The King's Gambit, Classically Declined

     The King's Gambit has been declined at least as far back as Greco in the early 17th century. In fact, the "Oxford Companion to Chess" (OCC) claims that Polerio introduced the moves later called the Falkbeer Counter Gambit (1.e4 e5  2.f4 d5), (though H.J.R. Murray doesn't mention this specifically but does say that Polerio's manuscripts contain "all the know varieties of the King's Gambit excepting the Allgaier [1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ng5] and the Cunningham) continuing that Polerio offered all the popular openings of the day. However, if Polerio showed us the Falkbeer, after Greco gave his single example of a Falkbeer game a quarter of a century later, the opening must have fallen far from grace and been buried in time.  Below is the game that possibly supressed it's use for two centuries (Greco's manuscripts were put in book form, commonly called Calabrians after Greco's title as "il Calabrese," which was the best selling chess book up until Philidor's "Analyse" a century later [which was critical of the King's Gambit overall]) :

 The Falkbeer was named after the German master, Ernst Falkbeer who supposedly analyzed it and found it quite playable.  However, the first example of a game played by Falkbeer himself using the moves: 1.e4 e5  2.f4 d5, was this loss against Adolf Anderssen in 1851:

. . . and only two other Falkbeer Counter-Gambits played by Falkbeer appear in any databases to which I have access. Books haven't revealed anything to me either.

     Tarrasch considered the Falkbeer a refutation of the King's Gambit and, though this doesn't seem true, historically Black has scored slightly higher than White. Up until the popularity of the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit increased in the mid 19th century, the primary method for declining was 2.Bc5. This is called the Classical variation.

     The Classical variation of the KGD seemed to have reached it greatest popularity, oddly enough, during the time after the Falkbeer came into existence.

     We can refer back to Greco for an early example of the KGD Classical Variation:

     The same year that Anderssen beat Falkbeer's counter-gambit, he beat Dufresne who played the Classical Variation:

     White, in fact, has good resourses against this defense.  Morphy won against it in three different blindfold games in three different exhibitions (Morphy acutally played against it in 4 blindfold games, but one was a draw which Morphy, who had a winning position, offered his opponent when the exhibition was ended prematurely due to the late hour.)

Here are Morphy's three blindfold games:

     White must resist any temptation to ignore development- afterall, that's one of the hallmarks of the King's Gambit- by taking the e pawn, as that leads to a well known trap:

     The "Chess Player's Magazine," 1865,  gives the following introduction to a KGD Classical Variation game in which White, a very strong amateur, beat Black, a professional and one of the strongest players in the world at that time (the game notes are from the text).

     The following game was courteously placed at our disposal by Mr. Hirschfeld, who played it some time ago against Mr. Harrwitz. The game is not played by the latter with his usual ability. Mr. Hirschfeld, however, deserves great credit for the skill with which he obtained the victory. We are informed by Mr. Hirschfeld that, of the four games which he played against Mr. Harrwitz, the former won three to the latter's one.

The following game is a little brilliancy from Prince Dadian, playing white against the KGD Classical Variation:

John Washington (JW) Baird [no relation to Mrs. J.W. (Edith) Baird] and David Graham (DG) Baird were chess playing brothers from New York in the latter part of the 19th century.  Whether because of genetics or upbringing, both chose to decline the marvelous Russian, Mikhail Tschigorin's King's Gambit classically.  DG Baird, clearly the better of the two, won his game.  JW lost.


Tony (Antony Alfred Geoffrey) Guest from Bradford was the British Amateur champion in 1888 and long-time chess editor of the "Morning Post."   In the following game he beat George Freeman who chose to employ the KGD Classical Variation. But Mr. Freeman had a valid excuse:
Essex v. Surrey.— Played on November 30th. Through some misunderstanding, Mr. Freeman went to the Mecca Café instead of the City of London Club, and arriving late lost forty minutes, and had to play his first twenty-four moves in the remainder of the hour.

The great Romanticist, Rudolf Spielmann played against Tarrasch's Classical declining (why Tarrasch didn't play the "refuting" Falkbeer is a mystery to me) in the game below.

 When a former world champion contender plays a former women's world champion, sparks may fly.  Here Nigel Short beat Zhu Chen's Classical defense:

David Pruess threw out a King's Gambit in the 2008 U.S. Championship and beat Dean Ippolito who treated it with Classical disdain:

Unexpectedly from the 2011 Russian Championship comes a surprising and hard-fought King's Gambit Classical Variation:


  • 3 years ago


    Great Charousek game.  Thanks.

