The Albin Counter-Gambit is a response to the Queen’s Gambit, begging with the moves 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5
In the Albin Counter-Gambit, black immediately strikes back against white’s space advantage in the center by thrusting their king’s pawn forward – even at the cost of a pawn!
Declining this pawn sacrifice doesn’t make much sense. White could play the passive 3. e3?!, but allowing black’s ambitious pawn move to “stand” is obviously a big concession, and black already has a fully equal position.
Instead, 3. dxe5 is the main move, and now black will answer not with 3…dxc4? (allowing 4. Qxd8+ and white stands much better), but with 3…d4
This is often considered to be the main starting position of the Albin Counter-Gambit. Black’s down a pawn, but the d4 pawn cramps the white pieces a little bit. The b1-knight is deprived of its best square on c3, and it’s not so easy for white to play e3 either – as we’re about to see!
There’s a well-known trap in the Albin which can occur if white plays 4. e3? right away.
The moves looks appealing – it liberates the light-squared bishop and challenges black’s annoying d4 pawn. And if black takes on e3, white gets to exchange queens before winning their pawn back. If your opponent is unfamiliar with the Albin Counter-Gambit, they’re likely to play this natural-looking move!
Unfortunately for white, black has a surprise in store. 4…Bb4+ gives black a great position.
White has to block the check, and after 5. Bd2, black has the in-between move 5…dxe3!
Now 6. fxe3 is necessary, but after 6…Qh4+ 7. g3 Qe4 white’s position is obviously quite bad.
If white tries to win a piece with 6. Bxb4 instead, there follows 6…exf2+ 7. Ke2 (7. Kxf2?? hangs white’s queen)
Promoting to a queen would allow white to throw in Qxd8+ before taking back on g1, with equal material. Promoting to a knight comes with check, and threatens …Bg4+ winning the queen now that white’s knight is eliminated! Black wins.
A more sensible approach against the Albin Counter-Gambit is to play 4. Nf3. Play often continues 4…Nc6 5. g3
Since e3 is difficult to play, white fianchettos the light-squared bishop.
Black has tried aggressive set-ups with …Be6 and …Bg4, sometimes intending queenside castling and an attack on the white king, but 5…Nge7 has become a popular move. Black’s intending to play …Ng6 and win their pawn back on e5.
Play might continue 6. Bg2 Ng6 7. 0-0 Ngxe5 8. Nbd2 9. b3 0-0 10. Bb2
White is hoping to pressure the d4-pawn the same way black won the e5 pawn, but black will be able to defend it with 10…Nxf3 11. Nxf3 Bf6. In practice, black has held his own from this position despite the pressure on d4.
This innocent-looking pawn move is another option white has at his disposal. If you recall the Lasker Trap from the begging of this article, you might understand the purpose of this move – by preventing …Bb4+, white could play e3 in some lines to challenge black’s d4 pawn.
The downside, of course, is that this move does not develop a piece. Black can play 4…Nc6 and attack white’s e5 pawn.
After 5. Nf3 Nge7 6. e3 (6. b4 is also sometimes tried, covered in the video above), it looks like white’s in time to tear down black’s central control before the e5-pawn falls, but black has an adequate resources in 6…Bg4.
This move pins the knight and therefore reinforces the d4 pawn. After 7. Be2 dxe3 8. Qxd8+ Rxd8 9. Bxe3:
Black regains their sacrificed pawn with 9…Bxf3 10. Bxf3 Nxe5. If white takes a pawn with 11. Bxb7, black will be able to play 11…Nxc4 and maintain the material balance.
I found this move rather humorous when I first learned of the idea – what a great exploitation of the en-passant mechanics of chess!
We know 4. e3 is bad (from the Lasker Trap) above, and in “theory,” 4. e4 shouldn’t be any different. You can almost always throw in an in-between check in chess before making a capture! But of course, en-passant is an exception, and black is not allowed to throw in the deadly …Bb4+ before taking on e3.
After 4…Nc6 5. f4, white’s space looks menacing, but in practice black has done fine here. Black can start chipping away at white’s space with 5…f6, and now after 6. exf6 Nxf6, we arrive at this position:
Black has two pieces developed compared to white’s none, and white’s king is a bit exposed.
The Albin Counter-Gambit is an interesting way to challenge white in the Queen’s Gambit. The d4 pawn has a cramping effect on white, and in many lines black is able to recoup the pawn on e5 and achieve equality.
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