Evans Gambit – How to Play as White and Black

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Table of Contents

The Evans Gambit has been played since 1827 and is still played by today’s strongest chess players. Read on to learn more about this powerful opening.

  • The Evans Gambit is part of the Italian Opening and is one of the most aggressive choices at White’s disposal.
  • Since it involves sacrificing a pawn and sometimes two it is an excellent idea to become well-versed with the ideas behind the gambit.   
  • To accept or not to accept Evans Gambit is the biggest question as both approaches are playable. As with many decisions we make when selecting our chess openings it comes down to our personal playing style. If you prefer a quieter game then declining the gambit will suit you best.   
  • Players who enjoy aggressive play and positions ripe with tactics will surely enjoy the Evans Gambit Accepted. Here thetwo moves to consider are either 5…Ba5 or 5…Be7.   
  • The safest way to decline Evans Gambit is with 4…Bb6. This approach is certainly playable and makes a lot of sense since it refuses to play into White’s hands. Why enter a tactical battlefield if you know your opponent is looking to play these agressive positions?   
  • You might, on the rare occaission, run into the Evans Gambit Declined Conquest Attack (7.d4), but this ought to poses no real danger to a well-prepared chess player. Playing through a few master games will soon give you an idea of how to reach a sound position.
This video is from The Beginner’s 1. e4 Repertoire course by IM Andras Toth

Welcome to the Evans Gambit

Evans Gambit is named after Captain William Davies Evans, a Welsh sea captain. He unleashed it upon the chess world in his game against McDonnell in London, way back in 1827.

Thanks to his successes against the strongest players of the time, the Evans Gambit went on to become one of the most popular openings of the 19th century.

Other strong players at the time, including Paul Morphy, Adolf Anderssen, and Mikhail Chigorin, began playing the Evans Gambit. However, Emmanuel Lasker caused it to go out of fashion by showing that returning the pawn helps black achieve equality.

Nowadays, we know there is a difference between equal positions and drawn positions. Thanks to the influence of chess engines, many chess players are content to reach an equal position, especially if there are chances for your opponent to make a misstep before obtaining equality.

Late in the twentieth century, John Nunn, Jan Timman, and Garry Kasparov helped stoke renewed interest in the opening. 

Kasparov used the Evans Gambit to defeat Karpov in their World Chess Championship match. His twenty-five move victory against Anand in 1995 highlighted the attacking potential of the Evans Gambit.

Almost two hundred years later, this gambit is still unrefuted by the greatest players of our time or the most potent chess engines.

The Ideas Behind the Evans Gambit

Obviously, one of the first questions we must ask when our opponent plays a gambit or sacrifice is, “Why? What is his reason for offering me this material advantage?”

In the Evans Gambit, the answer is time and the attacking opportunities provided by gaining this time.

The Evans Gambit is part of the Italian game, and the starting position is reached with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4

Evans Gambit Starting Position
Evans Gambit Starting Position

White tempts Black into weakening his grip of the d4-square in exchange for a pawn. No matter which piece Black uses to capture on b4, it will be one less piece controlling d4.

Black usually captures with the bishop because capturing with the knight leaves the e5-pawn undefended.

After 4…Bxb4, a crucial dual-purpose move for White is 5.c3. This pawn advance attacks the bishop causing Black to lose another tempo and prepares a second pawn advance-d4.

If Black attempts to prevent d4 with 5…Ba5, pinning the c-pawn, White will play 6.d4 anyway! He will then give Black the opportunity to win a third pawn after 6…exd4 7.0-0!

White offers a second pawn on c3 for Black to take if he feels very materialistic.
White offers a second pawn

White remains true to his chosen opening strategy of placing a lead in development and time as more important than material. There is little doubt the initiative White has in this position is worth more than the two or even three pawns if Black plays 7…dxc3.

