The Evans Gambit; A complete guide

The Evans Gambit; A complete guide


The Evans Gambit; A complete guide

By BoboTheFlyingSheep67
Hi guys! It's me BoboTheFlyingSheep67. Every month, I've decided to post an in-depth article on an opening. This month (technically February) I've decided to do one on the Evan's Gambit. Enjoy!
The Evans Gambit
History - 

The Evans Gambit is one of the most aggressive lines in the Italian Game. Which according to Reuben Fine "poses a challenge for Black since the usual defenses (play ...d6 and/or give back the gambit pawn) are more difficult to pull off than with other gambits". The fact that it is hard to defend against is one of the main upsides to the Evans Gambit - making it especially effective against people who aren't so familiar with the line and great to use in a blitz game. This gambit is great for players who like attacking, aggressive openings and is popular amongst many top players today including former World Champion Garry Kasparov.  In 1826, the Welsh sea captain and inventor William Davies Evans was on shore leave in London. There he played against one of the world's leading players at the time, Alexander McDonnell. The concept of the Evans Gambit was introduced, although the actual move order in that first game was 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 d6 5.b4 (as opposed to 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4!?) Here is the game - 

Since in 1826 there were no chess databases or engines, revolutionary opening ideas (or "novelties") were infectious and spread around quickly. After being defeated by the Evans Gambit, McDonnell immediately began playing against top players with good results. (McDonnell also played it in his match against Louis De La Bourdonnais) This lead to the spreading of this new opening idea and many players began playing it, including the likes of Adolf Anderssen, Paul Morphy and Mikail Chigorin. This opening suddenly exploded in popularity and many people played it. It wasn't until the 20th century that World Champion Emmanuel Lasker found a way to refute this gambit with a modern defensive idea;  by returning the gambitted pawn under favourable circumstances. Prior to this discovery, the Evans Gambit was considered much better for White.
About the Evans Gambit - 
The Evans Gambit, as I already mentioned, is Evans Gambit is a great opening for aggressive players. The Evans Gambit is used to keep the black king from castling and overwhelm black with very active pieces in the centre. Black usually should give back the pawn advantage (Lasker's Idea) and try to counter White's development, however many players don't like to give back any material once they get it. This usually lead to the downfall of black players in the Evans Gambit, because White has so many aggressive options and can start an attack pretty quickly. Games played in the Evans Gambit are often very short, attacking games.
How to play the Evans Gambit - 
Accepted - 
The first World Chess Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, often said, "The best way to refute a gambit is to accept it". By far, the most common response to the Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4!?), is when Black accepts the gambit with Bxb5 (we will also look at the Nxd5 line, although it is played less frequently).
First, we will be going over the most common of the two accepted lines, Bxb5. 

1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3

Since the bishop is under attack after 5. c3, black needs to move his bishop so the variations we will be looking at are:

  • 5…Ba5
  • 5…Be7 

The reason 5...Bc5 is not on this list (although it does get the Bishop to safety) is that it just allows d4 with tempo and will most likely transpose into a 5...Ba5 Evans Gambit

The Evans Gambit Accepted; 5...Ba5 - 

5...Ba5. Ba5 is the most common line against the Evans Gambit. Black reasons that after 6.d4, White's c3-pawn will be pinned against the white king, and that this will narrow down White's options.  Black can then consider 6...d6, reinforcing e5, whereupon play normally continues 7.Qb3 Qd7 (7...Qe7 is dubious because of 8.d5).

6.d5. In this position, I recommend White to play d5! because even thought the c3 pawn will be pinned, White is attacking it the centre and developing, which is critical when playing gambit lines. White is also following the principle that, "When you are ahead in development, attack in the centre". I find that any other move is too passive and White doesn't nearly get enough for the pawn. 

6...exd5. This is a common response by many players because of the principle that goes, "when you are up in development, trade. Trade. TRADE!". Some theorists prefer 6...d6 7.Qb3 Qd7 as the correct defensive continuation, but I find this a bit too passive.

