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BDG is OK...

... Glenn Budzinski on BDG and Sawyer's BDG Keybook II

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"The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit Keybook II" by Rev. Tim Sawyer, 1999 Pickard and Son, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Softcover, 404pp., $29.95

Often due to a reputation for unsoundness, sometimes deserved, sometimes not, there are certain openings that are rarely - if ever - seen at the game's highest levels. However, it is not uncommon for these openings (usually of the gambit variety) to attract legions of devotees who spend good portions of their lives trying to disprove the pundits' latest reports of the death of their favorite opening.

One such opening with a loyal band of long-term followers is the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, which can occur in various forms, probably the most common of which are 1 d4 d5 2 e4 and 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nc3 d5 3 e4. Yet, the Blackmar-Diemer, often referred to as the "BDG", is virtually never seen in GM / IM play and is barely addressed by the major opening source books. Even at the amateur levels, it probably isn't much of a stretch to suggest that the majority of players are blissfully unaware of the existence of the BDG.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of mainstream presence, the BDG is hardly a theoretical wasteland. Nor have its followers toiled in anonymity, having published several dozen books and pamphlets and, until a few years ago, even a regular magazine dedicated solely to the opening. The BDG is also a frequent subject of thematic correspondence tournaments, and games of its proponents can be found in most opening periodicals. That the Reverend Tim Sawyer, a master-strength player and author of both the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit Keybook I, and now Keybook II, is a loyal devotee of the BDG, there can be no doubt.

"BDG Keybook II" is segregated into seven chapters, plus an overview of the major variations of the theory, a brief page or so on general BDG "Concepts" by Tom Purser, Introductions to both editions of the book, and the mandatory Index of Variations.

Each chapter focuses on a major variation of the opening. There are 100 complete, main games upon which the theory in each chapter is based, in addition to 2,700 other games and fragments included as notes throughout. Chapter One looks at ways for Black to avoid the BDG, such as the Hübsch Gambit (1 d4 Nf6 2 Nc3 d5 3 e4 Ne4) and Lemberger Counter-Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 e4 de4 3 Nc3 e5); declining the pawn is examined in Chapter Two; the Ryder Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 e4 de4 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 f3 ef3 5 Qf3) and Ziegler Variation (5 Nf3 c6) are covered in Chapter Three; Chapter Four deals with the Euwe Variation (5 Nf3 e6 6 Bg5); the Bogoljubow Variation (5 Nf3 g6) is Chapter Five; the Gunderam Variation (5 Nf3 Bf5) is the subject of Chapter Six and the Teichmann Variation (5 Nf3 Bg4), called by Sawyer "the most popular response in the BDG Accepted" is discussed in Chapter Seven.

One of the problems that a reviewer faces when examining an opening book written by a non-GM / IM is determining accuracy of material. Normally, this hurdle can be overcome by the presence of GM / IM praxis. But, in an opening such as the BDG, which is conspicuously absent at the game's highest levels, how does one determine if the author has identified proper play? Could the BDG really be as good as its record indicates? (Sawyer claims that it has been shown that White has won 85% of BDG games - page 11.)

Thus, in reviewing the BDG Keybook II, we attempted to unearth as many BDG games played by GMs as possible, with the hope of being able to determine proper play from at least one side of the board. The trouble with games in which a GM plays a non-GM is that the disparity in playing ability alone may be the determining factor in the result of the game. While it can be assumed that the GM makes the correct move most of the time, the same cannot be assumed for the non-GM. One is once again left to ponder the theoretical significance of even these encounters.

GM Gregory Serper took on this same issue in an article on the Hübsch Gambit appearing in "New In Chess Yearbook 46" from 1998. He wrote that he sees "an explanation of at least 90% of White's losses [in the BDG] in the difference in strength of the players (usually it's around 300 ELO points in Black's favour, as strong players hardly ever play BDG). Under such circumstances even a winning position doesn't guarantee success..."

Serper goes on to add "In the first game of an exhibition match with GM Wilder I decided to see what happens when this Elo handicap doesn't exist." The forum was a blitz game played in the Internet Chess Club in 1997, with Serper as White and Michael Wilder commanding the Black pieces. Wilder opted for 3...Ne4, the Hübsch, one of the more popular choices by GMs, when they are called upon to defend the BDG. Many of the GM games with this line have resulted in draws, including Diebert - Bisguier and Diebert-Kudrin, both from 1985 Philadelphia. However, White prevailed in Diebert - Benjamin, 1986 Columbus, as well as in the aforementioned Serper - Wilder. Three of the four games can be found in Keybook II; only Diebert-Kudrin has been omitted.

Another popular line with the GMs would appear to be the Lemberger, 3...e5. We found several examples of GM play, including two tournament games by Swedish player Jonny Hector and one by Benjamin Finegold from the US. Hector and Finegold had Black in the three games.

In Samuelsson - Hector, 1994 Stockholm, after 1 d4 d5 2 e4 de4 3 Nc3 e5, White responded with 4 d5 and Black won a pawn and the game in 26 moves. Although Sawyer does not include this particular game, choosing, instead, to cite the first 13 moves of Bahrah - Aijala, 1996 Helsinki, as an example of 4 d5, the result here was also a Black victory (page 62).

Windeleff - Hector, 1993 Denmark, holds somewhat more theoretical interest. After 4 Bc4 exd5 5 Qh5 Qe7, a relatively common position is reached in a line identified by Sawyer as "Sneiders Attack". Chess Cafe columnist IM Gary Lane, in his book "Blackmar-Diemer Gambit" (1995), and Sawyer agree that 4 Bg5 is the preferred move for White, at this point. Although he omits the game, Sawyer condems Windeleff's choice of 6 Nd5 as "worse", based on a 1997 Internet Chess Club game won by Black in 21 moves (page 68). Hector was simply a pawn to the good after 6 Nd5 Nf6 7 Nxe7 Nxh5 8 Nxc8 Nc6 9 Nxa7 Ra7 and converted the full point in 53 moves.

