Bulletin No.31 – Bashing the Birds Opening in only 3 Moves – Updated!
Martin Simons wrote the first version of this article 30 years ago and has just updated it with fresh analysis.
There is a little known secret, guaranteed to give you an advantage after only 3 moves with Black if White plays his or her move order slightly inaccurately in the Bird’s Opening.
Birds (or Nimzo-Larsen) Opening players often like to play f4 followed by a quick queenside fianchetto or vice-versa so here is an easy to play line for Black. This works when White plays any of the following first 3 moves:-
Part A) 1.f4 2.b3 3.Bb2 or 1.b3 2.Bb2 3.f4
Part B) 1.f4 2.Nf3 3.b3
We will not be covering other Birds 1.f4 systems for White if he plays 2.Nf3 and either 3.e3 or 3.g3 which are about level. Similarly, we will not cover those Nimzo-Larsen 1.b3 opening lines where White does not play 3.f4.
The simple response for Black against both the lines covered in Parts A & B is to play 1… Nf6, 2… d6 and then the surprising gambit move 3… e5!
So here is the Top Secret Analysis (not given in any opening book)! At the end of each section there is a summary that links to an interactive board for people who prefer to work that way. If you want to see the interactive board from the black perspective please click the circular arrow below the board.
Part A) 1.f4 Nf6 2.b3 d6 3.Bb2 e5! or 1.b3 Nf6 2.Bb2 d6 3.f4 e5!
So, you may be asking what’s the big deal, how can Black possibly be claiming an advantage, let alone winning chances, after all, isn’t he or she losing a pawn for nothing?
However, White already has significant dark squared weaknesses and if s/he falls for the bait of capturing the pawn on e5 then s/he is quite simply close to losing in nearly all lines. This is not obvious though which makes the whole variation all the better! Most of Black’s tricks hinge on being able to threaten mate on g3.
In Part A1 we will consider when White cannot resist the winning of Black’s e-pawn.
In Parts A2 to A4 we will look at when White does not accept the gambit pawn.
Part A1: 4.fxe5 dxe5 5.Bxe5?
This fails to 5…Ng4!! After only 5 moves, White is completely lost (well, almost)!
Black is eyeing up the f2 square and the weak h4 to e1 diagonal. White has 4 main defences, the first being the best try.
A1a) 6.Bg3! (best in a bad situation)
A1a) 6.Bg3! to cover the weak h4 to e1 diagonal but now 6… Qf6! which sets a devious trap. Black threatens White’s rook on a1 so this limits White’s choices.
A1a1) 7.Nc3? This is the most obvious response but it loses instantly to 7… Ne3!!
Due to the double attack on White’s queen and bishop, White must play 8.dxe3 but after 8… Qxc3 it’s game over (8… Bb4 is not bad either) e.g. 9.Kf2 Bc5 10.Bf4 Qf6! and White will lose at least a piece.
A1a2) 7.c3! Bd6! and again White only has one decent move to protect the g3 and f2 squares.
- A1a2a) 8.Nf3? Bxg3+ 9.hxg3 Qd6 10.Rh3 and now either 10… Nf6 or 10… Nh6 is good.
- A1a2b) 8.Nh3! Bxg3+ Qe5 10.Nf4 Nf6 to control h5 and threaten g5 which is hard to parry and Black should win a safe pawn but this is White’s best chance e.g. 11.e3 g5 12. Nd3 Qxg3+ 13.Nf2 Bg4 14.Be2 Bxe2 15.Qxe2 Qxg2 16.c4 Ne4! Black stands much better.
Nc6! 7.Nf3 Ncxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.dxe5
and now Black can exploit White’s dark squared weaknesses with …
9… Qh4+! 10.g3 (10.Kd2 allows 10… Qd4+ picking up the rook on a1!) Qe4 11.Rg1 Bc5 winning!
Nxe5 7.Nxe5 Qd4
winning either the knight on e5 or the rook on a1!
