The Center Pawn Opening, also known as the MacLeod Attack, is a chess opening that’s characterized by its unique two-move strategy out of the King’s Pawn Opening.
It offers a blend of tactical challenges and strategic opportunities, and this article will explore the move order, theory, strategy, purpose, variations, and history of the opening.
We’ll also discuss whether it’s suitable for beginners or intermediates, and its prevalence at the Grandmaster Level.
Move Order of the Center Pawn Opening
The Center Pawn Opening is characterized by the following moves:
- e4 e5
White’s second move prepares to push a pawn to d4, establishing a strong center.
Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of the Center Pawn Opening
The overall strategy of the Center Pawn Opening is to establish a strong center by preparing to push the d-pawn on move two.
This allows White to control the center and potentially transpose to other openings.
The drawback, as chess master Eric Schiller points out, is that the opening might be too slow.
Black can respond aggressively with 2…d5! to eliminate transpositional possibilities and solve their opening problems.
Variations of the Center Pawn Opening
There are several variations that can occur with the Center Pawn Opening.
For instance, after 2…d5, Nicholas MacLeod chose to play 3.Nf3 in the MacLeod–Gossip match in New York 1889.
This led to a series of moves that resulted in an equal game by move 10.
Another notable variation is when 2…Nf6 is played, followed by 3.d4, which led to a game where White could have gained the upper hand by exploiting Black’s pawn structure.
Evaluation of the Center Pawn Opening
The Center Pawn Opening is generally evaluated at around -0.25 to -0.65 for white.
Theory & Continuation Lines of the Center Pawn Opening
Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Center Pawn Opening starting move order 1.e4 e5 2.c3 that you would see at the highest level of play.
2… d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. a3 O-O-O 7. Be3 Bc5 8. c4 Qd6 9. d5 Bxe3 10. fxe3 Qh6 11. Qd2 Bxb1 12. Rxb1 Qg6
2… d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Be3 exd4 7. cxd4 Bb4+ 8. Nc3 Qa5 9. Qb3 Be6 10. Bc4 Bxc4 11. Qxc4 O-O-O 12. O-O Nd5 13. Rac1 Rhe8 14. Rfe1 f6 15. Bd2 Bxc3 16. bxc3 Rxe1+ 17. Rxe1
2… d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. a3 O-O-O 7. Be3 Nge7 8. Nbd2 exd4 9. cxd4 f6 10. Bc4 Qd7 11. Rc1 Nd5 12. O-O Nce7 13. Nb3 b6 14. Ba6+ Kb8 15. Nc5 bxc5
2… d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Be3 exd4 7. cxd4 Bb4+ 8. Nc3 Qa5 9. Qb3 O-O 10. Bc4 Qh5 11. O-O Bd6 12. Qd1 Bg4 13. h3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 Qxf3 15. gxf3 Ne7 16. Kh1 Rad8 17. Bg5
2… d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. a3 O-O-O 7. Be3 g5 8. Bxg5 f6 9. Be3 Nge7 10. Nbd2 exd4 11. cxd4 Qg8 12. Qb3 Be6 13. Qc2 Nf5 14. O-O-O Nfxd4 15. Nxd4 Nxd4 16. Bxd4
2… Nf6 3. Nf3 Nxe4 4. d3 Nc5 5. Nxe5 Qe7 6. d4 d6 7. dxc5 Qxe5+ 8. Qe2 Bg4 9. f3 Be6 10. cxd6 Bxd6 11. Qxe5 Bxe5 12. Be3 Nc6 13. Nd2 O-O-O 14. Bc4 Rhe8 15. O-O-O Bf6 16. Rhe1
The Next Three Moves: King’s Pawn Game: MacLeod Attack (1. e4 e5, 2. c3)
History of the Center Pawn Opening
The Center Pawn Opening was played 17 times in the New York 1889 tournament by 19th-century Canadian chess master Nicholas MacLeod.
