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Myth and Reality

Mar 13, 2011, 12:00 AM 51 Tactics

We all know popular myths that can easily be refuted just by checking the facts. Ones like "A penny dropped from the Empire State Building will kill a person" or "Thomas Edison invented the light bulb." I am sure you know many popular but false statements like these. But what about chess, do we have any common beliefs shared by 99% of chessplayers and yet completely false?  You betcha! Here is an example:

"After the moves 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nd4 White cannot take the e5 pawn or he will lose miserably." The next little trap is usually shown as a proof:


Since I already analyzed this trap and its refutation in my very first article for chess.com, let me just give you a link to this article: http://www.chess.com/article/view/an-important-lesson-from-my-youth

Now let me address the most popular myth (at least amongst lower rated players). Whenever I talk with my students about the Two Knights Defense they don't miss an opportunity to mention  "yeah, yeah, that winning Nxf7 sacrifice, I really love it!"  You probably already know what they are talking about.  The position arises after 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 and now 6.  Nxf7!?! The first exclam is given to this move for it's psychological impact and ?! is given for the true strength of the move.  You can see the following moves in almost every single scholastic tournament. Heck, one of my very first tournament games went this way!


Here to my horror I realized that I managed to lose a pawn, the right to castle and my opponent threatens to checkmate me in one move! To make a long story short, I lost quickly and miserably.  But if Black follows the old analysis of GM Paul Keres and protects his extra Knight, then the outcome of the game becomes unclear.  Here is this line which was published more than 60 years ago:

Fortunately, more than 150 years ago, the legendary Paul Morphy showed the correct way to punish 5...Nxd5? The next little attacking gem is typical for Morphy's style.  The game is given as a quiz so you have a chance to test your attacking skills, and compare your moves to the moves actually played by Morphy.  Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list".

Now, let me recap: 6.Nxf7?! sacrifices a Knight and leads to an unclear position, while the simple 6.d4! line, known for over 150 years, doesn't require an unclear sacrifice and leads to a clear advantage for White. So, which line is by far the most popular? Why, 6.Nxf7?! of course!

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