Kings Gambit Chess Annotated Game Jackson Showalter Kings Gambit Declined

This is an annotation of a game won by a chess player named Jackson Showalter, known as the Kentucky Lion both for his fighting play and his unique hairstyle. His opponent is the relatively obscure Nicholas MacLeod. A search for Macleod in the database reveals that against masters his score was a paltry 20.7%.

The King’s Gambit signals that white is ready to disregard potential problems with his king position in exchange for active piece play. If black accepts the gambit and doesn’t play carefully he can rapidly fall behind in development. In this game black declines the gambit and this is known to lead to a playable game, albeit with a disadvantage in space. Here is the text.

1.e4 e5: Leading to the so called open games. Black grabs his share of the center.

2. f4 d6: White undermines black’s control of the center by targeting the pawn. Black uses a move popularized by Fischer in a later era which aims to keep a foothold in the center. The queen’s bishop is ready to come into the game.

3. Nf3 Nc6: These are sensible moves developing pieces, attacking and defending the important e5 pawn respectively.

4 Bc4 exf4: The bishop develops and targets the weakest square in black’s camp, f7. This is a frequent maneuver in double king pawn openings. Black surrenders the center in order to go up in material. In some sharp lines black chooses to try and keep the pawn with a quick g5.

5 d4 Nf6 6 0-0 d5? White’s fifth move prepares to reclaim the pawn. He has accomplished his stated goal of superior central control. Black’s sixth move is not as principled as Be7 which develops and gets ready to castle on the short side. The pawn push to d5 is adequate in those lines where it can be accomplished in one move. Consider that white gets the opportunity to open the game while black’s king remains in the middle. It is usually unwise to open the game when you are behind in development.

7 exd5 Nxd5 8 Nc3  Be6 9 Qe2 Be7: Black is behind in development but he has a potentially strong knight on d5. A small lag in development is not fatal since the other person’s lead will evaporate over time. This is known as a dynamic advantage and white would like to make the most of his temporary advantage in piece play. If you count up the amount of squares on the board, think of them as territory, white has a trump here in the number he controls. Of course we haven’t seen much yet but the pretty routine mobilization of the armies.

10 Ne4 0-0: Showalter wastes a bit of time. The plan is to be able to play c3 and have enduring control of e5. This move isn’t critical to the position. 10 Ne4 changes the entire complexion of the position. After black castles he should be able to prove that white’s queen is not optimally placed. He is material up and has no weaknesses to speak of.

11 c3 h6? Black’s move isn’t tactically necessary. This prophylaxis can be useful to avoid an uncomfortable pin, as in lines of the Four Knights Game for instance, but in more open games the bishop is too valuable to give up anyways. Let your opponent trade bishops for knights if you feel that the nature of the game will be open and tactical.

12 Bd3 Bg4: Quite simply the fewer pieces you have undefended the better the chance you’ll avoid unfavorable tactics. Moving a piece backwards is not always a mistake. The b1-h7 diagonal gives the bishop a better future. Black is playing to clear the way to harass white’s queen.

13 Nf2 Bxf3 14 Qxf3 Bg5: Black surrenders the bishop pair, trying to claim that his pieces are mobile after the exchange and he is not under significant pressure. He also has the extra pawn. White has a decisive amount of pieces on the king side if he can open lines and get them up the board. Bg5 is necessary to keep the material advantage.

15 Nh3 Ne3: It really is all about the bishops. The pawn structure here does not greatly favor knights in the long-term since the horsemen tend to need their own pawns supporting them on an advanced square. Black did however make his knight very powerful and believed for both tactical and positional reasons he would win the bishop in exchange for it.

16 Qe4: This is an interesting move, and very instructive. You can ignore your opponent’s threats (in this case the capture of the rook) if you create a threat of your own. In this case you can see the checkmate that could happen on h7. Black will not be able to go raiding with the knight until he finds a defense.

16…g6: Defending the threat and putting pawns on the opposite color of his remaining bishop. MacLeod doesn’t live much longer but had he made it to an endgame he would have been well-prepared!

17 Nxg5 hxg5: According to the computer black is fine here but his position looks less pleasant to play than white’s. With perfect defense though Fritz states that black can hold onto the pawn. Indeed white’s pieces don’t look very threatening and the loose h file can’t really be exploited.

18 Re1 Re8: The first salvages the rook and then black’s response makes a threat against white’s queen.

19 Qf3: Maintains the third attack on the knight as it’s more important than ever to catch up in material. The knight on c6 is also pinned to the pawn. It was best to just get the queen into the game and not worry about keeping the material. Black could have held the draw here which at a high level is about all one can expect.

19…Ne5: MacLeod believed that he could get away with this because of the unprotected bishop. Unfortunately for him white’s position soon looks much-improved. Black’s g pawn is probably going to fall, the material is even, and white’s heavy pieces are more apt to play a role.

20: dxe5 Qxd3 21 Bxe3 fxe3 22: Rxe3 Qb5 This is the losing move but the winning combination is not an easy one to find. Once you know what to look it becomes easier to see the wisdom in it however. Weaknesses in black’s position include f7 which will allow white to gain time by attacking it, and the weak h file. Combine these two factors with the weakness of black’s kingside dark squares and things are starting to add up. Generally speaking your position can only tolerate two weaknesses before you have serious issues. In case you didn’t find the sequence the coup de gras is 23 Rf1 Re7 (Qd7 falls to Qf6 when Re6 does nothing to save the poor g5 pawn) 24 Qf6 Rae8 25 Kh1 (Beautiful! If white played the immediate Rh3 then Qb6+ would force the queen trade).

25…Qh6 26 e6! White is still threatening the mate but now he adds to it the idea of a discovered attack. White’s plan worked and how fitting is it that the f7 square, the focus of his attack from the outset, proved to be the nail in black’s coffin.