The Rousseau gambit is Black’s attempt to lure his opponent into unfamiliar territory within the Italian Game.
- White does best not to play into Black’s hands by accepting the gambit.
- Either 4.d3 or 4.d4 will give White the better winning chances.
- Careful play by White will ensure his opening advantage remains well into the middlegame.
What is the Rosseau Gambit?
The Rosseau Gambit, named after the French chess master Eugene Rousseau, is part of the Italian Opening, but it is also a Reversed King’s Gambit. Of course, the main difference is that the advance of the f-pawn is delayed until move three. This pawn advance happens on the second move in the regular King’s Gambit.
Another important consideration is that Black is playing a tempo down when f5 gets played. This early in the Italian Game, there is no opportunity for Black to develop with tempo.
Similar to the Classical King’s Gambit Declined variation with 2…Bc5, the white bishop on c4 makes it harder for the opponent to castle by controlling the a2-g8 diagonal.
White has three main choices in the Rousseau Gambit:
- Defend the e4 pawn with d3 and trust the extra tempo will make itself felt.
- Accept the gambit with 4.exf5.
- Strike back in the center with 4.d4.
Accepting the Rousseau Gambit is the least successful of White’s options, with a winning percentage of around thirty percent. The other two options, 4.d3, and 4.d4 have a winning percentage of approximately fifty-six and fifty-nine percent, respectively.
The Rousseau Gambit Accepted
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 f5 4.exf5
In order to fully understand why accepting the Rousseau Gambit scores so poorly compared to White’s other main options (4.d3 and 4.d4), it is necessary to consider the purpose behind the Rousseau Gambit.
Prophylaxis is not solely a middlegame or endgame concept. Even at the start of the game, it is necessary to ask, “What is my opponent’s threat? What is the idea behind that move?”
After 3.f5, Black’s threat is obvious – to win the pawn on e4. Although it looks like the pawn on f5 is hanging, after 4.exf5, Black can play 4…d5. This attacks the bishop on c4 and the pawn on f5.
Since White only has one move, there is no way to save two pieces in this position. The only way to do so is with 5.Bd3, but this costs more material after …e4 forking the bishop and knight.
Two critical factors make the Rousseau Gambit Accepted effective for Black:
- There is a white bishop on c4, which can get attacked with …d5.
- The black queen supports the d5 pawn advance, so Black does not need to waste any time in preparing the move.
Time is usually the most critical element in the success or failure of any gambit.
Gaining time by playing a gambit allows you to turn it into a lead in development. When you have a lead in development, you are better prepared than your opponent when it comes to making contact.
After …d5 attacking the bishop and forcing it back to b3, the natural follow-up is e4. The e4 advance attacks White’s only other developed piece and pushes it backward, like the bishop.
Szu-Min Chiang chose a different approach during the 2012 Women’s Olympiad in Turkey. She preferred to keep her central pawns alongside each other on d5 and e5.
4…d5 5.Bb3 e4 6.Ng1 Bxf5 7.d3 exd3 8.cxd3 Nf6 9.Bg5 Bb4+ 10.Bd2 0-0
Black has developed all of his pieces by only moving each piece once. In contrast, White’s bishops have each moved twice, and the kingside knight will need to move a third time to get developed.
Take a look at how the rest of the game between Alexander Eliseev and Kirill Elfimov unfolded.
Rousseau Gambit With 4.d3
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 f5 4.d3
This is a safe and solid way for white to meet the Rousseau Gambit. White supports his central pawn and intends to develop the pieces to their natural squares.
Black will have to make a decision regarding the center at some point. This will entail either maintaining the tension with a pawn on f5 or shutting things down on the kingside with …f4.
4.…Nf6 5.Nc3 Bc5 6.0-0 d6 7.Nd5 f4 8.c3 Bg4 9.b4 Bb6
White has excellent centralized pieces and has gained a lot of space on the queenside. Moreover, White has not taken any risks and played natural moves throughout the opening.
White will continue with h3 and, if needed, g4 to break the pin on the knight. This is undoubtedly a more straightforward position to play with white.
Although the next game started with the Bishop’s Opening, it shows how you can reach the Rousseau Gambit by transposition.
Rousseau Gambit With 4.d4
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 f5 4.d4
White chooses to open the center and engage pieces before Black can catch up with development. This opening sequence is an excellent example of why it is preferable to move a piece instead of a pawn in the opening.
Black has made two pawn moves and only developed a single piece. Thus, it is hardly surprising that White has the higher winning percentage.
In this variation, White must play actively as the opening soon becomes very tactical in nature. A vital part of White’s strategy is to force the black pieces onto bad squares early in the game.
If you prefer a more positional game, then the Rousseau Gambit is best met with 4.d3.
4…d6 5.Ng5 Nh6 6.d5 Ne7 7.Nc3 a6 8.f4 Ng6 9.Qh5 Qf6 10.fxe5 dxe5
11.Ne6 will follow, and already the chess engine gives white a winning advantage. When Black plays …Bxe6, it will leave White with an extremely dangerous passed pawn on e6 – only two squares away from promotion.
In this game, White could have delivered checkmate in two on moves twenty-five and twenty-six. Do not let this opportunity pass you by in your games.
Yes, the checkmate Maroczy missed is Re7+ followed by Nc7 checkmate. The e6-pawn controls both the escape squares for the king.
The Rousseau Gambit Accepted shows why Black plays this gambit. However, if White chooses either 4.d3 or 4.d4, then Black is under pressure very early in the game.
Of course, White does not get a winning advantage on the fourth move, but the edge White gets can soon become a winning advantage.
The Rousseau gambit might work as a surprise weapon in Blitz games. Black is taking a risk playing the Rousseau Gambit in longer time controls.
The Rousseau Gambit Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Rousseau Gambit?
The Rousseau Gambit is a Reversed King’s Gambit played in the Italian Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 f5).
Who wins in the Rousseau Gambit?
In the Rousseau Gambit Accepted, Black has the higher winning chances. White does exceptionally well in the other two main variations with 4.d3 and 4.d4.
Is the Rousseau gambit good for beginners?
No, the Rousseau Gambit is not good for beginners.