Dangerous Chess Openings: The Vienna Gambit

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In this post, I will share with you an unusual and aggressive answer to the solid 1.e4 e5, which club players very often struggle to defend against in practice. Recently, even some strong Grandmasters have had a hard time dealing with the Vienna Gambit, which runs 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4.

What would you play as Black?

Below the 1800 level and below, you're most likely to face 3...exf4, which gives White a vastly improved King's Gambit after 4.e5 Ng8 5.Nf3 - compared to 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3, White got in e5 and Nc3 for free! 

Here is the key variation for White to know, to prove a serious advantage:

Black may have kept the extra pawn, but he is way behind in development with a weak king. White is clearly better.

A more solid-looking response is 3...d6, but this has the disadvantage of being too passive - White can play 4.Nf3 to put serious pressure on the e5-pawn. White has an early initiative in this line, as the following neat attacking game demonstrates:

You may have figured out by now that Black needs to counterattack, not defend - and therefore 3...d5! 4.fxe5 Ne4 is the critical test of White's opening. In that case, White has traditionally played 5.Nf3, but without much success at a high level.

Instead, the dangerous weapon I would like to propose is 5.Qf3, immediately pressuring the knight on e4:

Once again - what should Black play? I was inspired to explore this by a game in the French Championship playoff, that won GM Maxime Lagarde the national title:

GM Lagarde had also caught GM Aryan Tari in this trap, earlier this year - also in a rapid game.

Black may prefer to delay ...c5 in favour of 6...Be6, which is the most common move for Black. In that case, we can play Qg3 to hamper Black's kingside development. In the game below, a GM was unable to get his king to safety in time:

What if Black tries to swap queens with 6...Qh4 7.g3 Qe4 instead? Then White obtains a reliable advantage in the endgame with his more active pieces, like in the following example:

Perhaps the most solid option for Black is 6...Be7, although White can still play Bf4/0-0-0 for some attacking chances.

In truth, I am not convinced that 5...Nxc3 is Black's best reply to 5.Qf3. However, after 5...Nc6, White can keep the tension with 6.Bb5:

Admittedly, White's win in this game was not so much the result of the opening. I would suggest looking into 10.Bxc6 bxc6 11.Ne2, with an equal position where the stronger player will win. There was also an engine game with 10.Ne2 Bd7 11.Bxc6 Bxc6 12.Rf1 Bc5 13.Nd4, but it ultimately ended in a balanced draw. 

Admittedly, there is one line that is quite annoying for White, which would put me off playing the Vienna Gambit as my main answer to 1.e4 e5. That move is 5...f5!, keeping the knight on its strong e4 post, and inviting White to release the tension - to his cost. White can reply 6.d3 Nxc3 7.bxc3, but then 7...d4! is a thematic reply (like with 5.d3 Nxc3 6.bxc3 d4!). 

Here is one inspired game by White, sacrificing the pawn for a lead in development and attack:

There is still not much established theory in this 8.Qg3 variation, due to the relatively rarity of 5.Qf3. However, the following game looks like a very convincing answer for Black, taking the pawn and keeping the initiative with fast queenside development:

It is true that White can deviate, with 10.c4 Bb4 11.Kd1 0-0 12.Nh3 or 12.Rb1, when the position is very unclear and chaotic. Personally, I would say that it is still easier to play Black, because of the central position of White's king. 

So, what is the conclusion about this opening? Should you play it in your games?

I think that the Vienna Gambit with 5.Qf3 is quite a dangerous weapon - but, it can be dangerous for both sides! It leads to an early confrontation, and there are some traps that Black should be careful to sidestep. That makes it a great choice in blitz and rapid. 

I can't recommend it as a main defence to 1...e5 in classical games, because opponents can check the opening beforehand, and only need to remember the move 5...f5, with the idea of ...Nxc3 and ...d4, to get a good game. If you don't mind this worst case scenario (which is still objectively equal), or you're willing to risk it to set your opponent early problems - then I think you will have fun with this gambit line  

What did you learn from this blog post?

Are you going to try out this system in your own games?

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