Game#58 – Battling the Cunningham Defense

The Cunningham Defense

The King’s Gambit is one of White’s fiercest replies to 2. e5 but Black has many ways to counter-attack. One of these is the lesser know variation known as the Cunningham Defense. Black plays an early Be7 threatening Bh4. This stops castling and leaves White with the problem of how to develop his h1 rook and get his king to safety.

The King’s Gambit by John Shaw is an excellent book that has some of the best coverage ever written on this opening. Chapter 11 is dedicated to the Cunningham Defense and is a must read for players wanting to understand White’s best options.

My opponent played well. He created a weakness on c3 and made some solid moves to pressure my position. It wasn’t until the very end that he blundered a piece and quickly resigned. This game is a reminder of the importance of chess tactics. Whether you play blitz, bullet or correspondence, people are always susceptible to a tactic. In this game, my opponent fell for two of them.

Defending a tough position in the Cunningham Defense

Game#58 - Battling the Cunningham Defense

Post-game analysis

Things are not always as they appear. Nc3 wasn’t a terrible move but I played it to contest the center. I did not calculate the long term challenges of defending a backward c-pawn. After Nxc3, Black is simply better and has a lasting advantage.

Prophylaxis . Preventative moves that anticipate your opponent’s ideas are known as prophylaxis. In this position, I should have played the defensive Kg1, getting my king off the second rank and away from looming danger.

Game#58 - Battling the Cunningham Defense

Other prophylaxis ideas are moves like h3, limiting the scope of the f5 bishop and allowing the f4 bishop to retreat to g3 or h2.

Unexplored territory in the opening. The Cunningham Defense is a challenging set of moves that has a tendency to put White on the defensive. Anytime your opponent forces you to play Kf1, you need to calculate how to activate your pieces and create some counterplay. Remember that chess is pure calculation. Your ability to analyze a chess position and play good moves will allow you to survive opening variations you are not familiar with.


It is sometimes better to be lucky than good. That’s what happened in this game. I was worse in the opening and my opponent fell for a tactic that lost a pawn. He miscalculated again with Qc8 that allowed Re7 and the Bd6 skewer on the rooks. Overall a decent game where I needed to focus more on pawn structure and king safety. The Cunningham Defense, a tough nut to crack from the white side of the King’s Gambit!

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