The Campbell Report
Hard Chess
with USCF Master Mark Morss

January 1999
The Importance of the Open Game;
the Goering Gambit

When Franklin Campbell recently invited me to contribute my chess commentary here, he told me that his readers want to see more "hard chess." That term struck me as a good one, and with that as my banner, I would like to share regularly here some hard analysis of specific chess situations. I hope to do this as entertainingly as I can, in context of my own games (which all too often provide, I regret to say, examples of what to avoid) and those of others. Along the way, I will be addressing some questions of chess opening theory, and I will also be offering my views about the practical play of the correspondence game. I invite readers to send me their own games and theoretical investigations for my criticism and commentary here, and particularly to tell me when they find mistakes in my calculations or my positional judgments.

The often-heard claim that one's choice of opening system is largely a matter of taste is only half true. For however subjective the choice of system may be, it's an objective truth that the theory of play of open positions (as distinct from that of the nominally "open" systems characterized by 1. e4 e5) is the fundamental basis of the theory of the chess opening and middle game. Open positions are fundamental because an open position can never become closed, but many closed positions can be forced open. Indeed, the decision as to whether to open a closed position, and when to do so, is often the critical decision in a game of chess. The theory of a host of semi-open and closed defensive systems, from the Caro-Kann to the Meran, is mainly a theory of preparing pawn breaks to open the position.

A major objective of the French Defense, to take a notable example, is to break up White's center, the achievement of which generally produces an open game. Sometimes the exchange or even a piece is sacrificed into the bargain, but in any case it is necessary, before ripping open the center, to weigh quite carefully your chances in an open middlegame. So it is difficult to understand how anyone uncomfortable in open positions could play the French, or indeed, could play chess very successfully at all.

But since open positions arise most frequently and fluently within the open systems, a strong case can be made that good understanding the theory of 1. e4 e5 is a necessary foundation for understanding chess. I claim that anyone whose level of chess development is below that of, say, FIDE Master should have in his or her repertoire the move 1...e5 in answer to 1. e4. It is simply too good an education to pass up. I myself was fortunate that the earliest serious work of chess theory which came into my hands, after Walter Korn's MCO-9, was an old, two-volume set of Paul Keres' work on the open games (I had an East German edition, entitled Theorie der Schach-Eroffnungen). Though I had to struggle with the German, this profound work was my chess bible for a long time, and 1...e5 has been my sword and my shield ever since. I frequently hear the argument that these systems require too much preparation, but to say that you don't have the time to study the open systems is simply to say that you're too busy to become a strong chess player. And anyway, who plays chess these days without opening preparation?

An added benefit of learning the open systems is that they introduce an enormous variety of tactical ideas. These, of course, demand both careful calculation at the board and deep analysis at home, and so they train the player to the central tasks of OTB and correspondence chess. I remember spending long hours at my desk, when I was about 16 years old, analyzing sharp lines of the Wilkes Barre Variation and the Belgrade Gambit, and I think this helped my development as a player and particularly as a correspondence player.

The Goering Gambit is a quintessential example of the open game as played in 19th Century, but this being almost the 21st, the Goering, like many other gambits of central pawns, is considered better for Black. It is true, of course, that White obtains some definite compensation. After 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. c3, it is clear that Black loses time with 4...dxc3 5. Nxc3, but his acceptance of the gambit also entails a loss of space, because now ...d5 will be impossible to achieve against reasonable play.

Even so, the commonly held view is that White does not have quite enough for his sacrificed c-pawn. Black's position is notably free of weaknesses, and White can't really force Black to accept any. Most troublesome for the Goering practitioner is that Black, by means of 5...Bb4!, forces the exchange of White's c3 knight. While Black thus concedes the two bishops, he simplifies the game somewhat, and he eliminates White's ability to readily post a knight on d5. Black thereby nullifies some of the harm of his spacial disadvantage, and he then shifts his pieces carefully around and gradually reaches a pawn-up ending.

All that I have said about the Goering so far summarizes the judgment of theory, but it doesn't account for a surprising result not long ago in Holland. At Groningen in 1997, thematic quads were held on the subject of Goering Gambit Accepted. Four IMs competed in the top quad, and the result was a startling 5.5-0.5 in White's favor.

Does this mean that the Goering Gambit is on its way back? As will be seen from my commentary on some games of mine below, I don't think so. The Groningen results certainly strengthened White's side of the theoretical argument, but their lopsidedness mainly shows that some Dutch IMs need to brush up on their defensive technique. I will continue to accept this gambit when it's offered in correspondence chess, expecting a difficult game but also a winning one. OTB, and certainly at the shorter time limits that are so popular these days, the Goering is a much more dangerous weapon. In that context, I would be inclined to decline the gambit, answering 4. c3 with the perfectly adequate 4...d5.

Game 1. Koller-Morss, USCF-92CM76.

Game 2. Agulnick-Morss, US12P01.

Download Games for a zipped file of all games (with commentary)
in new ChessBase (CBH) format.

Next month: A difficult line in the 4. Qc2 Nimzo.

Copyright © 1999 by Mark F. Morss

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