Fright Knight - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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On this spooky of spooky days, this column has in the past delved into the ghoulish Frankenstein-Dracula Variation in the Vienna Opening. But on Halloween, how about the Halloween Attack? This is an insane and wonderful idea found in an offshoot of the normally staid Four Knight’s Game (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Nxe5?!) that I only first came across in 2000 while reading chess-mad Dutch novelist Tim Krabbé’s very entertaining chess website.

Krabbé was a very serious player in his youth, and could well have become a professional player.  But he became a writer and hit the big-time with his thriller novel, The Vanishing, which also went on to become a hit movie of the same name. Despite the fame, he still likes to play and study chess, and the author was so taken by the gambit that he played it online extensively himself with good results, and was thus moved to write his March 2000 column for The Chess Cafe on it, entitled “A Breeze in the Sleepy 4-Knight’s Game”, which he subsequently reproduced on his own website.

The theoretician Oskar Cordel reported in 1888 that Leipzig club players used the opening to dangerous effect, but he did not believe it was sound. Their name for it, the Müller-Schulze Gambit – which stuck for the best part of a century – was not after any players by those names as a way of recognition, but rather a jocular German equivalent of “Smith and Jones”, or, “Tom, Dick, and Harry”. But in December 1993, Rainer Schlenker, writing in the unorthodox opening magazine Randspringer, re-baptised it as the Halloween Attack, because, he noted, “Many players are shocked, the way they would be frightened by a Halloween mask, when they are mentally prepared for a boring Four Knight’s, and then they are faced with Nxe5.”

And that article soon piqued the interest of Steffen A. Jakob, a German player and computer programmer, who – much like Dr Frankenstein himself – was inspired to create his very own monster, a playing engine he called “Brause” – a clone of the chess program Crafty, but armed with a specialised Halloween Attack opening book.  Armed with this knowledge, Brause played more than 3000 games on the Internet Chess Club in the period from 1996 to 1998 – and frighteningly, it had a phenomenal strike rate of 72 per cent against some very highly-rated players! It also demonstrated in a lot of short games how deadly this attack could be, with one example being: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5 Nxe5 5.d4 Nc6 6.d5 Nb8 7.e5 Ng8 8.d6 c6 9.Bc4 f6 10.Qh5+ g6 11.exf6 Qxf6 12.Qe2+ Kd8 13.Ne4 and Black resigned, in Brause (2355)-Betrueger (2315), ICC, 1997.

There has been many correspondence chess and online thematic tournaments with the starting position being after the crazy ‘fright knight’ sacrifice of 4.Nxe5?!? that starts all the mayhem and madness. It has even been spotted lurking in some serious over-the-board encounters, such as the 2012 European Rapid Championship, where the highly-rated 2500+ Polish Grandmaster, Krzysztof Bulski couldn’t cope with all the complications when it was uncorked on him by 2200-rated Tomasz Klepaczka.

Photo: Are you ready for the Halloween Attack? | © Austin Fuller / St. Louis Chess Club

FM Tomasz Klepaczka – GM Krzysztof Bulski
European Rapid Ch., 2012
Four Knight’s Game, Halloween Attack
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5?!? This is the Halloween Attack, but theoretically, it is somewhat dubious. It is quite effective in rapid games or online blitz because it is easy to underestimate and White does get long-term attacking chances if Black tries to hold onto the material – but seldom seen in the environs of a top international tournament, such as in this game. 4…Nxe5 Of course, Black has to pick up the gauntlet by taking the knight. 5.d4 This is the whole rationale for sacrificing the knight: to push Black back by rapidly advancing the central pawns. 5…Nc6 Perfectly playable, although the knight retreat to g6 is more common. 6.d5 Ne5 This holds onto the extra piece but allows White to get a strong pawn wedge on d6, which is often a problem for Black in the Halloween Attack. However, one of the more interesting ideas here is Jan Pinski’s recommendation of 6…Bb4!? and returning the extra piece, which seems to guarantee Black a slight advantage without any of the spooky complications. The game continues now 7.dxc6 Nxe4 8.Qd4 Qe7! which is the critical continuation, with Black threatening some nasty discovered checks down the e-file. 7.f4 Ng6 8.e5 Ng8 Again, 8…Bb4 9.exf6 Qxf6 is a good way to return the material imbalance and reach at least equality, but holding onto the extra piece is more theoretically critical. 9.d6 cxd6 10.exd6 This is one of the most commonly-reached positions resulting from the early knight sacrifice. Objectively, Black should be better with best-play but has to be careful because White’s pawn on d6 cramps Black somewhat. 10…Qb6?! It’s easy to go astray very quickly in the Halloween Attack, and even if you are a grandmaster! And this move isn’t so accurate. The most critical move for Black here is 10…Qf6!?. 11.Nb5 Kd8 We would have reached the same sort of position after the better 10…Qf6 – but after 10…Qb6, White easily gets in a lot of good developing moves, as his pieces create havoc in the Black camp. 12.Qf3?! Not so good.  More critical was 12.f5! Ne5 13.Bf4 f6 14.Qd2 with the idea of castling queenside, leaving Black to deal with a very difficult defence with his cramped position. 12…Bxd6 13.Be3 Bc5 14.Bxc5 Qxc5 15.0-0-0 Nh6 Centralising the knight with 15…Nf6 was to be preferred. 16.Nd6 Kc7 17.Bc4 Nf5 18.Nxf5 Qxf5 19.Rd4 White’s plan is simple: pile on the pressure down the d-file, and hope that Black cracks. 19…d6 20.Rhd1 Bd7 21.g4! [see diagram] Looking to deflect the Black queen from her key defence role. 21…Qxg4? And Black does crack! Better was 21…Qc5 defending the vulnerable d6-square, and answering 22.Bd5 with 22…Bc6! which seems to defend all the bases. 22.Qd5 Rad8? The only hope slim hope now was trying 22…Qe6 23.Qa5+ b6 24.Qc3 Qe7 25.Bd5+ Kb8 26.Qf3! h5 27.Qh1! where White is going to be better, but Black is far from dead yet. 23.Qxd6+ Kc8 24.Bxf7 Qf3 25.Rc4+ Bc6 26.Be6+ Rd7 27.Bxd7+ 1-0

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