The King’s Gambit was played back in 1575 by Ruy Lopez de Segura and much more recently by Luke McShane in 2017. That means we have recorded evidence of the King’s Gambit stretching back four-hundred-and-forty-seven years.
- There is nothing to stop you from playing the King’s Gambit at any level. You can play it against opponents rated from 1000 Elo to 2800 Elo if you wish.
- The King’s Gambit is loved by some and given a bad rap by others, but if White knows the opening theory, there is no reason to fear not reaching an equal or better position.
- Bobby Fischer once famously declared the King’s Gambit was busted, but it remains a viable opening for White.
- If the King’s Gambit is accepted, it is best to play 3.Nf3.
- When playing black against the Bishop’s Gambit, the strongest reply to 3.Bc4 is 3.Nc6. After this move, it is White who is struggling to achieve equality.
- Declining the gambit is an acceptable option for Black, and two of the best ways to do it are with 2…Bc5 and 2…d5.
Long Live the King's Gambit
Ideas and Strategies of the King’s Gambit
The lack of King’s Gambit games at top competitions nowadays is more due to fashion than anything else. This dangerous gambit is undoubtedly positionally sound, and even if Black equalizes, there is always the chance to launch a deadly attack if your opponent makes a misstep.
When the King’s Gambit gets accepted, it allows whites to take control of the center. If Black tries to keep the material with …g5, White does best to provoke the pawn to advance to …g4.
This pawn advance is achieved with h4!
Whenever possible, White will meet …g4 with Ne5, attacking f7. Further pressure is often put on f7 by developing the light-squared bishop to c4.
The advance of the black g-pawn makes castling short risky for Black and certainly gives white compensation for the sacrificed pawn.
A sacrifice pawn that is nearly always a temporary one.
Within the King’s Gambit Accepted is the Fischer Defense (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6).
By preventing the white knight from reaching e5 after …g5 h4 g4, Black will force the knight back to its starting square. It is not uncommon to get a position on move six where neither side has developed a single piece.
Black’s Strategies in the King’s Gambit
When Black accepts the gambit, his defense will involve either the move …g5 or …d5, and sometimes both these moves are needed.
In all openings that begin 1.e4 e5, the d5 advance is often vital for Black in reaching an equal position. That is why Black will sometimes play it as early as the second move.
In the King’s Gambit, it is not only White who gets to sacrifice a pawn. Black can decline the gambit with 2…d5 entering the Falkbeer Counter Gambit.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5
The Falkbeer Counter Gambit also sets a trap for White that will give Black a winning material advantage. The correct capture is 3.exd5 and not 3.fxe5, when Black plays 3…Qh4+ 4.g3 Qxe4+ winning the rook on h1.
Checks by the black queen on h4 are always dangerous, especially if a black pawn on f4 controls the g3 square. The black queen on h4 pins the h2 pawn, preventing White from recapturing on g3 with hxg3.
Playing …g5 offers Black many advantages apart from only defending the f4-pawn. By defending the f4-pawn, Black keeps the f-file closed and can gain time by attacking the knight on f3 with …g4.
When the g-pawn advances to g4, it supports the f3 advance, which can create weaknesses within the white structure. For example, after gxf3, it is no longer possible to block a check from h4 with g3.
The King’s Gambit Accepted
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3
Now the three most popular responses by Black are:
3…g5 – the Classical Variation
3…d6 – Fischer Defense
3…d5 – the Abbazia Defense or Modern Defense
The Classical Variation 3…g5
It seems fitting that the Classical Variation is the most popular in a classic chess opening like the King’s Gambit. After his loss to Spassky with the Classical Variation, Bobby Fischer worked on finding another defense to the King’s Gambit.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5
Black reinforces the pawn on f4 since it has a cramping effect on the white kingside. The advanced black pawns on the kingside will inhibit White’s kingside pieces and force concessions from White.
White will have to either push the h-pawn further up the board or risk losing it on h4 if Black develops the bishop to e7.
There really is no other reasonable option for White than to attack the black pawn chain, and when attacking the pawn chain, attacking the base of the pawn chain is a standard approach. Also, by provoking the pawn advance, White will have two pieces attacking the g4 pawn after …Ne5 – the knight and the queen.
4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 Nf6 6.Bc4 d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.d4 Nh5 9.Nc3 Qe7 10.0-0
5.Ne5 is known as the Kieseritzky Gambit, was popularized by Lionel Kieseritzky in the 1840s and later played with success by Wilhelm Steinitz. If you ever find yourself facing the Kieseritzky Gambit, it is vital to remember the move 6…d5.
