Halloween Attack: ECO C47

"Modern chess is too much concerned with things like pawn structure. Forget it--Checkmate ends the game"
    - GM Nigel Short (1965 - ?)

Introduction

The Halloween Attack is also sometimes called the Müller-Schulze Gambit (a sort of joke in German, akin to "Jones and Smith" in English, and meaning all-inclusive), the Irish Gambit, and the Chicago Gambit. However, for the purposes of this writeup we'll keep the name used by the only person to ever really analyze the opening, one Steffen A. Jakob of Austria1.

This opening is an insane and wonderful gambit for white in the normally quiet Four Knights Game. Like a normal gambit, it sacrifices material for position and development. Unlike a normal gambit, the material sacrificed is a knight! While it may sound crazy, it appears to be more than sound enough for club and/or blitz play, although I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for top grandmasters to start taking it on the repertoire.

Note: This is a fairly direct opening line with next to no theory, so unlike many of the other openings I cover, this will be relatively complete. As always, all annotation is mine.

Definition

The Halloween Attack is defined by the following moves:

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Nxe5! (see Diagram 1)

The idea being to gain tempo after tempo in building an unstoppable kingside attack. This is not an opening for the faint of heart, nor even those of medium strength hearts. It's an assault for strong attacking players with good combinational vision and an understanding of how to bring their pieces to bear immediately to crush the enemy king in his bed. In getting to the position you can use a variety of move orders (1. e4 or 1. Nc3 generally) and some of the positions can also be reached from the Bishop's Opening, as well.


                         Diagram 1: After 4. Nxe5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |BN |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |WN |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |WP |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Main Lines

There are two main lines in the Halloween Attack and both of them start with 4. ... Nxe5 5. d4 (see Diagram 2). They differ primarily in where the knight retreats on move 4, and while both lines have marked differences, there are also similarities, as you will see. Hopefully, you can already see where this is going, though. You have traded your knight for a incredibly powerful pawn center which will be used to chase the black knights around (the pawns subsequently becoming vastly more powerful as they advance) as you bring in the artillery for the attack.

                         Diagram 2: After 5. d4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |BN |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |WP |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Line 1: 5. ... Ng6

This appears to be the strongest black reply, although it is still not anywhere near being comfortable for the person with the black pieces. After Ng6 follows 6. e5 Ng8 7. Bc4 (see Diagram 3) and you are starting to see quite clearly the compensation for the knight. White has two powerful advanced center pawns and two pieces developed, one of which is already pointing directly at the weak f7 square. From here there are two primary continuations, each of which deserve their own treatment.

                         Diagram 3: After 7. Bc4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WB |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

  1. 7. ... d5 8. Bxd5 c6

    This is as close to a refutation of this opening as there is and it's still fairly strong for white (see Diagram 4). The idea is not to get carried away by the lines opening up and to remember the basic principles of kingside attack. You really need your bishop to stay on the a2-g8 diagonal to keep pressure on the f7 square, and you don't want to lose another tempo with 9. Bc4 b5, so pulling back to b3 is your best bet. Generally black will come after your remaining knight with Bb4 after this. You should castle kingside and bring a rook into the fray supporting either the f-pawn or the e-pawn, depending on how things continue.

    
                             Diagram 4: After 8. ... c6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |   |   |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |BP |   |   |   |BN |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |WB |WP |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

  2. 7. ... Bb4 8. Qf3

    Here (see Diagram 5) black goes for a material trade but it is ultimately to his or her detriment. The queen move is not intended to cover the knight on c3, it's intended to mate on f7 and is therefore an irresistable move requiring immediate response. Black can either move the queen to e7 to protect the focal point on f7, or simply (and slightly better) take the knight with check with 8. Bxc3+. Afterward both of these moves typically transpose into essentially the same positions since black is going to take that knight and defend against mate on f7, while white is going to castle kingside and bring the heavy artillery into the game. Under no circumstances should you recapture the bishop with the queen. This is not an opening about endgames, it's about fast and furious checkmate, so doubled pawns are nothing to be concerned about. The continued threat on f7 is the real bread and butter of this line.

                             Diagram 5: After 8. Qf3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |   |BN |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |BB |WB |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WN |   |   |WQ |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |   |WB |   |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

Line 2: 5. ... Nc6

This is really a bad move and gives white a great game, but it happens often enough that it deserves at least a quick look-over. After 6. d5 Ne5 7. f4 Ng6 8. e5 Ng8 9. d6 (see Diagram 6) white has an incredible attack and black is probably going to end up throwing material away in an attempt to repulse the central pawn storm. From here the d-pawn is usually traded, although in my own experiments in this line Fritz saw excellent results from c6 instead, since it prevents the horrible Nb5 or Nd5 threatening mate or the loss of the queen. No matter what happens here, though, white has a powerful attack which is very difficult to repulse.


                         Diagram 6: After 9. d6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |   |   |BN |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |WP |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

In Closing

If you have an interest in shocking your opponent and fighting hard for a quick checkmate, the Halloween Attack is not only an easy opening to remember, but it also gives you an overwhelming attack in exchange for a knight and will give you great stories to tell your grandchildren. Mind the kingside attack and you'll be the talk of your chess club.
1 Herr Jakob's Halloween Attack site is located at http://www.jakob.at/steffen/halloween/ and has a more complete line tree (most possible moves, even the really ridiculous ones) than I have presented here, but no analysis to speak of. What it does have, however, are thousands of games played by a computer engine named Brause on ICC, which was instrumental in gathering the supporting data for this writeup.

Resources:
ChessBase 8.0 used for culling game statistics.

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