Opening Myths: The mystery of the Mokele-mbembe variation

Opening Myths: The mystery of the Mokele-mbembe variation


A few weeks ago there was an innocent beginner post on r/chess asking for guidance on the Alekhine Defense.

The question was about Alekhine opening theory:

Why does black play 2...Nd5 and not 2...Ne4 against e5

Why is this main-line? 
And this a mistake?

My first initial response to this question was simply: "Well white will gain some tempo on the knight and gain control of the centre." However, some observant players among you may argue: If that is true, surely doesn't the main-line Nd5 have the same problem? Especially in the sharp variations like the chase variation? where the knight gets chased around the board! 

White will at some point, most likely, play c4 and kick the knight, gaining tempo, to the wings of the board on b6. Won't the same thing happen with it going to Ne4? Further to this, in true "hypermodern-style," surely it is black's intention to encourage white to make these pawn moves to then be able to launch a counter-attack with his pieces?

What started as a simple answer, became an interesting exploration into the slight nuances in opening theory and the discovery (at least for me) of the Mokele-mbembe variation. 

What is Mokele-mbembe?

The Mokele Mbembe is certainly an odd variation and has an even odder origin. Mokele Mbembe was a river creature that pushes to the realms of cryto-zoology. Very similar to that of the Loch NessMonster, the creature is said to be an aquatic mammal with a very long neck:

An image of what the mokele mbembe looked like

A video about Mokele-Mbembe

On closer inspection, this Conganese legend is likely to have just been a miss-sighted Hippopotamus! - although I am not sure how the Hippo had a long neck!

2...Ne4 in the Alekhine is known as the Mokele-mbembe variation (on another database it also gave it the Bueckler variation??). The name of the variation was given in an opening book by Eric Schiller. To this day, I am not sure why he decided on this name. Perhaps, like its occurrence on the board, this variation is purely a myth! - I sadly do not own a copy of Eric Schiller's Big Book of Busts so perhaps one of my reader's might be able to enlighten on its name. Eric was not fond of such a variation as he believed white should get a big advantage in the following variation:

Interestingly, and sticking to the theme of opening myths, another opening book (and arguably a much better resource) is the "FCO Fundamental Chess Openings" by Paul Van der Sterren. This book makes no reference to this dubious variation.

It is clear that sadly the Mokele-Mbembe variation is a dubious variation and should be avoided (unless you want to use it as a shock weapon in blitz/bullet). If you ever meet this variation make sure to take a picture! You may never see it again!