1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.f4
Halasz-McDonnell Gambit (C21)
In this chess opening guide, you’ll learn how to play a variation of the Center Game, the Halasz gambit, also called the Halasz-McDonnell Gambit. Including the main line, theory, history, and how to play against it.
In Chess, gambits are a great way to surprise your opponent. Some of them have now become well-researched and are studied in depth such as the Queen’s gambit, the King’s gambit, the Evan’s gambit and so on. However, many of them are still offbeat and remain a great surprising weapon.
So what is a gambit? They are temporary sacrifices (of usually pawns) that you make in the opening phase to gain positional advantage or a head start in development. More often than not, these sacrifices are recovered later in the game but the advantage you gain still stays with you.
In this article, we’re going to explore a similar offbeat gambit opening – the Halasz gambit. Considering the vast amount of engine-led research with respect to other openings, the Halasz Gambit is surprisingly under-researched.
Let’s have a look at it, shall we?
Though there is no solid evidence in the databases about the first recorded game with the Halasz gambit on the board, it is known that the gambit does originate back to 1840 at the latest. However, the gambit was used much more recently by Dr. Gyorgy Halasz, a Hungarian correspondance player.
The suspense about its origin and the lack of earlier games only makes the opening more interesting, doesn’t it?
Resembling very close to the King’s gambit in its approach, the Halasz Gambit aims to control the centre squares and to displace the opponent’s central pawn. The first moves are –
- e4 e5
- d4 exd4
White’s main option here is to control the centre even more with 3. f4.
White will enter the Centre game opening if he or she recaptures the d4 pawn with
- Qxd4. Another option of 3.c3 is available as well but that enters the territory of Danish Gambit.
Let us have a look at the mainline – 3. f4
Black’s plan is going to be simple – try to save the d4 pawn as long as possible. After all, a pawn amounts to 1 extra point. On the other hand, White will actively try to develop his pieces as fast as possible and gain a positional advantage.
- … Nc6
- Nf3 Bc5
White’s aim with 5.a3 is to develop b4-Bb2 with tempo. If White manages to retake the d4 pawn then the position will be clearly better for White as a strong centre control already exists!
- … a5
- Bd3 Nf6
White has the idea of playing Nb3 and putting extra pressure on d4. Another option is to play e5-Ne4, further enhancing the centre control.
- … d6
Stopping Black’s Ng4-Ne3/Bg4 ideas. It is important for White to always be on the lookout for Black’s best possibilities. Especially in those cases where you have played a gambit opening, it is crucial to stop your opponent from getting too much activity.
- … 0-0
- 0-0 Re8
As you can see, it is very tough for Black to proceed and develop further. Though the engine evaluation hints towards equality or slightly better for Black, in my opinion, it is easier for White to find various plans than it is for Black.
White can plan to play Nf1-Ng3 or b3-Bb2 and plan for an attack on the kingside.
Some important strategic points to remember while playing the Halasz Gambit –
- You should focus on generating a kingside attack. The point of your gambit was to gain extra time for development and centre control and hence, you should use it to your advantage effectively.
- Keep looking out for the option of playing e5 as it drives away the f6 knight and opens up the d3-h7 diagonal for your Bishop. This can be especially helpful if you decide to launch an attack on Black’s king.
- Look out for Black’s counter threats. One of the serious ones is the possibility of the Black knight coming on the e3 square. That can be very menacing as the square is too close to the White king.
- Use the combination of the ‘e’ and ‘f’ pawns wisely. If pushed at the right time, those two pawns can wreak havoc and aid in unleashing the kingside attack.
There are only a few games in the database of the Hungarian player, Gyorgy Halasz, all of which being correspondance games. Interestingly, he won the three games where he played the Halasz Gambit.
1. Gyorgy Halasz vs Gritschuk – EU-ch M corr (1990) (correspondence), ICCF
2. Gyorgy Halasz vs Tunc Hamarat
W-ch M GT07 corr (1969) (correspondence), ICCF corr
3. Gyorgy Halasz vs Sergey P Tanin
EU-ch corr (1990) (correspondence), ICCF
How To Play Against the Halasz Gambit
The easiest way to prepare against any opening is to refer to the games of professionals. Due to the offbeat nature of this opening, your author was able to find only few such games against the Halasz Gambit. Some of them are:
- Bauer vs Buhmann, 2010
- Soto Perez vs Marin, 1992
- Lantos vs Banusz, 2014
- Cueto Faus vs Beltran Rueda, 1999
There were two prominent ways in which Black dealt with the Halasz gambit. The first one is as follows:
- e4 e5
- d4 ed4
- f4 Nc6
- Nf3 d5
- e5 Bc5
- Bd3 Nge7
Black’s plan is to continue with Bf5-a5-Qd7-0-0. With such a structure, Black retains the flexibility of the position and has also been able to place all the pieces in good, functional squares. It is very difficult for White to create something out of this position as Black has almost got White under a bind.
The second way is as follows:
- e4 e5
- d4 ed4
- f4 d5
- e5 c5
- Nf3 Nc6
Black has pushed the ‘c’ pawn and given a firmer support to the d4 pawn making it even more difficult for White to retake it. Black’s plans include Nh6-Nf5, Be7 and 0-0, smoothly developing the pieces.
As you can see, in both ways, d5 remains a crucial move for Black against the Halasz Gambit.
Due to the unexplored nature of the opening, Halasz Gambit is an excellent choice as a surprise weapon from White, especially in blitz games. If Black doesn’t know how to play against it, it is very easy to gain an advantageous position.
However, note that it shouldn’t be the only opening you rely on. As white, you must have multiple openings prepared so that you remain unpredictable for your opponent.