  • 3 years ago


    In the first game, Qf5 might be the biggest blunder I have seen with known players, although it was not made not by Greco himself.

  • 3 years ago


    Here's Rudolph Charousek with typical "romantic chess" shennanigans:

  • 3 years ago


    Great games and great history.  Thanks, batgirl.

  • 3 years ago


    Terrific collection of games. Thanks for posting.

    I guess the jury is still out on the best way for black to handle the King's Gambit: grab the pawn or leave it there. I've been leaning towards declining it for a few decades now, but what do I know?

    For the black side, there are eight million horror stories in the King's Gambit. This has been one of them.......

  • 3 years ago


    "The best way to refute a gambit is to accept it" STEINITZ

    Still, the KGD is safe and sound (or cowardly, depending on your perspective). This blog is a good primer for "safety first" players (ya cowards!)

    I seem to be one step behind you batgirl I just created a KGA Cunningham Defense Thematic Tnm.

  • 3 years ago


    Kiwi,  thanks for your thoughful comments. They were as much fun to read as was writing this blog. You need to play some King's Gambits and not concern yourself with winning or losing. Get lost in the tactical possibilities and enjoy the ride.


    Mathijs, I went back to the "Chess Player's Magazine"  (edited by Lowenthal) and re-checked the annotations.  They're correctly transcribed.  I think Lowenthal must have gotten confused and trying to capture with pieces not there.  The annotations are definitely screwy.


    I'm tired of typing, but thanks everyone else who commented here. If you look in the blue section to the right, there's a topic called "Romantic Chess" and under that links to other KG explorations.

  • 3 years ago


    A phenomenal compilation of games with fine introductions. You make me want to play the Kings Gambit. Laughing

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you! I always enjoy your posts!

  • 3 years ago


    Very interesting article, Batgirl. I haven't gotten all the way through it yet, but at present I'm very confused by the annotation to the Hirschfeld-Harrwitz game. It's always hard for me to untangle the descriptive notation, but on move 12, are they suggesting black play 12...Nxd3+ 13.Bxd3 Nxb6? Because it seems to me that that leaves black a piece down.

  • 3 years ago


    I personally don't have the confidence or courage (or skill for that matter)  to play the Kings Gambit whether it be online chess or live chess or chess at university, I always am totally thrown back and annoyed if any gambit I play has been declined, it was nice to see some professional games on how to go about business should it ever occur for the Kings Gambit. 

    Paul Morphy vs. R Cremorne

    #4, b4, I wonder what Morphy was thinking here, open up a more clear access for his queen and dark squared bishop in exchange for his pawns? 

    I loved how Morphy used his bishop pair from move 19 onwards, delicately and slowly took apart blacks defense for the king. 


     Mr. A. Guest (Surrey) vs. Mr. G. Freeman (Essex)

    In this game all of whites minor pieces were involved, blacks rook on a8 was a bystander, I think black was too eager to push back whites pieces on its king side attack.


    David Pruess (2425) vs. Dean Ippolito (2425) (15th May 2008)

    Lovely game, the horse scarifice #20 was very interesting, it weakend blacks king pawn island, Pruess then played h4, which totally disrupted and the pawn wall defense. #28, the bishop sacrifice was the final nail in the coffin, it lead to the devastating little pin on the black knight. Black resigned, white has the pair of rooks and pawn majority. 


    Anton Shomoev (2566) vs. Yuri Balashov (2426)
    In this game, white decided to castle long queen side even with an opened up a-file, I've always felt the White Squared Bishop sitting on b3 is an easy target for black, white recaptures with the a pawn, I agree, capturing with the c pawn would just reduce potential center control and the pawn line. But I found it to be interesting that he castled long. 
    This game saw some intelligent exchange of pieces by white, I noticed whites rooks and knight were positioned more ideally for strings of attack on the black king.  #53, kf3, I can assume this was a heartbreaking blunder giving away the rook for free. 
    Lots of interesting games, another well written blog Smile
    I look forward to the next. 
  • 3 years ago


    I watched like the first 4-5 games those are sick! so much happening at the same time.. I wish I could be that good one day

  • 3 years ago


    Great post! I would try the Falkbeer - but I rarely have anyone open with King's Gambit against me, so I like to accept and use Fischer's Defense.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks a lot, very interesting !

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