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Openings for Tactical Players: the Bishop's Opening.

  • GM Gserper
  • | Sep 27, 2009

Today we will examine the favorite opening of most beginners- 1.e4 e5 2. Bc4 which is the Bishop's Opening.  Of course, most beginners play 2.Bc4 with the sole purpose of playing 3. Qh5 and then 4. Qxf7 checkmate. Pretty quickly we all learn that the Fool's mate doesn't happen too often when you play strong opponents, so we abandon the 3.Qh5 first and then in most of the cases the 2.Bc4 as well and switch to more sophisticated openings.  But 2.Bc4 is a perfectly good move. And even 3.Qh5 can be a good move in certain situation.  Just imagine these moves: 1e4 e5 2 Bc4 Be7?. Here 3. Qh5! is the best move which wins a pawn right away!  The most popular Black's response is 2...Nf6 where White has a choice.  The move 3. Nc3 leads to the Vienna game.  The solid 3.d3 leads in most of the cases to a slow positional struggle.  But what if we play 3.d4?  This move immediately creates some problems for our opponents to solve.  Let's examine Black's possible responses.

If Black captures the e4 pawn by 3...Nxe4 then after 4. dxe5 White creates a strong threat 5.Qd5, which wins a piece right away, due to the threat of checkmate on f7.  By the way, you can notice, that even though this is called the Bishop's Opening, in most of the variations the real star is the White Queen.  We'll see many variations where the Queen decides the game pretty quickly.


This nice game could have been another great example for one of our previous discussions (see "Typical Patterns Everyone Should Know. The dangerous 'h' file.")
Let's get back to the critical position. It is better for Black to capture the d4 pawn by 3...exd4.  Now the tempting 4.e5 isn't good due to a standard Black reply 4...d5!  Instead of 4.e5 White should keep developing his pieces by 4.Nf3.  But doesn't this move drop the e4 pawn?  What happens after 4...Nxe4?  This is the so-called Urusov Gambit. It is amazing how quickly Black can find himself in a lost position if he doesn't know what he is doing.  After 5. Qxd4 (the Queen is coming again!) it takes just one wrong move 5...Nd6? and the game is suddenly over.  Want to see the proof?  I am glad you asked! 

Of course, the natural move 5...Nf6 is much better than 5...Nd6.  Even in this case Black is not out of the woods yet, as the next short game demonstrates.

The Urusov gambit has been known for about 200 years already but is not very popular these days.  It must be refuted, and no Grandmaster would play it, right?  Guess again!  As the next game shows, even 2600+ GMs use this lethal weapon sometimes. The following game doesn't have a fantastic combo or unbelievable sacrifice, but the whole attack was so instructive, that I decided to use it as a quiz, even though many moves for both sides are not forced.

So, is Black losing after 4...Nxe4?  And why isn't this gambit that popular these days?  The answer is no, Black is not losing after 4...Nxe4, but he will have to defend for a long time. A much safer and simpler option is 4...Nc6! which transposes the game into a regular Two Knights Defense. And that also explains why this opening is not a very common guest in GM games as this particular line of the Two Knights defense is considered very safe for Black. So, what should we do if our opponent transposes the game into the Two Knights Defense?
This is going to be the subject of our next column!


  • 23 months ago


    new comment to bookmark this article for reading later

  • 5 years ago


    in the sideline/explanation to why 14. Bh7+? was a mistake in the second Neishtadt game, there's also 15. ...Bg5+ where black's just a piece up. Not quite as effective, but a discouraging notion for materialists or people who overvalue a queen

  • 6 years ago


    I know this is rather stupid to comment about, but I thought, I may be wrong, that Fool's mate was 1. f4 e6 2. g4 Qh5# or any of the other 7 combinations. What you are talking about I thought was Scholar's Mate.

  • 6 years ago


  • 6 years ago

    CM Data_Pillars

    In the second game, I assume the point of 9...g5 was to prevent 10.Bf4! when the bishop can take the knight. Why cant white play 10.Bf4! anyway, meeting 10...gxf5 with 11.Qh5+ Nf7 12.Qxf7#

  • 6 years ago


    Ne4 might be a better move than Nb5...like I said it was not a hard core study.

    Like I said, it's very subtle; it's there though because these guys are actually good player...way better than me. They do not blunder in such a manner. Really looking at it after your reply now shows me that Ne4 would have been the move if hxg5.

    Ne4 and if Nxd5, mate follows; if Nxe4, mate follows.

  • 6 years ago


    Dear Hammerschlag,

    Thanks for your info.. but i think Black is OK if the Rook can get to g7 as follows:

    So any comment....
  • 6 years ago


    "In puzzle 2, why black did  not capture the bishop immediately after 12. Nc3? Please explain to me.."

    Without actually studying it hardcore, I think Nb5 threatens if hxg5...Knight on d6 is the only defender of the vulnerable f7 square, thus Rh7 is required to shore up the weakness. Nc3 is very subtle, almost deciving move...although you have to look deeply at moves like that, which may seem obvious; understand that your opponent saw that Bishop in danger, yet decides not to move it anyway...it can be a tempting capture. I probably would have missed it if it was otb. I'm not sure if I am even correct in my analysis; I hope someone can either confirm or show my error.

  • 6 years ago


    in puzzle 2, why black did  not capture the bishop immediately after 12. Nc3? Please explain to me..

  • 6 years ago


    Very nice tactics!!

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks nice & greet!!!!!!!

  • 6 years ago


    good analyzation...keep it up..

  • 6 years ago


    2. Bc5 is the classical line in this opening, but no one here mentioned or hit upon it. Theory gives at least 3 options for white's third move: d4, Qe2, or Nf3 (heading for the Giuoco Piano).  Fun!

  • 6 years ago


    I got 2 puzzle without mistake!!!Laughing

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks for a good article!

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks for an excellent article - I have gone through it with great care from beginning to end.  I am really looking forward to the coming article on the Two Knights.

  • 6 years ago


    Really great lesson:-) Thanks for the insight look at these variations.

  • 6 years ago


    quite up to standard.


  • 6 years ago


    nice article great games/puzzle(s)

  • 6 years ago


    The Urusov Gambit is a wonderful way of getting away from the main lines of theory like the Ruy Lopez. Learn to play it on both sides of the board.Here is a link for Urusov fans:



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