Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Jerome Gambit: Full Stop

I have just completed my first Jerome Gambit game in the ongoing "Italian Battleground" tournament at Chess.com (3 days / move). It was one of those not infrequent games that was very interesting - until it suddenly ended.

(For the record, it was a win for me.)

perrypawnpusher - Abhishek29
"Italian Battleground" tournament, Chess.com, 2018

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+

4...Kxf7 5.Nxe5+ Nxe5 6.Qh5+ Ng6

I have always been glad to see this move, as it seems to me to be based upon common sense - block the check, keep the Black King off of the back rank to facilitate castling-by-hand, remove the Knight from danger, return one of the two sacrificed pieces, and be ready to kick the White Queen with ...d6 - which suggests that the defender is figuring the opening out as he goes along, rather than having studied an ultra-sharp line to strike back with (although 6...Ng6 can still be considered one of the "refutations" of the Jerome Gambit).

I was therefore surprised to see, after checking with The Database, that out of 127 games of mine that have reached this position, I scored 79% - versus the overall 82% that I scored in 318 games with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+.

More research with The Database led to more surprises.

Against the sharper 6...Ke6 - which usually means either that Black is unfamiliar with the Jerome Gambit and wants to hang on to every bit of his material (good for me), or that he is ultra-familiar with the Jerome, and has a nasty "surprise" in store for me (not so good) - I scored 85% in 78 games.  

Even moreso, against 6...g6 - either a reflex block by Black of the Queen check (good for me) or a segue into the Blackburne Defense (mixed; how much does my opponent know about Amateur - Blackburne, London, 1884?), where I have scored 85% in 13 games, or Whistler's Defense ("objectively" very scary), where I have scored 83% in 3 games - I have done better than average: 89% in 46 games.

The biggest trouble I have had, in terms of main Jerome Gambit opening lines, has been with 6...Kf8, where I scored only 77% in 33 games. (The Four Knights versions have given me similar trouble: the Semi-Italian Four Knights Jerome Gambit has scored 78% for me in 58 games, while the Italian Four Knights Jerome Gambit has scored 74%.)

Now, with a caution concerning the above - Your mileage may vary - back to my recent game.


The "nudge". Good enough for Alonzo Wheeler Jerome, good enough for me. White uses a move go give Black a chance to spend some time puzzling over Why?. If Black is going to castle-by-hand, he will have to give the move back, anyhow, with ...Kf7.

7...Ke8 8.Qxc5 d6 9.Qe3 Nf6 10.O-O Qe7

Black's pieces put pressure on White's center. If only he could ...0-0, his advantage would be very clear.

On the other hand, a Black Queen on the e-file, in front of her King, is a signal for White to play Nc3 (with the idea of Nd5), and to think about opening the e-file with a Rook aiming at the royal couple.

11.Nc3 Rf8

Thinking about artificial castling on the Kingside.

Another plan was seen in perrypawnpusher - Vaima01, Chess.com, 2012, which is worth showing again: 11...Be6 12.f4 Bf7 13.f5 Ne5 14.d4 Nc6 15.Qd3 Kd7 16.e5 Ne8 17.e6+ Bxe6 18.fxe6+ Kd8 19.d5 Ne5 20.Qf5 h6 21.Bf4 Rf8 22.Qh3 Rf6 23.Ne4 Rf8 24.Bxe5 dxe5 25.Qg3 Nf6 26.Qxe5 Nxe4 27.Qxe4 Qc5+ 28.Kh1 Ke7 29.Rf7+ Rxf7 30.exf7+ Kxf7 31.Qe6+ Kf8 32.Rf1+ Qf2 Black resigned.

12.f4 Ng4 

Black tucked his King away in an earlier game: 12...Kf7 13.f5 Ne5 14.d4 Neg4 15.Qe2 Kg8 16.h3 Nh6 17.Bxh6 gxh6 18.e5 dxe5 19.dxe5 Qc5+ 20.Kh1 Nd5 21.Qh5 Nxc3 22.bxc3 Qxe5 23.Rae1 Qf6 24.Re3 Bxf5 25.Ref3 Qe6 26.Rxf5 Rxf5 27.Qxf5 Qxf5 28.Rxf5 Rd8 29.Rb5 Rd2 30.Rxb7 Rxc2 31.Rxa7 Rxc3 32.a4 Rc1+ 33.Kh2 Ra1 34.Rxc7 Rxa4 35.Rd7 Ra2 36.Re7 drawn, perrypawnpusher - chingching, FICS, 2011

The text move illustrates the atraction of attacking White's wayward and overactive Queen. "Objectively" it is not best, as it leads to a relatively balanced game, but it reminded me of a series of unfortunate games I played against a difficult opponent (see "Nemesis") - and one particular game (see below).

13.Qg3 Nf6 

Black retreats the Knight. I wondered for a moment: What if I played 14.Qe3? Would he play 14...Ng4, agreeing that the position had leveled out? I didn't think so.

Besides, I was heartened by the gift of two tempii, especially after my recent blog post about some lines of the Jerome Gambit being one tempo away from being playable.

To mention, a few years ago I had faced two alternative ideas:

13...Bd7 14.f5 N6e5 15.d4 d5 16.Nxd5 Qd6 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Bf4 Qc5+ 19.Kh1 Nf7 20.Nxc7+ Ke7 21.Nxa8 Rxa8 22.Bg5+ Ke8 23.c3 Bc6 24.Rae1 h6 25.Be3 Qc4 26.Qxg7 Bxe4 27.Qg8+ Kd7 28.Qxa8 Qc6 29.Rd1+ Kc7 30.Bf4+ Kb6 31.Qg8 Black resigned, perrypawnpusher - obturator, FICS, 2012; and

13...Nxf4 14.Rxf4 Qe5 15.Rxg4 Bxg4 16.Qe3 Qf6 17.h3 Bd7 18.d4 Rf7 19.Bd2 Kf8 20.Nd5 Qd8 21.Rf1 Rxf1+ 22.Kxf1 Kg8 23.Qg3 Qf8+ 24.Kg1 c6 25.Nc3 Re8 26.Bf4 Re6 27.e5 dxe5 28.Bxe5 Rg6 29.Qe3 Qf5 30.Kh2 Qxc2 31.d5 Qxg2 checkmate, perrypawnpusher - MRBarupal, FICS, 2010

14.f5 Ne5 15.d4 Nc4  

I suspect my opponent considered the better move, 15...Nc6, but figured that both moves guarded against White's threat e4-e5, and his choice threatened the pawn at b2 as well. 


White can play this move, anyhow, because 16...Nxb2 would be answered by 17.e5.


Black probably needed to play something more challenging, such as 16...Nh5!? suggested by Stockfish 9 after the game. After 17.Qh4 Qf7 18.e5 White's attack in the center, towards Black's King, will be very strong - but also very complicated, giving the defender chances.

17.Bh4 Bd7 18.Nd5 

White's pieces are causing all sorts of mischief, especially the Knight on d5 (recall the note to move 10!) After 18...Qf7 19.Nxc7+ Kd8 20.Nxa8 Kc8 21.Bxf6 gxf6 22.b3 White will be the exchange and 3 pawns ahead. There is too much going on for Black to count on trying to balance things a bit more by grabbing the Knight on a8.

In fact, Black focuses on the upcoming Knight fork at c7, overlooking the Knight's greater threat.

18...Kd8 19.Nxe7 Black resigned

Ouch. Perhaps this is the result of the outside world intruding, providing more important things to think about than defending against the Worst Chess Opening Ever.

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