Two Knights Defense

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Two Knights Defense
a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
c6 black knight
f6 black knight
e5 black pawn
c4 white bishop
e4 white pawn
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
h1 white rook
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6
ECO C55–C59
Origin Late 16th century
Parent Italian Game

The Two Knights Defense is a chess opening that begins with the moves:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6

First recorded by Polerio[1] (c. 1550 – c. 1610) in the late 16th century, this line of the Italian Game was extensively developed in the 19th century. Black's third move is a more aggressive defense than the Giuoco Piano which would result from 3...Bc5. Black invites White to attack his f7-pawn with 4. Ng5. If White accepts the offer, the game quickly takes on a tactical character: Black is practically forced to give up a pawn for the initiative. The complications are such that David Bronstein suggested that the term "defense" does not fit, and that the name "Chigorin Counterattack" would be more appropriate.[2] The Two Knights has been adopted as Black by many aggressive players including Mikhail Chigorin and Paul Keres, and World Champions Mikhail Tal and Boris Spassky. In modern grandmaster play, 3.Bc4 is far less common than 3.Bb5 and the more solid 3...Bc5 is the usual reply, so the Two Knights Defense is infrequently seen. It remains popular with amateur players. The theory of this opening has been explored extensively in correspondence chess by players such as Hans Berliner and Yakov Estrin.


Main variations[edit]

4.Ng5[edit]

German master Siegbert Tarrasch called 4.Ng5 a "duffer's move" (ein richtiger Stümperzug) and Soviet opening theorist Vasily Panov called it "primitive", but this attack on f7 practically wins a pawn by force. Despite Tarrasch's criticism, 4.Ng5 has remained a popular choice for White and it has been played by World Champions Wilhelm Steinitz, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, and Viswanathan Anand.

4...Nxe4[edit]

4...Nxe4?! is considered unsound but must be handled carefully. 5.Nxe4 d5 poses no problems for Black. If 5.Nxf7? Qh4! 6.g3 (6.0-0 Bc5!) Qh3 7.Nxh8 Qg2 8.Rf1 Nd4 9.Qh5+ g6 10.Nxg6 hxg6 11.Qxg6+ Kd8 and Black has dangerous threats.[3] (Alternatively, after 5.Nxf7? Qh4! 6.g3, Black could play more aggressively 6. ... Nxg3! 7. fxg3 Qe4+ 8. Qe2 Qxh1+ 9. Qf1 Qxf1+ 10. Kxf1 d5 11. Bxd5 Bh3+ 12. Ke1 Nb4 13. Bb3 Nxc2+ 14. Bxc2 Kxf7 with a distinct advantage of material for Black.) Correct is 5.Bxf7+! Ke7 6.d4! (6.d3 is also good) and now:

  1. 6...d5 7.Nc3! (best, discovered by Soviet player Lopukhin; White has a clear advantage) Nxc3 8.bxc3 Qd6 (8...Bf5 9.Qf3±; 8...e4 9.f3!) 9.a4! Kd8 10.Bg8! Ke8 11.Bxh7± (Estrin).[4][3]
  2. 6...h6 7.Nxe4 Kxf7 and now 8.dxe5 Qe8 9.f4 d6 10.0-0 (±) Kg8 11.Nbc3 dxe5 12. f5 Qf7 13.Nd5 Bd7 14.f6 g6 15.Ne7+! and White has excellent chances (Estrin).[4][3]

4...Bc5 (Traxler Variation or Wilkes-Barre Variation)[edit]

This bold move ignores White's attack on f7 and leads to wild play. Czech problemist Karel Traxler played it against Reinisch in Hostouň in 1896. Some decades later, several Pennsylvania chess amateurs, (mainly K. Williams) analyzed the variation and decided to name it after their hometown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, so today 4...Bc5 is known as both the Traxler Variation and (in the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom[5] only) the Wilkes-Barre Variation.

White can play 5.d4, 5.Nxf7, or 5.Bxf7+. After 5.d4 d5!, White's best is to go into an equal endgame after 6.dxc5 dxc4 7.Qxd8+. Other sixth moves have scored very badly for White.

5.Nxf7 is very complicated after 5...Bxf2+. The current main lines all are thought to lead to drawn or equal positions, e.g. after 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1, or even 7.Ke3.

White's best try for an advantage is probably 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 6.Bb3 (although 6.Bd5 was the move recommended by Lawrence Trent in his recent Fritztrainer DVD),[6] as this poses Black the most problems. No grandmasters have regularly adopted the Wilkes-Barre as Black, but Alexander Beliavsky and Alexei Shirov have played it occasionally even in top competition. No clear refutation is known.

