22 January 2012

Opening Disaster: Damiano's Defense

The 2012 Winterfest Scholastic, a youth tournament that has run for more than ten years, featured a miniature that highlights a not infrequent opening error. The error has a name: Damiano's Defense. Pedro Damiano, although not regarded as a particularly strong player, recognized the weakness of Black's defense of the e-pawn and Ruy Lopez gave the opening his name.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6?

After White's second move, Black must either protect the e-pawn, or attack White's, as in the Russian defense (2...Nf6). 2...f6 is a terrible way to protect the pawn. Here there are many ways to proceed. I recommend immediately demonstrating the error with a knight sacrifice. Actually, the word sacrifice seems odd here, because White gains a lot for the temporary investment of the horse.

3.Nxe5! fxe5??

If 2...f6 is an error, then 3...fxe5 is the blunder that practically assures White's victory. Possibly the strongest player to ever experiment with the lunacy of 2...f6 was Mikhail Chigorin. Chigorin played 3...Qe7 and that game ended drawn. Chigorin's skill, as well as his phenomenal contribution to chess in Russia, and thus the modern world, is such that my assignment of the question mark to 2...f6 could be viewed as hubris. After 3...Qe7, I cannot find a way for White to maintain the one pawn advantage. While the 2...f6 move creates a weakness, exploiting the weakness is not always as easy as it seems that it should be.

Schiffers,Emanuel Stepanovich - Chigorin,Mikhail [C40]
St. Petersburg 1897

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 Qe7 4.Nf3 d5 5.d3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nc6 8.0–0 Bd7 9.Nc3 Qg6 10.Ne5 Nxe5 11.Bh5 0–0–0 12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qe2 Bd6 14.Ne4 Nf3+ 15.gxf3 Bxh2+ 16.Kg2 Bh3+ 17.Kh1 Be5 18.Kg1 Bh2+ 19.Kh1 Be5 20.Qe1 Bg4+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3 22.Ng3 Ne7 23.Qe3 Bc6 24.Qxa7 b6 25.Be3 Nf5 26.f4 Nxg3 27.fxe5 Rh1+ 28.Kf2 Rh2+ 29.Kxg3 Rdh8 30.Qa6+ Kb8 31.Bxb6 Rg2+ 32.Kf4 Rh4+ 33.Ke3 Rh3+ 34.Kf4 Rh4+ ½–½

The game on Saturday, however, was played by elementary students. The White player is among the strongest of the area youth, plays in adult tournaments, and has a disciplined study regimen. It was the Black player's first event of the year, and he was rather mismatched in the first round (an ordinary feature of Swiss System tournaments). The rating difference between the players was nearly 500 Elo.


Black to move


4...Ke7 is the only legal alternative, and should result in 5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ d5 (the only move that keeps Black playing).

5.Qxe5+ Be7?

5...Qe7 seems to me the only reasonable move. White maintains a decisive advantage, but Black gets a bit of counterplay if White fails to bring additional pieces into the attack, or responds inappropriately to Black's threats. I offer as an illustration, this quick White win against a master who adopted Black's self-defeating strategy. 5...Ne7 is better than 5...Be7.

Benavides Jojoa,Cristian - Torres,Javier (2259) [C40]
Bogota 2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 fxe5 4.Qh5+ g6 5.Qxe5+ Qe7 6.Qxh8 Qxe4+ 7.Kd1 Qe6 8.Qxh7 d6 9.Bb5+ Bd7 10.Re1 Nf6 11.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 12.Rxe6+ Kd8 13.Qf7 c6 14.Rxf6 Kc7 15.d4 d5 16.Bf4+ 1–0

6.Qxh8 Kf7?

It is hard to suggest a reasonable alternative for Black here. Possibly, admitting the loss of the knight in addition to the rook, and preparing Qe7 with the bishop's retreat 6...Bf7 is the main alternative to simply resigning.

White to move

7.Bc4+ Ke8

7...d5 is the only move that averts a forced checkmate.

8.Qxg8+ Bf7 9.Qf7#

Black's play offers a lesson to avoid. White deserves credit for understanding the error of Black's second and third moves, and punishing the errors. Scholastic players are well-advised to learn from this miniature. Black's 2...f6 is shockingly common in scholastic play.


  1. A known opening mistake that beginners tend to make. I wonder however why he didn't play d6 if he wanted to defend with a pawn or did his teacher point out that d6 blocks his bishop on f8?

  2. A thorough examination of Black's strongest and weakest responses after 2...f6(?). Well done!