A Walk on the Wild Side, Part II

A Walk on the Wild Side, Part II

| 21 | Opening Theory


The Traxler Counter Attack



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

     In Part I we examined White's response 5. d4

     White's two most common responses however are 5. Bxf7+ and 5. Nxf7, which we'll get ot after a bit more history for those of us who like the back stories.


     The Traxler is also known as the Wilke-Barre Variation of the Two-Knights Defense. The name originally comes from this article in the December 1934 issue of "Chess Review" (followed up in the January 1925 issue) in which John Menovsky of Wilkes-Barre, Pennslyvania claimed to have introducted 4...Bc5 in the Two-Knights Defense.  He sent "Chess Review" a little bit of analysis, though nothing extensive, on the vaious paths the counter-attack may take. The clips below show some of his introductory remarks.



     Some sources mention that this article was presented by both John Menovsky and Ken Williams (who isn't mentioned in the byline) so we'll examine their contributions.  John Menovsky was born in Presov, Czechoslovakia on the last day of 1873. As a child of 14, he emigrated to America with his family. Somehow, not even knowing English when he arrived in the Wyoming Valley area (adjacent to Wilkes-Barre, PA), he managed to earn not just an education, but a law degree from Penn State University in 1894.  Records show that at least in 1903 Menovsky was playing for the Wyoming Valley Chess Club which met at the Wilkes-Barre Y.M.C.A. In that year, 33 of the members of that club played in a simul against against Em. Lasker, who joked that he didn't realize there were so many Frenchmen in the club  - referring to the predominance of the French Defense.  He also added, "You have some very strong players here."   The Wilkes-Barre Chess Club was first established in 1887. It seems that, like many chess clubs, it dissipated quickly.  However, it also seems to have been rejunveated around 1907. Menovsky mentioned that he introduced the opening in that area around 1919-20. The "other" author, Kenneth F. Williams was much younger than Menovsky. Williams was born in 1907. He surely wasn't involved in Menovsky's original explorations in 1919, but may have indeed, been drawn into his later work.  Menovsky died on Feb. 24, 1949.   A decade later Williams, do to his association with Menovsky, was contacted by master-level player, Bob Bliss, who wanted to write a book on this vari
phpK70YlC.jpegation. Deep into his analysis, Bliss, a tournament player, gave up chess, at least temporarily, to persue his career.  Chess Enterprises, who was to published Bliss' project, contacted  Russian IM Yakov Estrin who had written other Two Knights Defense treatises to finished it. Estrin's finished product seems to have been a rush job. He called it "The Traxler Counter-attack" in English and "Traxler Gegenangriff" in his German edition. (There was also an edition published in 1978, a year later, called "The Wilkes-Barre Variation," possibly an attempt by Chess Enterprise to make Estrin's book more palatable)

      Ken Williams considered Estrin's 1977 book to be highly flawed and an attempt to deny the Wilke-Barre connection it's due glory.  Ken Williams took it upon himself to complete Bliss' project on his own and Chess Enterprises published his resulting 58 page pamphlet in 1979 as "The Real American Wilkes-Barre."   Ironically, by today's analysis, Williams' improvement on Estrin's works has been shown to also be limited and flawed itself.

     Kenneth F. Williams, once president of the President of the Correspondence Chess League of America, died on June 15, 1993

An aside-
These are the members of the Wyoming Valley Chess Club who played Lasker in 1903:
F. Begllnger of Berwick, O. A. Potter of Millavllla, Dr. Elmer of White Haver, C. E. Keck. W. H. Barwick of Cata-wissa. Harold Rust, A. D. W. Smith, Alfred Wendel. L. W. Dewltt, A. D. Thomas. Fred Wendel, J. A. Dewey, H. G. Llem, J. T. Wilcox, Thomas Dunn, F. Pilgrim, John Menovsky, W. L. Raeder. W. H. Goodwin, J. B. Jenkins, P. S. Ridsdale. Dr. Csupka, T. H. Rippard, George T. Knoli, John M. Gannanj Frank D. Cooper, H. B. Hamlin, H. Langfeld. W.H. Hines, F. E. Brown, J. B. Eprd, W. E. Johnson and George Galland.

