Checkmate in the Traxler Counterattack


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It is Monday once more and this time we are looking at a fabulous checkmate in the Traxler Counterattack.

This ties in with a weekly look at checkmates and also follows on from last week’s theme of the king hunt.

If you have been studying our new course Lifetime Repertoires: Sethuraman’s 1 e4 e5 then you will know that he recommends the Two Knights Defense against the Italian Game.

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 Bc4 Nf6

The Two Knights Defense

The Two Knights Defense

You will also know, as you will have read this blog, that against the natural 4 Ng5 Grandmaster Sethuraman advocates 4 …d5.

The Traxler Counterattack: A Swashbuckling Alternative

Black does have a swashbuckling alternative in 4 …Bc5. This is Grandmaster Sethuraman’s summary.

‘I believe that the bold Traxler Counterattack with 4… Bc5 is quite outdated nowadays and with modern computer analysis, I would be surprised if it is not worse. For those who are curious about the insights and history of the Traxler, here it is. The Czech problemist Karel Traxler played it against Reinisch in Prague in 1890. Later, Frank Marshall, who claimed to be first to analyze and publish it, named it after Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Today 4… Bc5 is known as both the Traxler Variation in the United Kingdom and Wilkes-Barre Variation in the United States.

Out of White’s options after 4 …Bc5. 5 Nxf7 is very complicated after 5 …Bxf2+. The current main lines are all thought to lead to drawn or equal positions. White’s best try for an advantage is probably 5 Bxf7+ Ke7 6  Bb3 or 6 Bc4. Another option is 6 Bd5, recommended by Lawrence Trent in his Fritz-trainer DVD as this poses Black the most problems.

No grandmasters have regularly adopted the Traxler as Black, but Alexander Beliavsky and Alexei Shirov have played it occasionally even in top competition.’

Packing a Punch

Yes, it is unlikely to score highly at the top level and it wouldn’t survive a World Championship match. However, as most of us never have the opportunity to pit our chess wits against Magnus Carlsen, we don’t have to always stick to ‘correct’ openings in our own games.

The Traxler Counterattack still packs a considerable punch at club level. Now that everyone is playing online, with reduced time on the clock, the conditions are favourable to unleash 4 …Bc5 as a surprise weapon.

To tie in with our Monday checkmate theme it is time to revisit the Traxler Counterattack to see how the man himself handled the complications and even uncorked a checkmating attack against the white king.

Debut of the Traxler Counterattack

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 Bc4 Nf6

4 Ng5 Bc5

J. Reinisch – Karel Traxler
Prague, 1890

Here it is; the Traxler Counterattack, in the very game mentioned by Grandmaster Sethuraman in his course.

5 Nxf7

Perfectly natural. Has Black simply missed the threat?

5 …Bxf2+

Traxler Counterattack Bishop Sacrifice

No; this bishop sacrifice ensures the white king will – at the very least – feel uncomfortable.

6 Ke2

If White accepts the gift with 6 Kxf2 then 6 …Nxe4+ followed by 7 …Qh4 causes plenty of problems for the white king. 6 Kf1 is currently thought to be the best move but presumably White wanted to play a quick Rf1.

6 …Nd4+

Obvious and very powerful.

7 Kd3

7 Kxf2 is even worse than before after 7 …Nxe4+, as Black already has an extra piece contributing to the attack. 7 Kf1 would be an admission that 6 Ke2 was not the best move – and chess players are very stubborn when it comes to admitting mistakes. Therefore the king continues his dangerous journey.

Now 7 …Qe7 looks like the most logical reply, but Traxler continued to play in full tactical manner with the extraordinary move…

7 …b5

King Hunt

8 Bb3

White didn’t dare to take the queen. 8 Nxd8 bxc4+ and I don’t know anyone who would relish defending for White. One particularly interesting line runs 9 Kxc4 Ba6+ 10 Kb4 Rb8+ 11 Ka5 when the bishop counters the attack with 11 …Be2, trapping the white queen and giving Black a significant material advantage. Not bad, after so many sacrifices.

Sacrificial King Hunt

In fact, Black now throws more wood on the fire.

8 …Nxe4!

Traxler Sacrifice

9 Nxd8

I believe the expression is ‘a dying man can eat anything.’ There is no turning back now anyway and 9 Kxe4 d5+! is definitely not going to end well for White. After the move played, Black has a checkmate in nine moves.

9 …Nc5+

10 Kc3 Ne2+!

King Hunt Knight Sacrifice

They could really play chess back in 1890! Black make yet another sacrifice, with the intention of clearing d4 for the bishop to continue with the checks.

11 Qxe2 Bd4+

12 Kb4 a5+

Checkmating Attack

Who would you rather be?

13 Kxb5 Ba6+

14 Kxa5 Bd3+

Black could have used the discovered check to capture the queen, but where is the fun in that?

15 Kb4 Na6+

Checkmating King Hunt

Three Paths

White has three choices. Can you find the checkmates after each one? You need two more Black moves in each case.

16 Ka3 Bc5+ 17 Ka4 Nb4 checkmate.

16 Ka5 Nb4+ 17 Kxb4 c5 checkmate.

The one played in the game is 16 Ka4 The path is identical to the one above. 16 …Nb4+ 17 Kxb4 c5 checkmate.

Check your answers by highlighting the space after each of White’s possible 16th moves.

Tune in next Monday for more in our series on checkmates. Meanwhile, why not give the Traxler Counterattack a try in our own games? Tweet your brilliances to us!

There are many more beautiful checkmate patterns in our course, The Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and CraftyRaf.

There is a shortened, free version of the course here.

Here is a handy guide to the episodes in our series of blog posts on Checkmate Patterns.

Checkmate Patterns: Six of the Best

Famous Checkmate Patterns

Historical Checkmate Patterns

Beautiful Checkmate Patterns

Essential Checkmate Patterns

Picturesque Checkmate Patterns

Checkmate Patterns in Action

Adolf Anderssen’s Checkmating Skill

The King Hunt

Highlighted course

100 Endgames You Must Know

Highlighted course

The Art of Attack in Chess

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Check them on individual course pages