Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Latvian gambit by Karlis Betins

From the book on the
Translation from Latvian to English by
Kon Grivainis/Val Zemitis

  The Latvian Gambit is an opening, where black after 1 e4 e5  2 Nf3 responds with 2...f5. This name to the opening was granted by FIDE because of the widespread research that was done in Latvia. Although in some variations positional type of play takes place, the Gambit has the chief characteristic that usually after a few moves a complicated, combinatory game starts. Often black manages to overcome his difficulties with various tactical swindles. Strategic considerations often disappear and tactics dominate. Often white is about to win, when black finds saving resources. The main disadvantage of the Gambit however are, first, that in many variations white has a considerably superior development, and second, that black cannot avoid variations that lead to a forced draw. But, as a draw by black is theoretically acceptable, the Gambit has its value.
What are the Gambit’s prospects? Will its only value be as an academic discussion by theoreticians, or will it be usable not only in correspondence play but also in over‑the‑board play? The answer will be forthcoming once the theory is better understood. Until that happens players may feel unwilling to commit themselves to unknown, risky variations and select instead the well known, safe openings, of which there is no shortage. So below I will introduce the reader with those finds that have come forth in the forty years since I commenced my research. That research I started because around year 1900 chess theoreticians, in particular the well known GM Dr S Tarrasch, were doubtful as to the manner in which the defense is to be organized in the Spanish game and its four knights variations, because the previous years results clearly showed that white were better of, and black’s choice of this opening was quite risky. That made me get started in searching for alternate defenses to the Spanish 2 ... Nc6. I did not like the Russian defense 2 ... Nf6 either, so my thoughts turned to 2...f5, which the available theory had rejected as insufficient and not worthwhile discussing. ‑ Here I should add, that the doubts about the solidness of the Spanish game proved baseless and it is as sound as ever.
The first research into 2 ...f5 was unpromising and only shear persistence  revealed that many of the prevalent objections were quite baseless. I also became aware that I had undertaken a big task indeed and to fathom all the complications required endless hours. When asked why I persisted, I can only make the comparison between going for a walk on a well paved road, as against  choosing a mountain path instead: many of us choose the latter. There is also the satisfaction of mastering a particularly difficult subject.

In practical play the gambit has shown good results to date, particularly in correspondence chess. This was particularly so in the correspondence match between the Swedish Chess Federation and the Seniors klub of Riga. The present chairman of the Latvian Chess Association prof. Dr Arv. Kalnins made the initial contact in 1934, on which the Swedish Chess Federation agreed to play 4 games (later a fifth one was added) with the white pieces, using different variations. Separate Stockholms klubs were chosen with well known Swedish masters in the forefront. The Seniors klub selected a committee to conduct the play. Under my leadership the klubs best players of prof. Dr. A. Kalnins, architect P Dreimanis, A Kannenbergs and composer Emils Melngailis went into battle. After 2 years play the result was surprising: Riga won three games, while the other two games were drawn! Of course, that does not mean that in the “Latvian Gambit” we have found the only answer to the moves 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3. On the contrary, I accept that that the solid 2 ... Nc6 is certainly not a worse answer. Of course, this cannot be finally answered by superficial comments or casual analysis in various publications, as is unfortunately happening.

 The following theoretical variations should by no means be considered as final, but rather as a try to establish the gambit as a serious and sound opening, presenting the main variations and tested lines on which the idea of the gambit rests in an organized manner.    

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