Features Apr 3, 2021 | 9:54 PMby Sean Marsh

Checkmates in Disreputable Openings

In top level chess, dubious openings will generally lead only to your own pain and suffering, but at less exalted levels they can be a great way to catch out unwary opponents. In this week’s crop of checkmates, Sean Marsh takes a look at some quick finishes arising from openings as diverse as the Blackburne Shilling Gambit and Owen’s Defense.

Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) gave the world the Blackburne Shilling Gambit - who can resist a free pawn? 

Blackburne Shilling Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4

So named because Joseph Henry Blackburne used to play for a shilling a game and won repeatedly with this trap, although I have yet to see a game in which ‘The Black Death’ actually played this way. Offhand games usually went unrecorded. It looks as if Black has blundered away a pawn.

4.Nxe5 Qg5

It is best to pause before playing 4…Qg5 if you are playing for a shilling, to make it look as if you are already improvising.


Maybe Black is an inexperienced player who cannot help blundering away material?

5…Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2

7.Qe2 loses the queen, but players with White will still think everything is fine, especially as the rook on h8 is clearly doomed.

7…Nf3 checkmate

I have seen this happen many times, usually in Lightning Chess tournaments at the local chess clubs. If you are White and would like to spoil Black’s fun then I recommend playing 4.c3!

The Englund Gambit

1.d4 e5

This is played by people who have the following trap in mind, but it is not to be recommended in serious games.

2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7

Unlike the Budapest Defense, in which Black’s king’s knight is usually on g4 (as we saw last week), Black has to perform some gymnastics with the queen to regain the pawn.

4.Bf4 Qb4+

This check often comes as a surprise to the unwary. b2, e1 and f4 are all forked by the impudent queen.

5.Bd2 Qxb2 6.Bc3

White won’t mind losing the b-pawn if the e5-pawn can be maintained. It also looks like White will gain serious time for developing moves by harassing the queen.


Suddenly the problems become apparent. Black has threats of 7…Bxc3+ and also 7…Qxa1.


Defending the bishop, but White’s house of cards now collapses under the strain.

7…Bxc3 8.Qxc3 Qc1 checkmate

It is easy to see the appeal of this trap which is another one I have seen happen several times over-the-board.

The Dutch Defense

The Dutch Defense is a perfectly good way for Black to meet 1.d4, but the disreputable aspect of this particular line lies in the early advance of all three kingside pawns. This is motivated by greed, as Black thinks he can use the pawns to trap White’s bishop.

1.d4 f5

So far, so good.


A tricky line which has claimed many victims.

2…h6 3.Bh4 g5 4.Bg3 f4

The plan is well-intentioned. Is Black simply winning a bishop?


Not quite. The e-pawn comes to the rescue. The threat of 5.Qh5 checkmate demands immediate action by Black.

5…h5 6.Bd3

Now 7.Bg6 checkmate is the threat. Black is reduced to artificial measures.


The fragile defense is now swept away.

7.Qxh5+ Rxh5 8.Bg6 checkmate

Owen’s Defense

Owen’s Defense (1.e4 b6) is not as good as the similar English Defense, as after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6 (other move orders are possible) White’s c-pawn can be seen as a waste of a tempo when the tactics start flying.

1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5

Black is already taking liberties, but a specialist can have a lot of fun in this line. However, regular readers will already be eyeing Black’s kingside suspiciously.

4.exf5 Bxg2 5.Qh5+

5…g6 6.fxg6 Nf6

Hoping to lead White into the murky waters of 7.g7+ Nxh5 8.gxh8=Q with a weird position.


Spoiling Black’s fun.

7…Nxh5 8.Bg6 checkmate

Chessable Course

If you enjoyed speedy checkmates in the opening, you may like to know that there are many more beautiful checkmating patterns in the course, The Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and CraftyRaf. This course won third place in the Chessable Awards for 2020.

There is a shortened, free version of the course here.

See also:

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