7.O-O White castles and gets his c3-pawn out of the annoying pin from the a5 Bishop If Black opts for 7...dxc3, White can play 8.Qb3 Qf6 (8...Qe7 9.Nxc3 Nf6 10.Nd5 Qxe4 (If 10...Nxd5, 11.exd5 and the Knight will be mis-placed and if Ne5 then 12.Nxe5 Qxe5 13.Bb2 and White is completely dominating) 11.Bg7 preparing Re1 winning the queen 11...O-O 12.Bxf6 winning a piece, because if gxf6, Nxf6+ wins the queen)   9.e5 Nxe5 10.Re1 winning the Knight, because if d6, Qb5+ picks up the Bishop. If Black opts for 9...Qg6 (instead of Nxe5), White can try 10.Nxc3 Nge7 11.Ba3 (connecting rooks) O-O 12.Rad1 Stockfish considers this position equal, and White has ample compensation for his pawns, but there is a lot of attacking plans and White is significantly ahead in development, which could be very dangerous for Black.

7...Bb6 The main line. The Bishop isnt doing anything on a5 (the pin no longer exists) and Black brings it back the b6, where it can keep an eye on the d4 square 

8.cxd5 Re-capturing the pawn. White has good central control and is well developed

8...d6 The pawnless advance is a bad idea because if unrestricted, White's pawns will continue to roll down the board and push back Black's pieces (this concept was originally Nimzowitsch's)

9.Nc3. A simple developing move. White shouldn't go for Qb3, because of Na5 winning White's strong LS bishop, which is an extremely important piece in the Evans Gambit. 

9...Nf6. Developing the Knight and prepares to castle. If Black tries to develop with Ne7, you get 10.Ng5 O-O (the only way to defend f7) 11.Qh5 h6 (preventing mate) 12.Nxf7 (threatening the queen) Qe8 13.Nxh6++ (Double check. Black has to move the king) Kh8 14.Nf7+ Kg8 15.Qh8#

10.e5 The pawns are marching forward and gaining more space in the enemy camp. This comes with tempo and delays Black's castling for 1 more move, 

10...dxe5  What else? Black grabs another pawn

11. Ba3 White is already down a pawn and he gives up another one to prevent Black from castling. Remember, the important thing in the Evans Gambit is to put pressure on your opponents position, even if that means giving up more material.

11...exd4 White responds with an important zwischenzug, Re1+. This move puts enormous pressure on Black's King and position. Even if Black doesn't capture on c3, White is still much better and can try maybe Qb3 or other ideas and Black's King is going to be under serious pressure.

Diagram Reference - 

The Evans Gambit Accepted; 5...Be7 -
5...Be7 This move is getting more popular, as it offers Black good scope to return the gambit pawn and reach equality (or at least get very close to equality), whereas the 5...Ba5 makes it easier for White to insist on playing for compensation for a pawn.A favourite move of Tim Harding's is 6.Qb3!? which attacks the f7-pawn immediately. (such as when Black played 5..Ba5) Although Black can get in the ...Na5 fork (of the queen on b3 and bishop on c4) White can force concessions in the black kingside by playing 6...Nh6 7.d4 Na5 8.Qb5 Nxc4 9.Bxh6. This line offers good practical chances, but it is flawed, because Black can play 9...gxh6 here and then follow up with ...Rg8, taking charge of the half-open g-file.  For example, 10.Qxc4 exd4 11.cxd4 Rg8 12.0-0 d5! 13.exd5 Bh3, as played in Asker-Tosti, Brazil 1998.  
6.d4 The main line
6...Na5 The traditional main line runs 7.Nxe5 Nxc4 8.Nxc4 d5 9.exd5 Qxd5 10.Ne3, where White has the better central control but Black has the bishop-pair.  Since this line is probably no better than equal for White, most grandmasters have experimented with alternatives in the last two decades.  Garry Kasparov tried 7.Be2 instead in the 1990s, whereupon Black should probably defend e5 with 7...d6 rather than allowing 7...exd4 8.Qxd4. 
7.Bd3 This is the move that grandmasters nowadays prefer which leads to roughly equal play after d6
7...d6 8.dxe5 dxe5
9.Nxe5.  The game Short-Bruzon Batista, Poikovsky Karpov 2012, then continued 9...Nf6, which I recommend here for Black
9...Nf6 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qc2
Short now played 12.f4, which allowed Black to generate counterplay on the queenside with 12...c4 and Black soon got the upper hand.  I think that 12.Nd2 is probably best, covering the c4-square, and only then 13.f4, after which I slightly prefer White's position.


