Four Knights Fiasco

How would you assess this position, with Black to move?

Perhaps you think White can look forward to playing on the f-file against Black’s doubled pawns, with moves like Bc4 and Qf3 to come. I could imagine thinking like that myself if I had this position in a blitz game.

It comes from an old variation of the Four Knights Game, popular in the early decades of the last century, but now out of fashion.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bb5 Bb4
5. O-O O-O
6. d3 d6
7. Bg5

Threatening Nd5, followed by capturing on f6 and doubling the f-pawns in front of Black’s castled king, with an automatic attack, as in millions of low level amateur games.

Black has two sensible replies. He can chop the knight off with Bxc3, or, more ambitiously, play 7.. Ne7, controlling the vital d5 and f5 squares and daring White to double his pawns.

7.. Ne7
8. Bxf6 gxf6

It’s worth stopping here to look at the resulting pawn formation. Take off the pawns on d3 and c7 and you’ll see it looks rather like a Sicilian Shveshnikov, where Black might start attacking on the kingside himself with moves like f5 and Kh8/Rg8.

9. Nh4 Ng6
10. Nxg6?!

Probably not a sensible idea, straightening the black pawns and opening the h-file.

10.. hxg6
11. f4?

Now we’ve reached the diagram above. This certainly isn’t sensible if you stop to think about it, opening the g1-a7 diagonal. Now Black can, immediately, if he wants, play Bc5+ forcing Kh1, and following up with Kg7 and Rh8. Then f5 would threaten Rxh2+ and Qh4#. Black could also just double rooks on the h-file, and if White advances the h-pawn one square at some point it’s likely to be met by a sacrifice on h3.

If you leave Stockfish 14 to analyse it for a few hours it will tell you that Black has a decisive advantage.

The first game I can find from this position is a game between two minor masters, Forgacs and Leonhardt, played in Hamburg in 1910. Black chose the wrong plan, trading rooks on the d-file instead of attacking down the h-file and White managed to escape with half a point.

A few weeks later, the position arose again, in the game Shories – Gunston from the 1910 British Championship Major Open. This time Black got it right. A clever rook sacrifice on h2 won White’s queen: he could have spared himself the last 30 moves.

The position turned up again in a Dutch inter-club match in 1922, between two little known (at least to me) players. Again, Black triumphed with a rook sacrifice on h2, having missed an earlier opportunity.

Finally, a much better known Dutch player, future World Champion Max Euwe reached the same position in 1924 against the strong English amateur George Edward Wainwright. This time the sacrifice was on h3.

I’ve been researching Wainwright recently, and was interested in this game. Further investigation revealed the predecessors. I thought it wouldn’t have been out of place in Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move. What do you think?

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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