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Our club runs a handicap tournament where handicaps are based on rating difference. I recently had to play a player rated about 300 lower than me and give him pawn plus two moves. That means I was black, had my f7 pawn removed and he got to make two moves before my first move.

He started with the obvious e4 and d4 and I replied with what looks to me to be the forced e6. The question is is e4 + d4 the best start? Or would something like e4 + Bc4 or e4 + Nf3 be better? How close does white come to having a forced win?

For the record I won, on time, a very sweaty-palmed game where only in the last few moves did I manage to reach a winning endgame where I had something like N+4P v 6P. With careful handicapping this kind of format can produce very tight games as long as the handicapped player fights and doesn't just give up.

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You can go for the King's Indian kind of lines, such as:

  1. e4 ...
  2. d4 g6

g6 stops Queens from sneaking in the Qh5+ check, and also prepares for fianchetto-ing bishops.

The general positions will end up a bit cramp for Black, but Black will have a Modern-esque plan of d6-c5 or d6-e5, whichever you prefer. Play can continue with

  1. Nf6 d6
  2. Nc6 Bg7
  3. Bc4 Nf6

If you manage to get in e5 quickly, then you can smoothly transpose into KIA lines

Good luck!

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  • Thanks for the suggestions. The problem with g6 is that white is going to plan somewhere along the line to play e5, controlling f6 so I can't keep a knight there, and h4 with the plan of either pushing h5 to bust open the kingside or put a bishop or knight on g5. – Brian Towers Jan 28 '16 at 0:34
  • Though I don't think stopping e5 effectively is possible. Even with e6, White can do it anyway and support the pawn easily with his pieces. – Mildwood Jan 28 '16 at 3:48
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I do feel that in case of this 'game format' the best is probably playing 1.e4, d4 as first two moves. This way white open both diagonals for bishops and form a formidable stronghold in the center (yet unanswered threats due to the fact that you can make a move only later with black). White can 'pack a punch' much faster in this case, also they will need to play either d3 or d4 later to develop the other bishop. So, why wait!?

If you consider 2 ... e6 (after: 1. e4 ... 2. d4 e6)

Then if 3. Qh5+ g6 4. Qe5 Nf6 5. Nc3 (if 5. Bg5?! then 5. ... Be7 or Bg7 with complications where black may regain initiative due to weak white queen and a quick possibility to use file 'f' in potential counter-attack) leads to complications where two extra tempos for white can be a really good handicap, however white's queen is a bit exposed and can become a positional weakness.

Other than that you got what you got - one pawn down and two tempos behind! Well, try to:

  1. counter center offensive first by blocking white's pawns advances
  2. protect the king by castling
  3. use file 'f' to counterattack (if you give away f-pawn of course)
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