Jon Speelman's Agony Column #24

by Jonathan Speelman
10/20/2016 – 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+ is known as the Jerome Gambit, a wacky, completely unsound invention of a US Civil War veteran in the 19th century. Morbid curiosity led Rick Kennedy to do a lot of historical research and in fact start a Jerome Gambit blog on the opening, which currently has over 2,300 posts. He submitted two games to our Agony and Ecstasy columnist, who presents Rick's analysis while dropping in the odd note of sanity.

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Jon Speelman's Agony Column #24

When I initiated this column half a year ago, I wanted it to be an opportunity for readers who would not otherwise have such a public forum to show their games and submit them to gentle analysis. It's intended to be informative and above all fun, but I do appreciate that it takes some nerve to expose games to scrutiny, especially disasters. And today I salute a reader who sent me two games in the full knowledge that they both start with what is, in the cold light of day, a totally insane gambit. And so both are totally "unsound". He is Rick Kennedy a class B player (about 1600ish) from Columbus Ohio and the opening is the "Jerome Gambit".

Rick, who is 64, retired after 40 years as a clinical social worker. He writes: "My wife Libby is a retired school psychologist. December will see our 40th wedding anniversary. We have three children, (Matthew, Mary, Jon), a daughter-in-law (Melanie) and a grandson (Cole). The adults know how to play chess, but do so infrequently. I have placed my pawnpushing hopes on the 1½-year-old.

Researching unusual chess openings has always interested me. Along with Riley Sheffield, I wrote The Marshall Gambit in the French and Sicilian Defences (Caissa, 1988) about 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 c5!? and 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 d5!? – openings championed by the American Frank Marshall.

Both Marshall Defences approach legitimacy. The Jerome Gambit, however, runs from it furiously. Morbid curiosity led me to do a lot of historical research and analysis on 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+ and in mid-2008 I began my Jerome Gambit blog on the opening, with posts daily, then every other day. I passed post #2,300 a while ago.

Rick continues: When I first encountered this opening, the Jerome Gambit, all I could think of was "Who was this guy Jerome, and why are they blaming this horrible opening on him??" After 15 years of research and play I have come to appreciate the wacky, completely unsound invention of U.S. Civil War veteran (and later hemp farmer) Alonzo Wheeler Jerome, officer, 26th Infantry, United States Colored Troops.

Actually, over the years many club players seem to have invented and re-invented the opening, unaware of Jerome's 1874 (and later) published analysis and games. The Jerome is a fun blitz opening – as a chess friend, who plays at his local tavern said, either way, the game is over quickly – or a way to give a weaker player "odds". As a therapist of 40 years, I can say, too, that the Jerome is a fascinating study in the field of "errors in thinking".

I have no illusions about the Jerome Gambit. In fact, years ago the United States Chess Federation's magazine for children, Chess Life for Kids, published my article on the Jerome titled "The Worst Chess Opening Ever". Still, it's fun, and it can be educational. If Emil Josef Diemer could call his Blackmar Diemer Gambit a "high school for chess tactics", then I suppose I can call the Jerome Gambit a "pre-school for chess tactics".

When I (JS) looked at the games, I found them entertaining and instructive as to how to deal with such 19th century guerrilla opening tactics. Indeed, I was rather hoping to be able to use this gambit myself occasionally at blitz. You don't need software to realise that this should be utterly refutable, but unfortunately there is a very clean and boring refutation starting with 7...d6 in the second game, so I guess if I'm looking for occasional blitz insanity I should go for the glorious Halloween Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5 Nxe5 5.d4...

The games were played in an online tournament in which the Giuoco Piano was mandatory – but not of course in this extravagant form. The time limit was actually a stonking three days per move, but obviously none of the players availed themselves of software, which would totally have spoiled the fun. Rick presented himself as "perrypawnpusher" and I've used his notes, dropping in the odd note of sanity as JS.

[Event ""] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.04.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Perrypawnpusher"] [Black "Shalloworange"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C50"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "29"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. Bxf7+ Kxf7 5. Nxe5+ {[#]} Nxe5 6. Qh5+ Ke6 { Brave or foolish, depending upon knowledge and strength. It is one of the accepted refutations. White should not have enough attack for his two sacrificed pieces.} 7. Qf5+ Kd6 8. Nc3 ({More frequently seen is} 8. f4 Qf6 $1 {JS You can also play Qh4+ first. As usual in these sorts of gambits if the defender returned material at the right moment he should get the advantage.} 9. fxe5+ Qxe5 10. Qf3 Nf6 11. Nc3 Kc6 12. d3 d6 {and JS: Black's king is perfectly safe, so he's winning.}) 8... c6 (8... Qf6 $1 9. d4 Bxd4 10. Nb5+ Kc5 11. Nxd4 d6 {JS and again White doesn't have enough.}) 9. d4 Bxd4 10. Bf4 Qf6 11. O-O-O {[#] You have to admit, White's game "flows" - even if it is downhill.} Qxf5 12. Rxd4+ {Giving Black the opportunity to realize that White has "forgotten" to recapture the Queen. Can he take advantage of that?} Kc5 { It looks like it.} (12... Ke6 $1 13. exf5+ Kxf5 {JS leaves White clutching at straws.}) 13. Be3 {[#] Nefarious, but a swindle nonetheless.} Qe6 $4 ({In all fairness, though, Black could have stuffed White's play with} 13... Kb6 { withdrawing his King, when there is nothing better than} 14. exf5 {anyhow, and Black's king will escape to c7, either before or after playing ...d7-d6. Still, an even game is a pretty reasonable place to be for a Jerome Gambiteer. JS In fact Rick is underestimating his chances by now. Not only will Black have to spend time safeguarding his king but his black squares are terrible and after} Kc7 (14... d6 $1 15. Rxd6+ Kc7 16. Rd4 Nf7 17. Bf4+ Kb6 {is given as better by Houdini}) 15. Bf4 d6 16. Ne4 Nf7 17. Nxd6 Nxd6 18. Bxd6+ Kb6 19. Bf8 $1 { White is better.}) 14. Rd5+ Kc4 15. Rc5+ {[#] JS And mate next move. Of course, as Rick freely admits, this opening is balderdash in the highest sense, but it can lead to a lot of fun and this game in particular is a lesson about returning material to stem an attack. Black failed to do so, grabbed the white queen like in a game from the mid nineteenth century and was punished.} 1-0

