I just got an ad for the book Taming Wild Chess Openings by Watson & Schiller. I'm not planning to buy the book, but I was intrigued by the table of contents, especially the two lines quoted below (with chess symbols replaced by letters).

Under the heading BAD WHITE OPENINGS:

Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nxe4 5. O-O

[Title "Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit"]
[FEN ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nxe4 5. O-O

Under the heading GOOD WHITE OPENINGS:

Morphy Gambit: 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nxe4 4. Nc3

[Title "Morphy Gambit"]
[FEN ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nxe4 4. Nc3

First, a terminological quibble: where do they get those names? If I remember right, the opening books I read as a child gave the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nxe4 4. Nc3 as the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit, and did not mention any "Morphy Gambit."

But my real question is, what is so different about these two lines that makes one "good" and the other "bad"? It seems to me that they are quite similar, and very likely to transpose to the same game after a couple more moves. Am I missing some subtlety, or is this sheer carelessness on the part of the authors, who didn't notice that they were writing about the same opening twice?

  • 1
    If we learnt something from engines, it's that "similar" doesn't exist. Especially in highly tactical positions. That said, Stockfish says "Waffle!" and rates both position as about -1 for White (depth 49, Lichess). Oh, and calls BOTH lines Boden-Kieseritzky... Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 7:35
  • 1
    The latter can also be reached from the Petroff Defense. The main line there is Nxc3 dxc3 f6! after which one possibility is 0-0 Nc6. That would indeed transpose to the first variation in case of Nxc3 dxc3 f6. The one additional option that White has in the second line is to not castle but play Nh4 instead which is dubious but which at fast time controls can be dangerous. That being said, both variations certainly aren't objectively good.
    – koedem
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 13:46

1 Answer 1


The authors note in the introduction of the section on the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit that

[The Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit] is similar to the Morphy Gambit, except that White has already castled and Black has already developed the queenside knight. These additions make the opening favorable for black since he has more central support. With simple moves, Black will be able to achieve an advantage.

So at least they are aware of the obvious similarities. The authors claim that the Morphy Gambit is a 'good enough' opening to attempt to win quickly against weaker players, but it seems to me both openings can be opposed by the same "simple moves".

The main defense the authors offer against the Boden-Kieserizky Gambit starts with

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nxe4 5. O-O Nxc3 6. dxc3 f6!

after which black can adequately defend and keep the pawn. Let's call this the "main defense".

But in the Morphy Gambit, we end up in the same position after

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nxe4 4.Nc3 Nxc3 5. dxc3 f6! 6. O-O (6. Nh4!? {The authors mention this line as an option, but I don't think it is any good. For example, after g6} g6 7. f4 Qe7 {and black is fine. Note that white cannot castle immediately, due to Qc5+}) Nc6 {The authors mention this as a side-line (to the game they are analyzing), but do not mention whether they would recommend this particular move for black.}

So, there seems to be little theoretical difference between the openings and no practical difference against an opponent that knows the two or three moves that defend against both openings. Against an unaware opponent, in the Morphy Gambit black has to find one more move to reach the "main defense", so if I had to choose for white, I'd slightly prefer that version, but I would just play the same defense to both as black.

Now, why do the authors call only one of those in the book 'good' (for catching an unaware opponent)? I cannot read their minds, of course, but the authors often seem more interested in discussing games rather than openings, so perhaps they just needed an excuse to show games where white successfully uses a wild attack.

  • Thanks! It seems that, in order to justify their preference for the so-called Morphy Gambit, the authors must be recommending the alternative 6. Nh4. Is that so? Do they present a reasonable game where White won in that variation?
    – bof
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 22:10
  • @bof They consider 6.Nh4 an "interesting alternative that can lead to murky and unclear positions", so I don't think that's their justification for the opening. They cite 3 games, all won by white due to a poor defense on the part of black, "Vandivier-H.Thomas, Lansing 1993" with 6. ... d6, "Cernousek-Sturz, Czech Republic 1996" with 6. ... g6 7. f4 f5 and "Vatter-Dieterle, Triberg 1991" with 6. ... g6 7. f4 d6 . Whether you can consider these moves reasonable is up to you, although the games do fit the suggestion to use the opening to defeat an unaware player. Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 9:14

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