The King’s Gambit – Wagenbach Variation

In The King’s Gambit I mentioned that the Wagenbach Variation – 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 h5 – was first played by Jonathan Tait and that Mr Wagenbach was mainly a correspondence player. I have since learned (from Mr János Wagenbach) that neither of these things are true. Mr Wagenbach played it first – in blitz games in his club – and he is primarily an over-the-board player. I am happy to correct the record. When re-printing the book (perhaps soon) I shall also correct the relevant page.

The game below shows the Wagenbach working well for Wagenbach – but note the line I recommend for White is 4.d4 (with 4.Nc3 as another option) not 4.h4.

20 thoughts on “The King’s Gambit – Wagenbach Variation”

  1. I ordered the book just the other day. I am actually looking at From’s gambit (1.e5) as a possible reply to Bird’s, and that can lead to the King’s with 2.e4. Then I will look at Falkbeer’s counter gambit.

  2. Alterman’s vol 2 ordered as well for obvious reasons. A lot of Quality Chess reading underway with GM Baeur’s on the Scandinavian, and GM Aagaard’s on Calculation.

  3. Both books just arrived this minute. The possibilities are mind boggling after 1.f4 e5 2.e4. One might wonder shy waste the time on replying to Bird’s, but at my level higher rated players not infrequently open 1.f4 to see if you even have a reply. Happened to me this weekend in a rated game. I tried a kind of “delayed From’s” 1…d6 2…e4. Came out of the opening fine and then blew it.

  4. Actually—in the event of 1. f4 e5 2. e4 the Nimzo gambit or the line of the Fisher defense recommended by Shaw (involving 10….0-0) seem more promising than the Falkbeer.

  5. Jonathan Tait

    Hi John

    I’ve only just noticed this post. Thanks for this. I’ve just read it out over the phone to János and he was pleased as well, and that things will be corrected in any reprint.

    Incidentally, I’ve been playing 5 h4 etc in online thematic games recently. After 7…f3 8 Bf4, an opponent came back with 8…Qf6!, which is surprisingly tricky.


  6. @Jonathan Tait


    Thanks for contacting János – I wanted to let him know about this, but I seem to have lost the letter he sent me with his contact details – I think my spring cleaning was too vicious.

    Is the line you mention? 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 h5 4.d4 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ne5 d6 7.Nd3 f3 8.Bf4 Qf6

    I just had a very quick look with my lunch, but I would be cheery about White’s play after 9.c3. I would also be looking closely at 9.Nc3.

    I would be interested to see what you chose and how it goes. Good luck anyway!

  7. It just occurred to me that you may not have chosen your 9th move yet, and I may be accidentally suggesting a move in a current position. I hope not, as I could get in trouble with the Correspondence Chess Police.

  8. Jonathan Tait

    No worries, it finished ages ago – and it wasn’t a serious game anyway; just one of numerous online thematics I set up to test things out. The game went on…

    9. Nc3 Qxd4 10. gxf3 Be6 11. Nd5 Bxd5 12. c3 Qg7 13. exd5 Nd7 14. Qa4 a6 15. O-O-O O-O-O 16. Be3 Ne7 17. fxg4 Nxd5 18. Bd4 Qxg4 19. Bh3 Bh6+ 20. Kb1 Qe4 21. Rhe1 Ne3 22. Qb3 Rhf8 23. Bxe3 Bxe3 24. Re2 c6 25. Bg2 Qg4 26. Bxc6 bxc6 27. Rxe3 and White is still worse (though ½-½, 43).

    I had ideas of Nb4xa6, but it never quite worked. And yes, I looked at 9 c3 as well, except that 9…Bh6 is kind of annoying. Usually White gets the dark squares in these positions, but here the black queen is already fighting for them. Maybe 8 Be3 is better.

  9. I am interested: what are white’s chances to get an advantage with white in the Kings Gambit? I used to play it too when I was young and romantic …based on an old Korchnoi “winning with” book…but I dropped it to become a more “serious” player….but it still attracts me. And when having the choice between 4 hours of Berlin Wall cq. Marshall or 4 hours of King’s Gambit the choice is obvious…you only live once!

  10. @Indra Polak
    According to John’s book (you should really buy it!!) the best black can get is an equal position, but with everything to play for by both sides (I am referring to the Modern variation, but the classical main line also seems equal, though you have to be willing to sacrifice your king’s knight). Since the Ruy Lopez is also equal in several variations (Berlin Wall, Marshall gambit, or even the Breyer), not to speak of the Petroff, I see no reason not to play the King’s Gambit as white.

  11. @solinvictus
    Please explain “king gambit stay way from playing the opening.”
    Do you say this because you view the opening as theoretically weak or what?
    Spassky used to play it, recently Short played it against Giri and Kamsky also plays it.
    Please explain.

  12. Hi,

    This idea was played against me years before the game you publish. It’s so straightforward that I’ve never forgotten it.

    Moll-E.Mendelssohn, Amsterdam 1988:

    1.e4 e5 2.f4 h5!? 3.Nf3 exf4 4.d4 g5 5.Bc4 h4 6.0-0 d6 7.Nc3 h3 8.g3 g4 9.Ne1 f3 10.Nxf3 gxf3 11.Qxf3 f6 12.Bxg8 Rxg8 13.Qh5+ Kd7 14.Qf7+ Be7 15.Nd5 1-0

    In general it’s very, very difficult to come up with new ideas so early in a line that’s over 400 years old. Hence, I would be cautious to call variations after modern players.

    Regards, Arne

  13. @Arne Moll

    Hi Arne,

    Renaming the “Wagenbach Variation” as “Mendelssohn’s Overture” does have a nice ring to it.

    But I don’t know exactly when Mr Wagenbach played it first, as I believe he tried it in blitz games at his local chess club (presumably these games are not in the database). No doubt Jonathan Tait will know, if he happens to spot this ancient thread.

    Perhaps the naming rights should go to the person who made the biggest contribution, not necessarily the player who tried it first. In this case, I think the greater contribution is Mr Wagenbach’s. For example, Mendelssohn’s 7…h3 really misinterprets what the Wagenbach is all about (fun game though). So I am sticking with the “Wagenbach Variation”.

    Also, when using a name for an opening, we are trying to communicate, and we hope the reader knows which line we are talking about. In a blog post elsewhere, I saw the “Zukertort Opening” mentioned. The what? It’s a name for 1.Nf3. But a better name for that opening is 1.Nf3.

  14. Jonathan Tait

    Hi Arne & John

    János started playing 3…h5 in 1991, and my first game was 1992, so Moll-Mendelssohn predates our own. But I agree that the real point is not the actual move but the idea behind it (and the subsequent contributions to its “theory”). In that regard 7…h3 is of little value. Though, having said that, many players (and computers too) opt for h2-h3 as White because they’re (unnecessarily) afraid of the black pawn going on further.

    All the same, I’m very interested to see any games with the Wagenbach, or that transpose thereto. The oldest relevant game I have is from Greco (ca.1620) with 3…Ne7 4 h4!? h5 transposing to 3…h5 4 h4 Ne7!?. But Moll-Mendelssohn is the earliest I (now) have which transposes to the exact position after 3…h5, so many thanks for that 🙂

  15. Just to say – supposing anyone is still interested – there are 48 pages of Wagenbach theory in my new book: “A Disreputable Opening Repertoire” 🙂

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