The Wayward Queen Attack is an offbeat opening in the King’s Pawn Opening, commencing with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5. Over the years, it has garnered various names, sometimes referred to as the Parham Attack or Danvers opening. Its earliest recorded instance dates back to 1875.
The opening’s peculiarity lies in white’s hasty deployment of the queen on the second move, deviating from the established opening principles. As a result, it is seldom encountered among experienced players due to its questionable nature. Despite its rarity, the Wayward Queen Attack managed to surprise spectators when Magnus Carlsen chose to employ it in a World Rapid Championship game in 2018. This audacious move proved unsuccessful for Carlsen, resulting in his defeat. Another notable player occasionally seen using this opening is Hikaru Nakamura.
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
The central idea behind the Wayward Queen Attack is to launch a swift attack, which can often confound inexperienced players and potentially lead to tactical mistakes. In many cases, a light-squared bishop is developed to c4, and with the support of the queen, they exert pressure together on the most vulnerable spot in black’s camp, the f7 pawn.
White’s one-move threats are primarily effective in the short term, and after successfully repelling the attack, black can achieve a comfortable position without much difficulty. However, the Danvers opening has the advantage of taking opponents potentially out of their book, and leading to a middlegame where white can play so called ‘simple chess’. This element is arguably the biggest benefit of this opening.
Wayward Queen Attack’s Theory
The e5 pawn is under attack after 2.Qh5 and both 2…Nc6 and 2…d6 are equally good ways to defend the e5 pawn. In both cases, white continues with 3.Bc4, threatening checkmate on f7. Once black defends the initial offense, black is usually slightly better and can develop naturally. In this regard, 2…Qe7 is an inferior choice, mainly because it disrupts the harmonious deployment of the pieces, as the queen on e7 blocks out the dark-squared bishop. On the other hand, 2…Qe7 defends both f7 and e5 at once, so 3.Bc4 does not make much sense anymore. Instead, white usually prefers 3.Nc3.
Arguably the best way to deal with the attack on the e5 pawn is 2…Nc6, because it is not only a useful developing move, but it also creates possible threats of …Nd4 for later. 3.Bc4 and now black of course, should not make the blunder of 3…Nf6??, allowing the Scholar’s Mate motif for white, as 4.Qxf7# would be a checkmate.
3…g6 is the best move, forcing white’s queen to retreat. 4.Qf3, white keeps on attacking on f7, but the threat can be easily carried away with 4…Nf6. If white insists on attacking the f7 pawn with 5.Qb3?? this would get white in trouble for the reasons stated in the Traps Section of this article. Thus, white should now switch gears and continue developing.
Since f3 square is occupied by the queen, the only sensible square left for the knight is e2: 5.Ne2. Since black has played …g6 already, fianchettoing on the kingside would be the only way to stay consistent, 5…Bg7. The game might carry on with these moves: 6.d3 d6, threatening …Bg4, 7.h3 Nb4, attacking c2, 8.Bb3 Be6, challenging the defender of c2, 9.Na3 and after 9….d5!, striking at the center, black would be slightly better due to white’s passive position and discoordination among their pieces.
5.c3 is a relatively inferior move compared to 5.Ne2. White’s queen is not placed on d1, where it would be supporting a possible d4 break, so the sole purpose of this move is to prevent black’s …Nd4 threat. If black continues with natural moves, white may struggle to get an active game. 5…Bg7 6.d3 and now 6…Na5 would cause white headache. For example, if now 7.Bb3, black would simply capture the bishop, 7…Nxb3 8.axb3, which allows black to strike at the center with 8…d5.
If white tries to avoid the trade of bishop for a knight with 7.Bb5, black can achieve the central break again with 7….c6 8.Ba4 d5! 9.exd5 b5 10.Bc2 cxd5 with a significant advantage for black thanks to its spatial advantage and strong center.
Therefore, since white does not have any good response against black’s …Na5 and …d5 idea, 5.c3 would not be recommended for white.
