Traxler Counter Attack

Traxler Counter Attack is characterized by the moves 1.e4 (King’s Pawn Opening) e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 and it is one of the possible ways to play the Two Knights Defense Variation of the Italian Game without allowing white to play the Fried Liver Attack.

The opening is named after Karel Traxler, after he used this opening in his game against Reinisch in Hostouň in 1890. Traxler Counter Attack is a pretty aggressive opening for black, where black aims to complicate the game with a counter-sacrifice on f2 with Bxf2+ and create chances to play for a decisive result.

Winning percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Win for white 45%
Draw 34%
Win for black 21%

Main Ideas of the Traxler Counter Attack

In contrast to the Fried Liver Attack, where black allows white to sacrifice a knight on f7 and then has to defend for a long time in order to capitalize on the material advantage, in the Traxler Counter Attack, black follows the principle “offense is the best defense” and aims to create an active play. This aggressive opening provides black opportunities for creative opening tricks and traps, which can put the tactical abilities and calculation skills of the opponent under serious test.

Black’s main idea in the Traxler Counter Attack is to exploit the time white has used to capture f7 (for example, in the case of Nxf7, called the Knight Sacrifice Line, white knight has spent 3 moves to get there) by sacrificing the bishop with Bxf2 to expose the white king. With this sacrifice, black aims to draw the king into the center, where black can bring more pieces into the attack with tempo, for example with moves like Nxe4+ and Qh4. Also, black can try to utilize the open f-file by bringing the rook to f8.

Traxler Counterattack Theory

In the Traxler Counterattack, black aims for an active counterplay with 4…Bc5, instead of trying to defend the f7 pawn with 4…d5 or allowing the Fried Liver Attack after 4…d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7. By playing 4…Bc5, black allows white to take on f7 with either 5.Bxf7+, known as the Bishop Sacrifice Line, or 5.Nxf7, called the Knight Sacrifice Line. Capturing with the bishop is safer on one hand, but white can also easily get into a worse position after natural moves like 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 6.Bd5 Rf8 7.0-0 d6 8.d3 Bg4 9.Qe1 and h6. The capture on f7 with a knight, 5.Nxf7, seems more tempting as the knight forks queen and rook, but at the same time it allows black to demonstrate the main ideas of playing the Traxler Counterattack: 5…Bxf2+. White can accept the sacrifice with 6.Kxf2 or just move the king away from check with 6.Kf1, but in any case, the position gets wild enough for black to seek chances.

Main Line: 4.Ng5 Bc5

Traxler Counter Attack - Main Line

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5, the starting position of the Traxler Counter Attack, white’s objectively strongest continuation is to capture on f7 with the knight: 5.Nxf7. On the other hand, this line is also practically somewhat riskier because it allows black to create counterplay with 5…Bxf2+.

5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kf1

Main Line - Kf1

White may want to not allow black to play Nxe4+ with check and play 6.Kf1. This is not only the logical reaction, but also the best way to defend, because black has to lose time retreating the bishop to create new threats on f2 or on the f-file. White is also still keeping the fork on the queen and rook. So 6….Qe7 is forced, and now white can capture the rook: 7.Nxh8. Black is now full rook down and has to keep creating threats without losing the initiative and before white’s queenside pieces develop. 7…d5 offers black best practical chances.

This move not only opens the way for the light-squared bishop, but also closes the diagonal for white’s light-squared bishop so that white’s knight in the corner cannot get out via f7. 8.exd5, capturing even more material and attacking the knight, 8…Nd4, black aims to bring all forces closer to the enemy king. Despite the big material deficit, the position is still very tricky and white has to be very precise in the next couple moves to consolidate. Now white can either give the d-pawn back with 9.d6 to save the knight or try to dislodge black’s knight away from d4 with 9.c3.

In the case of 9.d6, black has no choice but to capture the pawn with 9…Qxd6 and let white play 10.Nf7, attacking the queen. 10…Qc5, black gets out of the knight’s attack with tempo, and after 11.d3, defending the bishop, black will also develop his light-squared bishop with tempo: 11…Bg4 12.Qd2. It is now time to retreat the dark-squared bishop with 12…Bh4. Black is also now threatening …Be2+.

