The Top 10 Most Popular Chess Gambits (as voted by you!)
https://pixabay.com/photos/roll-the-dice-craps-board-game-1502706/

The Top 10 Most Popular Chess Gambits (as voted by you!)

ThePawnSlayer
ThePawnSlayer
|
18

On a blog post that I posted a few days ago I asked all of chess.com "What is your favourite chess gambit opening?" After the casting of 377 votes on my straw poll (as of 10/12/2020) I can now reveal the answer as to what your top ten favourite chess gambits are. I still think that, despite the inherent flaws in the original straw poll that featured over 150 different gambit variations, the results are rather intriguing and potentially mirror that of current trends in online chess play. 

A new video form of this incredibly popular blog! Enjoy!

What is a chess gambit?

Before divulging into the results, I think it is first important to define what a gambit is:

"Chess. an opening in which a player seeks to obtain some advantage by sacrificing a pawn or piece." - From Dictionary.com

The origin of the word derives from either the Spanish word, "gambito" or the Italian "gambetto." The word "gàm·ba" in Italian means "leg" so "Gambetto" is literally translated as to stick one's leg out/trip someone up. It seems a very fitting etymology as quite often gambits are used as crafty openings in faster time controls or ways to surprise your opponent to essentially trip your opponent up.

Quite often chess players will employ gambits to achieve a goal in the opening. When your opponent willingly decides to accept the challenge of the gambit (the sacrificed piece/pawn), the gambiteer can get the following concessions from his opponent: 

  • Better activity. In some gambit variations, the player accepting the gambit will often have his pieces decentralized, and sometimes even poorly placed/co-ordinated. Quite often, the player who offers the gambit will get freer and easier development and other positional considerations such as open files for his pieces to attack along.

An extreme example of better activity in this gambit (The Muzio Gambit). White has given up a pawn and a knight to get much better developed pieces and a ready-made attack on the semi-open f-file. Black in the meantime has not developed anything and his pieces remain dormant on the back rank.

  • More time. When one player gambits material, quite often he will get a gain in time with developing his pieces. Often the side which has accepted the gambit has to spend time to either defend the newly obtained material, or spend time to defend his position which may fall quickly behind in development. 
Once again I am showing you the main-line king's gambit position . Here white is now ahead in development and is one step closer to castling. Meanwhile, Black, despite being up a pawn, has fallen further behind in development by playing g5 to defend his pawn on f4. 
  • Other positional considerations: Sometimes playing a gambit may lead to other positional pluses: Better king safety, Control of the centre, better pawn structure:
A made-up position in the Danish Gambit. Here white has nearly completed all of his development and is ready to launch an attack for the cost of two pawns. Black is still lagging behind in development and will have a rough time ahead of him if he is unable to catch up.

In nearly all cases, a gambit tends to lead to some form of imbalance taking place in the position (i.e. a clear emerging difference between both forces) which helps with middle-game planning (setting up clear strategies to handle the imbalance) and in my view makes the game more exciting to play!

Honourable mentions

There were simply hundreds of gambits that could have made this honourable mentions list, but I will talk about some my favourite ones that didn't quite make the top 10:

Okay, this one isn't my favourite one... In fact until quite recently I hadn't even heard of this opening gambit at all! However, back in May, with the lock-down in full-swing, an extremely popular and funny video emerged of Grandmaster Aman Hambleton uncovering this very dubious double piece gambit:

The video is truly hilarious 

The Jerome Gambit, which arises from the Giuoco Piano involves a very questionable double piece sacrifice with 4.Bxf7 followed quickly by 5.Nxe5. The gambit is fundamentally busted, despite its' passionate support by this particular player. Quite simply, to sacrifice one piece is bad enough, but to sacrifice two pieces without any significant compensation is too much! There still is, and remains this way, only one game on the chess.com database which features this funny looking gambit: 

Again, another dubious gambit. I had first known about this gambit from a "Thechesswebsite" video on Youtube nearly 11 years ago. As a young player, I was excited about the prospect of using this gambit to swindle my opposition. However, I quickly learned that sacrificing the knight for, at best, a positional development advantage was perhaps not the best idea, and quickly saw myself lose many games with it. Nonetheless, I still think this is a fun gambit that is easy to get into and has some fun lines that you can beat your opponent with:

The Budapest gambit is a little more sound than the previous two gambits and has been played at the highest level. It is a very fun gambit line against 1.d4 and can lead to some very quick wins if white is not careful:

Perhaps the first shock of the list. The Marshall gambit did not make the top ten! I will admit though, the gambit is a little tricky to reach. White just simply has too many opportunities to deviate and avoid this dangerous line - And he is best inclined to do so... If white is brave enough to accept this gambit, he better prepare to batten down the hatches as black can get a very quick attack! 

