Romantic chess in modern times

by ChessBase
9/14/2016 – In the romantic era of chess many games followed a similar pattern: a sudden attack was fueled by sacrifices to get a lead in development and, ideally, the opponent was finally mated with a flourish. This way of playing led to a number of gambits, particularly after the opening moves 1.e4 e5. But can you still play that way today? On two ChessBase DVDs Dutch Grandmaster Erwin l'Ami used modern chess engines to take stock of all gambits that might arise after 1.e4 e5. German amateur player Henrik Meyer took a look at Volume 1 of this Gambit Guide.

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Romantic chess in modern times

By Henrik Meyer

GM Erwin L’Ami (ELO 2611, SG Solingen) recently published two DVDs on which he offers a „Gambit Guide through the Open Game“. Are gambits indeed still playable? Does anyone today still play the romantic, 19th century chess featuring sharp gambits, spectacular piece sacrifices, incredible combinations, driven by the desire to mate the enemy king at all costs?

Erwin L'Ami at the Chess Olympiad in Baku (Photo: Pascal Simen

The top players hardly ever play gambits. But why?

GM Anton Demchenko (Winner of the ZMDI-Open Dresden 2016): „Chess has changed. The players in the 19th century did not yet know how to equalize in these sharp openings, but today we do have a huge knowledge about the defensive ressources of such sharp positions. And of course we also have our electronic friend who is able to explain everything to us. The problem is that all these forced lines in gambits are easy to calculate for an engine. Sharp positions are often analysed to death and quickly become simplified and boring. The top players of today prefer a different approach: solid, positional openings with a minimum of forced lines.“

How about club players? What is alluring about playing gambits in the time of computer engines?

Here's the view of an amateur, Ingo Hessenius, a German player with a German rating of 2078. About 25 years ago he started to study gambits. He took part in a theme tournament about the King's Gambit, learned a lot and still uses the gambit today, particularly in blitz and bullet games. After all, such games with a limited amount of time promise the biggest surprise effect. In games with classical time-control gambits are still a surprise but the opponent has much more time to delve into the position and to search for the right continuation.

According to Hessenius strong players sometimes find it alluring to try a gambit because they believe they are tactically stronger and that a gambit will help them to a quick victory.

However, there are also good reasons for the (supposedly) weaker players to play gambits. You often know the lines better than the opponent and if you manage to push him into an unfamiliar position he is more likely to make mistakes. Hessenius also cites another reason to play gambits, and this reason applies to both groups: to play a gambit you have to be well-prepared and if you are well-prepared you begin the game with a psychological advantage.

But what do trainers think about gambits? Are they important for training purposes? Or should one even play them?

The Russian grandmaster Anton Demchenko has a rating of 2604 and is also a coach. He thinks that beginners in particular should play gambits and study gambits carefully to develop a feeling for tactical positions. However, as he point outs, "playing (incorrect) gambits is not a long-term option". But he emphasizes that a player with a rating of 1800+ could start to study gambits in which one side gives material to get positional advantages. According to Demchenko, today people think differently about gambits. In some lines of the Queen's Gambit or the Catalan one would, for example, give the pawn c4 for a long-term advantage, but usually not to initiate sacrificial combinations or to start a king hunt but to get positional advantages.

The Wolga-Benko Gambit which the top players of today try occasionally is another case in point. It shows that gambits are still played today but with a different objective than in the 19th century.

Deep analyses

On his „Gambit Guide through the open game, Vol.1“ Erwin l'Ami shows that almost all gambits that had been played in the past are "incorrect". He offers Black a good repertoire against all kinds of gambits after 1.e4 e5, takes the gambits seriously, and analyses them on grandmaster level.

But he also shows the chances these gambits offer for White and the many dangers Black has to navigate when confronted with a gambit. If Black misses the right move in a sharp gambit line after 1.e4 e5  he might suddenly awake to a piece sacrifice on f7 and it's "game over". A good example is the Urusov Gambit. After the moves 1. e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4?! 4.dxe5 (White already threatens to win a piece with Qd5) 4…Qh4 5.g3 Nxg3 6. Bxf7+ (here we go!) Kxf7 and 7.Qd5+ followed by hxg3 White is already clearly better.

L'Ami is a strong grandmaster and has the help of Fritz&Co. but even he cannot analyse all variations to an end to find the absolute truth. This means that gambits can still be successfully played on grandmaster level, e.g. the Göring Gambit:

Yu Yangyi (2607) - Jumabayev,Rinat (2555) [C44]


I think this DVD offers Black a very good anti-gambit repertoire and that you do not need to fear any gambit with Black when you follow the recommendations on the DVD. However, the gambit player might be a bit disappointed that the whole repertoire is „refuted“. But L´Ami shows that White still has chances and can use the various gambits as surprise weapon. My own experience (100 blitz games on playchess + two tournament games) tells me that most people are not familiar with old gambit lines and often make mistakes.

If you work through this DVD you will have a good idea how to play gambits and you will be able to surprise your opponent in many lines!

Translation: Johannes Fischer

Are you well versed in main lines but are you also often surprised by old and forgotten gambit lines? Or are you tired of main lines and do you prefer some easy to learn, yet very dangerous gambits? This is your DVD! In his Gambit Guide Vol. 1 Dutch Grandmaster Erwin l’Ami takes you on a journey through time and shows gambit lines in the Open Games (that is, after 1.e4 e5). This DVD includes the infamous Frankenstein-Dracula Gambit, the Cochrane Gambit, the Belgrade Gambit and, of course, the mother of all gambits: the King’s Gambit. Many of these long forgotten lines offer plenty of room for creativity and exploration and this DVD is full of new ideas with which you can surprise your opponents. Apart from a theoretical section and illustrative model games the DVD contains a number of exercises, which allow you to test your new knowledge. L’Ami, winner of the Reykjavik open 2015 and a former second to World Champion Veselin Topalov, is the perfect man to guide you through the maze of dazzling complications!

  • Video running time: 6 hours 41 min (English)
  • With interactive training including video feedback
  • Extra: extensive analysis of the theory shown on this DVD
  • Including CB 12 Reader

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