How important is the Milner-Barry Gambit? As I found out over the last few months, it is surprisingly important at the amateur levels. This seems strange, considering that it is a rare sideline in the professional chess world for many years.
I guess that the motivation for amateurs playing it is one that has to do with the nature of gambits in general: Usually, a gambit is followed by sharp play, granting the side sacrificing the pawn attacking chances. However, as is also typical for most gambits, the prepared defender against the gambit neutralizes the attack, catches up in development, etc. and ends up with an extra pawn. This is very much so the case for the Milner-Barry Gambit, which explains the great discrepancy between the professional and amateur players. The amateur wants to catch others unprepared, while the professional player does not count on his/her opponent being unprepared. Following these considerations, it makes a lot of sense to study the Milner-Barry Gambit for an amateur wishing to play the French Defense with black. This is the main reason for me making this variation part three of my quest for French Defense Perfection.
To start, let me show you the first game in an OTB team match, which I had to play against the Milner-Barry Gambit. At that time I had only rudimentary knowledge of this variation, but it seems that my opponent was also not that well prepared.
Judging from my game, it may seem as if white get’s a lot for the sacrificed pawn(s) and that white would have defeated me, had he found the correct moves. The latter is true, but it should also be clear that black has better defenses at his/her disposal:
The first things you have to know in this variation are the following:
· You can’t capture the pawn on d4 right away, since white has laid out a nice discovered attack trap with his bishop and queen. Hence you need to play 7…Bd7 first.
· White is basically forced to sacrifice the pawn once he/she plays 6.Bd3 because the alternatives are weak.
· After 8…Nxd4 white has a lot of options, but none of them are convincing. Black should either play 9…Nxf3, 9…Nc6, or 9…Qxd4, depending on what white does.
The pawn on f2 may be a good target for attack, which is rather similar to the 4.dxc5 variation I presented in part I of these series.
Another similarity to the 4.dxc5 lines is the effect that the queen has on b6. It attacks b2 and restricts the bishop on c1 to defensive duties, while it also points at f2.
Another interesting question is, whether black should take the second pawn on e5 in the mainline after 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3. The answer is that, as can be seen in my game in the introduction, black avoids a lot of troubles by preventing the white knight from getting to b5 first (by playing 10…a6), but when the pawn on e5 happens to be undefended at a later point in the game, it is usually a good idea to take it.
Another important idea is to take control of the dark squares in black’s camp by means of positioning the king’s knight on c6 and the bishop on c5.
Driven by a discussion in part I about the move …f6, I searched for lines/positions, when …f6 is good for black in this variation. The idea is usually to either get a central pawn majority, attack along the f-file, or both (see also the lines regarding the attack against f2).