I am a low rating player and I would like to understand why 5 Nxe4 is consider to be the best replay by white on the C46 Four knights, Italian variation opening against 4 Nxe4 by black. Instead of 5. Bxf7+.


[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4 Nxe4 5. Nxe4

Instead of this:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4 Nxe4 5. Bxf7+ 
  • 3
    White also has 5.0-0 as a third option; it sacrifices a pawn after 5...Nxc3 6.dxc3, but white is ahead in development. – Akavall Mar 26 '13 at 17:48

5.Bxf7+ has a reasonable idea behind it, in that it exposes Black's king and jettisons White's bishop before Black can use the fork trick on it that would follow with 5.Nxe4 d5. However, it has some concrete problems:

  • After 5...Kxf7 6.Nxe4, Black plays 6...d5 and forms a massive center.
  • Black's king turns out to not be vulnerable on f7. It will quickly retreat to g8 where it is relatively safe.
  • White's knights are going to get kicked around a lot with loss of tempo. If he plays 7.Neg5+ Kg8, both ...h6 and ...e4 will attack knights that don't have very good places to flee to.

In contrast, after 5.Nxe4 d5, Black regains his sacrificed piece, but has to break up his pawn center in the process. After 6.Bd3 dxe4 7.Bxe4, White no longer has his opening advantage but the position is relatively equal.

The lesson from all of this is that 4.Bc4 is not a very good move. The standard alternatives are 4.Bb5 (Spanish Four Knights), 4.d4 (Scotch Four Knights), and 4.g3 (Glek Four Knights), which all keep White's opening advantage.

P.S. I should point out that there is a third alternative for White's fifth move, 5.0-0, gambiting a pawn for a lead in development. This is likely actually better than either 5.Bxf7+ or 5.Nxe4, but if you want to play a gambit like that then there are much better ones to play than the Italian Four Knights.

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  • Of all the squares the light-squared bishop can go to, b5 is best. – xaisoft Mar 26 '13 at 17:47
  • Thanks for the reply, it makes sense. Although I take black's castling rights, I am loosing the center and tempos. Furthermore, black would consolidate the position. – dreamcrash Mar 26 '13 at 18:00

I would agree that the first scenario presented is the better move for two reasons:

  1. It allows White to maintain control of its side of the center. In the second scenario, White is giving Black a foothold in this valuable space (e4).
  2. In the second scenario, White forces Black's king to move, and thereby prevents it from castling. While that is an advantage for White, has to sacrifice a bishop (early) to get it.

It comes down to risk vs. reward. White's reward of maintaining control of the center (the better of the two rewards, IMO) can be achieved with less risk (first scenario), than preventing Black from castling can be.

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  • 1
    Material is going to be equal in both cases, so there's no sacrifice involved. – dfan Mar 26 '13 at 17:34

4. Bc4 is a mistake because it leads to a fork trick for Black:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4 Nxe4 5. Nxe4 d5

Given this fork trick, the best square for the light-squared bishop is b5, so I would altogether avoid playing 4. Bc4.

After 5. Bxf7+, I still do not think white has the advantage, for example, after:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4 Nxe4 5. Bxf7+ Kxf7 6. Nxe4 d5
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  • 3
    The mistake is 4.Bc4, not 5.Nxe4. 5.Nxe4 is regarded by theory as the best try for White after 4.Bc4 Nxe4. – dfan Mar 26 '13 at 17:38
  • @dfan - True. That is why I said to avoid playing 4. Bc4 anyways, but if White does play 4. Bc4 and black captures on e4, I was just pointing out that it would be a mistake for white to capture back. I had originally put 4. Bc4 as the mistake, but changed it, so I just changed it back :) – xaisoft Mar 26 '13 at 17:44
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    It is not a mistake to capture back with 5.Nxe4; it is better than playing 5.Bxf7+. See my separate answer. – dfan Mar 26 '13 at 17:47
  • @dfan - But if White plays 5. Nxe4 and black plays 5...d5 forking the bishop and knight, I would consider it a mistake. You will lose either a bishop or knight for a pawn. – xaisoft Mar 26 '13 at 17:49
  • 1
    White just won a knight for a pawn with 4...Nxe4 5.Nxe4, so he is not losing any material. White's two options if he doesn't want to be down a pawn are 5.Nxe4 and 5.Bxf7+. Both end up in a position with equal material, but White's position is better in the former one. – dfan Mar 26 '13 at 17:55

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