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I thought I had finally discovered a cure-all to the mainline Stafford gambit that's made waves on youtube, but as soon as I felt like I found lines where black can't possibly get enough play, the biggest Stafford exponents of this so-called "magic line" seem to have found improvements that still give black chances. The line I am discussing here begins after 8...Qh4!:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nc6 4. Nxc6 dxc6 {The Stafford Gambit. White has many tries, but there's really only one way black can make white's life uncomfortable in the mainline that I am trying to analyze - the so-called "magic line":} 5. d3 Bc5 6. Be2 h5 (6... Ng4?! 7. Bxg4 Qh4! 8. g3 Qxg4 9. Qxg4 Bxg4 10. Nd2 O-O-O 11. O-O Bh3 12. Re1)  (6... O-O?? 7. c3 Re8 8. O-O) 7. c3 Ng4 8. d4 Qh4 9. g3 Qf6 10. f3 h4 11. fxg4 {I believe this is white's best move and I'm mostly looking for improvements beyond this point} hxg3 12. Be3 12... Rxh2 13. Rg1 Qh4 14. dxc5 (14. Nd2!? 14... Be7 15. Nf3 Qh7 16. Nxh2 gxh2 17. Rh1 Qxe4 18. Kd2!!) 14... Be6 (14... Bxg4? 15. Bxg4 Rd8 16. Bd4 g2+ 17. Kd2 Qf2+ 18. Kd3!! (18. Kc1?? Rxd4!! 19. cxd4 Qxg1!! 20. Qxg1 Rh1)) 15. Na3 Rd8 16. Bd4 b6!! {Leela suggestion that keeps the position uncomfortable} 17. cxb6 axb6 18. Qd3 c5 19. O-O-O cxd4 20. cxd4

There are certainly many alternatives for both players throughout this analysis. One extremely interesting game between Jonathan Schrantz and Stockfish occurred after 11. dxc5 Be6!! 12. Qd4 Ne5! and he was able to get a draw (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp75rbkIAYU). Another interesting game between IM Eric Rosen and IM halfnatty on lichess went 15. Nd2? O-O-O 16. Qa4?? Rxe2 and black won immediately (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68H5DnAVQwo). I inserted my only game in this line into the above analysis, where we both made mutual blunders on move 14 and 18 just to highlight some of the ways this can go horribly wrong (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcfifxkyC8A).

Looking forward to people's feedback on these positions. Did I miss any important tries for black? Are there easier ways forward for white? Throughout this line, Stockfish says +5 or more, but Leela seems to like black's chances a lot more... needless to say, it's all incredibly complicated.

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  • 3...Nc6 is just not a good move. The gambit doesn't have enough bite, and you've found some of the ways white is absolutely fine. After 6...h5 very practical is just 7. h3 to shut black down. Don't need to take a piece as you're already up a pawn and black does not have compensation.
    – pkr
    Feb 15 at 4:49
  • While I do believe that has to be true, the specifics are necessary to nail down here. For instance, I know that your h3 is met with Qd6 and a continuation as natural as 0-0 is already lost for white after Bxh3! Black has a reasonable win-rate with Qd6 and Eric Rosen has shown some impressive wins from the black side in that line too. That's why I'm trying to be thorough and find a true refutation to all the shenanigans. Feb 15 at 23:28
  • Why do you prefer 5.d3 over 5.Nc3? It seems that many of the complications after d3 can be avoided with Nc3. Also, why do you prefer 6.Be2 instead of 6.h3? And as @pkr mentioned, why 7.c3 instead of 7.h3? I must say that I am not an expert in the Stafford, but simplifying and keeping the pawn instead of going for the complications seems a more principled approach (from a practical perspective). May 12 at 3:44
  • @PabloS.Ocal Mainly because if the only threats in the position arise after black is forced to sacrifice (at least one) piece, then this would be a direct refutation to the Stafford. Going in for Nc3 is good if you don't want to learn theory, but I'm attempting to beat a gambiter at their own game here with these lines. May 14 at 20:20
  • @PabloS.Ocal Also 7. h3 is definitely inaccurate due to Qd4 when Be3?! Qxb7 and instead 0-0 Qd6 you're really asking for it as white. Black has a really big winrate in that line and to be honest seems more scary to me than what I suggested based on the fact that my king is 100% committed to the kingside and can no longer dip to the queenside when black goes all-in with moves like Ng4 incoming. May 14 at 20:24
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I think ! is far too generous for 8...Qh4?! worsening an already dubious line. 9. g3 Qf6 as you have then 10. Bf3! (10. f3?! objectively and ?? practically. Voluntary stripping the King before any piece coordination) bringing the light squares fully under control with a long term attack, able to retreat to g2, breaking the Black Queen's last hope of penetration to the White King along the f file, and letting White play natural moves from then on. The energy drains quickly with the lifeless but necessary 10...Bb6 (10...h4?? The idea is buried. 11. Bxg4 with zero structural damage) followed by more bruising punches: 11. h3! forcing a spite-sacrifice 11...Nxf2?? or the objective 11...Nh6. White consolidates 12. Be3, Black races to catch up 12...Be6, but development completes easily with 13. Nd2 O-O-O 14. Qe2. Two last false attempts at aggression (14...g5?! 15. e5 Goodnight!, 14...h4? 15. g4 I said Goodnight!) (or slower positional improvements, none of which force anything) and pawn melees in the center favor White but nearly perfect is 15. O-O-O (against all moves, even sacrificing the a2 pawn because of b3! trapping the bishop) and Black can shrug at a totally failed gambit. Computer evaluation +3.7 and there's virtually no branching.

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  • I've played this line a few times now since you posted it and I agree - 10. Bf3 is a solid way forward and black's play has a lot less venom in it. White is winning. Jun 16 at 0:10
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one improvement could be on move 11. Rg1 rather than 11.f.g4, though they are both good,

also on move 15. Na3 doesn't make sense, 15Bd4 with the idea of Qd3 is more playable, aslo g5 could be considered too,

but I'd agree with the comments by Pablo, it is not worth your time and it is a dubious gambit, just play either Nc3 and get a playable game, there are much more to learn that just some second hand gambit, unless you just want to play blitz and have no ambition to be better OTB player.

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  • I like that idea of 15 Bd4. You have to give yourself a bunch of only moves there, but it definitely is a clean win if you know them. 15. Bd4 O-O-O 16. Qd3 Rh1! 17. Qe3! Rxd4 18. cxd4 g2+ 19. Kd2! Rxg1 20. Qxg1 Qh1 21. Nc3! and our queen is defended, so black cannot queen. Black is completely dead in that final position. May 21 at 0:02
  • As to your final point, there was a recent video where one of the best Stafford experts in the world (Eric Rosen) played Hikaru as both white and black in the Stafford. Both of them went for the Nc3 line and got a good, playable position as white. And yet Hikaru won both games because he was simply the better player. I don't want to get a playable position - I want to crush it. Refuting dubious gambits is a bit of a past-time for me, so, to me at least, revisiting this theory is fun. May 21 at 0:06

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