Cochrane Gambit: Adding Spice to the Petroff


Table of Contents

The Cochrane Gambit is a sacrifice in the Petroff Defense.

  • White has three main options in the Cochrane Gambit – 5.d4, 5.Nc3, and 5.Bc4+
  • Back must respect the Cochrane Gambit and play carefully.
  • Ultimately though, the Cochrane Gambit is theoretically unsound.

Understanding the Ideas Behind the Cochrane Gambit

The Cochrane Gambit is named after John Cochrane, who suggested it in the 1840s. Later Staunton would add to the theory, but it was Bronstein that came up with, arguably, the most dangerous move 5.d4.

Because the Petroff Defense is such a tough nut to crack, it is hardly surprising that White would turn to desperate measures. Admittedly, these measures are not as hopeless as some other gambits since White gets two central pawns for the knight and Black loses castling rights to boot.

If you play the Petroff Defense, you will most likely encounter the Cochrane Gambit in Blitz games. Take comfort in knowing you are not behind in development and have a minor piece for two pawns.

Yes, in a theoretical battle, Black should come out ahead in the Cochrane Gambit, but chess history is littered with unsound gambits that worked well over the board. Gambits that allowed a player to get away with a swindle and earn half a point or even more.

Refuting a gambit at home when you have all the time in the world is entirely different from doing it during a game with the clock ticking down.

The worst thing for Black is to take the Cochrane Gambit lightly!

White sacrifices a piece as early as move 4.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7

Cochrane Gambit starting position - 1e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7

Unlike many gambits, there is no choice but to accept the gambit with 4…Kxf7. White has three main options after Black accepts the gambit:

  • 5.d4
  • 5.Nc3
  • 5.Bc4+

The Cochrane Gambit 5.d4

1e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.d4

Cochrane Gambit 5.d4

Taking time to win a pawn does not serve black well in this position. The exposed position of the king means Black must look first to defending himself before thinking of grabbing more material.

Apart from prioritizing defense, the knight can easily be captured by White after 5…Nxe4 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Qd5+. If instead of 6…g6, Black plays 6…Ke7, then 7.Qe2 pins and wins the black knight on e4.

5…c5 6.dxc5 Nc6 7.Bc4+ Be6 8.Bxe6+ Kxe6 9.0-0 Kf7 10.Qe2 Qe8

As mentioned earlier, Black must be careful in the Cochrane Gambit. After 6.dxc5, the careless 6…dxc5 would lose the queen. Taking your time when defending against a gambit is always a good idea.

There is no need to rush when you are material up. Allow your opponent to feel the pressure of being behind in material for as long as possible.

In this position, it is telling that none of White’s queenside pieces are developed. In many gambits, the sacrificed material often leads to a lead in development. Here it is Black who accepted the gambit that has more pieces developed.

In a battle between two players rated over 2650 Elo, Black came away with the win.

The Cochrane Gambit 5.Nc3

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.Nc3

Cochrane Gambit with 5.Nc3 - 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.Nc3

This move has been the choice of strong players like Morozevich, Ivanchuk, and Topalov. White develops a piece and waits to see what strategy Black will adopt.

There is certainly nothing wrong with a policy of centralization in any opening, whether you have sacrificed a minor piece or not. The timeless chess principles of the opening still apply – control the center and develop your pieces towards the center.

Black, in turn, will first seek to safeguard the king because the material advantage means nothing unless the king is safe. An excellent way to bring the king to safety is with …g6, not to fianchetto the bishop but to provide shelter for the king on g7.

The bishop on f8 will find a better square on e7, which works well with the queen to help prevent a kingside pawn storm by White.

The bishop on e7 also plays a vital role in helping control the kingside dark squares because …g6 has left the knight on f6 undefended.

5…g6 6.d4Kg7 7.Be3 Ng4 8.Bf4 Be7 9.Qd2 Rf8 10.Be2 g5

Despite being down material White has achieved pretty much all he could expect from the opening, with more space, a lead in development, and excellent control of the center.

However, the fact that Black has a minor piece for two pawns is not to be discounted. Eventually, the extra material will tell, but it often requires some stout defense before the material advantage proves decisive.

What aids White’s attack in this position is the option to castle long. The exposed nature of the black king means the king must get defended by the pieces.

When the pieces are tied down to the king’s defense, they cannot get used on the attack.

The Cochrane Gambit 5.Bc4+

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.Bc4+

The Cochrane Gambit 5.Bc4+ - 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.Bc4+

When it comes to choosing candidate moves, checks are usually the first move we look for in a position. However, in this position, White allows Black to close the attacking diagonal with 5…d5.

What makes this more challenging for White is that after 6.exd5, the pawn blocking the diagonal is a white pawn, and White is reliant on Black to open the diagonal by capturing or exchanging the pawn.

Play might continue with:

5…d5 6.exd5 Bd6 7.0-0 Rf8 8.d4 Kg8 9.h3 Bf5 10.Bb3 b5

Black has managed to castle by hand and shut the bishop on b3 out of the game. The pawn on b5 gives Black space on the queenside with the threat of …a5-a4 winning the bishop.

The semi-open f-file and open e-file give Black every opportunity to attack the kingside.

The opening could not have gone better for black, and Manuel Bosboom only needed twenty-nine moves to checkmate white.

In Conclusion

The Cochrane Gambit is a dangerous weapon worthy of respect but not fear. There is hardly any chess opening where you do not need to learn how to defend against a dangerous sideline, and the Petroff Defense is no exception.

When choosing to include the Petroff Defense in your opening repertoire, knowing how to face the Cochrane Gambit is essential. You could use the Cochrane Gambit as proof that your Petroff Defense is extremely solid.

So solid that White feels compelled to sacrifice a piece for two pawns on the fourth move. Even better, as Black, you do not need to decide between accepting or declining the gambit.

Accept the gambit, play the opening and early middlegame carefully, and know that your extra material will likely prove decisive.

Cochrane Gambit Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Cochrane Gambit sound?

No, the Cochrane Gambit is not sound.

What is the Cochrane Gambit?

The Cochrane Gambit is a gambit played in the Petroff Defense where White sacrifices a knight for two pawns and exposes the black king to attack.

How to play the Cochrane Gambit as White?

The best options for White are to play 4.d4 or 4.Nc3.

How to play the Cochrane Gambit as Black?

Look to get your king to safety first, and do not get tempted into trying to win more material. A crucial move to safeguard the king is …g6.

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