2…d6 may seem like it is shutting down black’s dark-squared bishop, but since it is likely to develop via …g6-…Bg7, this is not an issue. Once again, after 3.Bc4 g6 4.Qf3 Nf6, white fails to pose any serious question to black in the opening. The queen on f3 is misplaced, and the following sample line highlights this issue: 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Nge2 0-0 7.0-0 c6, building up …d6-..d5 break, 8.h3 (otherwise, after 8.a4 d5 9.exd5 Bg4! 10.Qg3 Bxe2 11.Nxe2 cxd5 12.Bb3 Nc6 and black stands much better due to the strong center) 8…b5 9.Bb3 a5, threatening …a4, 10.a3 and black just keeps squeezing white’s forces with 10…Nbd7 11.d3 Nc5.
Therefore, it might just be better for white to retreat to d1 after 3…g6, for example: 4.Qd1 Nf6 5.d3 c6 6.Nf3 Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1 with equal chances for both sides.
2…Qe7 is a slight inaccuracy for black as the queen is not ideally placed on e7 and stands in the way of the king’s bishop. However, on a positive note, it defends f7 proactively, so 3.Bc4 does not come with a tempo anymore. Nevertheless, it can still be played with the idea of retreating the queen to e2 if she is chased away. For example: 3…Nf6 4.Qe2 d6 5.Nf3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.d4 exd4 8.Nxd4 with an equal game.
An alternative try would be 3.Nc3, with the idea of Nd5, so black should ideally stop it with 3…Nf6 4.Qd1 g6 5.d4 exd4 6.Qxd4, centralizing the queen, 6…Nc6 7.Qa4, and the queen has traversed to the other side of the board. The position remains roughly balanced and playable for both sides.
Trap №1 – 2…g6
1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 g6??, is a panic move, prematurely attempting to defend the f7 square, and it not only allows white to get a free pawn with 3.Qxe5, but also win a full rook for free after 3…Qe7 4.Qxh8. Black may try to resist for a while 4…Nf6, thinking that white’s queen is taken hostage in the corner now, but just in a few moves, white will be able to save the queen and capitalize on their material advantage. A sample line may go like this: 5.d3 d6 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Nc3, with the idea of Nd5, 7…c6 8.Be2 b5 9.Bg4, utilizing the pin on the knight on f6. Next, white will capture on d7 and then on f6 to win even more material.
Trap №2 – 5.Qb3
1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 g6 4.Qf3 Nf6 5.Qb3?, white attempts to build up a queen-bishop battery to attack black’s f7 pawn, but this strategy backfires due to black’s resourceful response 5…Nd4!, black sacrifices the f7 pawn, but the pawn is poisonous and the capture of it leads to a loss of material for white, 6.Bxf7 (6.Qd3, with the idea to defend e4 and c2 at the same time does not help either, because 6…d5! 7.exd5 Bf5 and there is no way for white to defend the c2 pawn.) 6…Ke7 7.Qc4 b5 and the queen is now overloaded with the defense of c2 and f7 simultaneously. White’s queen has to retreat now and black wins a piece with 7…Kxf7.
Pros and Cons
|potential tactical traps that could catch inexperienced players off guard.
|In the opening, white wastes time with one-move threats that can be dealt with easily.
|leads to original middlegame positions without the burden of exhaustive theory, enabling players to think on their own and engage in a straightforward game.
|By bringing the queen out early, Black gains the opportunity to develop with tempo, potentially forcing White into a passive position with a spatial disadvantage, as seen in the mainline with 5.Ne2.
In the mainline of the Wayward Queen Attack, black may gain a slight edge, but this advantage is not substantial enough to secure a win, leaving a long and dynamic middlegame with numerous possibilities. The opening itself is not inherently bad, but White doesn’t obtain any advantage from it, making it less favorable. Nevertheless, it does lead to unique middlegame positions, diverging from heavily explored mainline theory, which could be appealing to players seeking to venture into uncharted territory.