According to Lane, the "latest idea" against 3...e5 is 4 Nge2, which Sawyer refers to as the "Rasmussen Attack" and his "personal favorite" (page 61). This is a change from his choice of 4 Nxe4 in Keybook I and his subsequent use, apparently, of the move 4 de5. A loss to Tim Harding (another Chess Cafe columnist) with this latter line prompted him to search out something else and he hit upon 4 Nge2. In the notes to his Game 19 of Keybook II, a draw against Macon Shibut (author of "Paul Morphy and the Evolution of Chess Theory"), he cites Mantia - Finegold, 1993 King's Island, USA, assessing the position as even after 4 Nge2 Bb4 5 Be3 Nc6 6 dxe5 Bg4 7 Qxd8+ Rxd8 8 a3 Ba5 9 b4 Bb6 10 Bxb6 axb6. Lane also cites Mantia - Finegold, calling it equal after 11 Nxe4 Nxe5. (For the record, Finegold eventually won.) Perhaps a better option for White is 5 de5 of Jensen - Pedersen, 1993 correspondence, which continued 5...Qd1 6 Kd1 Nc6 7 Bf4 Bf5 8 Ng3 0-0-0 9 Kc1 Nge7 10 Nf5 Nf5 11 Ne4, with a small advantage to White, according to Sawyer.

Given its lack of popularity at the GM level, the BDG is usually relegated to no more than footnote status in the major reference books. For example, the "Encyclopedia of Chess Openings" (ECO) variation D00 (1998 edition) covers the BDG through one line of the Lemberger Counter-Gambit: 1 d4 d5 2 e4 de4 3 Nc3 e5 4 Be3 ed4 5 Qd4 Qd4 6 Bd4 Nc6 7 Bb5 Bd7 8 0-0-0 0-0-0, assessing Black as having a small advantage in Cordovil - Sardinha, 1967 Portugal. Lane provides the same analysis and assessment, but omits mention of the players. Instead of 5 Qd4, he also offers 5 Bxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Nge2 Nxd4 (7...Qh4 is even, according to him) 8 Qxd4 c6 9 Bc4 Nf6 10 0-0-0 Qe7 11 Ng3 c5 12 Qe3 0-0-0 13 Ngxe4 Nxe4 14 Nxe4 Bc6 15 Rxd8+ Kxd8 16 Rd1+ Kc7 17 Qg3+ Kb6 18 Nd6, 1-0 in Just - Glascock, 1985/6 correspondence.

Checking Sawyer's coverage of the 4 Be3 versus the Lemberger, Just - Glascock can be found as game 70 in Keybook I, but appears to have been omitted from Keybook II in favor or Rathmann - Pape, a 1973 correspondence game. This latter game continued with 9 Qe4 Be7 10 Bc4 and is reported as being won by White in 24 moves. Keybook II Game 12 appears to be the main line for 4 Be3 and follows a six minute contest from 1997, played in the Internet Chess Club. Deviating from 7...Nxd4 of Just - Glascock, the Internet CC game continued with 7...Nf6 8 Ng3 Nd4 9 Qd4 c6 10 Bc4 b5 11 Bb3 c5 12 Qe5 Qe7 13 Qf4 c4 14 0-0-0 cb3 15 Nge4 Ne4 16 Rhe1 and White went on to win in 50 moves.

Although coverage of the BDG in "Nunn's Chess Openings" (NCO) may not be much more extensive than ECO's, it is different. In fact, it's different from that found in Sawyer and Lane, as well. NCO recommends 1 d4 d5 2 e4 dxe4 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 f3 exf3 5 Nxf3 e6 6 Bg5 (the Euwe variation) ...Be7 7 Qd2 0-0 8 Bd3 c5 9 Qf4 cxd4 10 Qh4 dxc3 11 Bxf6 Qxd3 12 cxd3 Bxf6 with compensation for the material. Instead of NCO's 9...cxd4, Sawyer and Lane both follow the game Diemer - N.N. (or "Anon", according to Lane), 1957 France, which saw 9...Nd5 10 Bh7 Kh7 11 Qh4 Kg8 12 Be7 Qe7 13 Ng5 Nf6 14 Nce4 Nbd7 15 0-0 Re8 16 Rf6 Nf6 17 Rf1 1-0. Sawyer's Game 52 in Keybook II is Purser - Cormier, 1992 correspondence, which went 7 Qd2 h6 and White mated on move 23. Lane offers 8...Nbd7 in lieu of NCO's 8...c5 but the result was also a White win in 23 moves in Diemer - Fuller, 1957 Hastings. Thus, it would appear that NCO may be on to something, not addressed by either Sawyer or Lane.

So, how does one assess Keybook II ? Certainly, in terms of comprehensiveness, much new material has been added compared to the 1992 edition. Sawyer, in the Introduction, mentions that Keybook II contains reference to some 2,800 games compared to about 800 in Keybook I. "Plus about 2000 new analytical suggestions" have been added, according to him.

The book has also been completely reformatted. Main line games have been reduced from 700 to 100, leading to a more organized approach. Also, much new text and analysis has been included, as reflected in the book's page count, which has gone from 136 to 404.

There is no denying the contribution to BDG theory made by Keybook II. Of course, BDG enthusiasts will find this book to be a mandatory addition to their collections. As long as the potential buyer remembers to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to the BDG's success rate, Keybook II should prove to be a worthwhile purchase for most anyone interested in playing this opening.

Glenn Budzinski

Copyright © 1999 Glenn Budzinski, All Rights Reserved.