The Campbell Report
Hard Chess
with USCF Senior Master Mark Morss

August 1999
The Max Lange Once More; the Staunton Gambit

The subject of last month's column was Rubinstein's defense to the Max Lange, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. O-O Bc5 6. e5 d5 7. exf6 dxc4 8. Re1+ Be6 9. Ng5 Qd5 10. Nc3 Qf5 11. Nce4 Bf8!, an idea for which I have a high regard. A principal point of theoretical contention in this defense is the relative chances after 12. Nxf7 Kxf7 13. Ng5+ Kg8 14. g4 Qg6 15. Rxe6 gxf6 16. Qf3 Kg7 17. Bf4 Bd6, as played in Baffo-Morss, USCF-93RT21 and considered last month. But in the notes to that game, as pointed out by Owen D. Lyne, a statistician at the University of Nottingham, England, I did not consider some key ideas for White that have been advocated in the theoretical literature.

Diagram 1
Position after 17...Bd6

The first idea pointed out Mr. Lyne is 18. Bxd6 cxd6 and now 19. Ne4 instead of 19. Nh3 as played in Baffo-Morss. I believe Black should answer with 19Rhf8, since 19... Ne5 20. Qxf6+ Qxf6 21. Nxf6 Sorowiak-Jaworski, Polish cc Champ. 1994, appears to favor White. Then 20. Rxd6 Rae8 (also 20... Rad8 is to be considered) 21. Ng3 Kh8 is unclear but I suspect not worse for Black. White also has 20. Nxd6 h5 21. Nxb7 Ne5 22. Re7+ Kh8 23. Qf4 (23. Qg3 hxg4 looks good for Black) 23... Qxg4+ 24. Qg3 Rae8 and Black has the more active pieces.

The second and perhaps more important idea to which Mr. Lyne calls attention (from the position in the previous diagram) is 18. h4, a move advocated by Keene and Levy in the 1984 edition of their Opening Repertoire for the Attacking Player. This creates some problems for Black. For example, 18... h5 19. Bxd6 cxd6 20. Rxd6 and the threat of 21. Rd7+ is very difficult to meet. Instead of 18h5, Keene and Levy quote an analysis of Estrin's which goes 18Bxf4!? 19. Qxf4 Rhe8! (I very much doubt that Black has time for 19Rac8) 20. Qxc7+ Kg8.

Diagram 2
Position after 20Kg8

Estrin continues 21. Rae1 Rxe6 22. Rxe6 Qg7 (here 22... Rf8 looks better) 23. Rxc6 bxc6 24. Qxc6. Estrin's analysis goes deeper even from here and favors White but, as Mr. Lyne suggests, at this point it is already too deep. From the diagram, the pedestrian 21. Qxb7 looks better to me, when 21... Rxe6 22. Qxa8+ Qe8 23. Qxe8+ Rxe8 24. Nf3 Re4 25. g5 Ne5 26. Kg2 Nxf3 27. Kxf3 Rxh4 28. gxf6 favors White because of his more active King and better pawns. One way or the other, I am persuaded that 18Bxf4 does not solve Black's problems.

Therefore after 18. h4, I think Black should take the opportunity to consolidate his kingside and play 18Rhf8. Then 19. Bxd6 (the simplifying 19. Rxd6 cxd6 20. Ne6+ Kh8 21. Nxf8 Rxf8 22. Bxd6 Rg8 23. Bg3 Ne5 favors Black, and 19. Rae1? is met by 19... fxg5!) 19... cxd6 20. Rxd6 Kh8 21. Ne6 (21. Qd5 h6 is excellent for Black) 21... Rg8 22. g5 fxg5 23. h5 Ne5 reaching a crossroads by a more or less forced series of moves.

Diagram 3
Position after 23Ne5

The first option here is 24. Qxb7 Qxh5 25. Nxd4 Rab8 and now: 26. Qe7 Ng4 27. Nf3 Qh3 28. Qe4 Qh1+! with a favorable ending or 26. Qd5 g4 27. Kf1 (27. Re1? 27... Nf3+) 27... g3 and Black has a powerful initiative.

