I'd like to play the king's gambit without getting into piece sacrifices, but Fischer's Defence is unsettling me. This appears to be described as the "main line".

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6 4.d4 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ng1 *

Attempting to be impartial, I look at the board as white after 6. Ng1 and think:

  • I'm white and I expect to be slightly better in the opening (which I would be if I choose a more mainstream opening).
  • I've given up a pawn (which black could probably hold onto with ...h5 and Bh6), so I expect compensation.
  • I played 2. f4 for the purpose of having the initiative.
  • I have a damaged kingside, and maybe black will completely demolish it with ...f3.
  • I have a nice pawn center.

My conclusion: while white does not seem losing, there has to be a better choice of openings for white.

Questions: Is this position as bad as I think it is? (Are there some subtitles I'm missing?) Are there reasonable non-mainstream deviations from this line?

  • 1
    Morozevich - Kasparov played 6.Ng5!? h6 7.Nxf7, with Kasparov winning, chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1070825. It is more aggressive for sure. – Akavall Apr 13 '14 at 3:58
  • 4) Bc4 is the main continuation for white, not d4. – guru Apr 15 '14 at 12:10

Your objective assessment of White's position after 6. Ng1 is quite on the mark.

A. Objectively speaking...

It's hard to see how this position could be good for White.

On the plus side -

  1. White has a good center.
  2. Black's pawn on f4 is weak.
  3. Black's kingside is a bit loose.

On the minus side -

  1. White is a pawn down at the moment.
  2. White's own kingside is weak.

Is a good center worth a pawn? Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. In this position, it can be shown that at best White is only equal. There is no line that gives White an advantage.

B. Subjectively speaking...

White played the King's Gambit because White wanted a sharp tactical game.

On the plus side -

  1. The White player has successfully achieved a complex tactical position which suits his/her style of play.
  2. Complex tactical positions may not suit the Black player's style of play. Perhaps he/she played 1...e5 with the intention of getting a quieter position.
  3. If the White player is better at tactical positions than the Black player, White has greater chances of winning the game.
  4. The White player may be better prepared in the opening than Black player for this particular line.

One example - Nigel Short, a master of tactical positions, outplayed his strong Grandmaster opponent Vladimir Akopian in this position, playing White.

On the minus side -

  1. Complex tactical positions may suit the Black player's style of play and Black might enjoy these complications.
  2. Black might be as good as White in tactical positions or even better. Thus, White has good chances of losing the game.
  3. Black might be very good at defense and at best White will only manage a draw.
  4. The Black player might be prepared just as well in the opening as the White player or even better in this particular line.

One example- the great champion of the King's Gambit and a master of tactics, Boris Spassky himself, played this position both with White and with Black, winning the game with Black.

It seems to me that White's reasons for going into this line are more subjective than objective. The computer evaluations all favor Black slightly, but that's expected because Black is materially a pawn ahead and computers often are biased towards material. Objectively speaking, here are some lines which show that White doesn't get anything special out of this opening. In my opinion, in the line after 6...f5!?, White is even slightly worse.

    [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
    [Event "6...f5!? and Black might be slightly better"]

    1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. d4 g5 5. h4 g4 6. Ng1 f5 (6... Bh6 7. Nc3 c6 (
    7... Nf6 8. Nge2 Nh5 9. g3 O-O 10. Bxf4 Nxf4 11. Nxf4=) 8. Nge2 Qf6 9. g3 f3
    10. Nf4 Qe7) 7. Nc3 fxe4 8. Bxf4 (8. Nxe4 Qe7 9. Qe2 Nc6 10. c3 Bf5 11. Nf2 Bh6=+
    ) 8... d5 9. Qd2 c6 10. Nge2 Nf6 11. O-O-O Be6 12. Kb1 (12. Ng3 Bd6) 12...
    Nbd7 13. Ng3 Bb4 14. a3 Ba5 15. Be2 Bc7 16. Rdf1 Bxf4 17. Rxf4 Qe7 18. Rhf1

One sample Grandmaster game in this line -

Hector vs Peter Leko 0-1 1995

4. Bc4!? is a perfectly playable alternative to 4. d4. The point is that Black has to "waste" a move playing 4...h6 first and cannot play 4...g5 directly. If 4...g5, then White get's a better position after 5. h4! as follows -

    [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
    [Event "Black cannot play 4...g5 after 4. Bc4!?"]

    1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 g5? 5. h4! g4 6. Ng5 Nh6 7. d4 Bg7 8. Bxf4+=

However, I should mention that after 4...h6 and 5...g5, Black is very solid in the mainline resulting position and it's not easy for White to break through.

    [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
    [Event "4. Bc4 h6!? 5.d4 g5 and Black is doing well"]

    1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 h6 5. d4 g5 6. O-O Bg7 7. c3 Nc6

Are there reasonable non-mainstream deviations from this line?

Considering the above discussion, I think a reasonable non-mainstream deviation would be to play 4. Bc4 and 5.h4!?, preventing g5. Objectively speaking, White is still slightly worse because of the material deficit, but subjectively speaking, the position is quite complicated with plenty to play for. One idea for White's would be to hold on to the strong pawn center, castle queen side and attempt to put pressure on Black's f4 pawn with moves like Ne2.

