Villemson's Gambit in the KGA

     Many openings go by various names. The opening(s) we'll be looking at in this presentation not only go by many names, the situation, like gambits themselves, gets very messy, muddy and uncertain very quickly.

     The title of this posting is Villemson's Gambit.  The "Oxford Companion to Chess" (OCC) says: "Martin Villemson (1897-1933) of Parnu. Estonia, editor of the chess magazine "Eesti Maleilm," played it in the first International Correspondence Tournament of the 'Deutsche Schaihzeitung,'  He was a strong correspondence player and may well have inspired Keres to try that activity, in which they overlapped."  the OCC gives the opening as: 1.e4 e5  2.f4 exf4  3.d4.


   The OCC also says" "Villemson Gambit in the KGA, sometimes called the Steinitz Gambit, perhaps because of its resemblence to 614, but Steinitz did play it in a consultaion game in 1880, or the Krause, Polerio or Rosentreter Gambit. "
     Also according to the OCC, the Polerio Gambit differed significantly in it's strategy: "The Villemson Gambit given by Polerio, with a different theme.  After 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.d4 Qh4+ 4.g3 fxg3, White makes a king's leap - Kg2 - which was then a permissible alternative to castling."

     Now the Rosentreter Gambit is similar but harldly the same thing, even as given by the OCC itself:  1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4  3.Nf3 g5 4.d4.  


     As mentioned in the OCC, Steintiz did play this opening in a consultation game in 1880 (below) but the name Steinitz gambit usually refers to a gambit in the Vienna that has similar moves (hence the confusion.  In 1883, when Morphy was informed that Steinitz was in New Orleans, Morphy, revealing his continual interest in chess and dismissal of Steinitz, supposedly replied, "I know it. His gambit is not good."): 1.e4 e5  2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4. d4.  

     The OCC, as noted above, maintains that Martin Villemson played 1.e4 e5  2.f4 exf4  3.d4. in the first International Correspondence Tournament sponsored by the "Deutsche Schaihzeitung."  I wasn't able to find such a game.  However, from this tournamnent which seemed to stretch between 1930-2, I did find this game:

     The difference is that White inserts 3.Nc3, making this a kind of blended Polerio-Steinitz opening.  This opening is commonly called the Keres-Mason Gambit or the Pärnu Gambit.   Since Keres and Villemson seemed to have explored this opening more so than the Polerio, it also seems that this opening would be more reasonably called the Villemson-Keres. Here it is, played by Paul Keres in a correspondence game in 1933 (Keres would have been only 17 at the time.)


     Martin Villemson also played the same opponent with the same opening around the same time, but with a better result:

     At this point, the question might be, Who was Martin Villemson?

     Villemson is rather obscure today, particularly since Estonian chess wasn't very exciting until the apprearance of Paul Keres. In fact, Keres, who was born in 1916, took up correspondence chess precisely because OTB games and tournaments were so scarce.  Martin Villemson, almost 20 years Kere's senior, was Kere's inspiration to become a correspondence player and chess problemist. 
     Villemson (born November 9, 1897 in Sauga, Pärnu County; died June 22, 1933 in Pärnu, Estonia), who was left fatherless as a youth and moved from Sauga to Pärnu to attend school, eventually working as an apprentice baker, might be thought of as the Petroff of Estonia since he almost single-handedly promoted chess in an area somewhat barren of that pursuit.  In the 1920s, Martin Villemson started chess columns in two newpapers, the "Päevaleht" ("Daily News") and the "Vaba Maa" ("Free Country").  More importantly, he self-published the first chess periodical in Estonia, the "Eesti Maleilm: Eesti ja Rahvusvahelise Maleeu Häälekandja" ("Estonian Chess Talk: The Estonian and International Chess Journal")"Eesti Maleilm" ran for 7 issues from January 1932 (actually printed in April) until Villemson's death by some unspecified disease the following year.  There is an anecdotal story surrounding his death.  It's said that Villemson was conducting a correspondence game with a gentleman form Hungary. The Hungarian died from the disease that would also claim Villemson. It's been suspected that that disease had ironically been delivered to Villemson through the mail. In 1932 Villemson also published a 12 page pamphlet with the results from the "Denken und Raten" (D.U.R.) international problem tournament ("Denken und Raten" was a problem/puzzle/game magazine that appeared between 1928-35).
          ["Eesti Maleilm" was constantly plagued with production and financial problems. As mentioned, the "January issue appeared in April. The February issue appeared in June; March in August; April and May in November and June in January 1933; January in February and February in March.  Paul Kere's began a chess magazine called "Eesti Male" in 1936.]