My favourite game of all time: The infamous "Birth of the Marshall attack" game between Jose Raul Capablanca and Frank Marshall

10#

The Scotch Gambit is a personal favourite of mine. I have in fact featured a whole blog about this gambit which you can check out here.

The are a lot of fun lines in this gambit and is not as unsound as one would think. There are amble opportunities to transpose to other exciting lines (namely the incredibly sharp "Max Lange Attack") and, theoretically speaking, the line holds up against engine scrutiny:

For Vanity sake, I have featured one of my own suspect games where I employed this gambit. It is a classic example of what happens when black gets too greedy in the opening!

9#

Admittedly this gambit got the same number of votes at the Scotch Gambit so they should both be at number 9... However, this is my list and I can order any way I like! The Danish gambit was one of the first ever gambits I ever learned. It is a fast, energetic white gambit where, at the cost of two pawns, white steams ahead in the development:

I must say the initial position looks very intimidating as black!

Whilst its' reputation is dubious at the higher levels, namely because of Carl Schlecter's antidote found in the early 20th century, which nearly defangs the entire gambit, I would highly recommend this gambit at the lower levels. It can lead to quick wins if black does not know how to accurately defend against it:

A casual game in which World Champion Emmanuel Lasker stumbles against the Danish Gambit!

8#

This is one of my favourite gambits (and also the one I voted for). This white gambit is employed against the extremely popular Sicilian Defence 1...c5. White from the word "go," gets a very quick development lead, taking advantage of the fact that black has made no attempts at development with his first move 1...c5. It is white's intention to embarrass black's development woes and deliver a very quick knock-out punch. An exemplary opening in blitz due to many traps it contains and still very effective in classical play, black must duck and dive for a very long time to ever claim any sort of advantage. For those who wish to learn more about this gambit, there is a fabulous book by Mark Esserman, who is a leading expert on this opening. He has had many scalps with this gambit including this particular one against the very formidable Grandmaster Leok Van Wely: 

Definitely get a copy for yourself on the chess.com shop:  It will be a great Christmas present!

7#

A very tricky black gambit, that I myself recently been playing with, the Albin countergambit is one of those opening gambits that was genetically engineered to surprise your opponent. After the classical response of 1...d5, and then 2.c4 entering white's safe looking queen's gambit, the move e5 may shock white like a "Jack in the box!" Now white enters the murky realms of the albin counter-gambit, where one misstep can lead to disaster like in this famous trap line:

The Lasker Trap
Admittedly, I will say that white does have some comfortable lines against this variation (4.a3 and 4.Nf3 followed by g3 come to mind) but it is up to the creative gambiting mind of black to come up with adequate counter-play in this disruptive variation

6#

This is, in my opinion, one of black's best gambit lines. Normally most black gambits are dubious at best. This is because with black going second, he is already behind a tempo. Therefore, sacrificing material just so you can get the initial advantage of white seems rather silly. However, the Benko gambit is an opening where black gets some decent counter-play on the queenside for the loss of a pawn and, engine-wise, it doesn't make your computer shout at you too much when you play it - always a problem whenever you play a gambit!:

Probably the most famous high-level defeat at Super-Grandmaster level! The benko gambit has got the Magnus Carlsen "seal of approval"


5#

Another gambit that has become very popular recently is the Stafford Gambit. This is largely due to a chess video by Eric Rosen which has now reached over 1.5 million views which demonstrates the potential of this gambit line in blitz/bullet chess: 

A graph showing how Eric Rosen's videos single-handedly led to the popularity of the gambit quadrupling!

The lines are very trappy and, if white is not careful, he may quickly find himself on the end of a quick checkmate or a big material loss. Objectively speaking however, this line isn't great. On face value, black is willingly gambiting a central pawn and also inflicting himself with a doubled c-pawn. Recently I played this line myself in a classical game and despite having some initial success in the opening skirmish, ended up finding myself getting overwhelmed by white's central pawn majority later in the position. There have only been 6 games on the chess.com database that has reached this position. White has scored 5 wins and 1 draw which does not give this opening any hope at the highest levels... It is clear that against a prepared opponent, or in slower time controls, this opening struggles. However in the realm of blitz and bullet this opening is a fantastic weapon to get quick and easy rating points!