The white pawn on d5 is an excellent defender of your f7 pawn because it blocks the white bishop on c4. Sometimes you have to give up your material advantage to save yourself from losing even more material.
After 10…Bxe5 11.Nb5 Nd7 Berg obtained a slight but persistent edge in his game against Grandelius. Instead of 11…Nd7 by playing 11…0-0, Grandelius could have prevented Berg from gaining a slight advantage.
The King’s Gambit Accepted Fischer Defense 3…d6
The defining move of the Fischer Defense is 3…d6. Bobby Fischer called 3…d6, “A high-class waiting move.”
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 Nf3 d6
Although …d6 prevents Ne5 and gives the king more space to escape if necessary, the downside of the move is that while freeing the c8-bishop, it blocks the f8-bishop.
Now, rather than allow Black to force your only developed piece back to its starting square, a thematic approach is to seize the center.
4.d4 g5 5.g3 g4 6.Nh4 f3 7.Nc3 8.Be3 Nf6 9.Qd2 d5 10.e5
Yes, Black indeed has a passed pawn on the sixth rank, but it is not going anywhere. White intends to cast long and then begins undermining the pawn on f3 with h3.
Because of this undermining strategy, it is essential not to rush into developing the bishop on f1. From f1, the bishop supports the h3 advance.
Another strategy White can adopt involves playing for a central pawn advance. Then you will want to develop the f1-bishop to c4. This was the strategy Craig Sadler chose and won from this position in only seven more moves.
If you prefer not to allow Black to get a passed pawn on the sixth rank instead of 4.d4, you can play 4.Bc4. This move might be the one most in keeping with the spirit of the King’s Gambit.
Black’s most challenging response is 4…h6, intending …g5 when White has the option of preventing …g5 with h4 or adopting a safe, low theory approach with 5.b3.
In this variation, White can castle short or choose to castle long after Nc3, Bb2, d4, and Qe2.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 h6 5.b3 Nc6
6.Bb2 Nf6 7.Nc3 Ne5 8.Qe2 Qe7 9.0-0-0 c6 10.d4
White has a space advantage, but Black’s position is solid. Objectively the position is equal, and both sides can play for the win.
The Abbazia Defense or Modern Defense 3…d5
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5
Black does not attempt to keep the extra pawn in the Modern Defense. Instead of trying to hold onto the material, Black seeks to challenge White for the initiative.
Once again, White can expect to hold a slight, long-lasting advantage, even after the position becomes simplified. This slight advantage is due to having an extra pawn in the center and the activity of his pieces.
In the King’s Gambit, there are many files that allow white to provide his major pieces with excellent activity.
A good strategy against the popular Modern Defense is to adopt a modest approach and trust the central pawn majority that White gets in the King’s Gambit Accepted. Although 5.Bc4 has been played slightly more often, 5.Bb5+ offers White better prospects.
Due to its popularity knowing how to face the Modern Defense is a must if you wish to play the King’s Gambit.
4.exd5 Nf6 5.Bb5+ c6 6.dxc6 Nxc6 7.d4 Bd6
White Does Best To Avoid the Greedy 8.Qe2+
White must not get greedy and be tempted to play 8.Qe2+ over 8.0-0. If you find yourself facing 8.Qe2+ then continue with 8…Be6 9.Ng5 0-0 10.Nxe6, and now Black has the choice of the safer 10…fxe6, which still requires accurate play by White, or the more dynamic 10…Qb6.
Chess is more exciting if you take every opportunity to play a sound exchange sacrifice. Even playing a few unsound exchange sacrifices can enliven your games, but it requires having a very optimistic mindset.
Whether you choose the safe 10…exf6 or the dynamic 10…Qb6, be sure to do your homework. For example, after 10…Qb6 11.Nxf8, the strongest move for Black, is not the tempting 11…Re8 (strongly met with 12.Nd7) but 11…Nxd4!
This variation is definitely one where you will need assistance from your chess engine, but if you know your opponent likes to play the King’s Gambit, the work you put in will be well rewarded.
Although White gets a lot of material for the queen, the fact that none of his queenside pieces are developed gives Black the edge.
The More Restrained and Effective 8.0-0
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Bb5+ c6 6.dxc6 Nxc6 7.d4 Bd6 8.0-0
8…0-0 9.Nbd2 Bg4 10.c3 Re8 11.Bd3
Against the Modern Defense, it is best to seek a slight advantage and look to outplay your opponent in the middlegame. Even in an aggressive opening like the King’s Gambit, you need to accept a small edge and concede that your opponent has played the opening well.
