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I have played the Ponziani for years, and I actually own one of the few books ever published on the opening by TD Harding. During an online tournament the following position arose from 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 d5 4.Qa4 f6 5.Bb5 Ne7 6.exd5:
After the game I asked for a computer analysis, which I always do because I'm naturally curious about where I may have gone wrong or where I could have improved. Interestingly, the computer noted 6. exd5 as a mistake, and that 6. O-O, was stronger.
I thought that was interesting because I have an old, ratty copy of TD Harding's book that lists exd5 as being among the strongest replies. In fact, when I decided to search the database for this position, there were no less than 51 master games in which white plays 6. exd5. In those games, white scored 47.1%, drew 17.6%, and lost 35.3%.
Which leads me to this question...if the move is as solid as all the research suggests, why is the computer labeling this as a mistake?
I am not too keen about 6.0-0, but in any case Black has a fine game after 6.ed5 Qxd5 7.d4 (7.0-0 e4!) Bg4! for example 8.c4 (8.Bc4 Qe4+ 9.Be3 Bxf3 10.Nd2 Bd1!) Qe4+ 9.Be3 Bxf3 10.Nd2 Qg6 and Black has some advantage. These are rather old analyses, which are repeated in the recent repertoire book by Kaufmann.
Harding's books are rich in content, but full of analytical mistakes- I'd rather say they do not stand up against silicon aided analysis.
That's awesome, thanks for the advice Pfren! I went over your analysis and couldn't find any fault with it. Indeed, during the game that I noted one of the problems for white was the uncastled king (I never wound up castling in the game, in fact) and of course the issue that my knight couldn't be developed on it's comfortable c3 square. I completely understand why the opening isn't popular in master games for those reasons, but it still holds a certain antiquaited beauty.
FYI the modern trend in that variation (4.Qa4 f6) is the calm 5.d3, not 5.Bb5 which gives Black an easy plan.
After 5.d3 we have a strange reversed Philidor, where white has committed himself to the odd Qa4, and Black to the even more odd f6. The queen can go back to the natural c2 square, while the pawn cannot go back... Theory currently considers this position as equal, but the position is strategically rich, and both sides can easily go wrong.
The Ponziani?? Wasn't Staunton the last well known practitioner of this oddity?
Go ahead and laugh Crazy. In point of fact it sees some use in postal games and a friend of mine who was a postal master claimed that there really wasn't anything wrong with the Ponziani.
The Ponziani is quite sound. It's only problem is that it's not really challenging. Personally (being mainly an e5 advocate) I have not settled my mind if I prefer 3...d5 or 3...Nf6, but since in those 40 years I play competitive chess I have met the Ponziani only once (I played 3...d5 4.Qa4 Nf6 and won rather easily, although currently 4...Nf6 is not regarded as totally sound), I would probably not bother that much...