King's Gambit

Nov 13, 2010, 11:59 PM |

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The King's Gambit is a chess opening that begins:

1. e4 e5
2. f4

White offers a pawn to divert the Black e-pawn so as to build a strong center with d2-d4. Theory has shown that in order for Black to maintain the gambit pawn, he may well be forced to weaken his kingside. The King's Gambit is one of the oldest documented openings, as it was examined by the 17th century Italian chess player Giulio Polerio. It is in an older book by Luis Ramirez de Lucena. The King's Gambit is now infrequently seen at master level, as Black can obtain a reasonable position by returning the extra pawn to consolidate. There are two main branches, depending on whether or not Black plays 2... exf4: the King's Gambit Accepted (KGA) and the King's Gambit Declined (KGD).


The King's Gambit was one of the most popular openings for over 300 years, and has been played by many of the strongest players, in many of the greatest brilliances, including the Immortal Game; nonetheless, players have held widely divergent views on it. François-André Danican Philidor (1726–95), the greatest player and theorist of his day, wrote that the King's Gambit should end in a draw with best play by both sides, stating that "a gambit equally well attacked and defended is never a decisive [game], either on one side or the other." Writing over 150 years later, Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the world's strongest players in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pronounced the opening "a decisive mistake" and wrote that "it is almost madness to play the King's Gambit." Similarly, future Worrld Champion Bobby Fischer wrote a famous article, "A Bust to the King's Gambit", in which he stated, "In my opinion the King's Gambit is busted. It loses by force" and offered his Fischer Defense (3. ...d6) as a refutation.

None of these pronouncements, however, have proven to be actual refutations of the King's Gambit. Although the King's Gambit has been rare in modern grandmaster play, a handful of grandmasters have continued to use it, for example Nigel Short. It was also part of the arsenal of David Bronstein, who almost singlehandedly brought the opening back to respectability in modern play. The King's Gambit is also frequently seen in club play.


Both the accepted and declined gambit have several variations, though acceptance is generally considered best.

King's Gambit Declined

Black can decline the offered pawn, or offer a countergambit.

Falkbeer Countergambit

The Falkbeer Countergambit runs 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4, in which Black sacrifices a pawn in return for quick and easy development. It was once considered good for Black and scored well, but White obtains some advantage with the response 4.d3!, and the line fell out of favour after the 1930s.

Nimzowitsch Countergambit

A more modern interpretation of the Falkbeer is 2...d5 3 exd5 c6!?, as advocated by Aron Nimzowitsch. Black is not concerned about pawns and aims for early piece activity. White has a better pawn structure and prospects of a better endgame. The main line continues 4.Nc3 exf4 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.d4 Ne7 7.dxc6 Nbxc6, giving positions analogous to the Modern Variation of the gambit accepted.

Classical Defence

A common way to decline the gambit is with 2. ..Bc5, the "classical" KGD. The bishop prevents White from castling and is such a nuisance that White often expends two tempi to eliminate it by means of Nc3-a4, to exchange on c5 or b6, whereupon he may castle without worry. It also contains an opening trap for novices: if White continues with 3.fxe5?? Black continues 3...Qh4+, in which either the rook is lost (4.g3 Qxe4+, forking the rook and king) or White is checkmated (4.Ke2 Qxe4#). This line often comes about by transposition from lines of the Vienna Game or Bishop's Opening, when White plays f2-f4 before Nf3.

Other moves

Other options in the KGD are possible, though unusual, such as the sharp countergambit 2...Nc6 3.Nf3 f5, advocated by ; 2...d6, when after 3.Nf3, best is 3...exf4 transposing to the Fischer Defense (though 2...d6 invites White to play 3.d4 instead); and 2...Nf6 3.fxe5 Nxe4 4.Nf3 Ng5! 5.d4 Nxf3+ 6.Qxf3 Qh4+ 7.Qf2 Qxf2+ 8.Kxf2 with a small endgame advantage, as played in the 1968 game between Bobby Fischer and Robert Wade in Vinkovci. The greedy 2...Qf6 (known as the Norwalde Variation), intending 3...Qxf4, is considered dubious. Also dubious is the Keene Defense: 2... Qh4+ 3.g3 Qe7.

King's Gambit Accepted

As stated above, Black usually accepts with 2...exf4. White then has two main continuations: 3.Nf3, the King's Knight Gambit is the most common as it develops the knight and prevents 3... Qh4+; and 3.Bc4, the Bishop's Gambit, where White's development will rapidly increase after the continuation often played in the 19th century, 3... Qh4+!? 4. Kf1 followed by 5. Nf3, driving the queen away and gaining a tempo; however, 3....Nf6 is far more common in modern practice. There are also many other third moves, such as:

  • 3. b3?! - the Orsini Gambit

  • 3. Nc3 - the Mason Gambit, the Keres Gambit, the Parnu Gambit, or the Requena Gambit

  • 3. d4 - the Villemson Gambit or Steinitz Gambit

  • 3. Bb5 - the Shurig Gambit

  • 3. Be2 - the Lesser Bishop's Gambit or Tartakower Gambit

  • 3. Qe2 - Basman's Gambit

  • 3. Qf3 - the Breyer Gambit, Hungarian Gambit, or Carrera Gambit

  • 3. Qg4 - the Dodo Gambit

  • 3. Qh5?! - the Carrera Gambit

  • 3. g3?! - the Gaga Gambit

  • 3. Ne2 - the Paris Gambit

  • 3. h4 - the Stamma Gambit or Leonardo Gambit

  • 3. Nh3 - the Eisenberg Gambit

  • 3. Kf2?! - the Tumbleweed Gambit, Drunken King, or King's Own Gambit. This allows 3... Qh4+ 4. g3 fxg3+ 5. Kg2. It seems that White has given up two pawns for nothing, but Black must proceed cautiously, or White can use the many open lines with surprising effectiveness.