However, this chess opening has been rarely seen in tournament play since that time.
It nonetheless remains a part of chess history and offers intriguing possibilities to those who dare to try it.
Is the Center Pawn Opening Good for Beginners or Intermediates?
While the Center Pawn Opening provides a solid setup for the pawns, it can be considered slow and thus potentially risky against more aggressive openings.
Therefore, it might not be the best choice for beginners who are still learning the fundamentals of chess strategy.
However, for intermediate players who have a solid understanding of pawn structures and who can navigate the potential pitfalls, this opening can offer an interesting and less common line of play.
How Often the Center Pawn Opening Played at the Grandmaster Level
The Center Pawn Opening is rarely used at the Grandmaster level.
This could be due to the inherent risk in the opening’s slower pace, or it might simply be a matter of preference.
While it can transpose into other openings, the direct use of the Center Pawn Opening is not often seen at the highest levels of play.
FAQs – Center Pawn Opening (MacLeod Attack)
1. What is the Center Pawn Opening in chess?
The Center Pawn Opening, also known as the MacLeod Attack, is a particular sequence of moves in a game of chess that is characterized by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.c3.
This opening strategy was notably used by 19th-century Canadian chess master Nicholas MacLeod in the New York 1889 tournament.
2. What are the main advantages of the Center Pawn Opening?
White’s second move in the Center Pawn Opening, 2.c3, prepares to push a pawn to d4, aiming to establish a strong center on the board.
This strong central control can give White flexibility in choosing strategies and plans.
Furthermore, the game can potentially transpose to other openings, increasing the complexity of the situation for the opponent.
3. What are the criticisms of the Center Pawn Opening?
Despite its strategic potential, some argue that the Center Pawn Opening is too slow.
Chess expert Eric Schiller suggests that Black can respond vigorously with 2…d5! to eliminate the chances of transposing to other openings.
As a result, Black can solve its opening problems quickly.
4. How can Black effectively counter the Center Pawn Opening?
The suggested best response for Black against the Center Pawn Opening is 2…d5.
This move aims to block White’s intention of advancing the d-pawn to d4 and gaining central dominance.
After 3.exd5 Qxd5, the move 4.Nc3 is not available to White to chase the queen away and gain a tempo.
5. What transpositions are possible from the Center Pawn Opening?
The Center Pawn Opening can potentially transpose to other openings, most notably the Ponziani Opening or the Göring Gambit in the Scotch Game, depending on how the game progresses.
However, it’s important to note that an aggressive response from Black (2…d5) can prevent such transpositions.
6. How did Nicholas MacLeod handle the move 2…d5?
When faced with the move 2…d5 during the game MacLeod–Gossip in the New York 1889 tournament, MacLeod played 3.Nf3.
The game continued 3…dxe4 (3…Nc6 is the Ponziani) 4.Nxe5 Qd5 (4…Bd6 5.Nc4 Be6 6.d4 exd3=) 5.d4 exd3 6.Nd3, leading to an equal game after move 10.
7. What was the outcome of the game Rusakov–Verlinsky in USSR 1947?
In the game Rusakov–Verlinsky, after the move 2…Nf6, the sequence 3.d4 Nc6 4.Bg5 h6 5.Bh4 g5 6.Bg3 exd4 7.e5 dxc3 followed.
Here, the move 8.Nxc3! would have given White the upper hand with more space, but it wasn’t played.
8. Why isn’t the Center Pawn Opening more commonly used in tournament play?
The Center Pawn Opening isn’t as popular as some other openings due to its slower pace and the possibility for Black to counter it effectively with 2…d5.
While it has been used with some success, it is considered less reliable for consistent results against skilled opponents who are familiar with the counter-strategy.
The Center Pawn Opening offers a unique approach to establishing a strong central pawn structure.
While it is not often seen at the highest levels of play, it provides an interesting line of play for those who wish to try something a bit different.
Whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate player, understanding this opening can expand your knowledge of chess strategy and history.