     First we'll look at some games with 5. Bxf7+

     While he most definitely makes certain concessions by losing the ability to castle and forfeiting a pawn, Black also gets certain compensation including lack of surprises - the moves following are pretty well established (and though other moves are possible, they seem to be less optimal) - White must retreat the Bishop, Black's Rook will go to f8 and the Queen will strive to free herself by going to e8.  The Black King is relatively safe.

Maarten de Zeeuw explains:

     "White has an extra pawn, and Black's  king is in an unusual place. But Black's compensation is significant. He has a half-open f-file, with pressure on pawn f2 and on White's king's knight after its likely return to f3, and an open diagonal  e8-h5 which he can exploit with the manoeuvre Qe8-g6/h5,  already   harmoniously prepared by 5...Ke7.
     Black has a lead in development (White's king's bishop played three  times, his  king's knight twice), which dooms White efforts to open up the position early, whereas Black can mobilise all of his pieces  harmoniously. The development of Bc8 to g4 will either expose the lack of space of White's  queen, or bring about a pin of Nf3 which will  be nasty,  specially  after White has prematurely castled kingside so that he can hardly afford the capture g2xf3. If White castles kingside early, Black has many thematic  (pseudo-)sacrifices."

     Enrico Paoli, who was also a great probleminst, loses with 5.Bxf7+ against Nicolas Rossolimo in this game played at the Slovkian resort town of Trencianske Teplice.

     Here Hollywood Herman Steiner plays successfully against the many-times Italian champion and honorary grandmaster, Enrico Paoli's 5.Bxf7+ (This was NOT the famous Torneo di Capodanno, played in Reggio Emilia, Italy, that was later established by Enrico Paoli himself in 1958)
     Anatoly Karpov is only able to exact a draw with 5.Bf7+ against Alexander Beliavsky

The Russian team in this Ice Match was captained by Karpov at Pushkin Square; the London team was captained by Short at Trafalgar Square. The game was played with giant sculpted ice pieces. It was drawn due to Russia being low on time and London's ice pieces melting.

     Not-yet-grandmaster Max Dlugy lost quickly after playing 5. Bxf7+


5. Nxf7+  is a bit more complicated. Black's usual, though not only, reply is, of course, 5...Bxf2+.  From here White can accept the sacrifice or decline it, though both 5...Kf1 and 5...Ke2 has statistically poor results.

5...Bxf2+ Declined

     6. Kf1


    6. Ke2
The game below is not only Karel Traxler's original attempt but also the rarest of replies to 5...Bxf2+ and the most famous and published example of this opening.  Curiously, Winter presented this game in CN #7968 when a reader mailed in a clipping from the 11/20/1919 "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" giving this game as played between Capablanca and Emery. Someone else sent in a clipping from a few days later, 11/26, retracting the original, saying the actual players are unknown.  Nowhere does anyone recognize it  as the famous Joerg Renisch - Karel Traxler game.

     So, that leaves us with White accepting the sacrifice by playing 6. Kxf2, after which Black will usually play  6....Nxe4+ .

     Now White is faced with choices. The usual  replies are:

7. Kg1
7. Ke3
7. Kf1
7. Ke1

     Of the possible replies, 7. Ke1 seems to be the worst.

     7. Kf1 hardly seems much better.

     7. Kg1 seems to offer White a better game.

     7. Ke3 was offered by Christophe and Moll  as White's threoretical best chance but in practical play, Black generally outplays White.

     And last, here is the man, who wrote the book mentioned in the Wilkes-Barre introduction, losing with White in a miniature employing the dreaded Bxf7+ line:


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