A peek into the King's Gambit

Jul 12, 2011, 6:32 AM |

Even though nowadays is not very common to see it in GM games, in the last century it was one of the most respected openings, and it still has some devoted fans. And a lot of players (including Bobby Fischer) have tried to refute it, but it stands sound despite all of the people on the chess.com forums calling it 'dubious' or 'unsound'.

I'm talking, of course, about the King's Gambit. This opening is one of the most aggressive ones when playing a King's Pawn game. White sacrifices his f pawn, trying to lure black's e5 pawn away from his control over the d4 square. There are three different ways to tackle the King's Gambit, depending on black's mood.



Black might think “a pawn is a pawn” and capture. As white, this is my favorite variation. Even though white can now play the d2-d4 push and get a strong center, there are two better moves. These are:



My first approach to the King's Gambit. White develops his Knight, avoids black's nasty check Qh4+ and controls two central squares. Black has now two main options:

  • The old mainline: The old mainline was 3...g5, trying to hold on to the pawn and to attack white's knight on f3.

  • The Fischer's Defense: after loosing a game against the King's Gambit, Fischer wrote an article called “a bust to the King's Gambit”, where he proposed the move 3...d6 (“A high class waiting move”). This is the most popular move nowadays, at least this is what I see most of the time when I play the King's Gambit.



A more aggressive way to play the King's Gambit, which I'm starting to try. White allows the move 3...Qh4+. In fact, white should be happy to see this move. His king is going to be perfectly safe after 4.Kf1, and after moves like 5.Nf3, he can gain some tempos attacking black's queen. White is going to have to play very aggressively, as his king cannot castle and this will force him to play moves like g2-g4 or h2-h4 to activate the rook. His king might be weak, but if he can hold the initiative, black won't have time to develop an attack and his pieces will have to move to passive squares to defend white's threats.


KING'S GAMBIT DECLINED(2...Nc6 or 2...d6)

I hardly ever have to deal with this variations (which tend to transpose after 3.Nf3), but, when playing the KGD, I normally develop my bishop to c4, castle kingside and open the f file with exf5.

If black captures after some moves, it normally transposes in the King's Gambit Accepted lines.




The way I play the King's Gambit as black. It has got a lot of traps, starting from the first move (if white captures the e pawn instead of the d pawn, after Qh4+ he's going to loose a rook or his king is going to go on a big walk). After the moves 3.exd5 e4 (3...Qxd5 might also work, I might try it one day), there's going to be a tough fight, as the e file sometimes is fully open before the two kings can castle, allowing moves like Qe2+ or Qe7+ and the center will be almost impossible to close.


(WARNING! The following lines are very dangerous. Use them at your own risk. I'm not responsible for your results if you use them).

Like every other opening out there, the King's Gambit has got some crazy lines, some of them crazier than others. If you don't believe me, check the Opening's Book. The ones that surprised me more were:

  • King's Gambit Accepted: Tumbleweed (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Kf2?!): I'm not inventing it, this opening exists and has got an ECO Code. Chess.com's database features 2 games, surprisingly both won by white.

  • Gaga Gambit(1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.g3?!): This opening sacrifices another pawn for.... hmm.... I don't know why. I'd rather play the Tumbleweed, at least you don't give pawns away. In chess.com's database, we can find 2 games with this opening, both won by black.

  • King's Gambit Accepted: Cunningham Defense, Bertin Gambit(1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 Bh4+ 5.g3 fxg3 6.0-0 gxh2 7.Kh1): The Cunningham Defense (3...Be7) is not common, but it is still quite Orthodox. The Bertin, however, looks very rare. I'm amazed that white has won more games than black in this position, even though there are only 3 games, with (stats). I'm more amazed when I see that Paul Morphy has used this against a strong player like Henry Bird (who gives name to the Bird Opening, 1.f4). This looks really strange to me, but if Morphy made it work it might be playable. Here's Morphy's game with the Bertin:




The King's Gambit has offered some of the greatest chess games ever. Here are my favorites:

  • The “Immortal Game”: Adolf Anderssen (one of the best King's Gambit players ever) checkmated Lionel Kiezeritsky after saccing a bishop, two rooks and a queen:


  • Paul Morphy VS Alonzo Morphy: A young Paul Morphy (another great King's Gambit player) defeats his Uncle playing the King's Gambit:
  • Someone whose name is now forgotten tried to catch Emmanuel Lasker with the King's Gambit. The final position looks more like a composition than like a chess game:



  • One of the Staff members, IM David Pruess, likes to use the King's Gambit. This is one of the games where the IM shows the "King's Gambit spirit": If you can gain the initiative, don't hesitate to sac material. After 5.Bxf4 white is down a whole Knight, but black is underdeveloped. This allowed white to prepare an attack, which started after an exchange sac and left white with a won endgame:



  • Viswathand Anand lost to Alexander Morozevich. Maybe Anand was not expecting the opening and, like Karpov in his 1.e4 a6 game, got upset:

This post is still being edited.