Petrov's Defense: Classical, Stafford Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6

The Stafford Gambit is a dangerous but objectively dubious variation of Petrov's Defense in which Black sacrifices a pawn for a quick attack. Although not good in longer time controls when your opponents have more time to think things through, it is a tricky opening and can be a weapon for Black in blitz and bullet games if White is not familiar with the gambit.

Starting Position

The Stafford Gambit goes 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 and, instead of the usual 3...d6, 3...Nc6. The main point is after 4.Nxc6 dxc6 (but not 4...bxc6?) Black can develop very quickly and aggressively.


  • Tricky
  • Forces White to play carefully
  • Prevents early castling by White


  • Black has to memorize specific variations
  • White can get an easy advantage with a few accurate moves


White can actually avoid the gambit altogether with 3.Bc4 or 3.Nc3, or decline it with 4.Nf3 or 4.d4 on the next move. Although not objectively best, these are safe choices for a player who has rarely or never faced the Stafford before.

Because the Stafford is so rare at high levels, not much traditional theory has developed around the gambit. Thus, instead of variations, there are some common traps Black can set against an unsuspecting opponent, and how White can avoid them.

The Original Stafford Trap

One of the most common dead-lost lines for White was also the one played when the Stafford was introduced in 1950 (reasonably enough by a player, whose first name was not recorded, with the surname Stafford):

The Quickest Stafford Checkmate

Black can also use the Stafford to trap White into an early forced checkmate—White is objectively lost in the previous line, but can try to play on in blitz or bullet. This one is important to know and somewhat reminiscent of Legal's Mate, but with Black winning:

Castling Into The Stafford

The main danger of facing the Stafford is that White can't just get away with natural moves. Notably, White should not be in a rush to castle kingside, as that is often a blunder that falls right into Black's attack, even before Black is fully developed.

The line that best demonstrates these truths is this one:

White's Best Bet

Despite all of Black's tricks, White can in fact keep the pawn and stay out of trouble in the opening. 

Perhaps the easiest and safest way is the following:

It's not possible to cover every single line in the Stafford, but you should hopefully now have a better idea of what Black wants to achieve and what White wants to avoid in this opening.


The Stafford Gambit is named for the correspondence player who won a game in six moves in 1950 with the opening, using one of the above traps. In modern times, the gambit was popularized by streamer IM Eric Rosen. In this video with Rosen playing on, he demonstrates many more points of the Stafford:

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