A Walk on the Wild Side, Part I

A Walk on the Wild Side, Part I

| 15 | Opening Theory

      Take a walk with me on the wild side . . . of chess.

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       When Tarrasch wrote,  ". . .Sg5 , den ich für einen richtigen Stümperzug halte."
[4. Ng5, I consider this a patzer's move (even compared to 4. d3)],  he recommended 4. 0-0 or better yet, 4. d4,  probably in line with his dogma that condemned moving the same piece twice in an  opening.  But most people agree that, despite flying in the face of a basic chess principle, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6,  4.Ng5  poses some serious difficulties for Black



     The usual responses to  4.Ng5, and the more sound . . . and the more boring,  include 4...d5 5.exd5 (after which most folks avoid 5...Nxd5, in  light of the notorious Fegatello  6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3.) 5 ... Na5, followed by some well tested variation such as the Morphy (6. d3),   or the Steinitz (6.Bb5+) or  The Fritz (5...Nd4) or the interesting Ulvestad (5...b5).
     In 1875, according to Tim Harding,  Zukertort even suggested the interesting, complex but likely unsound,  4. . . Nxe4?!  (sometimes called  the Ponziani-Steinitz Gambit)


          However the most exciting, poetic (and probably sound) response, the one that answers White audacity with an audacity of its own, is the seemingly suicidal 4.  . . Bc5
     This is the beginning to the Traxler or the Wilkes-Barre.


      Nick DeFirmian wrote: "the Wilkes-Barre Variation 4...Bc5!? looks crazyBlack ignores White's threat to f7yet there is no known refutation  of it.  In Europe, it is known as the Traxler Variation."

     While Alex Dunne wrote:  "The logic behind 4. ... Bc5 is simple and bloodthirsty: the attack belongs to the better developed side. By  branding 4. Ng5 a "beginner's move," moving a piece twice in the opening, Black prepares his own systematic attack on f2, backed up with  an extra developing move or two. If a pawn or two, a rook, or even a few pieces go into the box, what does it matter when a king is at stake?."


5. Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6. Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7. Kg1 Qh4 8. g3 Nxg3 9. hxg3 Qxg3+ 10. Kf1 Rf8 11. Qh5 d5 12. Bxd5 Nb4 13. Bc4 b5! with advantage to Black. . . Alex Dunne

5. Bxf7+
  Ke7 6. Bd5
Black will have two attacking moves ... Nd4 and ... Rf8. Black's pieces will focus on White's kingside. So, for a small amount of material, Black will have a large amount of attack. Alex Dunne


     Karel Traxler was a Roman Catholic priest from Veselí nad Lužnicí in South Bohemia. A chess aficianado, best known as a problemist, he developed this particular line around 1892.  I've read in several places that he didn't play tournaments due to his religious affiliation, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While his tournament play might have been restricted by his responsibilities, I noted where he did, in fact play in tournaments, such as the 8th Czech Congess of 1907; E. Winter has him identified as playing in a tournament in Osyky in 1900; he was one of two judges for Best Game in the 1st International Prague Chess Tournament 1908 and he entered countless problem tourneys - indicating he had no religious hesitation to participate in tournaments.

     The "OCC" gave his name as "Peter" Karel Traxler.  I don't know their source. I've encountered his name as P. K. Traxler, but took that to mean "Pater" Karel Traxler, pater being latin for the title, "father."  Anders Thulin, citing Jeremy Gaige's "Chess Personalia," gives Traxler's pseudonyms as" Karel Kaplan," "Anonymus z Tábora but," and "Vis Maior und Karel Zboněk."  I haven't been able to connect these names with Traxler but thought they were worth mentioning here.

     I did come across this authoritative reference in Johann Berger's 1889 "Schach-jahrbuch" under the section called Addresses and Biographies of Chess Players:
Traxler, Pater Karl
, Theologe, in Vlachobfezi, früher in Hammer, Wällisch-Birken und Muttersdorf; starker Spieler, auch Blindlings Spieler (4 P.); Hauptmitarbeiter der Sz. Öeske listy äachov6; £TPrag 86 (Gruppent.) I, 91 II u. UI get; P Tidkr. f. Skak. 97 I; S im Tabor 86.



The first known Traxler game.



      Before proceeding with the Traxler Defense in any detail, let's examine a bit deeper the man behind the opening, Karel Traxler.  Unfortunately, I can't say I know a lot about him.

     Traxler was born January 17, 1866 in Vlachově Březí, a town in the province of Prachatice in South Bohemia. While studying for the priesthood in Budějovice, he founded a chess club there in 1885 and edited a chess column in the local paper.  As a parish priest, he served in several locales, one of which was at the Church of Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Veselí nad Lužnicí.  He organized the first Czech correspondence tournament on Dec. 15, 1886 in which he took first place.


Traxler co-edited several periodicals, such as "Ceske listy sachove" (1896-7)

     He founded a chess club there which hosted the South Bohemian Chess Congress in 1898, 1901 and 1902.  Finally, he was tranferred to Dub u Vodňan (Dub near Vodňany) where he stayed until his death on May 15, 1936. Although he didn't play in very many, he is known to have won a prize in a tournament as early as 1886, and he shared second place in Prague 1891. He won first prize in the chess congress at Veselí in 1902.  Karel Traxler was best known, however, as a problemist. He and his brother-in-Law, Jan Kotrč, another chess problemist, were considered the two leading Bohemian chess players until Oldřich Duras came along.


