The Budapest Gambit Revisited

The Budapest Gambit Revisited

| 18 | Opening Theory

The Budapest Gambit Revisited

33speedo asked:

Hi I was wondering what your opinion is about the Budapest gambit for white and black?

Dear 33speedo,

In an earlier article on I mentioned that I personally had always done well against the Budapest, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a respectable opening. The first inkling that it’s far better than I originally thought came a couple years ago when I was talking to IM John Watson, who is a far better theoretician than I am. He felt it was very hard for White to get any advantage at all against the Budapest Gambit, and that if he did, it would be no more than a slight edge, which isn’t any worse than the mainstream black openings offer.

I wasn’t completely sold on this viewpoint, but then NIC came out with a very nice book titled THE FABULOUS BUDAPEST GAMBIT by grandmaster Viktor Moskalenko. Moskalenko is an exceptionally strong player, so if he recommends the Budapest then one would do well to listen. 

Nevertheless, I still wasn’t buying it. But another pro-Budapest blow appeared in the form of IM Timothy Taylor’s THE BUDAPEST GAMBIT (Everyman Chess, 2009). Taylor writes original, entertaining books, but I rarely believe anything he has to say about theory. Nonetheless, he made some compelling arguments in this book and, to be honest, I haven’t analyzed this opening for over a decade, while Taylor put his heart and soul into the creation of THE BUDAPEST GAMBIT.

So first Watson (whose theoretical pronouncements are usually spot on), then Moskalenko (who is a better player than I ever was), and finally Taylor (who spent a lot of time seriously looking at it, which is something I haven’t done) all gave the Budapest Gambit a thumb’s up!

I don’t care who you are, these things must force you to reassess your Budapest-hatred.

Here are two quick reader comments from my earlier Budapest article:

Windows-7 said: “I just reject the gambit with d4-d5 and give them a real cramped game.”

Ih8sens said: “Not to debate with Silman in any way whatsoever ... but I’ve found that the Budapest is to 1.d4 what the Latvian is to 1.e4 ... Theoretically sketchy, with anti-gambitters pushing out refutation after refutation, only to have black find a new way to play the gambit. Naturally I believe with perfect play neither line will equalize for black, but finding that play is another story.”


Mr. Windows-7 is the first to crash! 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.d5 is, as Taylor correctly states, “Certainly the weakest way to decline the gambit: this non-developing move weakens white’s center and creates a hole for black’s dark-squared bishop.”

Taylor’s position on 3.d5 is unassailable. The fact is, 3.d5 allows Black to develop his forces freely and easily, and the Bishop at c5 will turn out to be one happy critter.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.d5 Bc5 4.e3

4.Bg5?? Bxf2+ (4…Ne4 is also good since 5.Bxd8 Bxf2 mate ends the festivities rather quickly) 5.Kxf2 Ng4+ 6.Ke1 Qxg5 7.Nf3 Qe3 8.Qd2 Qf2+ 9.Kd1 Ne3+, 0-1, K.Zimak - J.Sobek, Czech League 1993.

4…0–0 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be2 c6 and Black already stood better in S.Freijedo Alvarez - A.Goldin, Oviedo rapid 1993.



Mr. Ih8sens was also wrong – the Latvian is a dubious gambit, but the Budapest is fully playable, even at very high levels. There is a huge difference between these two openings! This doesn’t mean that an amateur can’t play, enjoy, and find enormous success with the Latvian. It does mean that you won’t find any grandmaster playing it in a serious game, while you will find grandmasters making use of the Budapest Gambit from time to time.

Returning to Tim Taylor, I must admit that he stunned me by pointing out just how dangerous Alekhine’s Attack is: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e4 – this was news to me! Here’s a game that shows what can happen to Black:

S.Reshevsky - A.Denker, Syracuse 1934

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 Nxe5 6.f4 Ng4 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.0–0 Bd7 9.Nc3 Be7 10.h3 Nf6 11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 Ng8 13.Be3 f6 14.Bd3 fxe5 15.Ng5 Nf6 (15…Bxg5 16.Qh5+ g6 17.Bxg6+ hxg6 18.Qxg6+ Ke7 19.Bc5 mate - Taylor) 16.Rxf6! Bxf6 17.Qh5+ g6 18.Bxg6+ hxg6 19.Qxg6+ Ke7 20.Qf7+ Kd6 21.c5 mate.



Who knew?

However, Taylor wasn’t done blowing my mind yet! He then claimed that black’s only good move (after 4.e4) was 4…h5. Tim felt that White might get a small something from 5.h3, but no more. I would prefer to be White in these positions:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e4 h5!? 5.h3

5.Be2!? Nc6 (5…Bc5?! 6.Bxg4 Qh4 7.Be2! Qxf2+ 8.Kd2 Nc6 9.Kc3 and Black doesn’t have enough for the piece) 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.0–0 Ncxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.Nc3 h4 10.h3 a5 (10…d6!? 11.Na4) 11.Na4 Ba7 12.c5 is another promising way to handle the position.

5…Nxe5 6.Be3 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Qe7


9.Be2 d6 10.Nf3 Nxf3+ 11.Bxf3 Nc6 12.0–0 Ne5 13.Be2 Qh4, R.Busch - F.Kirwalk, Brackwede 1974, and now 14. c5 seems promising for White. But then again, I spent a couple minutes looking at this while Taylor did serious work here, so you guys shouldn’t touch these positions without firing up an army of engines.


All in all, the Budapest Gambit seems to be fully playable. Black depends on a lot of positional themes (better pawn structure) or on his active pieces, and at times (in a couple of white’s positional anti-Budapest tries) White leaves Black with a slightly uncomfortable fight to draw. But I’ve yet to see anything that really threatens the viability of this system. Suffice it to say that, if I were to play again, I’d spend a long time trying to get something against Reti’s 4…h5 (the above quick analysis would be washed in acid and put through many hours of close inspection) since I do like the look of Alekhine’s 4.e4.

If you want to give this interesting opening a try, you really should buy Taylor’s THE BUDAPEST GAMBIT. 

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