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Albin Countergambit

Is the Albin Countergambit playable? Opinions are divided. In the past, two revered Grandmasters, Grunfeld and Samisch, categorically stated: "Absolutely not!" At the present time this judgment is shared by most players, and almost all opening manuals. Statistics support this: Black loses more than 90% of the games played in the main lines, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.g3 Bg4 (or 5...Be6, or 5...Bf5) 6.Bg2 Qd7 7. O-O O-O-O 8.Qb3 Nge7 8.Rd1 or 8.Nbd2 h5 9.b4! Bxb4 10.Qa4, as White is quicker in creating the attack.

On the other hand, the Albin offers interesting tactical possibilities for Black and many great players: Alekhine, Lasker, Marshall, Tartakover, Spielmann, Euwe, Keres, and even masters of positional play such as Schlechter and Maroczy have tried it at least once. In recent times, the Albin has been adopted mainly by mid-level players who boldly enter into the ensuing complications, but, in my opinion, they do not employ the right ideas behind this opening. So we will show some important games and ideas and correct PRINCIPLES as to how the Albin can be played successfully, as formulated by Czechoslovakian Master Karel Prucha and published in Ceskoslovensky Sach 9/1962:

 

Albin Countergambit D08
Lignell--Niemela
Finland 1941

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Nbd2 f6 6.exf6 Nxf6

The alternative 6...Qxf6 is sharper, according to Kurt Richter (of Richter-Rauzer fame!), but less promising, in my opinion.

 

7.a3 Bg4 8.g3 Qe7!?

8...Qd7 is usual, but the text is not a novelty. In the first half of this century the plan with 8...Qe7 was seen in many games. The idea is obvious, Black immediately creates pressure down the e-file.

 

9.Bg2 d3! 10.e3 Nd4 11.O-O?

11.h3 was obligatory. Now Black achieves a strong and probably decisive attack.

 

11...Ne2+ 12.Kh1 O-O-O 13.b4

Now 13.h3 will be met by 13...h5!

 

13...h5

Please notice the reason for Black's coming success, a pattern which we shall see in almost all further examples. In comparison with the theoretical main lines, the roles are reversed. Here the position of White's King makes it a definite target and it is Black who first begins to develop an attack.

 

14.Qb3 h4 15.gxh4 Ne4 16.Nxe4 Bxf3 17.Ng5

17...Qxg5! 18.hxg5 Rxh2+ 19.Kxh2 Bd6+ 20.Kh1 Rh8 Mate

This is a rare example of a recorded game between two German soldiers, played somewhere at the front (Deutsche Schachblatter, issue 9-10/1941).

 

Albin Countergambit D08
Strastil--Gensbaur
Europe 1941

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.g3 f6 6.exf6 Nxf6 7.Bg2 Bf5 8.O-O Qd7 9.a3 O-O-O 10.Nbd2 g5!?

The opening guides suggest only the plan for an attack by 10...Bh3, followed by ...h7-h5. This daring idea of sacrificing a second pawn is neglected, but, as we shall see, not completely forgotten.

 

11.Nxg5 Rg8 12.Ngf3 Bd6 13.Qa4?

According to Kurt Richter, White should play 13.Re1 followed by 14. Nf1, or 13.b4 followed by 14.Nb3, and Black will have difficulties proving the correctness of the second sacrifice. Maybe so, but the correctness of Richter's suggestion is also unproven!

 

13...Nh5 14.b4 Bh3 15.b5

15...Bxg3! 16.bxc6

Hoping for a counterattack. The alternative 16.fxg3 seems to be hopeless, a possible continuation is 16... Nxg3 17.hxg3 Rxg3 18.Rf2 Qg4 19. Ne1 Rdg8 and 20...Bxg2 wins.

 

16...Bxh2+! 17.Nxh2

In case of 17.Kxh2, Richter shows the following beautiful variation: 17... Rxg2+ 18.Kh1 Qg4 19.Ne1 Qg3!! 20.Ndf3 Qxf2! and wins.

 

17...Rxg2+ 18.Kh1 Rxh2+??

Instead 18...Qg7! wins. Now White not only has defensive possibilities, but probably winning chances.

 

19.Kxh2 Qd6+ 20.Kxh3??

Correct is 20.f4!, and if 20...Nxf4 21.Ne4 Qg6 22.Ng3 Bxf1 23.Bxf4, or 20...Bxf1 21.Nxf1 Nxf4 22.Bxf4 Qxf4+ 23.Ng3, in both cases with a successful defense -- K. Richter.