     I'd never seen it mentioned before, but Traxler was apparently a very strong blindfold player. According to the "Columbia Chess Chronicle" in 1887:
           Foreign News
       — A blindfold tournament was held in connection with the Bohemian Chess Congress
           at Pilsen.  There were four contestants, Mr. C. Traxler winning the first prize.

     Here is Traxler's sparkling win against 20 the year old future grandmaster, Duras in the 1902 Veseli tournament:



    I believe that most chess enthusiasts enjoy solving chess puzzles, but only a select group are truly interested in chess problems. Now chess problems, often referred to as compositions, differ somewhat from chess puzzles.  Puzzles generally require the solver to either gain some advantage, to save a seemingly lost position or to simply find a "mate in x moves," usually in a realistic or actual setting with the practical value of acheiving some stated goal as the only objective. A chess problem doesn't usually concern itself with a realistic setting, nor is the actual solution in itself the sole, and sometimes not even the primary, consideration for the solver or the composer.  Problems are usually judged, not just on the complexity, cleverness and economy of the composition, but in the adherence to certain objective criteria and on the presence of a certain subjective beauty or aesthetic value. 
     Karel Traxler seems to have been a first-rate composer, though possibly not on par with the highest echelon, often winning or placing highly in minor tourneys or in the second tier of major tourneys.  Below I've culled some problems from different sources in a sort of Traxler Problem Patchwork Sampler.

     N.B. The solution may contain only the "key move."


     This problem won 2nd prize in the "Leisure Hour"  Problem Tourney of 1900.
      ["Leisure Hour" was an illustrated monthly magazine published in London]




     This problem won 1st prize in the "Národni listy" Problem Tourney, 1921.
      ["Národni listy" was then a Croatian daily newspaper]



     This problem won 1st Hon. Mention in the Swedish "Aftonbladet" Problem Tourney 1899.
     ["Aftonbladet" was/is a Swedish tabloid-style newspaper]



     An unlikely source, a magazine called "Our Young People" [ a monthly magazine, published in Wisconsin, with articles of general interest to Catholics, put out by the St. John's Institute for Deaf-Mutes], in 1904 contained this equally unlikely tournament game played by Traxler in which his opponent mirrored his every single move and was finally mated:

                                         Value of First Move Demonstrated




     Chess at Prague
     As mentioned earlier, Traxler's brother-in-law was Jan Kotrč, another well-known problemist. Several games between the two problemist are preserved. This one, a particularly beautifully played draw took place  in Prague and was published in New Zealand's "Otaga Witness" on Jan. 30, 1901:


The Traxler Counter Attack

[This is not meant to be analysis of the opening, but just a brief exploration]


    With best play, does Black have a chance with 1.e4  e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 ?

      White's historically questionable 4th move, 4. Ng5, gives Black a little lattitude and
4 . . . Bc5 supplies an interesting answer to that question.
This leads to the natural speculation into White's response.
There are 3 suitable moves for White at this juncture - and curiously enough, two of them White had threatened with it's  previous move, 4. Ng5 :
                                        5. Bxf7+5. Nxf7  or 5. d4
     Now the theory on all this is terribly ponderous and far beyond the scope of any short article but in my explorations, I learned some interesting things.
     Most people I've talked to regarding the Traxler consider 5. Bxf7+ the strongest response simply because it wins a pawn and sentences Black's King to the center of the board.  It's true that most experts agreed with this assessment.   Several analysts, however,  including NM Dan Heisman, FIDE master Stefan Bücker and Maarten de Zeeuw who wrote the analysis  [also 1, 2, 3, 4 ] for "NiC,"  disagree and tend to believe that very scary 5. Nxf7 is White's only real chance to refute the Traxler.

     Stefan Bücker claims "In the last decades White used to play 5. Bxf7+ Ke7, followed by either 6. Bd5 or 6. Bb3. White may have a slight advantage, but Black keeps substantial compensation for his sacrificed pawn.  Lev Gutman concentrated on 6. Bd5, published in 1996, which he analyzed on dozens of pages. At that time the theoreticians still preferred 5 Bxf7+ over the alternatives.
     Only four years later Christophe and Moll claimed in that the real refutation of the Traxler was 5. Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6. Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7. Ke3!, a courageous winning attempt that had been underestimated by theory.

"According to [Maarten de Zeeuw], the strongest line begins with 5. Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6. Kf1."


     All this and the following entries will attempt to present are games that exemplify some of White's attempts to refute the Traxler and hopefully give the reader some sort of insight into the complexities, and the possibilities, the opening offers.


     In Part I we'll look at games where White played the often-overlooked  5. d4!?

     After this move, Black has several possible responses:
5... d5,  5... Bxd4,  5... Nxd4, 5...exd4

     Of all these responses, 5... d5 seems the most popular, and successful.


1.e4  e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5. d4 d5





1.e4  e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5. d4 Bxd4

1.e4  e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5. d4 Nxd4
1.e4  e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5. d4 exd4




          Part II will look at both the 5. Nxf7 and the 5. Bxf7+ lines
          as well as the history of the Wilks-Barre Variation


Now for a few Traxler games with 5. d4 line :


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