Saturday, 12 November 2016

005. A Different Gambit Declined

White: P. Dodd - BCCA thematic tournament, 2003

When I was around ten or eleven years old and competing in national junior training tournaments, I used to play the Göring Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 c3), having learnt it from Leonard Barden's The Guardian Chess Book (signed copy). I won brilliancy prizes as well, perhaps partly because Mr. Barden was awarding them and I was playing "his" opening, but it helped that people usually accepted the pawn(s). Whatever its objective theoretical assessment, the Göring Gambit Accepted (with 4...dxc3 5 Bc4!? cxb2 6 Bxb2) is not easy for Black to defend over the board. In practical terms, declining with 4...d5 makes a lot of sense.

The game below is a Göring Gambit Declined. And yet if you look at the opening moves, you'll notice it begins 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 – in other words, as a Queen's Gambit Declined: Chigorin's Defence. Before no one writes in to complain, I'll reiterate that I did say “1 e4 e5 – or transpositions thereto”. And if you continue on to White's 8th move, you'll find that it reaches the same position as after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 c3 d5 5 exd5 Qxd5 6 cxd4 Bg4 7 Be2 Bb4+ 8 Nc3, which is indeed a Göring Gambit Declined.

I find that rather surprising myself – and it can seem much more so to White. As far as they're concerned, they're playing the Queen's Gambit and may have no idea the Göring Gambit even exists. Even worse, this is not a very good line for White anyway. After 8...Bxf3 9 Bxf3 Qc4! (as in F.Marshall-J.Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926), Black scores an impressive 59.4% from 588 games in MegaBase. I've also done well (4/5 to date) from here – not least, I'm sure, because my opponents had never seen this position before; two in fact began with 1 Nf3, ruling out ...e7-e5 on their first move, and still ended up in an Open Game.

The most common course (after 9...Qc4) is 10 Bxc6+ bxc6 11 Qe2+ Qxe2+ 12 Kxe2, when White may have thoughts of exploiting a superior structure. In actuality their d-pawn is weaker than Black's doubled c-pawns. And sometimes you get a helpful a2-a3, driving the black bishop towards its desired post at b6, increasing the pressure on d4. In the game, too – where White offered the queen swap on b3 – Black has the more promising play. While White should expect to hold (the draw percentage is 47.8%), having to defend right from the opening clearly isn't the best use of the first move.

Incidentally, there's another surprise lurking after Black's 4...e5!?. The critical response is reckoned to be 5 Qb3 Bxf3 6 gxf3, as Steinitz played (twice) against Chigorin in their 1889 World Championship match. But if an unwary opponent tries instead to keep things solid with 5 Be2, then 5...e4 6 Nfd2 Bxe2 takes the game unexpectedly into a reversed French Defence, in essence a reversed Alekhine-Chatard Attack (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4!? with 6...c5 7 Bxe7; the omitted ...h7-h5 is not significant), when the natural 7 Qxe2?! Nb4! already sees White in difficulties. Checking my files, I discover that I've won an online game ( 2004) with this against a “Jonathan Dodd”. Okay, it's probably just a coincidence.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, Ljubojevic and Velimirovic used to play that way. It makes little difference though: after 10 Qb3, Black's percentage is much the same (60.0% from 201 games in MegaBase).

  2. The Göring Gambit is a long-standing favourite of mine. In the 4...d5 declining variation Mark Nieuweboer has suggested 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.cxd4 Bg4 7.Nc3 Bb4 (7...Bxf3!? leads to a rather sharp and unbalanced endgame) 8.Be3, rather than 8.Be2. This avoids Capablanca's line with ...Qc4, and generally leads to typical isolated queen's pawn positions with queens still on the board.

    But via the Chigorin Defence transposition (which I first found out about via one of John Watson's book reviews) White has already played Be2 and so White can't avoid the line with ...Qc4. It's objectively equal but scores very well for Black in practice, probably because it throws White into positions that most Göring gambiteers and Queen's Gambit players are uncomfortable with.

    I also prefer the 10.Qb3 line to 10.Bxc6+ from White's perspective; if nothing else it keeps more pieces on the board, giving greater scope to outplay the opponent. But in practice I have always strived to avoid it altogether.

    1. Hi Ian. Nice to see you back blogging. Yes, via the standard move order, 8 Be3 seems moderately more interesting, intending 8...0-0-0 9 a3 presumably? (i.e. rather than 9 Be2 Bxf3 10 Bxf3 Qc4 again). But it's been a very long time since I played the Göring from the White side.

    2. Yes, good point, I think in my original look at the line I had given 8...0-0-0 9.Be2 and forgotten that Black can still go 9...Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Qc4.
      After 9.a3 the computer likes 9...Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Qa5, probably because after, say, 11.Rc1 Nf6 12.Be2 Nd5 13.Qd3 Qxa3 14.0-0, Black goes a pawn ahead. However, in the final position of that line I would rather be White due to the open a and b-files pointing towards Black's king.