Here’s a rapidplay game played the other day in one of my club’s online arena events. I was black, facing the Ponziani.
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
The Ponziani seems to be undergoing a mini revival at the moment. Is this justified?
The safest reply, though 3.. d5 is also perfectly playable as long as you know what you’re doing.
4. d4 Nxe4
5. d5 Bc5
This piece sacrifice dates back to the 19th century, but, due to an engine improvement, has only fairly recently become popular. My database gives a game Brien – Falkbeer from 1855.
6. dxc6 Bxf2+
Falkbeer played 6.. Nxf2, which favours White after 7. Qd5.
7. Ke2 Bb6
This is the improvement, which has really only taken off in the last few years: 7.. bxc6 again leaves White with an advantage. My opponent played the most critical reply.
8. Qd5 Nf2
9. cxb7 Bxb7
10. Qxb7 Nxh1
An interesting alternative is 10.. O-O 11. Rg1 Qf6.
We now have an unclear position with Black having rook and two pawns against two undeveloped minor pieces, and with the white king perhaps uncomfortable in the centre of the board.
The usual and obvious move, but Stockfish prefers either a4 or Qe4, with equal chances.
12. Be3 Rb8
13. Qd5 c6
14. Qd2 Bxe3
14.. O-O is the engine’s preference here, with a clear advantage for Black.
Not fancying 15. Qxe3 Rxb2+, but Black’s only a bit better there. Now White’s completely lost.
16. Ke2 loses to 16.. Qf2+ and 16. Kd3 loses to 16.. e4+ 17. Kxe4 Nf2+, so White has nothing better than to give up the knight.
16. Nd4 exd4+
17. Qxd4 Qxd4+
17.. Qxb2 is a lot quicker but I usually trade queens at the earliest opportunity, especially when I have a large material advantage.
18. cxd4 Rxb2
19. Nd2 Kf7
20. Bc4+ d5
A natural zwischenzug, but also an oversight, because the rook is in danger of being forked here. I should simply have captured on c4 immediately.
Now I realised I was losing back the exchange as White’s next move will threaten Nd6+ as well as Nxb2. Never mind, though. I’m still several pawns ahead in the rook ending.
23. Nxc4 Rxg2
24. Nd6+ Kf8
25. Nxe8 Kxe8
I’m two pawns up, with another white pawn about to fall off. It should be an easy win, but at speed anything might – and probably will – happen.
Don’t miss next week’s exciting episode to find out how the game concluded.
Meanwhile, next time you face the Ponziani, why not give this variation a try? It’s perfectly sound for Black as long as you can remember a few moves of theory, and White’s alternatives on moves 4 and 5 aren’t scary. I’m really not sure how White can try for an advantage after 3.. Nf6.