Diagram Reference - 

Recap - 
Watch these two videos from which basically go over the same concepts I talked about above:

Declined - 
Now that we have covered the Evans Gambit Accepted, its time to talk about the Evans Gambit Declined. This line is hardly ever played at master level - or even at club level. I will briefly go over the main line -
4...Bb6 With Bb6, Black declines the gambit and decides to keep a solid position, denying White an attacking game. (Since, obviously, if your opponent plays the Evans Gambit, they must like attacking) However, unlike many other Open Gambits, declining the Evans Gambit does not immediately offer Black equality.
5. b5 White's most obvious response, originally favoured by Captain Evans, is to kick the c6-knight and then go after the e5-pawn, but it turns out that the idea is tactically flawed.  The usual response is 5...Na5, intending 6.Nxe5 Nh6 (defending f7 and threatening ...Bb6-d4, forking the a1-rook and the e5-knight) 7.d4 d6.  With multiple pieces attacked, White ends up having to sacrifice a piece for insufficient compensation. White's best follow-up is probably the clumsy-looking 6.Bd3, preserving the light-squared bishop and forgoing the win of the e5-pawn, which is probably about equal. Black also has 5...Nd4, intending 6.Nxe5? Qg5, but after 6.Nxd4, White has better chances of getting a slight advantage.  

5.a4 This is White's best way of meeting the Evans Gambit Declined, threatening to win the bishop on b6 with a4-a5. Therefore, Black normally clears the a7-square for the bishop by moving the a7-pawn. 5...a5 is slightly dubious: White plays 6.b5, diverting the c6-knight away from the defence of the important d4-square, and White gets to establish a strong centre with d2-d4.  Therefore, 5...a6 is the strongest defence. White's most aggressive follow-up here is to continue with 6.Nc3 intending 7.Nd5 in most cases.  This involves a sacrifice of the e4-pawn, but White gets good compensation for the pawn if Black takes it, due to pressure down the e-file and on the kingside.  Therefore Black's most reliable option is 6...0-0 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Nd4.  This equalises for Black, so I suggest that if White wishes to play this line, White should consider varying the move-order with 7.0-0 and only then 8.Nd5.  White has decent chances of an edge if Black doesn't take on e4, and gets reasonable compensation for a pawn following 7...d6 8.Nd5 Nxe4. White's most reliable way to get a slight advantage in the Evans Declined is to go for a slow build-up with 6.c3 followed by d3, Nbd2 and 0-0, gaining space on the queenside and leaving Black lacking counterplay.  However, this may not be to the taste of many fans of the Evans Gambit, so in the illustrative games and analysis section, I have included extensive coverage of both 6.c3 and 6.Nc3. 6.Bb2 is another positional try, which intends to support a b4-b5 push on the grounds that if Black exchanges pawns on b5 and opens up the a-file, then White's a1-rook is guarded by the bishop on b2.  But it is less likely to give White any advantage, e.g. 6...d6 7.b5 axb5 8.axb5 Rxa1 9.Rxa1 Nd4.

Recap -

Here is a quick video (again from that goes more into detail about the Evans Gambit declined:

Master Games featuring the Evans Gambit - 

We will finally conclude our study of the Evans Gambit with annotated master games in the Evans Gambit

Game 1 -

Game 2 -

Game 3 - 

Okay, so that concludes our opening study for February. The next one (for March) will be about the English opening, per @LewisTu 's request. Hope you enjoyed and thanks for reading!