4...d5 (the main line)[edit]

After 4... d5 White has little option but to play 5. exd5, since both the bishop and e4 pawn are attacked. Then Black usually plays 5... Na5 but there are other options:

  • The recapture 5...Nxd5?! is extremely risky. Albert Pinkus tried to bolster this move with analysis in 1943 and 1944 issues of Chess Review, but White gets a strong attack with either the safe Lolli Variation 6.d4! or the sacrificial Fried Liver (or Fegatello) Attack 6.Nxf7!? Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3. These variations are usually considered too difficult for Black to defend over the board, but they are sometimes used in correspondence play. Lawrence Trent describes 5...Nxd5 as "a well-known bad move" (or words to that effect).[6]
  • The Fritz Variation 5...Nd4 and Ulvestad's Variation 5...b5 are related as they share a common subvariation. American master Olav Ulvestad introduced 5...b5 in a 1941 article in Chess Review. White has only one good reply: 6.Bf1!, protecting g2 so White can answer 6...Qxd5? with 7.Nc3. Both 6.Bxb5 Qxd5 7.Bxc6 Qxc6 and 6.dxc6 bxc4 7.Nc3 are weak. Black's best response is to transpose to the Fritz Variation with 6...Nd4, making another advantage of 6.Bf1 apparent—the bishop is not attacked as it would be if White had played 6.Be2. German master Alexander Fritz (1857–1932) suggested 5...Nd4 to Carl Schlechter, who wrote about the idea in a 1904 issue of Deutsche Schachzeitung. In 1907 Fritz himself wrote an article about his move in the Swedish journal Tidskrift för Schack. White's best reply is 6.c3, when the game often continues 6...b5 7.Bf1 Nxd5 8.Ne4 or 8.h4.
a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
c6 black pawn
d6 black bishop
f6 black knight
h6 black pawn
a5 black knight
e5 white knight
e4 black pawn
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
e2 white bishop
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
h1 white rook
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Main line of Two Knights Defense, after 10...Bd6

After 5...Na5, Paul Morphy would play to hold the gambit pawn with 6.d3. The Morphy Variation (or Kieseritzky Attack) has not been popular, since it has long been known that Black obtains good chances for the pawn with 6...h6 7.Nf3 e4 8.Qe2 Nxc4 9.dxc4 Bc5. (Bronstein once tried the piece sacrifice 8.dxe4!? with success, but its soundness is doubtful.[2][7])

Instead, White usually plays 6.Bb5+, when play usually continues 6...c6 (6...Bd7 is also possible[6]) 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6. (The move 8.Qf3?!, popular in the nineteenth century and revived by Efim Bogoljubov in the twentieth, is still played occasionally, but Black obtains a strong attack after either 8...h6!, 8...Rb8, or 8...Be7.) White then has a choice of retreats for the knight. The usual move here is 9.Nf3, after which Black obtains some initiative after 9...e4 10.Ne5 Bd6. This is the Knorre Variation (see diagram), and is considered to be the main line of the Two Knights Defense. After ten moves, White has developed only two pieces against Black's three pieces and pawns, but has an extra pawn as well as a better pawn structure. Both 11.d4 and 11.f4 have been tried here with no definitive conclusion. 10...Bc5 is a viable alternative for Black, as is 10...Qc7 (the Goring Variation).[8]

Steinitz favored 9.Nh3 instead, although it did not bring him success in his famous 1891 cable match against Chigorin. The Steinitz Variation was mostly forgotten until Fischer revived it in the 1960s. Nigel Short led a second revival of 9.Nh3 in the 1990s, and today it is thought to be about equal in strength to the more common 9.Nf3. In addition to the moves 8.Be2 and 8.Qf3, the move 8.Bd3 is a valid alternative that has apparently become fashionable in recent years.[6]

4.Nc3[edit]

The attempt to defend the pawn with 4.Nc3 does not work well since Black can take the pawn anyway and use a fork trick to regain the piece, 4.Nc3?! Nxe4! 5.Nxe4 d5. The try 5.Bxf7+? does not help, as Black has the bishop pair and a better position after 5...Kxf7 6.Nxe4 d5. Instead, 4.Nc3 is usually played with the intent to gambit the e-pawn with the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit, 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.0-0. This gambit is not commonly seen in tournament play as it is not well regarded by opening theory, but it can offer White good practical chances, especially in blitz chess.

