Budapest Gambit - 2nd edition

8/30/2005 – Vienna's a long way from Austin and Luckenbach, but they have something in common: outlaws. Learn the connection and catch a preview of the new ChessBase training CD, the Budapest Gambit - 2nd Edition, in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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I've always loved outlaws.

Back when I was a teenager in the 1970's, I hated country music (and, believe me, there was a lot to hate back then). But a few of the guys really caught my ear because they did things differently than everybody else, and I grew to love those folks (who eventually even called themselves "outlaws"). You had Waylon Jennings (still a hero of mine) who put this heavy thumpin' backbeat on his records and went loud on the bass; it was really rock'n'roll with a little twang to it. (Everytime I played a Waylon record when I was in radio, I'd crank it way up. I did, that is, until management complained and I noticed that the studio's plate glass windows were starting to get bowed out -- which kind of screwed with the soundproofing -- so I sadly cut it out). Willie Nelson always had this weird phrasing, both singing and playing, that put him everywhere except right on the beat; I didn't realize it at the time, but Willie was heavily influenced by jazz. These days he's even throwing reggae into the mix. And Johnny Cash was just huge, both musically and physically; I met him in 1985 and he looked about nine and a half feet tall, and dressed all in black. Ever since then I've always thought that on Judgement Day, when it's my turn to stand before the throne, I'll stare up at God and he'll look just exactly like Johnny Cash.

See, these guys were cool, because the Nashville "establishment" kept saying to them "You can't" and they kept saying "Why not?" Then they'd go out and do things their way anyhow and sell bazillions of records (Walon, Willie, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser cut the first platinum-selling country album), and the damned Nashville suits would just have to go eat raw unsalted crow.

I loved it and it didn't hit me until many, many years later how much it rubbed off on me. When I was in radio I used to hear program directors and general managers all the time telling me "You can't" and I'd always think "Why not?" Then I'd get on the air, do it my way anyway, and earn astronomical ratings. It never stopped them from showing me the door, though, when they thought I'd gone "too far" -- commercial radio managers have this nasty habit of cutting off their own noses to spite their faces, just to show you "who's boss". It's like that line from The Maltese Falcon about how you can "get away with this and get away with that" but you can't keep getting away with it forever.

Chess, though -- ah, that's a different story. You can get away with it forever if you know your stuff. Years after radio, when I first got into chess "seriously" (I've been playing since I was four, but never got really serious about it until my late twenties), I struggled against everybody for the longest time. I played the usual orthodox beginner's openings (the Giuoco and the other 1.e4 e5 stuff) and lost a ton of games. I'd often hear opponents tell me that I'd "never be any good at this game".

Well, that was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Everytime I hear "You can't", my natural knee-jerk reaction is to think "Why not?" It all came together for me about fourteen years ago when I simultaneously discovered the Evans Gambit and the Budapest Defense. It opened up a whole world of gambit play for me and introduced me to the Hypermoderns of the 1920's.

Those Hypermodern players (Breyer, Tartakower, Reti, Nimzovich, and all the rest) were, and still are, the outlaws of chess. They got fed up with guys like Tarrasch saying that it must be done this way. Those outlaw guys (mostly from Vienna) got sick of all the "You can'ts" and started developing a hard case of the "Why nots?" And chess ain't never been the same since.

Those guys used to love to wind up the orthodox players just for the sheer fun of it. Gyula Breyer's line about how "after 1.e4, White's game is in its death throes" still makes me laugh whenever I think about it -- I can picture Tarrasch turning about eight shades of purple. Nimzo anthropomorphizing his passed pawns, characterizing them as "criminals". Tartakower naming an opening after an ape with whom he allegedly consulted on it. It was real "go to Hell" stuff, and if you don't love it, I guess you just don't get it.

To me, the Budapest Gambit is the ultimate "outlaw" opening. As Black, I hated to see 1.d4 -- I'd answer with a Queen's Gambit or a King's Indian and always get shelled. But after I discovered the Budapest (spurred by a great story about its tournament debut in the Andy Soltis book Karl Marx Plays Chess), I started having a whole lot of fun (even when I still sometimes lost). See, Black's supposed to be "fighting for equality" and isn't supposed to sac a pawn in the opening -- it's the old "You can't" thing again. So I'd say "Why not?", give up that e-pawn, and then enjoy the reaction from my opponent. I used to play this old guy (he was something like three days older than Methuselah) named Les down at the chess club and everytime I'd play e7-e5 Les would sit back in his chair, jerk his head back, and exclaim "Well!!!" as if the audacity of the move was some kind of personal affront to him. I must have played the Budapest against him two or three dozen times and it was never any different; Les'd always go "Well!!!" Man, that never got old.