[Event "Giuoco Piano tourney"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.04.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Perrypawnpusher"] [Black "Dzetto00"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C50"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. Bxf7+ Kxf7 5. Nxe5+ Nxe5 6. Qh5+ Kf8 { Another refutation. Why risk one's king? Let White continue to take all the chances.} 7. Qxe5 {[#]} Qe7 (7... d6 $1 {is unfortunately extremely convincing and far too safe for Black.} 8. Qg3 Nf6 9. d3 (9. Nc3 Nh5 $1 {is similar} 10. Qf3+ Qf6 11. Qe2 Nf4 12. Qf1 Bd4) 9... Nh5 $1 10. Qf3+ Qf6 {and by forcing the exchange of queens Black stops all the fun. The point is that if} 11. Qxh5 $2 ( 11. Qe2 Nf4 12. Qf3 Ne6 13. Qxf6+ gxf6 {[#] and White does have two pawns for the piece and some central control, But without the queens on it isn't any fun at all.}) 11... Qxf2+ 12. Kd1 Qxg2 {is curtains.}) 8. Qf4+ Ke8 9. O-O {Again, all White can do is develop and look for chances. Is there a pint handy?} Bd6 $6 {JS It's odd to block the d-pawn.} (9... d6 {is normal}) 10. Qf3 c5 $6 { JS This prevents d4 but is very ugly} 11. d3 h6 $6 {JS Losing time} (11... Nf6) 12. Nc3 Nf6 13. Bf4 Bxf4 14. Qxf4 {[#] JS With two pawns for the piece, a lead in development and Black, of course, unable to castle, White has excellent practical chances.} d6 15. Rae1 Nh5 $5 (15... Qe5 16. Qd2 g5 {JS is one possibility but in practice this is terribly difficult for Black.}) 16. Qd2 Be6 17. f4 Kd7 18. e5 (18. d4 {JS would already be pretty unpleasant for Black}) 18... Rhf8 (18... g6 {[#] JS is better because Black needs to blockade f5 at all costs.} 19. Nb5 d5 20. Nd6) 19. d4 (19. Nb5 d5 20. c4 d4 21. Nd6 {is most unpleasant because f5 is threatened (it wouldn't have been had Black played g6 rather than Rf8) and if} g6 (21... Nxf4 $1 {would bail out with some chances} 22. Rxf4 Qg5 23. Ref1 Rxf4 24. Rxf4 Rf8 25. g3) 22. b4 {the black king is in terrible trouble.}) 19... Rxf4 {Giving the sacrificed piece back, a standard defensive motif, but I am not sure that it was necessary. JS By now it was difficult since if} (19... d5 20. f5 Rxf5 21. Rxf5 Bxf5 22. Nxd5 Qh4 23. dxc5 Rd8 {White has easily enough for the piece} 24. Rd1 (24. g3 Nxg3 25. Qf2 Ne2+ 26. Rxe2 Qg4+ {is suggested by Houdini, but surely you'd never expose your king as White in practice.}) 24... Kc8 25. c6 bxc6 26. Qc3 Bd7 27. e6 Be8 28. e7 Rxd5 29. Rxd5 Qxe7 {is a normal human continuation, but in fact software also suggest 24.g3}) 20. Rxf4 Nxf4 21. Qxf4 {[#]} Qg5 {A mistake, but psychologically interesting. My opponent has returned the sacrificed piece and now wants to exchange queens. Is there a way I can move on to a "draw in hand, maybe a win" position? JS By now White has a big (indeed strictly speaking a winning) advantage, but this should make things worse.} 22. Qxg5 $2 {A horror. In my calculations I had totally overlooked Black's simple 25th move.} ({ Instead} 22. Qf3 {JS: preserves the attacking queen and indeed should lead to slaughter. It's odd that Rick agreed to exchange queens, but of course he did think that he had a clear win.}) 22... hxg5 23. d5 Bf5 24. e6+ Ke7 25. Rf1 Rf8 {[#] Of course. I had all sorts of "squeezes" after a bishop move. Now I had a draw, which my opponent gently suggested, and I meekly agreeed to.} (25... Rf8 26. Nb5 a6 27. Nxd6 Kxd6 28. g4 g6 29. c4 {JS: was still clearly better for White As Rick said in his original mail to me, the "Agony" is relative, but it was a shame to spoil this game after taking such a risk in the opening.}) 1/2-1/2

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.


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