4#

The OG (OG standing for "original gambit" of course) of chess gambits! The King's gambit. The opening that once dominated coffee houses and playing halls across the world! The true gambiteers' choice of gambit and probably the first one you will ever be introduced to! Sadly it is only number four - What is wrong with you people! With that said, despite its boom in the 19th century, the gambit sees very little play nowadays at the top level. Grandmasters sadly see this opening in a dubious light. To them, it is difficult, logically speaking, to open up your king's flank just so you can get a lead in development and control the centre. I think as well, and this is just my opinion, I find that black has so many ways to meet this opening and still maintain equality/slight edge. It is hard for myself to play this opening knowing that I will need to be adequately prepared for many variations, and that my opponent will probably equalize or be slightly better with reasonable play. Yet, this gambit still excites me! The potential to create an immortal chess masterpiece akin to that of the old masters like Adolf Anderssen, Paul Morphy and Wilhem Steinitz against your opponent, more than makes up for its material short-comings. Moreover, I sometimes find with some gambit openings that play can sometimes go stale and lifeless very quickly. That will never happen in the king's gambit and you always guaranteed a rollercoaster game!:

A game that featured on GM Simon Williams, King's Gambit video on chess.com: The analysis is from him. An excellent game by an amateur that just shows what is possible in this extremely fun gambit line

3#

At number three we have what I would consider a slightly safer version of the king's gambit: -A king's gambit with bike stabilizers if you will! - The Vienna Gambit. To be honest with you, I was surprised to see this opening gambit so high up. I wouldn't have guessed it would have been everyone's favourite gambit. Yet, it is a gambit I personally like playing as there is a good blend of trappy lines, and white doesn't risk his entire position like other gambit lines. Once again, there is a good black line against this opening gambit which spoils the fun of this opening, but white can still keep play interesting with an early queen-side castle: 

Another one of my games. Due to my brilliant development, I had a cute attack which ended in a brilliant mating combination
Video analysis of this game

2#



Named after the Welsh Captain William Davies Evans, this opening gambit aims to deflect black's bishop from his ideal opening square and, with the time gained, take-over the centre with his central pawns. Interesting fact about this sea captain: Apart from being a chess player, he is also known for inventing tri-coloured lighting on naval vessels to prevent collisions at night. In contrast to his safety device, accepting this opening gambit is far from safe for your opponent. It is certainly a very dangerous gambit and one where, if black gets too greedy, can lead to his quick demise:

Bobby Fischer had an impressive 70% win rate in the Evan's Gambit. This gambit was a feature earlier on in his career where he played it exclusively from 1963/64. He would also play the gambit against Boris Spassky in their 1992 rematch.

1#

It is hardly surprising that the gambit that is the cornerstone of any 1.d4 player is number one on this list. With the additional help of the extremely popular Queen's Gambit series on Netflix, (the series being named after the opening) which saw 62 million users view it in its' first 28 days of release, this gambit is by far the most popular gambit for any chess player. Unfortunately this gambit is very controversial to be considered on this list. If we return to the definition at the start of the blog: "An opening in which a player seeks to obtain some advantage by sacrificing a pawn or a piece," for it to be considered a gambit, some sacrificed material is a necessary requirement. Unfortunately, black normally does not accept the bait of the c-pawn... Normally black will either play c6 (The slav) or e6 (The Queen's Gambit declined). On the master games database it is clear which is more popular

The accepted line is black's third most popular option!

Furthermore, in this following line, unlike other gambits, the gambit pawn can not be held!

Yet I think this just simply shows how good the Queen's Gambit is. With the accepted line, being the third most popular line, it shows that the gambit is so good, it is at your potential detriment to your position to accept the pawn. Nonetheless the Queen's gambit accepted is by no means a bad opening for black and there have been some interesting struggles with it over the board. The final game is a cute win against the accepted line showing the perilous dangers for black by accepting the unappetising challenge set by white:


  The final game features a scorched battlefield in the Queen's Gambit Accepted line. Here Shirov shows us why he is the best in complicated positions

I hope you enjoyed this exploration into chess gambits. Did your gambit line make the list? What is your favourite gambit? Let me know in the comments below!