Classical Variation

The Classical Variation arises after 3.Nf3 g5, when there are two main continuations, 4.h4 (the Paris Attack), and 4.Bc4. After 4.h4 g4 White can choose between 5.Ng5 or 5.Ne5. 5.Ng5 is the Allgaier Gambit, intending 5...h6 6.Nxf7, but is considered dubious by modern theory. Stronger is 5.Ne5, the Kieseritzky Gambit, which is relatively positional in nature. It was used very successfully by Wilhelm Steinitz, and was used by Boris Spassky to beat Bobby Fischer in a famous game at Mar del Plata 1960. This motivated Fischer into developing his own defense to the King's Gambit - see "Fischer Defense" below.
Instead of 4.h4, the extremely sharp Muzio Gambit arises after 4.Bc4 g4 5.0-0!? gxf3 6.Qxf3, where White has gambited a knight but has three pieces bearing down on f7. Such wild play is rare in modern chess, but Black must exercise care in consolidating his position. Black can avoid the Muzio by meeting 4.Bc4 with 4...Bg7 and ...h6.

Becker Defence

The Becker Defence (3. Nf3 h6), has the idea of creating a pawn chain on h6, g5, f4 to defend the f4 pawn while avoiding the Kieseritzky Gambit; Black will not be forced to play ...g4 when White plays to undermine the chain with h4. White has the interesting option of 4. b3, though the main line continues with 4.d4 g5 and will usually transpose to lines of the Classical after 5.d4 d6 6.Bc4 Bg7.

Bonch-Osmolovsky Defence

The rarely-seen Bonch-Osmolovsky Defence (3. Nf3 Ne7) was played by Mark Bluvshtein to defeat former world title finalist Nigel Short at Montreal 2007, though it has never been highly regarded by theory.

Cunningham Defence

The Cunningham Defence (3. Nf3 Be7) is Black's most aggressive option; it can permanently prevent White from castling after 4.Bc4 Bh4+ 5.Kf1 (else the wild Bertin Gambit, or Three Pawns' Gambit, 5.g3 fxg3 6.0-0 gxh2+ 7.Kh1, played in the nineteenth century). In modern practice, it is more common for Black to simply play 4. ..Nf6 5.e5 Ng4, known as the Modern Cunningham.

Schallopp Defence

The Schallopp Defense (3. Nf3 Nf6) - intending 4.e5 Nh5, holding onto the pawn - is considered somewhat inferior and is rarely played today. In one of the lines, White can usually obtain a crushing attack via a rook sacrifice, i.e., 4.e5 Nh5 5.d4 g5 6.h4 g4 7.Ng5 Ng3 8.Bc4! Nxh1 9.Bxf7+ Ke7 10.Nc3 (looking for immediate mate at d5, or later via queen at f6) and Black appears doomed.

Modern Defence

The Modern Defence, or Abbazia Defense, (3. Nf3 d5) has much the same idea as the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit, and can in fact be reached by transposition, e.g. 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4. Black concentrates on gaining piece play, rather than keeping the extra pawn, fighting for the initiative. It has been recommended by several publications as an easy way to equalize, although White keeps a slight advantage due to his extra central pawn and piece activity.

Fischer Defence

"The refutation of any gambit begins with accepting it. In my opinion the King's Gambit is busted. It loses by force." - R. Fischer, A Bust to the King's Gambit
The Fischer Defense (3. Nf3 d6), although previously known, was advocated by Bobby Fischer after he was defeated by Boris Spassky in a Kieseritzky Gambit at Mar del Plata 1960. Fischer then decided to refute the King's Gambit, and the next year the American Chess Quarterly published Fischer's analysis of 3...d6, which he called "a high-class waiting move"

The point is that after 4. d4 g5 5. h4 g4 White cannot continue with 6. Ne5, as in the Kieseritzky Gambit, and 6.Ng5 is unsound because of 6...f6!. This leaves the move 6. Ng1 as the only option, when after six moves neither side has developed a piece.
The main alternative to 4. d4 is 4. Bc4, but it is considered inferior.


Joe Gallagher writes that 3.Nf3 Nc6 "has never really caught on, probably because it does nothing to address Black's immediate problems." Like Fischer's Defense, it is a waiting move.

Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings

The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings has ten codes for the King's Gambit, C30 through C39.

  • C30: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 (King's Gambit)

  • C31: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 (Falkbeer Countergambit)

  • C32: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.d3 Nf6 (Morphy, Charousek, etc.)

  • C33: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 (King's Gambit Accepted)

  • C34: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 (King's knight's Gambit)

  • C35: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 (Cunningham Defense)

  • C36: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 (Abbazia Defense)

  • C37: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Nc3 /4.Bc4 g4 5.O-O (Muzio Gambit)

  • C38: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 Bg7 (Philidor, Hanstein, etc.)

  • C39: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 (Allgaier, Kieseritzky, etc.)

Further reading

  • Korchnoi, Victor; Zak, V. G. (1974). King's Gambit

  • Estrin, Yakov; Glazkov, I. B. (1982). Play the King's Gambit

  • Schiller, Eric (1989). Who's Afraid of the King's Gambit Accepted?

  • Gallagher, Joe (1993). Winning With the King's Gambit

  • Johansson, Thomas; Wallin, Maria (Illustrator) (2005). The Fascinating King's Gambit

  • Pinski, Jan (2009). The King's Gambit