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GM Eric Prié on BDG

... no sheet anchor for White in the BDG

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"... a marginally playable line which seems to have acquired and continues to acquire a dedicated and unshakeable following.

To convince an adherent of the BDG that it is unsound, is like trying to convince a child that there is no Santa Claus. Furthermore the chess literature that does exist on this opening is generally highly biased towards White, while other sources tend to be too vague or superficial in their analysis to be of much help to advocates of the black side. For instance many sources end their analysis after move 9 or 10 with an assessment of slightly better for Black or clearly better for Black, however, while this may be objectively true, this assessment does nothing to help Black cope with the considerable initiative that White may generate against half-hearted defence.

No wonder then that the BDG, despite its poor theoretical reputation, continues to wreak havoc at club level, and occasionally (very, very rarely against 3...e5 but fair enough overall - according to my database statistics on this precise line which awards only a 1% advance for Black as well as 122 points in performance on the few rated games [many of them old games and by correspondence] - Eric) at master level as well. This trend is likely to continue unless you are lucky enough to be a member of this forum and reading this right now!

There are three ways to meet a gambit 1) Accept 2) Decline 3) Counter Gambit, and the method chosen is largely a matter of taste. However, I have noticed that gambiteers, and BDG specialists in particular, hate to defend and for this reason I think the third method listed is the most unpleasant for them to face. Having said that it is my contention that Black can take the offered pawn with impunity, nevertheless the line I am recommending here is a combination of both the second and third methods, with the added bonus that it offers strong counterplay without gambiting a pawn."

End of quotation and my deepest thanks to 'Topnotch' on the forum.

The line in question is based on the ...e7-e5 central reaction, which in my opinion, takes all the fun from the line for White.

Game one is the very first game ever played in my database, assuming that the year is right, with the moves:

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.f3? exf3?!

by Mr Armand Edward BLACKMAR himself. As well as in the two side games, he won in a sizzling romantic way, taking into account that in those remote times it was very hard to resist a nice sacrifice and quite rude not to accept it!

However, some one and two thirds of a century later, a certain spirit of chivalry somewhat dulled, or perhaps the result of a significant increase in chess knowledge and the general level of players, things were to turn in a slightly different way...

3e5! 4.d5 Bc5

The main problem for White is that with the d8-h4 diagonal open for the black queen, he can never take on e4 and, thus, has only seriously weakened his position with his 3rd move while already behind in development.

6.c4? Bxg1!

Where concrete play signed White's rout in Game 2 whereas he had not even developed a single piece!!

Game 3 to 13 see the order of moves:

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3

with the idea 3...Nf6 4.f3, popularized, some decades later, by Emil Josef DIEMER, who then gave his name to 'half' of the gambit as well as starting a 'second birth'.


Here again the best reaction, known as the "Lemberger defence".

In the first of the series, Game 3 played by correspondence, Diemer played 4.d5?! on which his opponent replied 4...c6!? when the obvious 4...Bb4 would have given him the advantage immediately. Then the game became complicated and quite interesting, despite a couple of weird mistakes. Unfortunately its end, where Black stood much better, is not available.

The next four games are dedicated to 4.dxe5, a natural reaction (at least one might as well grab a pawn...) when White gets 'counter-surprised' by 3...e5! But, as a general principle, and as in other similar positions, this capture leading to the exchange of queens (4...Qxd1+) just leaves him with a slightly worse ending. It was not that clear in Game 4, where White took back with his king 5.Kxd1, and Black hastily playing 5...Bg4+, but quite convincing in Game 5 after the correct move 5...Nc6. Even after the slightly better 5.Nxd1 in Game 6 and Game 7; the latter showing a nice win by Richard Reti (the best player featured in this update, and likely in the whole BDG corpus).

If White cannot push his d-pawn, nor take on e5, one of the alternatives is to develop a piece to protect his d4 pawn...

So we see 4.Be3 in game 8 to 10, threatening to take on e5:

In Game 8 Black reacted with the interesting 4...Bb4 and somehow inverted the roles by presenting White with the possibility of winning a pawn after 5.Qh5 Nf6 6.Qxe5+ Be6 7.Qb5+ Nc6 8.Qxb7 Bd7. After this White did not play 9.a3 which was the only move and quickly had to face insurmountable problems with his queen.

Game 9, on the other hand, saw a typical nice BDG win by White after the sequence 5...exd4 6.Bxd4 Nf6 7.Qd2 followed by long castling and a fierce attack on the opposite flank, sustained by a dominating bishop on d4 and the absolute control of the dark squares after Black had parted with his corresponding bishop to keep his e4 pawn.

In Game 10, Black found the correct recipe: 5....Nc6! 6.Bb5 (With the White's queen bishop exposed on d4, it is the role delegated to his king's bishop to go pinning Black's queen knight) 6...Bd7 7.Nge2 Qh4!:

signalling the final refutation of 4.Be3. From h4 the queen cannot be attacked, exerts some pressure on the enemy kingside, protects e4, enables long castling with annoying pressure on the d-file against the white queen 'through' the d4-bishop and, last but not least, becomes integrated into Black's development in a fluid way. After which White did not survive longer than 14 moves.

Next comes 4.Nge2 which happens to be, in the end, the variation on which White has the best percentage in my over 3 million game database:

Since 4...exd4 5.Qxd4 Qxd4 6.Nxd4 Bb4 7.Nb5! Na6 8.Bf4 Ba5 9.0-0-0 typically reaches the position that White is looking for in the Lemberger, with his king's knight in play and where Black's suspended extra e4-pawn has very little hold over the position, Black has to play:

4...Nc6 allowing 5.d5

(Instead White chose 5.Nxe4 in Game 11 and could not develop his kingside after 5...f5! 6.Bg5 Be7 7.Bxe7 Nxe5 8.Nc5 Qd6!)

5...Nce7 6.Ng3 This the main feature of the sub-variation. Thanks to this manoeuvre, White has the possibility, in some lines, to advantageously take the pawn back on e4:

In Game 12, Black defended it with 6...f5, a move that Black should avoid when facing a BDG. Exhaustive analysis may prove it excellent but it just provides White with the practical chances he has been striving to obtain, 'playing in his garden', once again. And this is what happened, as Black got completely 'thrown over board' after 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bb5! Bd7?? (8...c6!)

9.Bxe7! Nxe7 10.d6! cxd5 11.Nxf5!!

Black played the more steady 6...Nf6 in Game 13 and after the overoptimistic 7.Bg5? Nexd5 8.Ngxe4 Nxc3! 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Nxc3 Be6 11.0-0-0 Kc8 he emerged, once more, in a very superior ending where the fact that he had lost the right to castle proved insufficient compensation for the pawn.

Although these games have been selected for their intrinsic qualities, one may think that, on the other hand, they have limited theoretical interest since the two main lines against the Lemberger clearly remain 4.Nxe4 and Sneider's attack 4.Qh5.

We shall check this quite soon, but from the material I have prepared, I can tell that there seems to be no sheet anchor for White in the BDG ;o)

Eric Prié

Author's notes:

  1. Not Diemer "... gave his name to 'half' of the gambit..." but GM Max Euwe in 1951!
  2. Diemer's correctly written name is Emil Joseph Diemer - not a "f" in his middle name.
  3. Not 'Lemberger Defense' but 'Lemberger Countergambit'.

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