The Inexhaustible Two Knights Defense

The Two Knights Defense 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 has been around for centuries.  Well at least as far back as Steinitz-Chigorin, and I think before that, although I’m not quite old enough to remember. Like the energizer bunny, in modern times the Two Knights “just keeps on ticking.”

Energizer Bunny

Energizer Bunny

White’s most popular try against the Two Knights, especially among grandmasters, has long been 4.Ng5, the “duffer’s move” as Tarrasch called it. If you’re not a grandmaster, I would recommend as White the “Quiet Italian” 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3, which can also be reached by the move order 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3. As I hope to show in a future article, the Quiet Italian is, in fact, not so quiet.

So, why am I saying that for GM’s the duffer’s move is OK but for ordinary mortals it’s probably not? Simple. The Two Knight’s Defense is a gambit. Black sacrifices a pawn for a quite promising initiative. Promising, that is, unless your opponent has a grandmaster’s defensive technique and a grandmaster’s endgame skill to convert the extra pawn. Steinitz played 4.Ng5. Fisher played 4.Ng5. Kasparov, Morozevich, Radjabov, Sutovsky and many other GMs … they all played 4.Ng5.

But if you’re a duffer playing another duffer, you might say, hey, why not give it a shot? After all, Black might not see the threat to f7. Fair warning: a better duffer might roll out 4…Bc5!? and let you take on f7. Which way do you take? Imagine your surprise after 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+! What now? Or your opponent might play the book move 4…d5. You take 5.exd5, hoping to get a grisly Fried Liver Attack 5…Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ – a sure win for White, right? Wrong! Recent computer analysis has found hidden resources for Black.

Not long ago I played in a correspondence thematic tournament (something I would strongly recommend if you have the time and patience) in the Two Knight’s Defense. All players played two games against all other players – one with White and one with Black, all games starting from the position 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6. I have to admit, in some of my games as White I played the Quiet Italian, but in others I played the duffer’s move! Please understand that this was a research project for my students – I haven’t played 1.e4 in over the board competition in quite awhile.

Below are a couple of games in the Main Line Two Knights with Nigel Davies’ suggestion 10…Bc5, from his book Play 1.e4 e5!, Everyman Press. In the first game (from the thematic tournament) I wish I could say that I followed Nigel’s book and played his suggestions. Alas, it was my opponent who did so!  This game features an instructive (and mercifully short) ending. The second game was a recent quick play teaching game with one of my students, Kunal Singh.