Monday, May 05, 2008

Anti-Pierce - 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 Bb4!?


I have posted an article on "My Anti-Pierce Defense - 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 Bb4!?" which you are not likely to see mentioned in any book (except for one or two that offer up the poorly contested game Steinitz - Winawer, Baden-Baden 1870 as their reason for rejecting it). I think it is fully viable and provides a nice opening shortcut for anyone who can't bear the thought of wandering into the dark thicket of the Pierce Gambit as Black.

I usually come to this line via transposition from my favorite Adelaide Counter-Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6!) As the Mjae website points out (see "Le gambit du Roi refuse par 2...Cc6"), White should meet the Adelaide with 3.Nc3! transposing to the Pierce Gambit or Allgaier Gambit, neither of which would likely suit a counter-gambiteer. You can get some sense of how deep the complications of these lines run by looking at Tim Harding's articles: Introduction to the Pierce Gambit, Some Theory of the Pierce Gambit, and Last Rites of the Allgaier Gambit. Scary stuff.

Some may claim that these gambits are "refuted," but I'm not about to spend hours analyzing them both in the dim hope of holding my own over the board against a well-prepared opponent. I have always made it a principle never to play into my opponent's preparation. And, after all, what is the fun of playing a tricky opening shortcut like the Adelaide Counter-Gambit if your opponent can just turn the tables on you? Clearly we must find a way to turn the tables back again! And I think my anti-Pierce line with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6! 3.Nc3! Bb4! does just that.

I actually started playing the line one day in blitz before analyzing it or looking at games, and it's just as well that I did. As I say, theory has nothing of value to offer and most of the games are far from encouraging since Black plays so poorly. If you look through the database, you'll see some 19th and early 20th Century experiments with the line where Black follows up with a passive ...d6 and allows himself to be over-run in the center (with Bb5 and an eventual d4) or on the kingside (beginning with f5). I think a modern player knows instinctively that the whole point of ...Bb4 is not to strong-point e5 but to play for counter-pressure on the light squares via ...Nf6 and ...d5. Black can also consider a later ...exf4, especially where he can follow it up quickly with pressure in the center. Played this way, I think the opening works -- but you'll have to use the PGN file to do some of your own analysis to feel comfortable with these tricky lines.

After all, though I'd call 3...Bb4 a shortcut, that doesn't mean it isn't complicated.

A move I see quite often in blitz, for example, is the blunder 4.fxe5? when Black gains a winning advantage after 4...Bxc3 5.dxc3 (5.bxc3!? is similar, as discussed in the article) 5...Qh4+ etc. Many players on ICC will simply resign at this point, though I don't think they should. They might at least play 6.Ke2 when either 6...Nxe5 or 6...Qxe4+ wins a pawn and forces the White King to continue his perilous journey, but things are still pretty wild, especially at high speeds. The more wily opponents who fall into this trap, however, will attempt to turn the tables with 6.g3!? Qxe4+ 7.Qe2 Qxh1 (simply 7...Qxe5 is adequate for advantage) 8.Nf3, when Black definitely has to play precisely if he is not to fall victim to a Mammoth Trap.

anti-pierce mammoth trap

Basically, the only way to extricate the Queen is to play the counter-intuitive 8...d5! (or 8...d6) allowing 9. exd6+ (better, actually, is 9. Kf2! Bg4 10. Bg2 Qxh2! when Black remains only the Exchange ahead) 9... Kf8! (not 9... Kd8?? 10. dxc7+ Kxc7 11. Bf4+ Kd8 12. O-O-O+ and Black is lost; interestingly, if White captures 5.bxc3!? earlier, the King has to run the other way with 9...Kd8!) 10. dxc7 Bg4 and White is busted. A rather crooked path, and definitely one you should know well rather than walking blindly along it!

As the present article and my earlier one on "Frankenstein and Dracula Meet the Werewolf" suggest, there is a lot of room in the Vienna for interesting exploration that is not to be found in any book. Other anti-Vienna pieces include "Vienna with Bc4 Busted?" and "More Anti-Vienna."

There are still some areas of uncertainty in the anti-Pierce analysis, which is only natural given that there is so little theory and so few good games to offer guidance. Therefore, take this as a bit of path-breaking that only points us in the right direction. And, if it brings you success in your own games, please send them to me so that I can improve my map of this terra incognito....


Happy Patzer said...

Regarding "the database"...which product do you use (I assume ChessBase?)? I've recently returned to tournament chess and advances in tech us in only 8 years is astounding.

Wahrheit said...

Wonderful work, Michael. Though I've got to admit that as a "practical" player this whole thicket (you've only explored a part of it here, as you know) is what put off 1. e4 e5 as Black about 20 years ago.