If you play 1…e5 as Black, you need to have something ready against the King’s Gambit. All the Ruy Lopez or Berlin Wall knowledge you have will do you diddly if White starts with blood in his eyes on move two.
Most people are content to play some 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4, which is certainly a sound way to go about. At the same time, it’s exactly the type of position White wants, and he likely has much more experience in it than you do. That’s not exactly how you punish White for his opening daring.
Instead, I have a pet defence based on the cheeky 2…Qh4+. The following game shows it in action. I wouldn’t claim it’s better than any other defence to the King’s Gambit, but it DOES pull the game into a decidedly positional direction, and White almost certainly has less experience than I do. Take a look.
First off, yes, I’m higher rated than my opponent, but that tends to happen when playing against the King’s Gambit. That doesn’t really matter, though. White played very well, but one imprecise move caused him some positional consternation, and that led to an uncomfortable position.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Qh4+!? 3.g3 Qe7
If you’ve never seen this position before, it’s easy to think that Black is just playing random moves. Isn’t this the worst place for the Queen? Well, yes and no. Yes, it does block the dark-square Bishop, but it also indirectly pressures the e4-pawn. For instance, Black is threatening to take on f4 and then to take on e4 with the Queen.
It might seem like 4.fxe5 will win some time for White, but Black responds with 4…d6! and suddenly things are going in a completely different direction. Best play would be as follows.
We’ve reached a Queenless middlegame, which might at first appear dull, but really, it gives Black ample chances to play for a win. The pawn structure is asymmetrical, the position is imbalanced and the better player will win. Most importantly, you’ve managed to get the Queens off against a King’s Gambit player! Whatever happens, you won’t fall victim to a sacrificial mating attack, that’s for sure!
This is an important point. If someone plays the King’s Gambit or any other hyper-aggressive opening, it’s because he wants to attack. More than likely, such a player’s positional sense is lacking. Being able to steer the game into more positional waters will almost certainly favour you, even in an ‘equal’ position.
Back to the game, White didn’t take, but instead advanced his f-pawn, 4.f5?!
This is not a great move. White likely wants to play f5, maybe f6, then Bc4, Nf3, etc etc, sac and mate. In a normal position, playing f5 in the middlegame can be a good idea. Here, though, with White completely undeveloped, it walks right into a central counter-attack.
4…d5! 5.d3 Nf6 6.Bg2
If White takes on d5, then his advanced f-pawn falls. This shows how his move was premature. In this position, he must also care to protect his e-pawn. For instance, White cannot play the normally desirably Nf3 because that would hang the e4-pawn.
Now let’s look at the position from Black’s perspective. He needs to develop his pieces, obviously. Nc6 is obvious, but what next? What do we do with the Bishops? The light-square Bishop can wait, as it’s fairly blocked right now. To develop the dark-square Bishop, we need to move the Queen. Okay, so let’s try to move the Queen to a better square, preferably with tempo.
6…Qb4+ 7.c3 Qb6 8.Qe2 dxe4 9.dxe4
This is an important moment. I wanted to play 9…Bc5 here, attacking the Knight and preventing Be3. What’s not to like? In a blitz game I would have played that instantly. Here, though, I kept wondering what would happen after 9…Bc5 10.Nf3, because after any normal move White will play b4, chasing away my Bishop, and then Be3, chasing away my Queen. Suddenly White has the initiative, and Black’s e5-pawn is very vulnerable.
Looking at this, at first I thought the problem was Be3, so I tried to prevent that move … but then I realized, no, the problem wasn’t Be3, it was with b4. If I could stop b4, then I would have no problems at all.
9…a5! 10.Be3 Bc5 11.Bxc5 Qxc5 12.Qf2
White is worried about castling, which is correct, though this doesn’t help too much. The computer suggests that Qxf2+ may be the most accurate move, but I decided to keep the tension.
Also, as an aside, look at this position! Can you tell it’s a King’s Gambit? Is it the type of position a KG player would like? Probably not.
12…Na6 13.Nh3 O-O 14.O-O Rd8 15.Na3
I’m quite happy with Black’s position. White’s Bishop looks right at his own pawn chain, and both of his Knights are on poor squares. His Rooks have no open lines either. True, my one Knight on a6 isn’t very good, but it can come to c5 and pressure the e4-pawn easily enough, and my Knight on f6 is better than any piece White has. My Rook also controls the only open file.
Do you see how this opening leads to a more positional game? It’s these little things, the better-placed pieces, that will decide this game, not wild attacks. The better player, not the better attacker, will win.
Anyway, I have one thing left to do: get my Bishop into the game. I could play b6 and Bb7/a6, but that seemed slow to me. I might want my b-pawn to go to b5 and open more lines on the Queenside, as that’s where most of my pieces are located.
15…Bd7 16.Kh1?! Ba4! 17.Qe2 Rd6
White wanted to keep Queen’s on the board, which explains his last two moves. He probably wants to do something like Ng5, or g4-g5, something like that. That’s an attacking plan, but it doesn’t work, because White doesn’t have an attacking position.
Black, by contrast, has placed his pieces on great positional squares. He wants to double Rooks and then invade down the d-file. His Bishop, previously passive, now stops White from placing his own Rook on d1. White’s in quite a poor position here. I’m not sure what his best move is, but it wasn’t what he played in the game.
18.Rad1? Bxd1 19.Rxd1 Rad8 20.Rxd6 Qxd6
I’m now up an exchange and still have complete control over the d-file. White has no counterplay. The game is pretty much over, but I still need to play accurately. True to form, I finish it off in fine positional style.
Here, the main thing to notice is that Black is threatening Qd1+, abusing White’s weak back rank. If I can trade Queens and have my Rook penetrate onto the second rank, that should finish things. Rooks do well against Knights, and that’s especially true if the Knights aren’t positioned well.
21.Bf3 Qd3 22.Nc4 Qxe2 23.Bxe2 Nxe4 24.Nxa5 Rd2
Success. The Rook is now in place and all of White’s pawns are in danger, not to mention his Bishop.
25.Bxa6 bxa6 26.Nc4 Rc2! 0-1
White resigns. Rc2 is much more accurate than Rd1+?!, as this keeps White’s King from advancing. Indeed, he can’t move his King nor his kingside Knight, and if he takes Nxe4, then Rxb2 targets two different pawns. The Rook will soon feast on all of White’s Queenside, and then the victory is beyond doubt.
Also, we can see how positional this game was. No fancy tactics, no wild positions, just solid, logical chess. I’m convinced I won this game not from any brilliant play (I did nothing special) but simply because White was uncomfortable in a non-attacking position, and that led him to poor decisions. The end result, I got a pretty easy victory.
There’s an old adage, play the board not the person. That’s sound advice up to a point. However, if you know that your opponent doesn’t like certain types of positions, and you can steer the game into such a position, then you’d be foolish not to. If you have an equal choice between two alternatives, and one your opponent is weak at, then pick that one.
The Keene Defence, 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Qh5+!? is an interesting way to counter the King’s Gambit. It may not bust it, but it certainly takes much of the sting away from the venerable gambit. I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few games using this system, but never from a direct King attack, and to me, that’s still a victory for this opening.