 

20...Nf4+ 21.Kh2 Nxe2+ 22.f4 Qh6+ 23.Kg2 Rg8+ 24.Kf2 Nc3

24...Qh2+ 25.Ke1 Nc3 wins immediately.

 

25.cxb7+ Kb8 26.Qd1 Qxf4+?

Again Black misses an obvious mate by 26...Qh2+ 27.Ke1 Re8+.

 

27.Nf3

Also inadequate, but longer, was 27.Qf3 Qh2+ 28.Ke1 Re8+ 29.Ne4 Nxe4 30.Qe2 Qg3+ 31.Rf2 Qc3+ and Black wins.

 

27...Qg3 mate

This was not a perfectly played game, but the idea of quickly opening the g-file doubtless deserves attention. Presented below is an example with a modern design of this idea.

 

Albin Countergambit D08
Barbora--Benesch
corre. 1980/81

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3 Be6 6.Nbd2 f6 7.exf6 Nxf6 8.g3 Qd7 9.Bg2 Bh3 10.O-O O-O-O 11. b4 Bxg2 12.Kxg2 g5!? 13.Nb3?!

As shown in this game, the rejection of the sacrificed pawn is not a good decision. However, when the pawn is captured, the pattern is very complicated, full of tactical possibilities (for both sides!) and totally unclear, as shown by the following example: 13.Nxg5 h5 14.h4 Ne5 15.Qb3?! d3! 16.e4 Ng6 17. Ndf3 Bh6 18.Bb2?! Bxg5 19.Nxg5 Nxh4 20.Kh2 Ng4+ 21.Kh1 Rhg8 22.gxh4 Rxg5 23.f4 Nf2+. Make your own analysis and your own assessment!

 

13...g4 14.Ne1 Ne5 15.c5?

15.Nd3 was mandatory.

 

15...d3!

The most typical tactical tool in the Albin, the Kamikaze pawn, opens the gates for Black's pieces against the position of White's King.

 

16.Nxd3

This loses, but after 16.exd3 Qd5+ White's position is not enviable.

 

16...Qc6+ 17.Kg1 Rxd3! 18.exd3 Nf3+ 19.Kh1 Qd5! 20.Na5 Qh5 21.h4 Nxh4 22.gxh4 Qxh4+ 0-1

For if 23.Kg1 g3 23.fxg3 Qxg3+ 24.Kh1 Qh4+ 25.Kg2 Rg8+ 26.Kf3 Rg3+ 27.Kf2 (27.Ke2 Rg2+ 28. Ke3 Bh6+) 28...Ng4+ 29.Ke2 Rg2+ 30.Kf3 Qg3+ 31.Ke4 Qe5+ 32.Kf3 Qd5+ 33.Kf4 Bh6 mate.

The previous games involved long castling and exciting mutual attacks. In the next three successful Albins, the gambit is handled purely positionally, according to Prucha's principles. Let's start with one of his games.

 

Albin Countergambit D09
Mejzlik--Prucha
Trebic 1957

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.g3 Bg4 6.Bg2 f6!? 7.exf6 Nxf6 8.O-O Bc5 9.a3 a5 10.Bg5 O-O 11. Bxf6?! Qxf6 12.Nbd2 Rae8

It would seem that the pressure along the e- and f-files is enough compensation for the pawn.

 

13.Nb3 Ba7 14.Nc1 Qe7 15.Kh1 Kh8 16.b3 Rf6 17.Ra2 Re6 18.Qd2 Bc5 19.Qb2 Qf8!

Threatening 20...d3!

 

20.h3?

Perhaps the losing move, because it weakens the shelter of the King and Black achieves a powerful attack. Remember Lasker's advice: "After castling, don't move the pawns around your King if it is not mandatory!"

 

20...Rh6 21.h4 Qf5 22.Kg1 Rhe6 23.Qd2 h6 24.Kh2 Qh5 25.Kg1 Qf5 26.Kh2 Qf8!

Creating weaknesses on White's queenside, because, if the a3-pawn is protected by 27.Qb2, then 27...d3! is very strong.

 

27.a4 Nb4 28.Rb2

28...d3!

Now this typical tactical blow wins a piece by force.

 

29.Nxd3 Rxe2 30.Qc3

Or 30.Qxe2 Rxe2 31.Rxe2 Nxd3.