Despite being three pawns down, if you ask a chess engine to evaluate this position, it will say it is equal! Consider how challenging this position must be for your human opponents to defend if the best a chess engine can do is reach equality. 

Evans Gambit: Not for the Fainthearted

Gambit openings are well-suited for players who enjoy playing active, attacking, and open positions.

Evans Gambit is not a good choice for chess players who do not enjoy being behind in material. You might be comfortable giving up a pawn, but what about being two or three pawns down?

White will often offer Black the chance to accept a second pawn on d4 and a third on c3. Before choosing to play Evans Gambit, it is essential to question if you are willing to pay the cost that will be asked of you.

As with all openings, Black can reach an equal position if he does not get too greedy. The Evans Gambit tests Black’s resolve to abstain from adopting a materialistic approach.

There is no way of predicting if Black will accept or decline the gambit beforehand. No matter what approach Black chooses, the Evans Gambit is sure to provide you with many enjoyable chess games.

Evans Gambit: To accept or To Decline?

There is a school of thought in chess that accepting a gambit provides the strongest challenge to its validity. In many cases, you will need to concede the initiative to your opponent in return for going a pawn or two up.

In the Evans Gambit, there are sufficient defensive resources for Black to achieve equality after accepting the offered pawn. However, taking the third pawn will usually prove Black’s undoing.

If you accept the pawn, adopt Emmanuel Lasker’s approach and be willing to return the material to reach an equal position.

In chess, it is essential to remember that capturing is not compulsory. You always have the option to decline a gambit.

Declining the gambit with 4…Bb6 is a sound alternative and the choice of Gata Kamsky, Peter Leko, and current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. 

The good news is you can achieve equality with Black by either accepting or declining Evans Gambit.

Evans Gambit Accepted

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4

Black accepts Evans Gambit

This is the starting position of the Evans Gambit Accepted. White will play 5.c3, attacking the bishop and forcing Black to make a decision about where to retreat the bishop.

The two main options for Black are 5…Ba5 and 5…Be7.

Black Plays 5…Ba5

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5

Rapid development and launching a fast attack against f7 with Ng5 are White’s main strategies in this position. Since the idea behind 5.c3 is to claim greater control of the center, the next move is the natural d4-pawn advance.

6.d4 exd4 7.0-0 Nge7 8.Ng5 d5 9.exd5 Ne5 10.Qxd4 f6

Reaching an equal position with the majority of games ending in a draw.

Black Plays the Safer 5…Be7

5…Ba5 is the most often played bishop retreat, but it does offer White more attacking chances. Playing 5…Be7 is a good idea because your opponent will likely not have faced it as often as 5…Ba5.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Be7

Wesley So, Nigel Short, and Vishy Anand have all played this variation. When an attacking player like Nigel Short, who enjoys playing the Evans Gambit, chooses a defense, it pays to take notice.

6.d4 Na5 7.Be2 exd4 8.Qxd4 d6 9.Qxg7 Bf6 10.Qg3 Ne7

Despite being regarded as the safer option, there are plenty of tactical opportunities to keep attacking players happy.

Evans Gambit Declined

There is only one main option when it comes to declining the Evans Gambit. This minimal chess opening theory could be crucial to cutting down your opening study time for busy chess players. 

Black most often declines the Evans Gambit with 4…Bb6. The current World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, has successfully played this move against one of today’s strongest chess players – Grischuk.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6

When choosing to decline the Evans Gambit, it is vital for Black to be aware of the danger to his bishop. White often plays 5.a4 threatening to trap the bishop with a5 and c3.

 The crucial move for Black to remember is to meet 5.a4 with 5…a6.

5.a4 a6 6.Nc3 Nf6

Now it is time for White to choose between 7.Nd5, played by Grischuk against Magnus, or 7.0-0. 

Continuing with his solid choices after 7.Nd5, Carlsen chose 7…d6. There followed

8.Nxb6 cxb6 9.d3 0-0 10.0-0 Nxb4

Carlsen entered the endgame a pawn up and converted this advantage into a win.

