02 December 2013

Assessing the King's Gambit

François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795) asserted that with correct play on both sides, the King's Gambit led to a draw. Jacob Henry Sarratt (1772-1819) contested Philidor's assessment. According to Sarratt, Philidor analyzed the art of defense with less care than his labors analyzing the art of attack. Consequently, Philidor believed the player who has the first move should win, while most other authorities asserted that a game played equally well on both sides should be drawn.

For Philidor, the King's Gambit represented inaccurate play, and hence led to a draw. J. H. Sarratt, in A Treatise on the Game of Chess (London, 1808) concurs that the King's Gambit is not to be recommended. But he disagrees that it leads to a draw. He believes the first player should lose.
PHILIDOR says, the the King's gambit, when properly attacked and defended, ends in a drawn game. The members who composed the celebrated Academy of Chess at Naples, after a most careful analysis, gave it as their opinion, that he who plays the gambit ought to lose the game. Experience tends to confirm their decision: the King's gambit is an instructive game, replete with critical and remarkably striking situations, and very few players know how to defend it; but when the defense is correct, he who attacks has indisputably the disadvantage: Salvio's proverb is well known; "Gambitto a giocator: non farsi lice." (xix-xx)
Sarratt's Treatise marks the beginnings of a revival of interest in the playing style of the Italian masters from Gioachino Greco to Alessandro Salvio, Ercole del Rio, and Giambattista Lolli. The principles of the Modenese School favored active piece play. This emphasis differed from the positional ideas of Philidor focused upon pawn play.

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