The Bird Opening is a chess opening beginning with 1. f4
Named after the 19th-century English chess player Henry Bird, this initial move succeeds in controlling some key central squares. The primary reason it lags behind in popularity compared to other central-occupying pawn moves is that the Bird Opening exposes the vulnerable King’s Diagonal – and we’ll soon see how black can attempt to exploit this!
When playing the Bird Opening, white often wants to embark upon a strategy of controlling the central dark squares and perhaps later launching a Kingside attack, bolstered by white’s natural territorial advantage on this side of the board that he has staked out on move one!
Let’s look at how this can play out:
1. f4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 g6 4. b3 Bg7 5. Bb2 0-0
White controls all the central dark squares very well, and has no trouble completing development. This fianchetto set-up is a popular way for black to handle the Bird, as the dark squared bishop makes a great defender of black’s king.
Play may proceed 6. Be2 c5 7. 0-0 Nc6, and each side has succeeded with their aims out of the opening.
As with many openings without any early central pawn tension, both sides have numerous possible set-ups and a large degree of flexibility in the Bird Opening. White has some set-ups where he fianchettos the light bishop and places it on g2, for example, and black has some off-beat setups of their own.
One such example is 1. f4 b6
This is likely a better version of some other openings where black puts a bishop on b7 from the get-go. Since white has committed to playing f4, white will never be able to blunt this bishop later in the game by playing f3.
One particular system against the Bird Opening deserves special attention. Black can attempt to exploit the weakness of the King’s Diagonal with:
1. f4 e5 – The From Gambit
This strange-looking pawn sacrifice is more dangerous for white than it looks!
Of course, white can decline this sacrifice. White can even play a gambit of his own – after 2. e4, we transpose to a King’s Gambit, just as if the game had begun as a King’s Pawn Opening!
But let’s look at what happens if white accepts this sacrifice.
1. f4 e5 2. fxe5 d6 3. exd6 Bxd6
White’s up a pawn, that’s for sure. And black has no central pawns remaining! But not everything is so rosy. For starters, black is threatening a forced checkmate, and it’s only move three!
I’ll show you: 4. Nc3?? Qh4+ 4. g3 Qxg3+ (4…Bxg3 is also checkmate, but isn’t this more fun?) 5. hxg3 Bxg3#
In light of this, white almost exclusively plays 4. Nf3, but now the crazy-looking 4…g5 is the main line:
Black keeps up the pressure! The threat is to kick the knight away, and then to execute the threat shown above.
After 5. g3 g4 6. Nh4 Ne7 7. d4, Black can play 7…Ng6. White’s h4 knight was doing a good job stalling the black offensive, but now it is forcibly removed, and after 8. Nxg6 hxg6, black gets an open h-file for his rook.
The From Gambit is certainly an exciting way to take on the Bird Opening head-on. I’ve won some very quick games on the black side of this opening in speed chess, but have yet to get the chance to employ this pawn sacrifice in a tournament!
The Bird Opening is a solid alternative to some of white’s more popular openings, offering both sides a great degree of flexibility in their piece development. White must be prepared to deal with the From Gambit, however, before choosing to play this opening.
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