Having Fun with the King's Gambit

by Johannes Fischer
6/11/2014 – Ah, the King's Gambit! A romantic chess opening if there ever was one. But did Bobby Fischer not refute it? And can you still play it in the age of computer chess? Simon Williams thinks you can. He just published two ChessBase DVDs in which he explains how to do so. And in the following interview he reveals why he thinks the King's Gambit is fun.

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Dear Simon Williams, you just published two ChessBase DVDs about the King’s Gambit. When did you get first interested in this opening?

My first recollection of the opening was when I came across it in a book by Raymond Keene. The book was to do with the best games of chess ever played, and there inside that book was the famous Immortal Game, Anderssen vs Kieseritzy, 1851. The game was completely unsound but still left a strong 'artistic' impression on me.


What makes the King’s Gambit attractive?

The King's Gambit is the most 'Romantic' chess opening in chess, no question about that. It has a long history, yet it still manages to mystify and intrigue us in this modern era. You can't not claim to be a chess player until you have tried playing the King's Gambit, at least once!

Tell us how you researched and then condensed all the available material for your DVD?

I started to play the King's Gambit on occasions about 15 years ago, so I had some experience in the opening this helped me know what I should be looking at; for example, what are the most critical variations and what problems does the opening currently have? I then took my personal notes (and secrets!) on the opening from the last 15 years and used these as a basis. I built on this basis by searching through games on chessbase and comparing my notes, to all other publications on the King's Gambit that I could find. Then I structured the DVDs so that the most important variations were covered first and the rest came naturally.

Was that fun?

Hard work! But yes fun as well, I would imagine much more fun than researching a DVD on the Berlin opening...

A lot of people seem to believe that the King’s Gambit is an opening of the past, that it’s outdated, and can no longer be played seriously today. What is your answer to that?

There are a number of ways to answer this question, let me tell you what I think.

1) Many openings from the White perspective are now leading to equal positions, but wouldn't you rather have some fun on the way? Rather than playing the same stuff that everyone else in the world plays!?

2) Players on the Black side, so rarely face the King's Gambit, it has great surprise value. Black will often not be able to remember what is the correct variation to play and drift into a bad position. This is even true at Grandmaster level. As a super strong Grandmaster (2700+) friend of mine said last week. 'Simon I started to realise this opening was very under rated when I saw Nigel Short defeating Garry Kasparov in the Bc4 line (3 Bc4 variation, the game is on DVD 1).


I then thought, well if Nigel can beat Gary, then the opening must be good! Nigel never beats Gary in any other openings!'

Nigel Short played the King's Gambit to beat Garry Kasparov in 15 moves.
However, as a reader correctly pointed out, it was an exhibition game, and Kasparov was
was obliged to play a line of the King's Gambit long known to be bad.

3) Chess should be fun and the King's Gambit is such an aggressive opening, leading to so many different types of attacking positions, the DVD will be useful to anyone in their progression in chess.

4) Also if you are unsure about how to face the King's Gambit, I have tried to be as fair as possible so included Blacks best responses to the opening.

Ever since Fischer’s famous article „A bust to the King’s Gambit“ published in 1961 after his loss to Spassky in a King’s Gambit in Mar del Plata 1960, the variation as a whole seems to have been under a cloud. What do you think about Fischer's article and what it did to the reputation of the King’s Gambit?

Fischer, as always, was well ahead of his time and the article was very relevant at the time and still is now. Computers though have taken his ideas to the next level, the line in question was with 3 Nf3 g5. I have included some interesting ideas against this variation in the second DVD, but my main recommendation is with 3 Bc4. In one line line I look at a Fischer idea from the White side but find some new and interesting improvements.

Bobby Fischer played the King's Gambit with White and Black

Do you have to learn a lot of complicated lines to play the King’s Gambit?

There are some complicated lines, but I have tried to put more emphasis on the general ideas behind the moves so that the viewer can be confident playing the opening, even if he cannot remember the theory.

Is the King’s Gambit more than a one-game-opening? Is it a reliable weapon that can last you for your whole or at least substantial parts of your chess career?

When I play 1 e4, the King's Gambit has been my only reply to 1...e5. So it has served me well for the last 15 years! The King's Gambit is like any other opening in chess. Once you have played it once, it is of course wise to have some other options available.

Simon Williams at the Batavia Tournament 2014 in Amsterdam (Foto: Alina l'Ami)

Let’s take a look at the dark side: How easy is it for Black to achieve equality?

If Black is well prepared then there is a good chance of gaining equality, but dynamic equality, rather then the equality you see in some other openings. Let's put it this way, we are now seeing 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 lead to equality due to the Berlin defence so equality is not such a bad thing, and there is a greater chance that Black will not remember what he was supposed to be doing on the way to gaining equality!

Why do world class players hardly ever venture to play the King’s Gambit?

It is a very risky opening that mainly leads to decisive results. Top players do not like taking so many chances, preferring to have a draw in hand with White.

Who are your heroes of the King’s Gambit?

If Nigel Short is able to beat Kasparov with this opening, then he must be up there...

Morozevich is a current player whom I admire that still plays the opening, but my main heroes must be Spassky and Bronstein. Spassky famously never lost a game in the King's Gambit.

Boris Spassky knows what the King's Gambit is about (Foto: Dagobert Kohlmeyer).

And what is your favorite game in the King’s Gambit? Maybe one played by yourself and one by another player?

I quite enjoyed my game against English Grandmaster Jonathan Parker, as 5 Nge2 was a newish and interesting idea., but I am waiting to play my 'Immortal Game.'



Spassky vs Bronstein, 1960 USSR championship, 1-0, was a very special game.


All in all, did the King’s Gambit give you more pleasure or more pain?

Pleasure!! If you can not get pleasure out of the King's Gambit then I really feel sorry for you!

In one sentence, why should one buy your DVD?

If you are looking for an interesting, romantic opening with a wealth of history then these are the DVDs for you!

Questions: Johannes Fischer

Simon Williams, The King's Gambit, in the Shop...

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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