Portuguese Gambit: Striking Out in the Scandinavian Defense


Table of Contents

Avoid the well-worn paths of the mainline Scandinavian Defense with the exciting Portuguese Gambit.

  • Since active piece play and a lead in development work well in any chess opening, why not develop your bishop with tempo?
  • The attack on the queen can get met in three ways – 4.f3, 4.Nf3, and 4.Bb5+.
  • This dynamic opening will make for many fun games, no matter what color you are playing.

Ideas Behind the Portuguese Gambit

The Portuguese Gambit is a gambit played by Black in the Scandinavian Defense 2…Nf6 Variation and involves an early …Bg4 attacking White’s queen.

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4

The Portuguese Gambit is reached after 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4. Instead of recapturing the pawn on d5 Black chooses to go on an early offensive with 3...Bg4.

Black’s intentions in the Portuguese Gambit are to disrupt White’s development and to ensure the light-squared bishop does not become a bad bishop after …e6. Despite the good intentions, the Portuguese Gambit tends to favor white theoretically.

The key here is that there is a significant difference between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Against a titled player, the Portuguese Gambit might not work, but against club players or post-beginners, the gambit can prove highly effective!

The challenge facing Black is that even if White plays 4.Nf3, stepping into a pin, there is no way to bring additional pressure against the f3 knight. There is little chance of playing …Nd4 or …Qa5-h5, so Black must play actively and put pressure on White’s position.

Thanks to Black’s lead in development, the white pawn on d4 will often become a target.

The downside for not capturing on d5 for Black is that 4.Bb5+ cannot be blocked with …c6, except at the cost of a pawn after dxc6. White can even ignore the threat on the queen because of tactics involving a discovered check with cxb7 attacking the trapped rook and regaining the queen.

Here is a game that clearly shows how challenging the game can get when you block the check with …c6.

Black must take care and negotiate these tactics; however, obtaining compensation for your pawn with a lead in development is not difficult. Learning to play with the initiative is a vital chess skill to master, and playing gambits is an excellent way to learn.

Meeting the Portuguese Gambit With 4.f3

The natural 4.f3 is an excellent way to defend against the threat of …Bxd1 winning the queen for a minor piece. This not only gains White a tempo, but the pawn advance supports a later kingside pawn storm with g4 and h4.

The pawn on f3 frees up the f2 square if White’s dark-squared bishop comes under attack on e3. For example, after 4.f3 Bf5 5.Be3 Nxd5, White can play 6.Bf2.

Do not let the statistics lull you into a feeling of false security when playing against the Portuguese Gambit. Black has scored some impressive victories with this gambit.

The fact that Black has two minor pieces developed to none by White means losing a tempo with …Bf5 is not that big of a drawback for Black. On f5, the bishop takes aim at the c2 square and can prove a powerful attacking piece if White castles long.

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4 4.f3

White meets the Portuguese Gambit with 4.f3

In this variation, White will often play Kf2 and defend the king with pieces rather than a pawn shield. This move is a crucial move to remember if you choose to meet the Portuguese Gambit with 4.f3.

4…Bf5 5.c4 e6 6.dxe6 Nc6 7.Be3 Bb4+ 8.Nc3 Qe7 9.Bd3 Bxe6 10.Kf2 0-0-0

As is the case in most gambits, it is best to settle for modest gains and catch up on development.

This is why the move 7.Be3 is much better than 7.exf7+. After 7…Kxf7, White is simply too far behind in development and will be fortunate to earn a draw.

Black has three minor pieces developed after 7.exf7+ Kxf7, while every one of White’s pieces is on their starting squares.

White’s d4-pawn is attacked twice by the knight and queen, and the white king is on an open file. 8.Be3 defends the pawn and blocks the e-file, but after Bb4+ and …Re8, the bishop is under attack and pinned.

Take a look at this game which shows an excellent way for White to continue from the above position.

If you decide to play the Portuguese Gambit, it helps to play through games with an engine and find improvements. Games are not always lost in the opening, and it is easy to blame an opening for our shortcomings in other phases of the game.

The Natural Developing Move 4.Nf3

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Nf3

Portuguese Gambit -  1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Nf3.

White decides the pin is a small price to pay for developing a piece and avoiding any pawn weaknesses around the king. Since White can easily break the pin with Be2, and Black cannot bring more pressure against f3, this is a logical approach by White.

Giving your opponent a lead in development in the opening can make the middlegame extremely challenging. The Scandinavian Defense poses enough challenges without making things more difficult.

4…Qxd5 5.Be2 Nc6 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Bxf3 Qd7 8.c3 e5 9.0-0 0-0-0

Once again, Black has the typical Scandinavian lead in development, and we are in a middlegame with opposite side castling. This will lead to an exciting middlegame battle with both sides attacking their opponent’s king.

Because of the b2,c3, and d4 pawn chain, Black’s main challenge is how to develop the dark-squared bishop. The white pawns control the queenside dark squares along the f8-a3 diagonal.

Advancing the kingside pawns against the white king allows Black to generate an attack and gives the bishop access to the long diagonal on g7.

Portuguese Gambit 4.Bb5+

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Bb5+

Portuguese Gambit 4.Bb5+ - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Bb5+

This is possibly the trickiest variation for Black to navigate, thanks to the white pawn on d5. Rather than risk falling for any tactics after 4…c6, block the check and develop a piece with 4…Nbd7.

4…Nbd7 5.f3 Bf5 6.c4 e6 7.dxe6 Bxe6 8.d5 Bf5 9.Nc3 Bc5 10.Qe2+ Qe7

Despite moving the light-squared bishop four times in the opening, Black still has a lead in development. White’s space advantage balances this lead in development.

Both sides can play for a win in this dynamically equal position.

In Conclusion

The Portuguese Gambit is an attractive option when you want to take your opponent into unfamiliar territory. This is an opening that can serve beginners and post-beginners well.

That does not mean you cannot play it against stronger opponents. When you find an opening that matches your playing style and understand the positions better than your opponents, you have an extremely dangerous weapon.

The Scandinavian Defense is a reliable defense to 1.e4, and the Portuguese Gambit provides you with a solid alternative to the mainlines. You can easily make the Portuguese Gambit a part of your opening repertoire with Black.

Portuguese Gambit Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Portuguese Gambit in chess?

The Portuguese Gambit is a variation in the Scandinavian Defense where Black delays recapturing the pawn on d5.

What is the idea behind the Portuguese Gambit?

Black wants to disrupt White’s development and avoid a bad bishop after …e6.

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