      [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
      [Event "5. h4!? is worth a try"]

      1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 h6 5. h4 Nf6 6. Nc3 Nbd7 (6... Bg4 7. d4
      Nh5 8. Ne5! dxe5 9. Qxg4 Nf6 10. Qf5 Nc6 11. dxe5 Nd4 12. Qxf4 Nxc2+ 13. Ke2
      Nxa1 14. exf6 Qxf6 15. Nd5 Qxf4 16. Bxf4 O-O-O 17. Rxa1+/-) (6... c6 7. d4 b5
      8. Bd3 Nh5 9. Ne2) 7. d4 Nh5 8. Qd3

I recommend you check the book "Winning with the King's Gambit", from Joe Gallagher (the book is a bit old, from early 90s, but is still a nice collection of games) he examines this line in the first 8 games of the book. Black replies include 6. ... f3, 6. ... Nf6, 6. ... Bh6, 6. ... Qf6.

The general idea is, White has a strong centre, Black has space in king side, sometimes they get a strong f3 pawn passed & protected. But they also have several weaknesses (Black squares in king side (exchanging dark bishops is good for White)).

White sometimes castle kingside, but more often queenside, or not castle at all. The breakthrough e4-e5 is key in White's attack plan.

Here are a extract games from the book (without annotations):

First Game:

[FEN ""]
[Event "Bad Woerishofen op 7th"]
[Site "Bad Woerishofen"]
[Date "1991.11.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Gallagher, Joseph G"]
[Black "Bode, Wilfried"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C34"]
[WhiteElo "2520"]
[PlyCount "37"]
[SourceDate "2003.09.15"]

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. d4 g5 5. h4 g4 6. Ng1 f3 7. Bg5 Be7 8. Qd2 f6
9. Bh6 Nxh6 10. Qxh6 Be6 11. gxf3 gxf3 12. Nxf3 c6 13. Nc3 Qa5 14. Ng5 fxg5 15.
Qxe6 Nd7 16. Bc4 Rf8 17. O-O-O gxh4 18. e5 d5 19. Bxd5 1-0

Second Game:

[FEN ""]
[Event "Orange"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1987.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Hebden, Mark"]
[Black "Borm, F."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C34"]
[WhiteElo "2515"]
[BlackElo "2420"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[SourceDate "2003.09.15"]

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. d4 g5 5. h4 g4 6. Ng1 Nf6 7. Bxf4 Nxe4 8. Bd3
Qe7 9. Ne2 Bg7 10. O-O O-O 11. Bxe4 Qxe4 12. Nbc3 Qc6 13. Qd2 d5 14. Ng3 Qf6
15. Be5 Qxh4 16. Bxg7 Kxg7 17. Nxd5 f5 18. Qf4 Nc6 19. Nxc7 Rb8 20. Rae1 Kg8
21. d5 Ne7 22. Nh5 Qxh5 23. Rxe7 b5 24. Rfe1 Rb6 25. d6 Qh4 26. g3 Qf6 27. Ne8
Qxb2 28. Qg5+ Kh8 29. Rxh7+ Kxh7 30. Re7+ Kh8 31. Qh5+ Kg8 32. Qh7# 1-0

Third Game:

[FEN ""]
[Event "BCF-ch"]
[Site "Blackpool"]
[Date "1988.08.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Gallagher, Joseph G"]
[Black "Jackson, Sheila"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C34"]
[WhiteElo "2445"]
[BlackElo "2245"]
[PlyCount "81"]
[SourceDate "2003.09.15"]

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. d4 g5 5. h4 g4 6. Ng1 Bh6 7. Nc3 c6 8. Nge2
Qf6 9. g3 f3 10. Nf4 Qe7 11. Bd3 Bg7 12. Be3 h5 13. Qd2 Nd7 14. O-O-O Nf8 15.
Rhe1 Bd7 16. e5 dxe5 17. dxe5 Ne6 18. Ne4 Bxe5 19. Nxe6 Bxe6 20. Bc5 Qc7 21.
Nd6+ Bxd6 22. Rxe6+ Be7 23. Bd6 Qxd6 24. Rxd6 Bxd6 25. Ba6 O-O-O 26. Qc3 Ne7
27. Rxd6 bxa6 28. Rf6 Rhf8 29. Qc5 Rd7 30. Qxh5 Rfd8 31. Qxg4 Kb7 32. Qxf3 Nd5
33. Rxf7 Nb6 34. b3 a5 35. h5 a4 36. Kb2 axb3 37. axb3 a5 38. h6 a4 39. h7 axb3
40. cxb3 Ka7 41. Rxd7+ 1-0
  • 2
    In the most recent book, King's Gambit, from John Shaw (Quality Chess), author dismisses the position as slightly better for Black, he doesn't like 4. Bc4 as premature (Bishop's best square is yet unknown), and instead proposes Quade style 4. d4 g5 4. g3. – Fernando Gonzalez Sanchez Apr 13 '14 at 13:56
  • My advice? I think the line with 6. Ng1 at certain levels is good enough, even if not fully sound is full of a kind of "typical" king gambit games (no armonious development, both sides struggling with structural imbalances and neglecting typical development for more immediate concerns in attack/defense). – Fernando Gonzalez Sanchez Apr 13 '14 at 13:56

White clearly has to move the knight. We see that White has 3 options:

  1. Ng5

  2. Nd2

  3. Ng1

The first option clearly doesn't work, as ...f6 traps the knight and wins material. The second option is not so good as it blocks the c1-bishop and impedes further development. The only option left is Ng1. This undevelops a piece, but Black doesn't have any development either!

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