Now in case you're not familiar with the Budapest, here's the lowdown. White plays 1.d4 and you answer with 1...Nf6. White thinks "King's Indian" and tosses out 2.c4. And that's when you nail him with 2...e5. He goes "Well!!!" and cops off the e-pawn with 3.dxe5, attacking your Knight. He's wondering where the pony's gonna go, thinking that you'll play 3...Ng8 and give up the pawn and the tempi.

But you play 3...Ng4, counterattacking his e-pawn, and the fight is on:

To me, that's just music, baby. That's Waylon singing "Mental Revenge" or Cash singing the line "Shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" or Willie and Waylon duetting on "Write Your Own Songs". It's a challenge. Maybe it is an affront. You throw down the glove as if to say "Whaddya gonna do about it? and then watch the fur fly.

That's why I loved seeing the release of the new ChessBase training CD Budapest Gambit - 2nd Edition by Dmitrij Oleinikov. His first edition of the CD was way cool and the updated version is even better.

In that first edition he adopted a chronological approach to address the Budapest and its variations; Oleinikov's no dummy and he knows it's a tried and true way to learn an opening. The new second edition follows suit and updates the first CD by the addition of new developments in the Budapest since the first CD was released (and, yes, there have been some even though the opening's not widely played at chess' top level -- think "Shirov" and then call the fire department).

In fact, that's the main reason why owners of the first edition would want to buy the new one. Although the new CDs instructional texts are largely unchanged from the first edition, the addition of a new chapter ("The years 2000-2005") bring the theory of the Budapest up to date.

Here's what you'll find on Budapest Gambit - 2nd Edition. The starting point is the main instructional database (called "A51-A52 Instructor" on the disk). It provides a thirteen chapter course in how to play the Budapest, along with a really useful introductory text that lays out how to use the CD by providing three different study methods largely dependant on the playing level of the reader:

  • How to use this CD?
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Two birthdays
  • 3. 1918: Test at the top
  • 4. Under Fire!
  • 5. White searching for +/=
  • 6. Black fighting against +/=
  • 7. Unforgettable season 1984/85
  • 8. Opening tastes of the 90s
  • 9. White attempts to hold the gambit pawn
  • 10. The BG declined
  • 11. Summary
  • 12. The years 2000-2005
  • 13. Useful additional information

The instructional database also contains 195 instructional games (most of which are keyed to various portions of the text: you read a bit, come to a link to a game, study the game and its annotations, and then go back to the text). Almost all of these games are annotated (I'm sure some bean counter will crawl me if I'm wrong, but only three games appear as unannotated in the game list), most of them contain extensive text commentary.

The next stop is the training material: three databases containing timed training games in which you're challenged to find the right move before the predetermined time allotment runs out. All of the games I checked had more than one training question in them, so there's a fair little bit of test material here. The training databases are organized by theme; there's one on strategy, one on tactics, and one on traps.

The main database, useful for research and further study after you've finished the instructional material, has 13, 214 games in it. Nearly two hundred of these are annotated.

Finally there's the Budapest opening book/tree which takes more than 13,000 games and merges them into a statistical game tree which doubles as an opening book for the Fritz family of playing programs. You can use the tree as a sort of study guide: you step through the moves of the tree and at each multi-move branching point see a statistical breakdown of how each move fared in practical play, as well as get rating and performance rating averages for those who played the individual moves. You can also fire up Fritz (or one of its relatives), load the tree as an opening book, and force the chess engine to play nothing but the Budapest -- great for practice and training.

The CD also ships with a copy of ChessBase Reader on the disk, which allows you full access to the CDs material without needing to buy any additional chess software.

Now I fully realize that I'm not an impartial reviewer (which is exactly why the header of this column says "previewed by" instead of "reviewed by"), but I'll tell you true: I love this opening and I love this CD. Oleinikov's mainly chronological approach to addressing the opening is perfect (and really ought to be adopted by more chess writers), the writing is itself clear and lucid (although it was written by a non-native English speaker and edited by a bilingual editor for whom English wasn't a primary language, so the syntax does come off as "Yoda-esque" in a handful of places), and the material is extremely well presented. One deficiency, though, which I found to be unfortunate: there's no instructional material on the Fajarowicz Variation (although it's represented by many games in the main database). Perhaps Mr. Oleinikov would pretty please consider adding that to a third edition of Budapest Gambit.

Even in the absence of the Fajarowicz, Budapest Gambit - 2nd Edition is still a barn-burner of an instructional CD. So if you're feeling a bit ornery, give this CD a whirl and then hat up and ride into town. It ain't a .22 Buntline, but it comes pretty dang near to being the next best thing.

Until next week, keep your powder dry and have fun!


© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.


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