The King’s Gambit Declined
When declining the King’s Gambit, the two most-played ways to go about it are:
- 2…d5 – the Falkbeer Counter Gambit
- 2…Bc5 – the Classical Variation
The Falkbeer Counter Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5
The Falkbeer Counter Gambit was a favorite of Paul Morphy, who used it in the 1850s with good effect. As in the Modern Defense to the King’s Gambit Accepted, Black challenges White for the initiative early in the game.
When facing the Falkbeer Counter Gambit, be sure to play the correct pawn capture, or you could suffer an embarrassing loss. The correct capture is 3.exd5, because 3.fxe5 allows 3…Qh4+ and now 4.g3 loses the h1-rook after 4…Qxe4+
The best approach by White is to play the simple, developing move 6.Nf3and to meet 6…Bc5 with 7.Qe2.
3.exd5 e4 4.d3 Nf6 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6,Nf3
6…Bc5 7.Qe2 Bf5 8.Nc3 Qe7 9.Be3 Bxe3 10.Qxe3 Nxc3
Despite reaching a queenless middlegame and inflicting a pawn weakness on White, it is Black who is fighting for equality. The Falkbeer Counter Gambit is not seen much at high-level tournaments today because White can obtain a pleasant edge in all variations following 6.Nf3.
When Black chooses the Falkbeer Counter Gambit, it is with the hope that White will not be well-prepared and will not know how to react.
The King’s Gambit Declined: Classical Variation 2…Bc5
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5
Black develops the bishop to a diagonal that stops White from castling and avoids getting the bishop locked in after …d6 to support the e5-pawn.
A common approach by White is to try and exchange the powerful bishop with Nc3-a4, so it makes sense for Black to prepare a safe retreat square with …a6. The opening moves are natural developing moves, with the crucial move for White being 7.Nd5
3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.d3 Nf6 6.Nc3 a6 7.Nd5
The knight on d5 is too strong for Black to allow it to remain on d5, and it makes sense to exchange it right away. Allowing your opponent’s pieces to spend time on your side of the board without challenging them often gives your opponent a better position.
After 7…Nxd5 8.Bxd5 0-0; this dynamically balanced position can lead to some excellent attacking games. A vital move for White in progressing with an attack on the kingside is f4-f5, as occurred in this battle between Alexander Sokolov and Aleksandr Karpatchev.
Another typical developing move for Black in the Classical Variation is …Bg4. Playing in the spirit of the King’s Gambit, Alexei Fedorov did not hesitate to play an exchange sacrifice when faced with 7…Bg4.
The exchange of bishops for knights usually does not work well for Black in the Classical King’s Gambit Declined.
Although it is easy to get caught up in all the great games played with piece sacrifices in the King’s Gambit, always remember the opening is positionally sound. Attacking and getting the opportunity to play piece sacrifices is a lot of fun, but it can only be done if you have built a good position.
Like any of the classical chess openings, the King’s Gambit requires you to invest time studying opening theory. However, the King’s Gambit will reward you for this time with many exciting, fun-filled games.
You will have many opportunities to practice playing with the initiative and sharpen your tactical skills. You can use this opening no matter how strong a player you become.
Making the King’s Gambit a part of your 1.e4 lifetime repertoire will undoubtedly prove a wise decision.
The King’s Gambit Frequently Asked Questions
Is the King’s Gambit a good opening?
Yes, the King’s Gambit is a good opening, and White can expect to reach at least an equal position against all of Black’s defenses.
What is the meaning of the King’s Gambit?
The idea behind the King’s Gambit is to gain control of the center, develop rapidly, and attack the weak f7-square.
Why is the King’s Gambit not played?
There is no reason for the decline in popularity of the King’s Gambit except that other openings have become more fashionable. Kasparov had great success with the Scotch Game, so it became a trendy opening.
Should you accept the King’s Gambit?
You can accept the gambit and obtain a perfectly playable position with Black. Accepting or declining the gambit depends on your playing style. Positional players might find declining the gambit leads to middlegame positions they are more comfortable playing.
Is King’s Gambit refuted?
Despite Bobby Fischer’s claim that the King’s Gambit was busted, it is not refuted. The King’s Gambit is based on sound chess principles, and you can play it confidently against beginners or grandmasters.
Is King’s Gambit unsound?
No, the King’s Gambit is not unsound. Black can obtain equality, but that is true of almost any opening today.
Who invented the King’s Gambit?
We will never know who first played the King’s Gambit, but we know of a game played between Ruy Lopez de Segura and Giovanni Leonardo Di Bona da Cutri in 1575. Ruy Lopez played the King’s Gambit and won the game in only twelve moves.