 

30...Bxf3 31.Nxc5 Bxg2 32.Rxe2 Rxe2 33.Kxg2 Qxc5 34.Qf3 Qc6 0-1

Albin Countergambit D09
Egor Chukaev
IM Vladas Mikenas
Vilnus 1952

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.g3 Bg4 6.Nbd2 Qd7 7.h3?! Bf5 8.a3 a5 9.b3 Bc5 10.Bb2 f6!? 11.exf6 Nxf6 12.Bg2 O-O 13.g4

The consequence of 7.h3?! -- castling is impossible without positional concessions on the kingside.

 

13...Bg6 14.Nh4?! Ne5! 15.Ndf3 Nxf3+ 16.Nxf3 Be4 17.Qd2 Qd6!

Not only stopping b2-b4, but from here Black's Queen glances at the kingside, preparing, as we shall see, an attractive tactical assault.

 

18.O-O Rad8 19.Qxa5?

Loses, but it is not easy to say how White should continue.

 

19...d3!

Again this typical blow is the necessary introduction to the combination.

 

20.exd3 Bxf3 21.Bxf3 Qg3+ 22.Bg2 Nxg4! 23.Be5

Desperation, but if 23.hxg4, then 23...Bxf2+ 24.Rxf2 Rxf2 with inevitable mate.

 

23...Qxe5 24.Bd5+ Rxd5 0-1

Albin Countergambit D09
De Claire--Larzelere
corre. 1966/67

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Nbd2 Bg4 6.g3 f6!? 7.exf6 Nxf6 8.Bg2 Qd7 9.a3 a5 10.Nb3 Rd8 11.Bg5 Be7 12.Bxf6?! Bxf6 13.Nc5 Qc8 14.Qa4 O-O 15.Nd2?

Attempting to win a pawn before castling when the opponent is fully developed is always a wrong idea. Here it is suicide.

 

15...d3! 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Nxd3

17...Rxd3! 18.exd3 Bxb2 19.Ra2?

Trying to save the Exchange, White misses his last chance. Good or bad, he should play 19.O-O.

 

19...Qe6+ 20.Ne4 Bc3+ 21.Rd2

Facing the sorry truth. If 21.Kf1 Bh3+ 22.Kg1 (22.Ke2 Qg4+) 22... Qg4! and Black wins.

 

21...Rxf2!! 22.Kxf2 Qf5+ 23.Kg1

After 23.Ke1, Black wins spectacularly by 23...Qf3. The main variation runs 24.Nxc3 (24.Nf2 Qe2 mate) 24... Qxh1+ 25.Kf2 Qxh2+ 26.Ke3 Qxg3+ 27.Ke4 (If 27.Kd4 c5+! 28.Kxc5 Qd6+ 29.Kb5 Qb6 mate, or 28.Kd5 Qd6+ 29.Ke4 Qd4 mate, or 28.Ke4 Qf3+ 29.Ke5 Qf5 mate) Bf3+ 28. Kf5 (If 28.Ke3 Bd1+ or 28. Kd4 c5+) 28...Qg4+ 29.Ke5 Qg5+ 30.Ke6 (30. Kd4 c5 mate) 30...Bg4 mate.

 

23...Bxd2 24.Nxd2 Qxd3 25.Qxc6

Other defenses also lose.

 

25...Qe3+! 26.Kg2 Qxd2+ 27.Kg1 Qe1+ 28.Kg2 Qe2+ 29.Kg1 Bf3 0-1

Savielly Tartakover remarked, "When Albin's Countergambit is played as a real gambit by ...f7-f6, Black's dynamic resources are not to be despised." Dr. Max Euwe suggested, "Albin's Countergambit is one of those openings which are probably not fully correct, but its clear refutation is unknown." This article does not prove the correctness of Albin's invention, nor is it intended to, it is more in the nature of a pat on the back for this tactically rich and probably wrongly rejected opening.

French Advance C02
Salvador Del Rio
IM Luis Comas Fabrego
Spain (ch team) 1997

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Bd7 5. Nf3 Nc6 6.Be2 Nh6 7.O-O Nf5 8. Na3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Qb6 10.Nc2 Rc8 11.g4 Nfe7 12.Nfe1 h5! 13.h3?

A novelty which cannot be recommended. ECO shows 13.gxh5 Nf5 and Black has compensation for the pawn, as in Peters--Christiansen, Hastings 1978/79.

