The Gambits GMs play


I took a look at the gambits that are played by some of the top grandmasters who favour gambits: Heikki Westerinen, Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez, David Bronstein, Michael Adams, Alexander Khalifman, Alexander Beliavsky, Alexei Shirov, Jonny Hector, Alexander Morozevich and Garry Kasparov.  The gambits played by the most grandmasters were:

1.Queen's Gambit 1.d4 d5 2.c4 - 9 GMs

2.Benko Gambit 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 - 7 GMs

3.QGD Semi-Slav Anti-Meran Gambit 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.Bg5 - 7 GMs

4.King's Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.f4 - 5 GMs

5.Ruy Lopez Marshall Counter Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5 - 5 GMs

6.Scandinavian Marshall Gambit 1.e4 d5 2.ed Nf6 - 4 GMs

7.French Winawer Maroczy variation 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nge2 - 3 GMs

8.Vienna Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 - 3 GMs

9.Caro-Kann Panov 1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 cd 4.ed Nf6 - 3 GMs

10.Four Knights Marshall/Rubinstein 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4 - 3 GMs


Interesting! I am surprised by the King's and Budapest Gambits...


Westerinen has played the King's Gambit in over 100 tournament games, and Bronstein's love for the King's Gambit is well known.  Morozevich and Shirov use it mostly as a surprise weapon for rapid or blindfold games.  Morozevich beat Anand using a King's Gambit in a rapid game in 1995.

I know that Short dabbled with the Budapest as do Bellon Lopez and Hector, but actually on closer examination, I realized that the Four Knight's Rubinstein is more popular, so I've revised my original list.


Caro-Kann Panov is a gambit?

I thought it was a quiet opening.


By the Panov, I mean 1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 cd 4.ed Nf6 when white can try to hold the pawn with 5.Bb5+ Bd7 6.Bc4.


Morezevich played the Albin Counter Gambit in a couple of games.


Better late than never to point out the QGD/QGA is not a "gambit" at all in the same sense as the Evans or Kings Gambits which are genuine gambits.

And since when did the Four Kts Game Rubinstein Variation (4...Nd4) become a gambit? 

What DB(s) did these figures come from? Not to suggest my good pal rigamagician is playing tricks with numbers here but inquiring minds want to know (and me too)! Besides I don't trust anybody which makes me an annoying (bleep) but at least I'm consistent: Consistently annoying that is Here's my patron saint (bottom right)


I take a gambit to be any opening where a player offers up material for positional gain regardless of whether he gets it back or not.

GM Boris Alterman includes the Four Knights Rubinstein amongst his Gambit Guide videos, and IM Cyrus Lakdawala in his Four Knights Move by Move book and IM Alexander Bangiev in his Gambit Lexicon CD both classify it as a gambit.  A lot of web sites call it the Rubinstein Counter-Gambit.

These figures came from my own archive of GM games compiled from the usual sources, eg. Chessbase, TWIC, etc.

Another very common gambit which I didn't mention is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 offering up the e-pawn.  All ten of my gambiteering players have played this at one time or another.


I'm going by what I've read in the past: QGD is not a "genuine" gambit because if Black tries to hold on to the "gambit" pawn they either lose outright or end up in a horrible position. KGA and Evans Gambit for examples are "real" gambits because there's no guarantee White will ever regain the pawn. 

Also I'm unclear on what "positional gain" is since many gambits are played to get a lead in development which I presume to be a tactical consideration not positional.

I'm posting here because I'm interested in the topic, (not just to argue like in that Monty Python routine about the "argument clinic") and some of this is news to me such as the 4 Kts Rubinstein being a gambit, but hey basically I can ID the opening I'm no expert on it.


In his book, The Art of Sacrifice in Chess, Rudolf Spielmann made a distinction between "sham sacrifices" where the sacrificer gets the material back and "real sacrifices" where the material is not recovered immediately.  Spielmann and most gambiteers I think play both kinds of sacrifices.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell which type you are playing in advance, and many sham sacrifices are quite beautiful, and get awarded brilliancy prizes.

If your opponent ends up in a horrible position if they accept your gambit, that sounds ideal.  If you play that kind of a gambit against a pawn grabber, you'll probably win a lot of games.

I would include a lead in development or an attack on the enemy king among "positional" gains.  What I mean is the gambiteer's compensation is not in the form of material, but instead something else, eg. more space, open lines, better coordination, etc.


OK. Part of our "debate" here hinges more on semantics that us disagreeing all that much. I'm getting old & stodgy and there are now few "real sacs" i'll play routinely, unless it's in a thematic tnmt where everyone has to play the same gambit in all games, white and black.

Speaking of which check out my KGA Cunningham Defense Tnmt


I play sacs in almost every game.  My feeling is that there is a bit of trend towards sacrificing amongst the top GMs these days, eg. Anand, Topalov, Shirov, Morozevich, Polgar, Aronian, Ivanchuk, Nakamura, etc.  I think it's easier to develop winning chances if you sac a bit of material to open things up.


It's all a matter of taste and style, but the consensus nowadays from what I'm reading is that one gambit, the  KG is risky and only played occasionally by world-class players who are counting on unprepared opponents. I mention the KG because it seems to be one of the most popular and important "real" gambits and was or is used by world class GMs such as Bronstein, Fischer, Short, Nakamura and Spassky occasionally

And of course several other gambits and counter-gambits such as the Budapest, Latvian and Philidor CGs are regarded by many masters as being marginally sound at best. I'll play the Budapest and RL Schliemann Defense (another "disreputable" CG) in a thematic tnmt but not too often otherwise. 


Magnus Carlsen won a King's Gambit game not too long ago, and Hikaru Nakamura plays the King's Gambit now and then. Radjabov has been having great success with the Jaenisch/Schliemann, and Mamedyarov has scored a lot of wins with the Budapest.

Personally I'm more interested in the new gambits, eg. the Botvinnik variation of the Semi-Slav that we just won with in a vote game or the Shabalov Gambit.  Anand and Topalov rolled out some interesting gambits in the Catalan or Gruenfeld in their last world championship match.  Gajewski has a new improved version of his gambit in the Ruy Lopez, and Kamsky has been experimenting with ...d5 gambits against anti-Marshall systems.  There are a great many new gambit ideas coming out now that deserve further exploration.


Where's halloween's gambit?


GM Vadim Milov participated in a correspondence tournament dedicated to the Halloween Gambit once.