Ernst Karl Falkbeer and his countergambit

by Johannes Fischer
6/27/2019 – With Falkbeer's Countergambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4!?) Black tries to spoil the fun White wants to have in the King's Gambit. A number of top players have tried this countergambit which led to entertaining games. Today, the line is only rarely seen but today, June 27, 2019, Ernst Karl Falkbeer, who gave the countergambit its name, would have celebrated his 200th birthday.

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Looking back on his 200th anniversary

There was a time when the King's Gambit was a popular opening at top tournaments. With 1.e4 e5 2.f4!? White indicates that he is ready to give material to open lines to mate the enemy king.

Perhaps the Austrian Master Ernst Falkbeer thought that it's best to fight fire with fire when he was playing a match against Adolf Anderssen in 1851 and decided to counter Anderssen's King's Gambit with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4!?


With 3...e4 Black sacrifices a pawn to seize the initiative, and indicates that he is ready to give material to open lines to mate the enemy king. When Falkbeer first tried this idea against Anderssen in 1851 he did not have much success but Falkbeer's idea later still found a lot of followers.


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Anderssen himself and other top players of his time such as Paul Morphy, Howard Staunton, Louis Paulsen, Gustav Neumann or Berthold Suhle picked up Falkbeer's idea and scored fine victories with it.

For instance, in 1862 Anderssen won a nice game against Rosanes in Breslau, and in 1858 Paul Morphy won an entertaining casual game against Schulten.


Adolf Anderssen | Photo: German Chess Federation


Later players such as Zukertort, Pillsbury, Lasker, Marshall, Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch or Alekhine occasionally tried Falkbeer's Countergambit just as Keres, Bronstein, Tal or Unzicker. Keres was particularly fond of this line and played it with White and with Black. His game against Vladimir Petrovs at the final of the Soviet Championship 1940 shows how White can strive for tactics and an attack against Black's countergambit.


Paul Keres 1936 | Source unknown

Boris Spassky also enjoyed the tactical potential of this line:


Boris Spassky at the age of 80 | Photo: Dagobert Kohlmeyer

Today, the King's Gambit is a rare guest in top tournaments, and Falkbeer's Countergambit is played even less. It is considered to be dubious and Black has other ways to counter the King's Gambit.

However, today is the 200th birthday of Ernst Falkbeer, the initiator of the idea that led to all these entertaining games.

Ernst Karl Falkbeer (June 27, 1819 - December 14, 1885)

Ernst Karl Falkbeer was born in Brünn but later moved to Vienna to study law. But he did not finish his studies and became a journalist instead. However, the authorities did not like Falkbeer's writings and in 1848 he fled Vienna and went to Germany.

In 1853, Falkbeer returned to Vienna where he founded the Wiener Schachzeitung, one of the first chess magazines in the world. But the magazine did not sell well and after a few issues ceased to exist. Falkbeer now went to England where he was in charge of the chess column of the Sunday Times and worked as an editor at the Chessplayers‘ Magazine. In 1872, he returned to Vienna where he lived until his death on December 14th, 1885.

According to the historical ratings calculated by Jeff Sonas between 1855 and 1858 Falkbeer more than once belonged to the world's top five players.


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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