White has no time for moves like c3 and has to play 13.Nc3. Black continues with the attack: 13…b5 and black is actually not after the bishop but wants to play …b4 to dislodge the knight and renew their threat of …Be2. So white has to prevent that with a sharp move like 14.b4 and force black’s queen to retreat to e7: 14…Qe7. After 15.Bb3, black can make another sacrifice with 15…Nd5, to free up the f6 square for the queen and let her participate in the attack on the kingside. Capturing with the knight, 16.Nxd5 allows 16…Qxf7+ with check, and white has to give up the knight with 17.Nf4 (17.Kg1 loses the queen after 17…Ne2+ 18.Qxe2 Bxe2) 17….Qf6 18.c3 Nxb3 19.axb3 exf4.

And 16.Bxd5 lets black give a check on f6 with 16…Qf6+. White has to move the king away, 17.Kg1. Black has now a very tricky move: 17…Be2!, threatening ….Qf1# checkmate, but capturing it with the knight is not possible due to 18.Nxe2 Qf2#.

So the only defense for white is to give some material back with 18.Bf3 Bxf3 19.Qe3 Kxf7 20.gxf3. If both sides continue making the best moves, the game gets into an interesting endgame with a material imbalance of queen vs. 2 minor pieces and a rook: 20…Nxf3 21.Kg2 Qg6+ 22.Kxf3 Qh5+ 23.Kg2 Qg4+ 24.Qg3 Bxg3 25.hxg3 Qxb4 26.Bd2

5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2

Main Line - Kxf2

Accepting black’s sacrifice is very dangerous and not recommended for white. After 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ white has to bring the king to the center with 7.Ke3, attacking the knight because in 7.Kg1 Qh4 8.g3 Nxg3 9.hxg3 Qxg3+ 10.Kf1 Rf8, white can get a draw at most. 7…Qh4, defends the knight, and 9.g3 is white’s only move, as white has no time for slow moves.

The true spirit of Traxler Counter Attack is to go all-in for black, and this means lots of sacrifices and sometimes not even wasting time grabbing material. So for example: 8.g3 Nxg3 9.hxg3 Qd4+ 10.Kf3 here black plays 10…d5 instead of 10…Qxc4 because bringing the light-squared bishop into the game with ….Bg4 is more important than grabbing material. The position is still tricky for both sides.

Alternative way for White: 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.d4

White can also try to reduce the effectiveness of …Bxf2+ with 5.d4, creating some more escaping space for the white king. 5…exd4 allows white to fork 6.Nxf7 without fearing …Bxf2+ and after 5…Bxd4 6.c3 the sacrifice is not as effective as in other variations anymore: 6…Bb6 7.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 8.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 9.Ke3 Qh4 10.g3 Nxg3 11.hxg3 Qxg3+ 12.Qf3 and white is winning.

Therefore, 5…d5 gives black the best chance to keep the threats.

Common Traps in Traxler Counter Attack

Trap №1

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Ke3 Qh4 8.d3??, white has no time for slow moves like this, Qf4+ 9.Ke2 Qf2#

Trap №2

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Ke3 Qh4 8.Qf3?? trying to defending squares around the king like this would be big blunder 8…Nf6 preparing …d5 9.Nxh8 Nd4 10.Qf1 (10.Qg3 Nf5+) d5 11.Bb3 Ng4+ 12.Kd3 Nf2+ 13.Kc3 Ne2+ clearance sacrifice 14.Qxe2 Qd4#

Pros and Cons of the Traxler Counter Attack

Requires precise defense Objectively unsound, if white knows the theory
Lots of creative attacking chances and opening tricks If the attack is unsuccessful, the material deficit becomes a big disadvantage.


According to the objective evaluation, Traxler Counter Attack can be regarded as an unsound variation. So it is not very commonly played at the top level. However, the attack creates a fire on the board that white can only navigate through with a very precise play. This exciting opening offers particular chances for black in games with faster time control, where white does not have enough time to figure out the best moves.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


Does the Traxler Counter Attack work?

Yes, the Traxler Counter Attack can be effective, especially in surprise value against an unprepared opponent. It leads to complex and aggressive play, favoring players who are skilled in tactical situations.

Is the Traxler Counter Attack dubious?

The Traxler Counter Attack is considered somewhat dubious because it involves significant risks, including early sacrifice of material for a potential attack. It’s less commonly seen at top-level play due to its inherent risks.

Is the Traxler Counter Attack sound?

The soundness of the Traxler Counter Attack is debated. While it can lead to winning positions in tactical battles, it’s not universally accepted as a solid opening due to the high risks involved and potential for strong counterplay by well-prepared opponents.

Share to friends - Your One Stop Chess Resource
error: Content is protected !!