I’m sure you’ll be aware that Nigel is currently writing a chess openings alphabet, which recently featured “Hack ’em with the Halloween”.
You may also be aware that I’m writing an occasional series looking at how Stockfish recommends you tackle dodgy gambits, and the Halloween hasn’t yet been featured.
So now seems to be the right time!
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Nf6
Black doesn’t have a lot of choice:
If you’re Black here you have a choice: will you return the piece for a quiet life and safe equality or do you have the courage to hold onto the piece and survive the pressure? White will have a pawn and a strong pawn centre in exchange for your extra knight.
A good way to give the piece back is:
6. d5 Bb4
7. dxc6 Nxe4
8. Qd4 Qe7
when Stockfish 13 thinks 9. Be3 is best, but a Halloween hacker might prefer the complications after..
9. Qxg7 Nxc3+
10. Be3 Ne4+
11. c3 Rf8
12. cxb4 Qxb4+
13. Kd1 dxc6
.. which is fine for Black.
Alternatively, you could be a hero and hold onto the piece. In this case Stockfish prefers:
Makes sense: White can only menace one of your knights. Now White usually continues:
6. e5 Ng8
My piscine friend likes several moves here: d5, c6 and Bb4, thinking White has no real compensation for the missing steed. You do have to be prepared to meet 8. Qf3, though.
A computer generated variation demonstrates that, while Black is winning, it’s not so easy to find the best moves over the board.
8. Qf3 d5
9. exd6 Be6
10. d5 Ne5
11. Qe2 Nxc4
12. dxe6 Nxd6
Threatening 14. O-O-O
14. Bxd6 Bxd6
15. Ne4 Qe7
16. exf7+ Kxf7
You might consider it safer to give up a pawn for faster development. After all, d5 is very often a strong antidote to dubious gambits.
Again, it’s not quite so easy:
8. Bxd5 c6
(8.. N8e7 is wild: 9. Bg5 c6 10. Bb3 h6 11. Ne4 hxg5 12. Nd6+ Kd7 13. Nxf7 Qe8 14. Nxh8 Nxh8, when Black has a large material advantage (3 minor pieces v rook and 3 pawns) but a misplaced king.)
9. Bb3 Bb4
10. O-O Bxc3
11. bxc3 N8e7
when White’s pawn roller may not be so easy to meet over the board. Stockfish recommends answering..
.. with 12.. h5 to prevent g4.
Objectively, then, the Halloween Gambit is unsound but it’s not so easy to defend over the board unless you’ve prepared something in advance. Playing for equality, as in my first variation, might, you think, be the more prudent option.
If you like this sort of thing you might want to give it a try in blitz games. I’m not sure that playing this, or any similarly dubious gambit, will improve your chess, though.