical heritage. Also, his coverage of Rubinstein’s 4…Nd4 completely leaves out the interesting 5.O-O. But he does cover all of the alternatives and trappy lines fairly well, so it is not worthless. Reviewed by John Watson and Randy Bauer at Jeremy Silman's site.
Pliester, Leon. "Four Knights Opening." NIC Yearbook 23 (1992)
Schiller, Eric. "Four Knights." Downloadable CD for sale. This may be available in other forms, as Schiller's works often are.
Tseitlin, Mikhail. "Paulsen 6.Bxc6." NIC Yearbook 46 (1998)
Van der Sterren, Paul. "Four Knights Opening." NIC Yearbook 24 (1992)
Van der Tak, A. C. "The Third Way: 4...Bc5." NIC Yearbook 49 (1998)