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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Is Opening Theory Wrong About the Urusov Gambit?

     Among the mid-19th century contemporaries of Alexander Petrov and Carl Jaenisch were gifted masters like I.S. Shumov, V.I. Mikhailov and S.S. Urusov who contributed many new ideas which broadened and deepened opening theory. In 1859-1861 Shakmatny Listok published Urusov's Guide to the Study of Chess which continued the analytical investigations of Petrov and Jaenisch and in which he published numerous discoveries in the opening and ending.
     Sergey Semyonovich Urusov (August 3, 1827 – November 20, 1897) was a leading 19th century Russian player and self-published amateur mathematician. His brother Dmitry Urusov (1829-1903) was also a strong player. Urusov was a member of the Russian nobility, holding the title of Prince and an officer in the Tsarist army. In 1853 he played a few games against Alexander Petrov who was visiting Saint Petersburg; the score is usually given as 3–1 in favor of Petrov though sources vary. The same year he won a match against Ilya Shumov by 4–3, and again in 1854 by a score of 12–9. Also in 1854, he drew a match against Carl Jaenisch by a score of 2-2.
     As an Army officer he fought in the Crimean War in 1854–55 and was awarded the Order of Saint George for bravery during the Siege of Sevastopol. During the war he met Leo Tolstoy and the two became friends. They later fell out after Tolstoy left the Russian Orthodox Church.
     Following the Crimean War, he left the army and devoted himself to chess. There were few organized tournaments at the time, so his chess activity consisted primarily of individual matches. He was considered the second strongest Russian player after Petrov, who beat him again in 1859 by a score of +13 −7 =1; the same year he won matches against Shumov and Viktor Mikhailov. He drew a match against the Austrian Ignatz Kolisch in 1862, who was one of the strongest players in the world at the time, and defeated the strong German player Philipp Hirschfeld in 1866. In 1878 he retired from chess and bequeathed his collection of chess books to Ilya Tolstoy.
     The Urusov Gambit in the Bishop's Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4) is named after Sergey S. Urusov. You don't see this gambit very often these days, but in the last 4 years or so I have played it in correspondence game nine times and scored +5 -0 =4 with it. White's compensation is mainly piece activity and open lines, so white must play very actively and precisely to force a concession before black can catch up on development. Some good analysis on the gambit can be found HERE. In all my analysis I relied heavily on analysis by Michael Goeller found in this link. 
     Also, in the games that were played a few years ago I used several different engines as well as Rybka's Monte Carlo analysis. In Monte Carlo analysis you start with a position and then Rybka plays hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of games against itself at lightening speed in order to give a rough idea of the results. I have of necessity had to trim out literally reams of analysis on the opening in the attached game, but engine analysis seems to indicate that the Urusov Gambit is much better than its reputation. A lot of the notes on the opening of this game came from Goeller's site as well as several engines that were available at the time the game was played.
     Two good videos on the Urusov can be found on Youtube. HERE and HERE


  1. Just came across your interesting post on my favorite opening. You might be interested in my most complete bibliography:

    I am afraid that the game Thompson - Weberg, Correspondence 1949, if closely analyzed, might reveal the refutation to the Urusov.
    My own analysis of this game on my 2003 website is taken from old notes by Jack Collins from his Chess Life column and is very mistaken.

    Also somewhat difficult to deal with is 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nf3 Bb4+ 5. c3 dxc3 6. bxc3 d5! as analyzed by Bologan in Black Weapons in the Open Games. My own analysis of this line seems mistaken as well, though Bologan does not consider the rather interesting try 7.cxb4!? dxc4 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8. However, Black should be at least equal here--though it is complicated. And the line 6...Bc5 (instead of 6...d5) should equalize with best play.

    Fortunately, nobody ever plays these lines, and I have only seen them once each in my countless games with the gambit in online blitz. So, for us amateurs, the Urusov remains pretty deadly. And Alex Fishbein's book on the Scotch Gambit (https://www.amazon.com/Scotch-Gambit-Energetic-Aggressive-System/dp/1941270743) gives encouragement against Black's most common option, which is 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 Nc6. But White is probably safest entering these lines with 2.Nf3.

  2. Thanks for the information. Since this post I have drawn 3 more games (+5 -0 =7). One opponent did play the 6. bxc3 d5! (Bologan) line and after 7.exd5 he played 7...Bd6 and the game was drawn. As for the lines beginning with 4...Nc6, my score against it is +3 -0 =2. The Urusov has scored better than the Ruy Lopez; my record with it is +4 -3 =5!

  3. Actually, while the two lines I point to are definitely the most challenging for White, some recent computer analysis convinces me that White is definitely at least equal in both and offers Black many chances to go wrong.