     Villemson lived in Pärnu. From 1930-34, the years he was also the Estonian youth champion, Keres attended the Pärnu Kuninga Tänav Põhikool, then the Pärnu Gymnasium for Boys.  During that time they were thought to have explored what is now called the Pärnu Gambit or the Keres-Mason Gambit shown above. 

     Villemson and Keres played together in correspondence games.  The only example available is this QGD draw:

     Martin Villemson was also a rather prolific problemist and encouraged Kere along those lines. Below are a couple of Villemson's problems:

    Below are two Keres-Mason Gambit correspondence games, both against Janis Vilkens (Wilkens).

     This game is a Vienna/Hamppe-Muzio var. (similar to the Steinitz Gambit which is often confused for the Polerio, but also to the Keres-Mason Gambit but without the early Queen foray.

     Here is the Steinitz Gambit which is confused with the Polerio :

     The Villemson Gambit: 1.e4 e5  2.f4 exf4  3. d4 isn't often played, but from the number of games I've examined in various databases, it seems that 3...d5 and 3...g5 have given Black the best results, while 3...Qh4+ and 3...Nf6 have given White better results.

     One of the most prolific practioners of this opening is Kamran Shirazi, the Iranian born, American/French IM who is known for embacing the unusual (In individual games, Shirazi has beaten players such as Lev Alburt, Nick deFirmian, Bent Larsen, Gata Kamsky, Anatoly Lein, Max Dlugy, John Peters, Gary Lane, Joel Benjamin, Jeremy Silman, Susan Polgar, Eric Schiller, Mark Ginsberg, ). Below are several of his games employing the Villemson Gambit:




  • 3 years ago


    Wow, I can't believe I missed this post the first time around.  Great stuff on a bizarre line of play, and there are some strong players who have used this.  Thanks, BG.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks kiwi.  I think gambits aren't popular in high level chess mostly because of their unpredictability and because often the slightest miscalculation, from either side, can be punished quickly and severely.  Given that GMs must study constantly, they probably focus their energies on more positional type openings, the kind they're likely to meet and the ones they know most about. It's hard to take advantage of the initiative in gambits to the point where you're totally compensated for the material if the defense is strong enough. Since it's easier to attack than defend, at lower to mid levels, gambits have more impact, but most GMs are great defenders and the force of the initiative often dissipates. But gambits sure are fun.

  • 3 years ago


    Who would of thought the sacrifice of whites f pawn during the opening play would make for an electric aggressive repetoire of moves,  these games are certainly a delight to look over. Like all your blogs, I enjoyed reading this, the games you presented were exciting. 

    Someone mentioned that openings like this should be called "Crazy King Gambit" and it is certainly bizarre  but also stunning and amazing when white is able to win the game, it opens white up for attack and also the sacrifices were very tactiful.

    I wonder why gambits like this are not so popular among modern day chess grandmasters. Would be lovely if I could IM get Daniel Rensch to briefly talk this through. 

    Thanks for an insight into the Villenson gambit and Keres-Mason gambit batgirl. 

  • 3 years ago


    Interesting is the idea 3...Qh4 4.Ke2 g5:

  • 3 years ago


    That was a nice 3...g5 game.

    I must say that most databases lacked really strong master games and a small number of games overall with the Villemson Gambit,  but 3...g5 did score well at a lower level in the db's that contained them.  

    Qh4+ is certainly a common theme and it leads to some very interesting play.  White has to have a lot of confidence to play the Villemson Gambit while Black has to be careful not to be over-confident. 

  • 3 years ago


    The idea is to provoke Qh4+ Ke2, and the idea is to push towards an endgame with an active king.  Judging from Shirazi's games, where the king often even ventures to f3 in the early matches, it may be better titled the Crazy King Gambit, but hey, that's chess for you.

  • 3 years ago


    I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to play 3.Nf3, but lots of people do, and apparently some alternatives, like 3.Bc4, are quite sound. I was curious about 3.d4 g5!?, which batgirl says gives black good prospects. I checked a few DBs, and the few games I could find with line were losses for black. So I played a bunch of blitz games with a friend who liked the idea of 3...g5, and we had some interesting contests. This particular one was a lot of fun, a three minute blitz game:

  • 3 years ago


    omg! i used to play the Villemson's gambit!! SurprisedCool
    i never found out its name untill now! Thanks for posting!

  • 3 years ago


    Very interesting and a brilliantly presented work.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for posting - great article on an interesting gambit!

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