Review

Nepo’s Gambit

The world championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi presents a Chessable course on no lesser opening than the King’s Gambit. Fernando Offermann had a look.

“This looks very, very scary for Black.” Ian Nepomniachtchi visibly enjoyed himself while recording the course.
“This looks very, very scary for Black.” Ian Nepomniachtchi visibly enjoyed himself while recording the course.

Nowadays the King’s Gambit has a dubious image. It is often said that it’s an unprofessional opening choice and that Black is already handed the advantage on the second move. This course casts doubt on this dogma: Nepomniachtchi’s variations are not only solid, but also attractive. After all, the point is to immediately tip the position out of balance and deprive Black of reaching the leisurely fairways of the Berlin Defence.

The course consists of eight hours of video material and is based on the solid 3.Nf3, not allowing a disruptive Qh4+. There are twelve chapters, which typically have 30 to 40 variations. I was curious to check what is suggested against the lines recommended for Black by Marin and Bologan, and I found the ideas fresh and surprising. Nepo’s investigations go quite deep. Some examples: “Normally these lines with Nxe5 tend to end in White’s favour, but here, somehow, this works for Black and they just make a draw here. So this is a long forced line. I just show it without too much commentary. This was also checked twice using all the best engines – probably better than those you have at home.” Or take this: “And this is somehow a draw. Welcome to the 21st century.”

The course is organised in 12 chapters.
The course is organised in 12 chapters.

Some viewers have already reacted to the sometimes very fast delivery of the variations in the videos, which demands a lot from the viewer. I enjoyed the presentation very much, precisely because it’s challenging. It isn’t easy stuff – but the Russian top player has a winning sense of humour, and time and again he stifles a grin. He looked quite different to me than in his Banter Blitz showings, where he sometimes plays rubbish lines, and admits as much, or where he picks variations that look like rubbish and perhaps are, but are “not so easy to refute”.

His delivery of the course is matter-of-fact. The speed is challenging but it’s a joy to listen to.

His delivery of the course is matter-of-fact though. It’s a joy to listen to. You can get a taste here (and learn how to pronounce Nepomniachtchi). “So technically, yeah, we’re down on material, but finally our pieces have found some coordination, and the position is really unclear. So to summarize this line: It’s like the quote by Tartakower: The winner is the one to make the penultimate mistake. And it doesn’t matter if you are a club player or a strong grandmaster. You have no chance – if you are a fair player, of course, you have almost a zero chance – to play these positions precisely. It’s all about your feeling. For example, this position is very shaky. No one can give you any guarantee.” Or take this: “This looks very, very scary for Black. So look at these pieces. I mean, you know: what is this? Maybe, maybe, it’s playable for Black, but come on. For only a rook White enjoys such a rich compensation.”

This is what Nepo’s recommendation against 2…Bc5 may lead to.
This is what Nepo’s recommendation against 2…Bc5 may lead to.

Even without videos, the variations of “Long live the King’s Gambit” are interesting. Against Marin’s recipe 2…Bc5, Nepo leads into a line that is merely a footnote in Marin’s work but makes complete sense with the amazingly simple-looking 6.Na3. Bologan’s recommendation is countered with an equally plausible idea aimed at dominance – those unprepared for it will be in for a surprise.

Nepomniachtchi has made an important contribution and has developed the theory of this challenging and underestimated opening.

The goal of the opening is to reach irrational positions, which suits the challenger’s style. Nepomniachtchi played it recently in rapid games against high-rated opponents. Does it give Carlsen’s team some extra work before the World Championship match? Perhaps. More likely, the challenger played it in order to avoid lines he has been preparing for Carlsen and also to have some fun. Regardless of that, Nepomniachtchi has made an important contribution and has developed the theory of this challenging and underestimated opening.

Fernando Offermann is a chess coach, journalist, photographer and blogger in Berlin.
Fernando Offermann is a chess coach, journalist, photographer and blogger in Berlin. (photo: Jakob Dettner)

As a video course, “Long Live the King’s Gambit” is quite convincing, but also pricey. When not discounted it’s 160€ for the course and video. Without video it’s 37€. A player with an advanced understanding of the game may well be satisfied with the blank moves. The mind, however, needs words, not just moves, and memory is enhanced by understanding.

Long Live the King’s Gambit. MoveTrainer™ Opening course by GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. €36,99 (course) €159,98 (course & video). Chessable