A dubious knight sac in the MacLeod Defense

Apr 11, 2011, 5:44 AM |

I like playing black against the King’s Gambit where I like to deviate from the common defenses such as the Classical, Abbazia, Modern or the Fischer Defense. Instead, I prefer using the MacLeod Defense. I guess not a lot of players know that this Defense exists - I actually just learned of this opening's name while writing this blog. One reason for this choice is to destroy white’s kingside with an immediate attack by sacrificing my knight on d4 in case of 4.Bc4.

MacLeod Defense is named after my fellow Canadian Nicholas Menalaus MacLeod (1870 – 1965). Macleod’s chess record is not that all exciting with only 17.9 winning percentage based on his 42 games captured by chessgames.com on its database.

Wikipedia cited this Scottish-Canadian chess master as a world-record holder. In the 6th American Chess Congress held in New York in 1889, he amassed a world-record 31 lost games while winning six and drawing one, finishing last out of 20 players. Well, learning of this chess legend’s accomplishments somehow boosts my morale not to give up chess.

He was able to amuse fellow chess enthusiasts though when he handed Emmanuel Lasker his worst loss, checkmating the World Champion with two queens on the board. An article by Bill Wall on this link http://www.chess.com/article/view/laskers-worst-loss has the full story. According to Wall’s article, he took 1st place in the Canadian chess championship in 1886 (at age 16, the youngest Canadian champion ever), 1887, and 1888.

Going back to the MacLeod Defense, it is given by the following moves in King’s Gambit Accepted, 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nc6. Usually, white answers 4.d4 or 4.Bc4. In case of 4.d4, I’m prepared to meet this with 4…Nf6 followed by d5 (or Ne4 in case of 5.e5) and I believe black is fairly even and could annoy white with some possible pins by Bg4 or Bb4. However, if white moves 4.Bc4, I am excited! My response would be 4…Bc5, expecting white to move 5.d4, which happens almost all the time after 4…Bc5. In this case, why not gambit the knight with 5...Nxd4 and gain the initiative to attack with Qh4+?

Some of my games on this line ended in less than 10 moves (like the ones shown below) because after 6.Nxd4 Qh4+ 7.Kf1 Nf6, white has only one correct response. Failing to make this correct move, white could lose his knight on d4, or worse, risks getting an early checkmate! The position after 5.d4 is shown below. You will notice that black's alternative to retreating his bishop is 5...Nxd4.

I checked the games explorer of chess.com and chessgames.com for any games on this line but there is none. I had been playing this line for a long time with fairly good results in both online blitz games and over-the-board blitz in our chess club. This knight gambit has proven to be dangerous too against white in the Vienna Gambit opening. Searching using google on King's Gambit with Nxd4 returned one result in a forum saying that this opening scored well in correspondence chess. I snipped an image of the discussion as shown below (source: http://www.chesspub.com/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1235623851).:


Some recent games I have on this line are shown below together with Chess.com’s 2500-level analysis. The image below shows the position after 7...Nf6. Black threatens Ng4 followed by Qf2#. The only correct move of white to avoid losing the knight on d4 while defending the f2 square is 8.c3. Three games shown below ended quickly because the opponents moved something else. In the case of 8.c3., black could equalize in material by 8...Ng4, 9.Qf3 Nxh2+, and winning the exchange in case of 10.Rxh2.

Black however could opt to maintain pressure by protecting the f4 pawn with g5 to prevent white from developing his dark-squared bishop. Black's knight occupies a good square on g4 and could not be kicked out from that square by white's h3 because of the pin on the rook. The knight can create some opportunities for Black as it can jump to either e5 or e3, menacing white with a fork of his hanging bishop with the queen.

The pgn files of my recent games and the analysis are as follows:

This game was played in chesscube with a bet of 200 cubits in 5/0 blitz:
These two game finished in eight moves:
This game finished in only 10 moves.
This game finished in only 9 moves.
Some games I had using this gambit in the Vienna Gambit are shown next. [THIS IS AN EDIT FROM THE ORIGINAL POST TO INCLUDE A RECENT GAME ON VIENNA GAMBIT HERE AT CHESS.COM SHOWING THE SAME KNIGHT SAC ON d4]. The first game is played at chess.com and succeeding games were played in ICC:
A short game using the MacLeod Defense (with 4.d4):