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St. George Defence

a b c d e f g h
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 a6
Named after English patron St. George
Parent King's Pawn Game
Synonym(s) Baker's Defence
Birmingham Defence
Basman Counterattack

The St. George Defence (also known as the Baker's Defence, Birmingham Defence, or Basman Counterattack ) is an unorthodox chess opening for Black. The opening begins with the moves:

1. e4 a6!?

The St. George Defence is given ECO code B00 as a King's Pawn Opening.


The first known chess game involving the St. George was a simultaneous game between an English amateur, J. Baker, and the first official World Chess Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, on 11 December 1868. The game was won by Baker. The advocates of the opening are generally players willing to sacrifice the centre in order to attack from the flank, and to avoid theory. Michael Basman has been known to play the St. George, as did Tony Miles.

In perhaps its most famous appearance, Miles defeated reigning World Champion Anatoly Karpov in the 1980 European Team Championship in Skara, Sweden. The opening also acquired the name of "Birmingham Defence" at this time, after Miles' hometown.

Boris Spassky also played the St. George Defence, albeit by transposition, in the 22nd game of his 1966 world championship match against World Champion Tigran Petrosian. That game began 1.d4 b5 (the Polish Defence) 2.e4 Bb7 3.f3 a6 (transposing to the St. George). This was an inauspicious outing for the defence, however: Petrosian won, giving him the 12 points needed to retain his title.


The St. George Defence is generally considered an inferior response to 1.e4 compared to 1...e5, 1...e6, 1...c5, or 1...c6. The St. George Defence is considered more dubious than Owen's Defence (1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7), since Black spends three moves just to develop his queen bishop, as opposed to two in Owen's Defence, while White occupies the centre and is ready to castle in three more moves.

The major lines in the opening start with 1.e4 a6!? 2.d4 b5 and then branch. (White can also show the defence respect by playing the strong if rarely played 1.e4 a6 2.c4 preventing Black's 2...b5 or making it into a gambit.) The main line continues 3.Nf3 Bb7 4.Bd3 e6 5.0-0 Nf6. Another important line is the Three Pawns Attack, sometimes called the St. George Gambit, which continues 3.c4 e6!? 4.cxb5 axb5 5.Bxb5 Bb7. (Black can also play 3...Bb7 and offer the b-pawn for the more valuable white e-pawn.) The St. George is also sometimes used to prevent a white bishop from occupying b5 before continuing as in French Defence.

Much of the theoretical work on the defence was done by the English IM Michael Basman.

Illustrative game

Anatoly Karpov-Tony Miles, European Team Championship, Skara 1980:
1.e4 a6 2.d4 b5 3.Nf3 Bb7 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Qe2 e6 6.a4 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Nbd2 b4 9.e5 Nd5 10.Ne4 Be7 11.0-0 Nc6 12.Bd2 Qc7 13.c4 bxc3 14.Nxc3 Nxc3 15.Bxc3 Nb4 16.Bxb4 Bxb4 17.Rac1 Qb6 18.Be4 0-0!? 19.Ng5 (19.Bxh7+!? is a dangerous sacrifice) h6 20.Bh7+ Kh8 21.Bb1 Be7 22.Ne4 Rac8 23.Qd3 Rxc1 24.Rxc1 Qxb2 25.Re1 Qxe5 26.Qxd7 Bb4 27.Re3 Qd5 28.Qxd5 Bxd5 29.Nc3 Rc8 30.Ne2 g5 31.h4 Kg7 32.hxg5 hxg5 33.Bd3 a5 34.Rg3 Kf6 35.Rg4 Bd6 36.Kf1 Be5 37.Ke1 Rh8 38.f4 gxf4 39.Nxf4 Bc6 40.Ne2 Rh1+ 41.Kd2 Rh2 42.g3 Bf3 43.Rg8 Rg2 44.Ke1 Bxe2 45.Bxe2 Rxg3 46.Ra8 Bc7 0-1

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