The Matinovsky Gambit – Opening Guide for White & Black

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Table of Contents

Quick overview:

  • The Matinovsky Gambit is an opening arising out of the Owen’s Defense after the move order 1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5.
  • The idea of the opening is for White to accept the pawn on f5 and for Black to target White’s g2 pawn and rook on h1.
  • If White knows how to respond, they can seize the initiative and are much better off. The opening is considered highly dubious but may have some value in casual blitz or bullet games as a trick opening.

Introduction to the Matinovsky Gambit

The Matinovsky Gambit is a gambit not often seen arising from the Owen’s Defense.

It is an aggressive gambit resulting after the moves 1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5.

This opening has a lot of surprise value. Even its parent opening is one not seen very often so playing this opening is more often than not going to take your opponents out of book.

The main ideas of the Matinovsky Gambit

We follow the mainline of the Owen´s Defense for the first three moves.

After 1…b6, via which Black attempts to control the center via fianchettoing the bishop on b7, White is invited to occupy the center with their two central pawns and plays 2.d4.

Black of course played their previous move in preparation for 2…Bb7 to attack White’s undefended e-pawn, so White plays the mainline move to defend it, 3.Bd3.

This is mainline Owen’s Defense theory, and White in this position has a slight advantage according to the engine of +0.9. Not exactly winning, but if White plays correctly they will be better off.

Black now plays the key move of the Matinovsky Gambit, 3…f5. If you’re going to play this move, you must seek the initiative and keep the aggression going. Black is out of the frying pan and into the fryer here.

The move incredibly weakens Black´s kingside, specifically the e1-h5 diagonal. After 3…f5 the engine valuation goes from +0.9 to a whopping +4.0 for White. So we can say that this opening is dubious, at best.

Black hopes that White will accept the gambit with 4.exf5. This exposes the undefended g-pawn and rook stuck in the corner.

White does not have to accept the gambit, however.

The Matinovsky Gambit Accepted

1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5 4.exf5

Those unaware of this opening may think that accepting the gambit is bad, as it appears that after exf5 Bxg2, White loses their rook.

However, accepting the gambit is actually the only way for White to maintain such a massive advantage. It is important to not freak out; go a bit deeper in your calculation and see that Black is not doing so great after all.

4…Bxg2

White might be saying here, “oh no!, my rook!”, but not to fret. Follow this line a bit deeper and you’ll actually see that White is doing great.

However, you must find the correct move, any other move puts evaluation back to equality.

5.Qh5+

  • The only move to wrestle the initiative back from Black and prove the unsoundness of this opening.

5…g6 is forced here by Black. There is no other way to block the check.

6.fxg6, any other move is a blunder.

From here Black has a few options:

6…Nf6 may on the surface appear to be a good move, but after 7.gxh7+ Nxh5 8.Bg6#. Black wins the Queen, but in vain as they have hung mate!

Black’s only real option to stay in the game is 6…Bg7, but the advantage is still heavily in White´s favor.

7.gxh7+ Black has but one move, …Kf8.

8.Nf3

White might want to keep putting pressure with 8.Qf5 or 8.hxg8=Q+, but with this subtle developing move, White stops Black from capturing the rook on h1, as after 8…Bxh1 9.Ne5 Qe8 10.hxg8=Q+ Rxg8 11.Qf5+ Bf6 12.Bh6 Rg7 13 Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Qh7+ Kf8 15. Ng6+, White has completely destroyed Black.

There are simply too many ways for White to hold the initiative in this dubious opening.

The Matinovsky Gambit Declined

Given the above scenarios, there is really no reason to decline the Matinovsky Gambit. White simply has too much initiative, and Black will succumb to the pressure.

In the accepted variation, after 4.exf5 White has an advantage of +4.0. So long as you know how to play it correctly, there is no reason not to accept it.

To decline the gambit, White’s best move is 4.Nc3, after which Black can take on e4. This is still a sizeable advantage for White given the structural deficiencies, but less than if they accept, with engine evaluation standing at +2.0.

Summary

The Matinovsky Gambit is an opening that no coach will recommend to you as Black. It is simply an objectively bad opening. However, for fun in quick time controls, you can see how White might make an error, which could give you some interesting wins.

However, the above shows that White simply has too much initiative if they know what to do, and it is not necessary they play even the best moves to punish Black for this dubious opening.

Check out some of our other posts on gambits:

The Smith-Morra Gambit

The Wing Gambit

The Benko Gambit

The Budapest Gambit

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