Openings for Tactical Players: Four Knights Game, Rubinstein Variation

Openings for Tactical Players: Four Knights Game, Rubinstein Variation‎

GM Gserper
11 | Tactics

Last week we discussed the old main line of the Four Knights Game, the one where Black simply plays symmetrical moves hoping just to equalize.  Modern treatments are getting more aggressive and sharp,which is why the Rubinstein Variation is the preferred way of many strong players to deal with the Four Knights Game. So, after the initial moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5, Black breaks the symmetry with 4...Nd4!?  This is not a gambit yet since White cannot really win the e5 pawn by 5.Nxe5 because after 5...Qe7 6.Nf3 (6.f4 Nxb5 7.Nxb5 d6) Nxb5 7.Nxb5 Qxe4+ 8.Qe2 Qxe2+ 9.Kxe2 Nd5! 10.c4 a6! Black gets an excellent position. Therefore, White has to choose between 5.Ba4 and 5. Bc4. In both cases Black sacrifices material to grab the initiative.  Let's start our analysis with 5. Bc4, since it was played in one of the stem games of the whole variation:


The next game is truly unique.  Not only did GM Tkachiev manage to improve the play of the great Rubinstein, but he also beat his opponent (who is a strong GM) in just 12 moves!!
As you could see, in the above mentioned games Black solved all his problems with the timely d7-d5 break.  The move 5. Ba4 has a goal to prevent or at least delay this break by pinning the d7 pawn.  In the next game Black played 5...c6 still preparing to play d5!
Of course Black can still play the natural move 5...Bc5, then castle, unpinning the d7 pawn and then again play d7-d5! 
I hope the games that we analyzed today have managed to convince you that the Rubinstein variation is a very dangerous weapon in the Four Knights Game.
What I personally like the most is that here, unlike in many other gambits, Black gets a very strong initiative for mere a pawn or two. If you answer 1... e5 against 1.e4 the Four Knights Game can possibly happen in your next tournament. I strongly recommend you to do some more research and then incorporate the Rubinstein variation into your opening repertoire. You won't regret it!
Good luck!
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