Beating the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (Part 1)
Armand Blackmar

Beating the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (Part 1)


I've taken a long time off blogging, but now I'm back!

The infamous Blackmar-Diemer Gambit or BDG can arise from at least two move-orders. The most common one is 1. d4, d5 2. e4?!. However, also possible is 1. e4, d5, 2. d4!?. Thus, if ...d5 is your response to both of White's main moves then you can face it from both orders.

Black can of course decline with a transposition to the French or the Caro-Kann, but the critical response is to take the offering with ...dxe4, after which White usually plays Nc3 & f3:

To whet your appetite, here's Mato with a miniature containing the Halosar Trap:

See also my: Philosophy of Gambit Play

The BDG is one of the most divisive openings of all times, being loved by its proponents and declared unsound by most everyone else.

Here's reverend Tim Sawyer: "The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit is not a boxing jab, it's a knockout punch - and White gets to throw the first punch! Stop playing for the endgame, play to end the game! Be a winner! Play the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit!" (via Scheerer 2011)

In stark contrast, here's Sam Collins in Understanding Chess Openings (Gambit 2005): "I've seen more promising players lured into incompetence by this opening than I care to remember. The basic pattern is this - player learns BDG, tries to get it in every game, thus limiting his chess experience (and, since the opening isn't good, he loses too many games, meaning that his rating stays low and he can't get games against better players). Nobody who plays good chess plays this line, and nobody who plays good chess ever will." (his boldface)

One of the most respected opening theoreticians of our time, Boris Avrukh, gives a more balanced assessment:

"The infamous Blackmar-Diemer Gambit sees White giving away a pawn in order to
open lines and accelerate his development. It may not be fully correct, but when working
on this chapter I was surprised at just how potent White's initiative could become, even against some of Black's most respected defensive set-ups." (Beating 1. d4 Sidelines (Quality Chess, 2011))

BDG History (via Wikipedia)

The latest book-length treatment of BDG is Christoph Scheerer's book the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (Everyman 2011). 


Scheerer tries to provide an objective and unbiased assessment of all the main lines and he concludes that in lots of lines things are more or less even and there are chances for both sides. His work is the benchmark against which all consecutive theory should be assessed.

What can be said with certainty is that facing BDG over the board is very dangerous since your opponent probably knows what they're doing. 2. e4 is, after all, the best-scoring move for White in the database after 1. d4, d5. Interestingly, in my own very short Classical chess practice I've had to face it already twice. I chickened out with the Caro the first time, accepted the 2nd, and eventually lost both.

The Black player who wants to boldly accept the pawn has to therefore be well prepared.  In this four-part series we'll look at no less than ten(!) recommended responses and try to arrive at an assessment of which one gives you the "most bang for buck".

1. 3...e5 ("the Lemberger Counter-Gambit")

Armand Blackmar (1826-1888?), pictured in the header, was a famous Civil War era music composer, teacher, and publisher who wrote many famous Confederate songs. He later lived in New Orleans (see the similarity to Tennison, here) and analyzed the BDG with 3. f3?. Here's one of his games:

Of course, 3. f3? didn't take on, due to the response 3...e5!. Let's see why this is so good, as an intro to our line:

Now, as the story goes, Ignatz von Popiel (1863-1941) started experimenting with 3. Nc3 instead, but intending 4. Bg5 (which we'll look at under sidelines). It wasn't until Emil Joseph Diemer (1908-1990),  who I was sad to find out, was a pretty serious Nazi, that 4. f3 became the main move.

Read Hans Ree's brief biography of Diemer, here.

In any case, even 3. Nc3 can be met with the immediate 3...e5!?, radically cutting down on White's options. This is known as the Lemberger Counter-Gambit and it has been recommended by John Cox in his Dealing with d4 Deviations (Everyman 2005), and Christian Bauer in Play the Scandinavian (Quality Chess, 2008). Their reasons are instructive:

Cox: "The BDG is one of those things you have to be practical about. There's no doubt it's objectively weak and that 4...exf3 is the best move. ... You aren't going to face it more than once or twice in your chess lifetime, you are - unlike your opponent - hardly likely to have more than a dim recollection of theory, and sod's law dictates that this happy event will probably occur in the third Saturday game of a Weekender when few of us are our sharpest tactically. In these circumstances, if you run into some knife-wielding maniac with a glint in his eye and a yard of BDG workbooks on his shelf at home, then by all means take his pawn, but don't blame me if one slip sees you getting torched. ... No. We need something which will be simple to learn, give Black a decent shot at the iniative, and above all, will spoil White's fun." (p. 111-112)

Bauer: "It is well known that the acceptance of the gambit pawn leads to a position where White's compensation is technically inadequate. However, my personal view is that the practical risk of going astray while trying to neutralize the Black initiative is pretty high." (p. 291)

Before looking at the theory, here's a quick White win by Diemer in this line:

Now to the theory:

Summary: With 3...e5, Black can make sure White doesn't get his usual play. Nevertheless, it can be met with no less than 5 different decent ways, and is thus quite a bit to study. This is somewhat balanced by the fact that Black doesn't have to study any of White's 4th move sidelines. Nevertheless, it's quite tame and in many cases Black gets no more than equality, while after Nxe4 he has to defend quite precisely. In my opinion, this doesn't therefore provide enough bang for your potential buck.

Interlude: White's 4th Move Sidelines

Before proceeding to our next two BDG-declined options, let's look at White's two 4th move sidelines: von Popiel's 4. Bg5 and David Gedult's 4. Bc4.

Here we go:

As can be seen, in these lines, the key move is ...Bf5, either directly, or prefaced by ...c6. This is also the key move in our next line.
2. 4...Bf5 ("the Vienna Defense")

We've now arrived at our first move after 4. f3, namely 4...Bf5, known as the Vienna Defense. This is recommended by David Smerdon in his Smerdon's Scandinavian (Everyman, 2015)

In Smerdon's opinion the Vienna Defense is the "...most dynamic counter-punch. Instead of cashing in on the extra pawn with 4... exf3 and then going into staunch defensive mode, Black continues to prioritize development. Indeed, in many of the variations...Black often prefers to give back the pawn in exchange for rapid development and piece activity." (p. 464).

First, let's look at the most played move, Diemer's, 5. fxe4:

Now, 5. g4, and the rest:

Summary: after 4...Bf5, Black can play for a win in a dynamic fashion while robbing White of his typical BDG-style attacks. Scheerer's book doesn't cover many of Smerdon's novelties which gives Black an upper hand in theory. However, some of the resulting positions are quite sharp so it's a matter of taste whether one wants to go into them.

3. 4...Nbd7 ("the Lion Defense")

Smerdon also offers the following low-theory alternative which might actually be the easiest response to BDG. Since this line doesn't have a name I propose we christen the Lion Defense, in the honor of the Philidor line it is a transposition to.

Summary: This line is an easy, low-theory alternative and if Black wants a quiet-ish game with some winning chances then he should probably prefer it over the Lemberger since it basically requires no learning (besides knowing the Sidelines).

Next week we'll continue with 5...e6 ("the Euwe Defense") and 5...Bg4 ("the Teichmann Defense").