Black does well to meet 7.0-0 with 7…d6, and when White plays Nd5 exchanging knights is a sound strategy. Always seek to neutralize an opponent’s piece that lands on your half of the board.

Either exchange your opponent’s pieces or drive them back as soon as possible.

The game might continue after 7.0-0 d6 with 8.Nd5 Nxd5 9.exd5 Nd4 10.Nxd4Bxd4 11.c3 Ba7

The Conquest Attack in the Evans Gambit

There is a third option for White to play against the Evans Gambit Declined – 7.d4. This move is a seldom-played gambit known as the Conquest Attack.

The opening theory holds that White does not achieve any advantage, but it does allow Black the opportunity to missplay the opening and find himself in trouble. 

Fortunately, Black’s best move in this position is the natural 7…Bxd4.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6 5.a4 a6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.d4 Bxd4

8.Nxd4 Nxd4 9.0-0 d6 10.f4 Be6

There is little for Black to fear in this position, and he can take confidence in the solidity of his position. There is no need to worry about being at a disadvantage when you haven’t violated the opening principles.

In Conclusion

The Evans Gambit is a chess opening you can include in your repertoire with every expectation of enjoying many attacking games. Hardly a surprise considering the Evans Gambit was extremely popular during a time when attacking play was always in fashion.

Playing through Evans Gambit games will teach you a lot about attacking play. Learn how to conduct an attack from some of the greatest attacking players ever to play chess.

Knowing how to make the most of a lead in development will help you improve your opening play and serve you well if you decide to play a different chess opening. 

One of the many good things about Evans Gambit is that you will enjoy lots of enjoyable games no matter which color you are playing. The Evans Gambit is an opening that offers both sides the opportunity to deepen their general chess knowledge.

Evans Gambit: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Evans Gambit good for beginners?

Yes, Evans Gambit is suitable for beginners. In fact, learning to play it as a beginner will help you earn an opening you can continue to play long after you shed the beginner label. The Evans Gambit is an opening you can play as a grandmaster

How do you beat Evans Gambit? 

You beat the Evans Gambit by first accepting the gambit with 4…Bxb4 and meeting 5.c3 with 5…Be7. Most of your opponents will expect 5…Ba5 and be well prepared against this move.
5…Be7 coupled with …Na5 and …d5 gives black excellent chances of playing for more than a draw. Wesley So played 5…Be7 to defeat world chess champion challenger Fabiano Caruana, as recently as 2020.

What is the point of the Evans Gambit?

The Evans Gambit offers a flank pawn, the b-pawn, to gain time by attacking the piece, which captures it and gains more control of the center. After 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 White attacks the bishop on b4 and prepares d4.
When playing the Evans Gambit, it is crucial to prioritize time over the material. White may well sacrifice a second pawn, so knowing how to play with the initiative is imperative if you adopt the powerful Evans Gambit.

Is Evans Gambit solid?

Yes, the Evans Gambit is a solid opening. The Evans Gambit was extremely popular in the 19th century, and even today’s strong chess engines have not found a refutation for this dynamic opening. 

Is Evans Gambit viable at top levels of chess?

Yes, the Evans Gambit is viable at the top levels of chess. Two legends of chess, Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, have played the Evans Gambit. In fact, Kasparov used it to defeat none other than Vishy Anand during the 1995 Tal Memorial.
Other strong players who have played the Evans Gambit recently include Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier Lagrave, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
  

If you want to learn about other gambits check out:

The Smith-Morra Gambit

The Tennison Gambit

The Danish Gambit

The Marshall Gambit

The Jerome Gambit

The Latvian Gambit

The Halloween Gambit

The Elephant Gambit

The Urusov Gambit

The Benko Gambit

The Wing Gambit

Nakhmanson Gambit

Orthoschnapp Gambit

The Benko Gambit

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