This is perhaps the most obvious move but 6… Bd6 7.Nf3 (what else?) Bxh2! 8.Rxh2 Nxh2 9.Bxg7 Qd6! threatening mate on g3
and once again Black is completely winning.
All this looks pretty convincing so let’s peel back and see what happens if White does not grab Black’s e5 pawn. We believe Black will still get a good game. Let’s take a look …
1.f4 Nf6 2.b3 d6 3.Bb2 e5!!
Part A2: 4.fxe5 dxe5 5.g3
This seems logical as it blunts the h4 to e1 diagonal but 5… h5! is the logical combative response.
(5… Bc5 may also be good.
The pawn on e5 is still taboo e.g. 6.Bxe5 Ng4, now White must play 7.d4 due to the dual threat of Nxe5 and Nf2. However, 7… Nxe5 looks strong. If 8.dxe5 Bf2+! wins the White queen. If 8.dxc5 Qf6 is good.
Therefore 6.e3 is safer but after 6… Bg4 7.Be2 h5! and Black has easy play with advantage).
However, 5… h5! appears to be stronger.
As in many other lines White can get into trouble after 6.Bxe5 Ng4! 7.Bb2 (7.Bf4 Qd4 is game over!) h4 and Black’s attack is too strong due to the weaknesses around White’s king e.g. 8.Bg2 hxg3 9.hxg3 Rxh1 10.Bxh1 Qd6 winning.
White’s best defence is therefore 6.Bg2 but after say 6… h4 7.Nc3 hxg3 8.hxg3 Rxh1 9.Bxh1
Qd6 a multi-purpose move eyeing up g3 and preparing to castle long 10.e3 Bg4 11.Nge2 Nc6 12.d3 Be7 13.Qd2 0-0-0 14.0-0-0 Rh8 15.Bg2 Rh2 Black is clearly better.
Part A3: 4.fxe5 dxe5 5.e3
This is a much safer way for White to play. Then 5… Bd6 looks the most solid move with a slight advantage to Black. White always has to be careful about moving his d-pawn as Ng4 can then be played. One possible continuation is 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Bb5 Bd7 8.Nge2 a6 with an edge for Black.
Now if White plays the obvious 9.Bxc6? this would give Black a significant edge due to his two bishops and kingside attacking chances.
If White chooses not to swap off the pawns on move 4, then this allows Black the chance to swap the pawns off with advantage.
Part A4: 4.e3
exf4 5.exf4 Be7
A4a) 6.Nf3 0-0 7.Be2 Nd5!
An excellent and difficult move to meet as it is not easy to defend the pawn on f4 particularly as 8.g3 allows 8… Bh3 with advantage.
A4b) 6.g3 then 6…0-0 7.Bg2 Re8 8.Ne2 d5! and Black has lots of free play!
Now we examine the lines where White plays b3 f4 and Nf3 in the first three moves.
Part B) 1.f4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d6 3.b3 e5!
Part B1: 4.fxe5 dxe5 5.Nxe5?
The pawn is taboo as after 5…Qd4 White can resign. The trouble is the White knight on f3 can often be hit with e4 which makes this variation even better for Black.
If White prevents this with ….
Part B2: 4.fxe5 dxe5 5.e4
then Bc5 6.Bc4 0-0
and Black has such easy play. White’s b3 move is a weakening move and White is long way off from castling!
Part B3: 4.d3
Black can still play 4…e4, e.g. 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Bb2 d5 7.g3 Bb4+ 8.Nbd2 Bg4
Black has excellent chances and is threatening to win a piece with the immediate 9…Bxf3 and 10…Bxd2+. Also 9…Bc3 may be a threat.
The set up for Black is so powerful (and unknown) that it is virtually a refutation to almost any Birds Opening set up involving f4 followed by b3 in the first 3 moves.
If you get a chance to play this, then please let us have your games!