Chess Corner: The Halloween Gambit


What is black’s best move?


This week’s position illustrates the Halloween Gambit. This opening arises after each side’s e4 and e7 pawns advance to the fourth and fifth ranks, respectively, and all four knights have developed toward the center. This is the generic four knights opening. White shakes things up and sacrifices its knight on f3 for black’s e5 pawn. It is a scary opening for both sides, as black secures a major piece for a pawn, but white secures the initiative. The question to black is how best to respond to white’s gambit.

First, black must capture the knight with its c6 knight. Otherwise, white steals the initiative and a pawn. White next seizes the center and runs off the black knight on e5 with pawn to d4.

Here is a figurative knight fork in the road. Black can hold onto the decisive material edge by retreating the e5 knight to g6. White next attacks black’s knight on f6 with pawn to e5. Black’s knight retreats to g8 (see next diagram).


From here, white has several good moves, e.g. bishop to c4 and pawn to h4. Black can defend but white has the better game. Practical over the board play has shown that white tends to prevail in this line.

After pawn to d4, the black knight should retreat to c6. White pushes its d4 pawn to d5, threatening the black knight. Black responds with bishop to b4 (see next diagram).


If white’s pawn takes black’s knight on c6, white’s knight on f6 captures white’s e4 pawn, threatening the c3 square. White moves its queen to d4 and black responds with queen to e7 (see next diagram).


Black now has the superior attacking position and has inverted the roles of the white’s initial gambit. It is complicated but black has an edge.

The lesson this week is that opening gambits can be scary, especially if you reverse roles.

Reach Eric Morrow at [email protected] or (505) 327-7121.

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