 

13...hxg4 14.hxg4 Ng6 15.b4?

White dreams of initiative against Black's King, which, to all appearances, will stay in the center. Still playable is 15.Ng2, but the open h-file gives better chances to Black.

 

15...Nxb4 16.Nxb4 Qxb4! 17.a4

17...Nxe5! 18.dxe5

After 18.Ba3, Black wins, due to the great mobility of the Queen: 18... Qc3! 19.Bxf8 Qh3 with inevitable mate.

 

18...Qe4! 19.Ng2 Qh7 0-1

An impressive zig-zag maneuver-- b4-e4-h7-h1 --by Black's Queen.

The next example is a true find, presenting a very rare version of one of the most typical combinations.

 

King's Indian E60
Yigal Nor
Schmuter
Israel (ch team) 1997

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.d5

The only good point of this continuation is that White avoids the Grunfeld.

 

3...c6 4.Nc3 cxd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 Bg7 7.Bd3 O-O 8.Nge2 Nbd7 9.O-O Ne5 10.Bc2 Bd7 11.b3? b5 12.a3 Rc8 13.Be3 Nfg4 14.Bd4 Nxh2! 15. Kxh2 Ng4+

This pattern looks very familiar. After White's King retreats, 16.Kg1 (Kg3) Black continues the attack (or wins) by 16...Qh4 (Qg5). Black's Queen doesn't have immediate access to these squares, but there is a tactical possibility to enter the attack a move later which makes this sacrifice so original.

 

16.Kg3!

In case of 16.Kg1? e5! 17.dxe6 Qh4 18.Re1 fxe6 19.f3 Qh2+ 20.Kf1 e5 21.Bg1 Rxf3+! 22.gxf3 Qh3 mate -- Die Schachwoche.

16...e5 17.dxe6

After 17.Be3 f5, Black's attack is decisive.

 

17...fxe6 18.Qd2?

This loses. Die Schachwoche suggests 18.Bxg7 as the best defense, for example, 18...Qg5 19.f4 Rxf4 20. Nxf4 Ne3+ 21.Kh2 Nxd1 22.Raxd1 with unclear position.

 

18...Bh6! 19.f4 e5 20.Bxa7 Qc7!

Stronger than the immediate 20... exf4+, which also wins.

 

21.Bg1 exf4+ 22.Kf3 Ne3! 23.Qd3 Bg4+ 24.Kf2 f3 25.Ke1 Nxg2+ 26. Kf2 Be3+ 27.Kg3 d5+! 28.Kxg4 Rf4+ 29.Kg3 Rxe4+ 30.Kxf3 Nh4+ mate

If an annual award for the most original Queen sacrifice existed, the following would be a prime candidate.

 

Two Knights' Tango E10
IM Vlastimil Babula
GM Pavel Blatny
Zlin, Czech (ch) 1997

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 e6 4.a3

Perhaps 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qc2, transposing into a Nimzo-Indian (E33), is a good option against Black's unusual order of moves.

 

4...d5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Be7 7.e3 Ne4 8.Bf4? g5! 9.Be5 f6 10.Bg3 h5 11.h3 Nxg3 12.fxg3 Bd6 13.Kf2 Ne7 14.Bd3 c6 15.Nc3 Qc7 16.Ne2 Bd7 17.Qa4 Nf5 18.Bxf5 Bxf5 19.Rac1 Bd3 20.g4 h4 21.Rhe1 O-O! 22.Qd1 Qh7 23.Rc3 Be4 24.Kg1 Rae8 25.Rf1 Bb8 26.Nd2 Qc7 27.Nxe4 Qh2+ 28.Kf2 Rxe4 29.Rh1

29...Bg3+!!

After this Black's Queen is trapped!

 

30.Kf3 f5

The point of the combination. If White captures the Queen 31.Rxh2, 31...fxg4 is a double mate with discovered check!

 

31.Nf4 Rxf4+! 32.exf4 fxg4+ 33.Kxg4 Qxg2 34.Qc2

34...Bf2+ 35.Kh5 Rf7 36.Qg6+ Rg7 37.Qe6+ Kh8! 38.f5 Qxh1 39.Qf6

39.f6 prolongs the game, but doesn't save it.

 

39...Qd1+ 40.Kh6 Bxd4 0-1

In the following games we shall see different, more or less typical tactical actions, which culminate in a Queen sacrifice. Let's start with an example awarded the best game prize in its tournament.

