30 July 2007

Wing Gambit Deferred

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4:

On another occasion I would probably have played 3.b4, a sacrifice for which White in this particular position has to my mind sufficient strategical reasons. - The Book of the Nottingham International Chess Tournament, with annotations and analysis by A. Alekhine

Thus spake Alekhine, annotating Alekhine - Botvinnik from the fifth round of the 1936 event. The former and future World Champion continued:

But playing for the first time with the Soviet Champion, for whose play I have the greatest appreciation, I did not like the idea of being accused of overweening confidence, undue boldness (and this independent of the result of the game), or of such things as 'under-estimating', 'bluster', etc.

I've played the Wing Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.b4?!; the '?!' is my opinion), both as White and as Black, but I can't remember ever seeing 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4 before. First question: Does it have a name? I would call it the Wing Gambit Deferred, which is indeed the name conferred on it by the Oxford Companion, my preferred guide to the names of chess openings. Second question: Who plays it? Searching ChessLab, I found about 30 games played since 2000. Only one game was conducted by a White player rated over 2500. This is not a solid reference and the W-L-D stats of 26%-55%-19% are even less solid.

Nevertheless, Alekhine, who was no slouch as an opening analyst, cited 'sufficient strategical reasons' to play the move. Did he ever play it himself? There are no games on Chesslab, but that is not conclusive. The first game is from 1937, and Alekhine was writing in 1936. Who else played it? Keres and Spielmann are listed in the early days of the opening, and Bronstein played it later. The stats in the pre-1991 portion of the database are 42%-42%-16%, not brilliant, but not as disastrous as the modern results either.

The main line appears to be 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4 cxb4 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bd3, followed now by 5...e6, 5...d5, 5...g6, or 5...Bg4. Is that enough information for a tournament test? Yes, I believe it is.


chessloser said...

i really like the wing gambit. ive looked at all the wing gambit games on chessgames.com and tried to learn it that way. it definately takes people by surprise, at least at my level.

Mark Weeks said...

There seems to be a significant difference between playing 2.b4 and 2...d6 3.b4. The first continuation allows ...e6, which is less effective in the second variation. - Mark