The second, and in my view more challenging, option from the diagram is 24. Qd5 Qf6 (24... Qf5 25. Qxd4) 25. Kg2 Ng4 26. Qxd4 Qxd4 27. Rxd4 (27. Nxd4 Rgd8 and Black is certainly no worse after 28. Rxd8+ Rxd8 or 28. Nf5 Rf8) 27... Nf6 28. Rxc4 (28. h6 is not as troublesome as it seems; 28... c3 29. bxc3 [29. b3 Rae8 30. Re1 Rg6 31. Re3 Kg8] 29... Rae8 30. Re1 Rg6 31. Re3 Kg8 with a good game for Black) 28... Rae8 29. Re1 Nxh5 30. Rce4 Nf6 (dubious is 30...Rxe6 31. Rxe6 Nf4+ 32. Kg3 Nxe6 33. Rxe6 Rc8 34. Re7 34... Rxc2 35. Rxb7 Kg8 36. f3 and White stands very well) 31. Re5 h5. Here I think Black's game is entirely adequate, and I suspect he is not without winning chances.

These are extremely complicated lines, and I would certainly not claim to have either the last word concerning them or a monopoly on chess truth. As I've said before here, I am one player sharing his ideas, for whatever they are worth. I am very grateful for Mr. Lyne's observations, and I sincerely encourage the reader to submit his or her own critique of my analyses. For the reader's convenience, I have provided the foregoing Max Lange analysis in the same file that contains this month's games.

I'm not one of those many players who must play gambits or give up chess, but one would think that the Staunton Gambit, 1. d4 f5 2. e4, should work if any center-pawn gambit should. After all, Black's first move weakens his kingside and develops nothing, and by ripping open the position, White should be able to take advantage of this. For quite a while, therefore, I upheld this gambit in my practice, and I was particularly fond of the version with 2fxe4 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. f3. I've won some nice OTB games where my opponents played 4exf3?!, but in postal, nobody does that. They all play 4d5! 5. fxe4 dxe4 and the dark side of 4. f3 emerges: Black plays with two center pawns, White only plays with one. Moreover, White's queen pawn is tactically weak.

The theoretically critical continuation, 6. Bg5 Bf5 7. Bc4 Nc6 8. Nge2 Qd7 9. O-O e6 10. Qe1 O-O-O 11. Rd1 Na5 12. Bb3 Nxb3 13. axb3 is discussed in the first, second and fourth games below.

Diagram 4
Position after 13. axb3

In Morss-Koehler, I won an easy game after Black went in for the dubious 13e3. The problem with this is that he has no credible threat to take the c-pawn, thereby exposing his king. In the second game, my task was much more difficult. Chicagoan Paul Ilosvay played 13Be7 and maintained the better chances for a long time when I responded with the awful 14. Na4. Fortunately, he slipped up in some very interesting complications, and I was able to draw. Perhaps I should have played 14. d5 but even there, it's not clear how White can equalize after 14Bg4. These considerations put me off 4. f3, and I decided to take up 4. Bg5. The game Morss-Jacowitz is the fruit of that, but it was not as pleasant-tasting as the happy result makes it seem. At one point early, thanks to a big hole in my preparations, Jacowitz was better. After this, I resolved never to play the Staunton Gambit in a game of postal chess.

A couple of years ago I took up the Dutch Leningrad, and soon enough I had to face as Black the same Staunton Gambit that I as White had renounced. In the qualifying section for the 13th U.S. CC Championship I had the diagrammed position from the Black side. My opponent was Jeff Wilson, another good player from the Chicago area. I chose 13h6, supposing that the opening of the g-file would be very good for me. My opponent agreed and chose to retreat, and I used my initiative to force exchanges into a very comfortable ending that I was able to win.

Faithless fellow that I am, I think that my once-beloved Staunton Gambit is reaching the end of its days in serious chess competitions. I'll keep a picture of it on my desk to remind me of our former happy times together.

Game 1. Morss - Koehler, USCF-92CM84

Game 2. Morss - Ilosvay, USCF-92CM284

Game 3. Morss - Jacowitz, US12P01

Game 4. Wilson - Morss, US13P05

Download Games
for a zipped file of both games (with commentary)
in new ChessBase (CBH) and PGN formats.

Next Month: Two Knights Defense, Modern Variation: 4. d4 exd4 5. e5.

Copyright © 1999 by Mark F. Morss

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