 

Sicilian Richter-Rauzer B66
WGM Agnieszka Brustman
IM E. Prokopchuk
Koszalin 1997

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.O-O-O h6 9.Be3 Qc7 10.f3

This continuation is less analyzed and considered unclear. Theory prefers 10.f4.

 

10...Rb8 11.Kb1 Bd7 12.g4 Ne5

In case of the immediate 12...b5, White has a promising sacrifice in 13.Bxb5 axb5 14.Ndxb5 and 15.Nxd6+.

 

13.h4 b5 14.Bd3 b4 15.Nce2 d5! 16. g5 dxe4 17.fxe4 Nfg4 18.Rdf1?

A serious strategic error. White must open more files on the kingside by 18.gxh6, increasing her chances for counterattack.

 

18...Nxe3 19.Qxe3 h5! 20.Qf4 Bd6 21.g6 f6! 22.Qd2 Qb6 23.Nf3 Nxf3 24.Rxf3 Ke7 25.Rd1 Rhd8 26.Ng3 Qc5 27.Qe2 Bc6 28.Rdf1 Be5

Black steadily builds up an attack, while White has no target for development of his initiative.

 

29.Qe3 Bd4 30.Qf4 Be8 31.Ne2 Be5 32.Qc1 a5 33.Rg1 a4 34.Qe3 Qc7 35.Rgf1 Rb6 36.Qc1 Rbd6! 37. Qe1 b3 38.Qc1 a3!

The battering-ram!

 

39.axb3

If 39.cxb3, 39...Qxc1+ 40.Nxc1 axb2 and White loses a piece, or 39. bxa3 bxa2+ 40.Kxa2 Rb8 41.c3 Rxd3! 42.Rxd4 Qc4+ and Black wins.

 

39...axb2 40.Qd2 Qa7 41.c3 Qa1+ 42.Kc2 Qa2 43.Rb1

43...Qxb3+! 44.Kxb3 Rb6+ 45.Bb5

If 45.Ka2 Ra8+, or 45.Kc2 Ba4 mate.

 

45...Rxd2 0-1

King's Indian Fianchetto E68
IM Roman Skomorokhin
GM Leonid Yurtaev
Kstovo 1997

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.Nf3 d6 6.O-O Nbd7 7.Qc2 e5 8.Rd1 Re8 9.e4 c6 10.Nc3 exd4 11.Nxd4 Qe7 12.Rb1

Better is 12.Bf4.

 

12...a5 13.b3 Nc5 14.f3 Nfd7 15.a3 Nb6 16.b4 axb4 17.axb4 Ne6 18.Nce2 d5! 19.Nxe6 Bxe6 20.cxd5 cxd5 21. Qc5 Qd8 22.Bf4 Na4 23.Qc1 d4 24. e5 d3

The energized pawn!

 

25.Qe3 Bc4 26.Rbc1 Nb2! 27.Rd2

27...dxe2! 28.Rxb2

28.Rxd8, then 28...Rexd8 29.Re1 Rd1 30.Qc3 Raa1 and Black wins.

 

28...Qd1+ 29.Kf2 Ra3! 30.Rxd1 exd1=N+! 0-1

Sicilian Scheveningen B85
GM Georgi Timoschenko
Thjin
Jakarta 1997

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6 7.O-O Be7 8.f4 Qc7 9.a4 Nc6 10.Be3 O-O 11. Kh1 Na5 12.Qd3 b6?

According to Tal, Black should play 12...e5 13.Nf5 (13.Nf3 Be6) 12...Bxf5 14.exf5 Rad8.

 

13.b4! Nc6 14.Nxc6 Qxc6 15.Bf3 Bb7 16.e5 Nd5 17.Nxd5 exd5 18.c4! dxe5 19.Bxd5 Qc7 20.fxe5 Bxb4 21. Qe4 Bxd5 22.cxd5 Bc5 23.d6 Qd7 24.Bxc5 bxc5 25.Rac1 Rae8 26.Qd5! Qxa4

Loses by force. More resistance is offered by 26...Rc8

 

27.d7 Rd8 28.e6 fxe6 29.Qxe6+ Kh8 30.Rxf8+ Rxf8 31.Qe7 Qf4

32.Qxf8+! 1-0

For if 32...Qxf8, 33.Re1 followed by 34.Re8.

 

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