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Ponziani Opening

Ponziani Opening
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3
ECO C44
Origin c. 1490
Named after Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani
Parent King's Knight Opening

The Ponziani Opening is a chess opening that begins with the moves:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. c3

It is one of the oldest chess openings, having been discussed in the literature by 1497. It was advocated by Howard Staunton, generally considered the world's strongest player from 1843 to 1851, in his 1847 book The Chess-Player's Handbook. For some decades, it was often called "Staunton's Opening" or the "English Knight's Game" as a result. Today, it is usually known by the name of Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani, whose main contribution to the opening was his introduction, in 1769, of the countergambit 3...f5!?

The opening is now considered inferior to 3.Bb5, the Ruy Lopez, and 3.Bc4, the Italian Game, and is accordingly rarely seen today at any level of play. Black's main responses are 3...Nf6, leading to quiet play, and 3...d5, leading to sharp play. Ponziani's countergambit 3...f5!? was successfully played in the grandmaster game Hikaru Nakamura vs Julio Becerra Rivero, US Championship 2007.

History

The opening 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 is one of the oldest known openings, having been discussed in chess literature by no later than 1497. It was mentioned in both of the earliest chess treatises: the Repetición de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez con ci Iuegos de Partido by Lucena and the Göttingen manuscript. Today the opening bears the surname of Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani. Although Ponziani did analyze the opening in 1769, his principal contribution was the introduction of the countergambit 3...f5!? Later the opening was favored by Howard Staunton, who in The Chess-Player's Handbook (1847) called it "so full of interest and variety, that its omission in many of the leading works on the game is truly unaccountable. ... it deserves, and, if we mistake not, will yet attain a higher place in the category of legitimate openings than has hitherto been assigned to it".

Nomenclature

Staunton cumbersomely referred to the opening as "The Queen's Bishop's Pawn Game in the King's Knight's Opening", as did George H. D. Gossip in The Chess Player's Manual (1888, American edition 1902). Napoleon Marache, one of the leading American players, similarly called it the "Queen's Bishop's Pawn Game" in his 1866 manual. In their treatise Chess Openings Ancient and Modern (1889, 1896), E. Freeborough and the Reverend C.E. Ranken called it "Staunton's Opening". In an appendix to later editions of Staunton's work, R.F. Green, editor of the British Chess Magazine, also called it "Staunton's Opening", directing those seeking a definition of "Ponziani's Game" to the former name. Green referred to 3...f5 as "Ponziani's Counter Gambit". Chess historian H. J. R. Murray in his celebrated 1913 work A History of Chess called the opening simply the "Staunton", explaining that he was using "the ordinary names of the Openings as used by English players of the present day". James Mason in his treatise The Art of Chess (Fourth Edition c. 1910?) referred to the opening as the "Ponziani-Staunton Attack". The famous German Handbuch des Schachspiels, which went through eight editions between 1843 and 1916, called it the "Englisches Springerspiel" (English Knight's Game). The Reverend E.E. Cunnington in The Modern Chess Primer (Thirteenth Edition 1933) referred to it as the "Ponziani Opening (sometimes called Staunton's)".

Wilhelm Steinitz, the first World Champion, in his 1895 treatise The Modern Chess Instructor (Part II), inaccurately called the opening the "Ponziani Opening", as did his successor, Emanuel Lasker, in Lasker's Manual of Chess. Similarly, Frank Marshall in Chess Openings, the authors of Modern Chess Openings (Second Edition 1913), and Siegbert Tarrasch in The Game of Chess (1931, English translation 1938) called it "Ponziani's Opening". William Cook in The Chess Players' Compendium (Fifth Edition 1910) called it "Ponziani's Game", while Francis Joseph Lee and Gossip in The Complete Chess - Guide (1903) called it "Ponziani's Knight's Game". Contemporary authors likewise call it the "Ponziani Opening", "Ponziani's Opening", or simply the "Ponziani".

Introduction and overview

Ponziani
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3

The Ponziani is rarely played today except as a surprise weapon, because Black has the pleasant choice between equalizing easily and attempting to obtain an advantage with sharper play. White's third move prepares to build a powerful pawn center with 4.d4, a logical objective also seen in the more popular Ruy Lopez and Giuoco Piano. However, 3.c3 is somewhat premature because the move: (1) takes away the most natural square for White's queen knight, (2) temporarily creates a hole on d3, and (3) develops a pawn rather than a piece leaving White behind in development and not well placed to meet a counterattack in the center. Moreover, unlike in the Giuoco Piano, where White's d4 advance attacks Black's king's bishop on c5, in the Ponziani d4 will not gain a tempo. On the positive side, the move 3.c3 creates a second diagonal for the white queen.

As early as 1904, Marshall wrote that, "There is no point in White's third move unless Black plays badly. ... White practically surrenders the privilege of the first move." More recently, Graham Burgess called the Ponziani "a relic from a bygone age, popular neither at top level nor at club level". Bruce Pandolfini has said,

Curiously, every great teacher of openings who investigated the Ponziani has concluded that it leads to interesting play and deserves to be played more often. Yet it has never captured the fancy of chessplayers in general, and it remains to be seen whether the Ponziani is an opening of the past or of the future.

In Chess Master Vs. Chess Amateur, Max Euwe and Walter Meiden wrote,

What should one do with this opening? It is no opening for beginners, because tactics predominate in the play. There are no simple strategic principles to govern the general lines in this opening.

Variations

Jaenisch Variation
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
3...Nf6 4.d4 Nxe4 5.d5
Leonhardt Variation
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
3...d5 4.Qa4 Nf6 5.Nxe5
Steinitz Variation
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
3...d5 4.Qa4 f6 5.Bb5
Ponziani Countergambit
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
3...f5 4.d4 fxe4 5.Nxe5

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 the main continuations are:

Illustrative games

Here is a quiet draw typical of the 3...Nf6 line:

V. Medvedev (2365) versus Charles Milgram (2375), ICCF 1991
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. d5 Ne7 6. Nxe5 Ng6 7. Qd4 Qf6 8. Qxe4 Qxe5 9. Qxe5+ Nxe5 10. Nd2 d6 11. Nc4 Nxc4 12. Bxc4 Be7 13. 0-0 0-0 14. Re1 Bf6 15. Be3 Bd7 ½-½

While this game was agreed drawn there are good winning chances for White in this type of endgame.

The variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Nge7 has been attributed to Reti due to him having tried it against Tartakower and lost. Recent analysis gives White the edge, i.e. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Nge7 4.Bc4 (immediately targeting f7) d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 and now either 6.0-0 or 6.Qb3 lead to a White advantage. Also playable for White is 4. Bb5 which transposes to a line of the Cozio Defense to the Ruy Lopez.

Chigorin vs. Gossip, 1889
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 12...Ke7?

Here are two games illustrating the wild tactical play that often develops in the 3...d5 4.Qa4 f6 5.Bb5 Ne7 line:

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