[FEN ""]
[StartPly "18"]
[Title "What is wrong with taking the pawn here?"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 b5 8.O-O b4 9.Na4 Nxe4

I have known this position for 25 years, having played it in blitz from both sides. I have looked into some books but the answers are too shallow. Looks to me like a gaping hole in opening theory. Is there an authoritative resource dealing with this line?

  • One of the most famous games played in this line is Fisher-Tal 1959, 4th game of the Candidates Matches. I had a book with great analysis on CD but somehow my laptop can not open the CD... Therefore all I can advise you now is to look up modern commentary on that game... Commented May 26, 2016 at 15:31
  • I have looked up this line in two modern books but it looks like Black's choice is simply uninspiring giving White a slight advantage without a fight with good play or losing on the spot with careless play. Looks playable though. Commented May 28, 2016 at 14:04
  • I strongly suggest you to find the comments to the game I offered. It was analyzed in the book about Booby Fisher by Tal, Smislov and many other strong GMs of the time. IIRC the line was sharp but playable for Black... Commented May 28, 2016 at 14:46
  • I know that one but there White has played 8.f4 instead of 8.O-O. Here 10.Re1 is strong while 10.f4 transposes to that famous Fischer - Tal game. In any case Black's position is not as promising as in other variations. Commented May 28, 2016 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


This is not a gaping hole in opening theory. Looking through my reference database, White has an excellent score after 10.Re1. Black needs to reply with 10...d5 not to be clearly worse, because of the weakness on e6(White can just crash through if Black is careless). After this there aren't many games, but White's score after 11.c4 is 73.3% in 15 games. The computer evaluates the position as approximately +0.20 for White, which indicates that White has full compensation for the pawn.

This isn't hard to imagine. White has a development lead, has a weakness on e6 to work on, open lines for bishops and rooks etc. It is essentially a very sound gambit. The only reason why the computer gives White just +0.20 eval is because computers do not tend to make mistakes that humans make. They can handle scary looking positions in another way than humans can, and they don't make tactical errors. If you look through the games played after 11.c4, you will notice that virtually every black player has played a game-losing move at move 13 in this line (after 11... bxc3 12.Nxc3, Nxc3 13.bxc3, Be7?? and now White obtains a winning advantage after 14.Nf5!).

This means that the position is too expensive for Black to enter just for a pawn. It's totally not worth the risk, in my opinion.

  • I have consulted an engine but the evaluation is similar to what it gives to any white position in the opening (if you know what I mean). Not a big deal. Just a risky pawn grabbing that is playable. But I don't like the way books tend to treat this as a mistake. Commented May 26, 2016 at 13:37
  • Well, the position is indeed very difficult to equalize for Black. But objectively speaking, you're right. It's not a 'bad' move in that sense. This is true for many moves not considered in opening theory. Remember that opening theory is basically just the best players' opinions on the given positions. These can sometimes be inaccurate.
    – Scounged
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 13:41

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