Showalter Gambit (express-preparation)

…Tomorrow you face a crucial game in an open or club tournament. You want to surprise your opponent with a new idea and an unexpected variation, but in order to do that you need to check the quality of the novelty, and also get to the bottom of the opening nuances in time. Your available free time, however, is “well, at most a couple of hours”…

In that case, you clearly need express-preparation.

Read on

                                                                                                                                                                        Alexey Kuzmin

Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer

Express-preparation means:

a) a brief analysis of the new idea itself;

b) mini-preparation for possible deviations in the build-up to it.

If the prepared variation should work at an early stage then the second point can sometimes be left out…

The “Anti-Berlin” or Showalter Gambit

…Let’s assume you’re a chess player with an active style and you start a game with the move 1.e2-e4. You like sharp, complex play, but your opponent…

…Your opponent is, let’s say, just like Kramnik: he’s studied the Berlin Variation inside and out, and there’s no way you’re going to break through in that ending, even if you wanted to play the ending at all…

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6


This was how Jackson Showalter played four times in his match against Harry Pillsbury. That was in New York in 1897(!). Pillsbury liked the new variation, and he soon started to play it himself.

In “modern history” the gambit was revived by one of Anand’s assistants, the Indian Grandmaster Ganguly.

Black has two options: capturing on d4 or 6…e4.

Option one: 6...exd4 7.c3!

Here we need to discuss three lines.


A) 7...dxc3?! It’s extremely dangerous to accept the sacrifice of a second pawn.

8.Nxc3 Be7 9.Nd5 0–0 10.Re1 Bf6 11.Bf4± Showalter,J-Pillsbury,H/New York 1897


B) 7…d3 This was played in the game which drew my attention to the move 6.Ba4.

Morozevich,A - Grischuk,A

World Rapid Astana KAZ, 2012

8.Qxd3 Be7


An important improvement. The attempt to prevent castling doesn’t lead anywhere: 9.Bc2 g6 10.Bh6 Nf5 Ganguly,S-Ivanchuk,V /Edmonton 2005

In the game after 9...0–0 10.Bf4 Ne8 11.Nbd2 d6 12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Qe4 Bf6 14.Qxc6 Rb8 White returned the pawn, but Black got free play. However, Alexander clearly didn’t exploit all the resources at his disposal. Firstly, instead of 12.Bxc6 it was stronger to play 12.Qe2 Bf6 13.Ne4 with sufficient compensation. And secondly, another line looks more dangerous for Black: 11.c4!? (instead of 11.Nbd2) Nf6 12.Nc3 d6 13.Rad1 and White’s pressure in the centre is very noticeable.


C) 7...Be7

Quite a logical and reliable line. It leads to complex play, where White has an initiative in compensation for the pawn, and both sides need to play accurately.

Ganguly,S -Ismagambetov,A

New Delhi, 2006

8.cxd4 0–0

In case of 8...b5 there’s some point in White retreating to c2 immediately, in order to deprive Black of a useful tempo with Na5 later. 9.Bc2!? 0–0 10.Nc3 Bb7 11.Nd5 with sufficient compensation.

9.Nc3 Nf5. More accurate is 9...Nc4, maintaining the dynamic balance. 10.d5 Nb8 11.d6!? Nxd6 12.Bc2 Ne8?! He should have played 12...b6. 13.Re1 Nc6 14.Nd5 White has a strong initiative.

Option two: 6...e4

7.Re1 Be7 8.Ne5


It might have been more accurate to play 8...b5 9.Bb3 Na5, although after the pawn was won back in the game Sulskis,S - Aleksandrov,A/Warsaw2007 White kept a certain initiative 10.Nc3 Nxb3 11.axb3 0–0 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.Rxe4 Bb7 14.d5 Bf6 15.Ng4.


Grandmaster Ganguly played this position three times, and none of his opponents managed to demonstrate a clear path to equality.

Ganguly,S -Roktim,B/Dhaka 2005

9...f6 10.Nxc6 dxc6 11.Nxe4 Nxe4 12.Rxe4 f5 13.Re1 Control of the e-file and the weakening of the a2-g8 diagonal make White’s position preferable.

Ganguly,S -Van den Doel,E/Mallorca 2004

9...Nf5 10.Rxe4 Nfxd4 11.Nxc6 Nxc6 12.Nd5 Bf6 13.Qf3 The centralisation of the white pieces is very dangerous.

Ganguly,S -Laxman,R /Hyderabad 2005

9...Bg5 10.Bxg5 Qxg5 11.Bxc6 dxc6 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.Rxe4=. Stronger is 10.Nxe4! Nxe4 11.Rxe4 with slightly better chances.

Let’s sum up.

It’s unlikely Showalter’s gambit move 6.Ba4 will allow you to cast doubt on the solidity of the Berlin Variation or pose Vladimir Kramnik any problems, but nevertheless…

…But nevertheless, you’ll have decent chances of:

a) surprising your opponent and forcing him to play without preparation;

b) getting an unusual position for the Berlin Variation;

c) forcing your opponent to defend with queens on the board!

And that’s already something!