4.d3[edit]

The quiet move 4.d3 transposes into the Giuoco Pianissimo if Black responds 4...Bc5, but there are also independent variations after 4...Be7 or 4...h6. White tries to avoid the tactical battles that are common in other lines of the Two Knights and to enter a more positional game. The resulting positions take on some characteristics of the Ruy Lopez if White plays c3 and retreats the bishop to c2 via Bc4–b3–c2. This move became popular in the 1980s and has been used by John Nunn and others. Black can confound White's attempt to avoid tactical play with 4...d5!?. This move is rarely played as opening theory does not approve, but Jan Piński suggests that it is better than is commonly believed. In practice after 5. exd5 White still has strong winning chances.[9]

4.d4[edit]

White can choose to develop rapidly with 4.d4 exd4 5.0-0. Now Black can equalize simply by eliminating White's last center pawn with 5...Nxe4, after which White regains the material with 6.Re1 d5 7.Bxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc3 but Black has a comfortable position after 8...Qa5 or 8...Qh5, or obtain good chances with the complex Max Lange Attack after 5...Bc5 6.e5 d5. The extensively analyzed Max Lange can also arise from the Giuoco Piano or Scotch Game. White can choose to avoid these lines by playing 5.e5, a line often adopted by Sveshnikov. After 5.e5, either 5...Ne4 or 5...Ng4 is a playable reply, but most common and natural is 5...d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bc5, with sharp play. The tricky 5.Ng5?! is best met by 5...d5! 6.exd5 Qe7+!.

COTT[edit]

a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
c6 black knight
e5 black pawn
c4 white bishop
e4 black knight
c3 white knight
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
f1 white rook
g1 white king
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit
a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
c6 black knight
f6 black knight
c5 black bishop
d5 black pawn
e5 white pawn
c4 white bishop
d4 black pawn
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
f1 white rook
g1 white king
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Max Lange Attack
a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
c6 black knight
f6 black knight
c5 black bishop
e5 black pawn
g5 white knight
c4 white bishop
e4 white pawn
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
h1 white rook
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7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Wilkes-Barre or Traxler Variation

White must respond to the attack on his e-pawn. (For explanation of notation, see chess opening theory table.)

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Wilkes-Barre or Traxler Variation Ng5
Bc5!?
Bxf7+!
Ke7
Bb3!
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Lolli Variation ...
d5
exd5
Nxd5!?
d4!
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Fried Liver Attack ...
...
...
...
Nxf7!?
Kxf7
Qf3+
Ke6
Nc3
-
-
-
-
-

Morphy Variation ...
...
...
Na5
d3
h6
Nf3
e4
Qe2
Nxc4
dxc4
Bc5
-
-
Main Line ...
...
...
...
Bb5+
c6
dxc6
bxc6
Be2
h6
Nf3
e4
Ne5
-
Steinitz Variation ...
...
...
...
...
...
...
...
...
...
Nh3
-
-
-
Ulvestad Variation ...
...
...
b5
Bf1!
Nd4
c3
Nxd5
Ne4
-
-
-
-
-
Fritz Variation ...
...
...
Nd4
c3
b5
Bf1!
Nxd5
Ne4
-
-
-
-
-
...
Nxe4?!
Bxf7+!
Ke7
d4!
d5
Nc3!
Nxc3
bxc3
Qd6
a4!
Kd8
Bg8!
-
Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit Nc3
Nxe4
0-0
Nxc3
dxc3
Qe7
Ng5
Nd8
-
-
-
-
-
-
Giuoco Pianissimo, by transposition d3
Bc5
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
3 ...
d5!?
exd5
Nxd5
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
4 ...
Be7
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
5 d4
exd4
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
6 ...
...
0-0
Nxe4
Re1
d5
Bxd5
Qxd5
Nc3
-
-
-
-
-
Max Lange Attack ...
...
...
Bc5
e5
d5
exf6
dxc4
Re1+
Be6
Ng5
Qd5
Nc3
Qf5
8 ...
...
e5
d5
Bb5
Ne4
Nxd4
Bc5
-
-
-
-
-
-
9 ...
...
...
Ne4
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
10 ...
...
...
Ng4
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-

References[edit]

  1. ^ Y.Estrin (1983). The Two Knight's Defence. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-3991-2. 
  2. ^ a b Bronstein, David (1991) [1973]. 200 Open Games. Dover. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-486-26857-8. 
  3. ^ a b c Harding & Botterill (1977), p. 66
  4. ^ a b Estrin (1971), p. 67
  5. ^ Elburg, John (2002). "New in Chess Year book issue 65". Chessbook Reviews. Chess Books. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  6. ^ a b c d http://chessbase-shop.com/en/products/two_knight%E2%80%98s_defence
  7. ^ Bronstein–Rojahn, Moscow Olympiad 1956 at chessgames.com
  8. ^ Chess Openings Viewer, C59: Club Aranjuez de Ajedrez
  9. ^ http://www.365chess.com/opening.php?m=9&n=2569&ms=e4.e5.Nf3.Nc6.Bc4.Nf6.d3.d5&ns=3.5.5.6.80.412.249.2569

Bibliography

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]