Urusov Gambit: Opening Guide for White & Black

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Table of Contents

In most gambits, one side offers a pawn for capture, but in the Urusov Gambit, black can choose between capturing either the e4 or d4-pawn.

  • The Urusov Gambit is a great surprise weapon that adds excitement and energy to the Bishop’s Opening.
  • Why not shake things up by offering a second pawn for capture instead of quietly and routinely defending your attacked pawn?
  • Like all good gambits, the Urusov Gambit is principle-based and does not rely solely on trickery. GM Gawain Jones has such faith in the Urusov Gambit he has played it against players rated over 2600 Elo. Magnus Carlsen has also played the Urusov Gambit.

Highlighted course

Grandmaster Gambits: 1. e4 - Part 1

The Urusov Gambit Accepted – 3…exd4

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4

The starting position of the Urusov Gambit is reached after 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4

The most common and arguably the best move for black is 3…exd4. When white advances the pawn to e5, black will strike back in the center with …d5, attacking the bishop.

Do not be tempted to retreat the knight when it comes under attack. Instead, play …Ne4 and meet f3 with …Ng5.

3…exd4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.0-0 Bc5

Black’s lead in development offers him compensation for his weakened pawn structure. However, f3 will come with tempo forcing black to lose time by moving the knight a third and even a fourth time.

Gawain Jones reached the Urusov Gambit position by transposition from the Scotch Gambit in this game. The more common way to reach the Urusov Gambit is with the Bishop’s Opening.

Black Captures the Other Pawn With 3…Nxe4

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4

After 4.dxe5 black must be careful in selecting his response because it makes a significant difference to white’s winning percentage. The best answer statistically for black is 4…c6.

4.dxe5 c6 5.Qe2 Nc5 6.f4 b5 7.Bd3 Be7 8.Be3 9.cxd3 0-0

The advanced e-pawn will become an object of attack by black with …f6 and …d6. Attacking e5 with …d6 is a dual-purpose move as it allows black to develop his bishop and knight.

Black Declines the Gambit

When black declines the Urusov Gambit with 3…Nc6, White can play 4.Nf3, which often transposes to the Urusov Gambit Accepted. Another option is the natural 4.d5

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 Nc6

4.d5 Ne7 5.Nc3 Ng6 6.h4 h5 7.h5 Ne7 8.f3 c6

White certainly has a space advantage in this position, but Black’s position is solid and without any weaknesses.

Final Thoughts

The Urusov Gambit is a playable gambit and a good choice if you are looking for an opening with minimal theory. The gambit has been played by strong players in the present, like Jones and Carlsen.

There is little danger to either player of forgetting the opening moves or being caught by a sharp novelty. The positions arising from the Urusov Gambit tend to lead to equal middlegame positions.

The Urusov Gambit Frequently Asked Questions

Is Urusov gambit good?

The Urusov Gambit is a surprisingly good gambit that could surprise many of your opponents. GM Gawain Jones is prepared to play the gambit against players above 2600 Elo.

How do you defend against the Urusov gambit?

The best way to defend against the Urusov Gambit is to accept the gambit with …exd4, defend the pawn with …Nc6, and meet e5 with …Ne4. When white meets …d5 with Bb5, play …Bd7 to break the pin and recapture on c6 with …bxc6.
Do not try to hold onto the pawn, but instead, use the time white spends to win the material back to develop your pieces.

What is the difference between the Urusov gambit and the Bishop’s Opening?

The Urusov Gambit is a part of the Bishop’s Opening. Instead of defending the e4-pawn with Nc3 or d3, white strikes back in the center with d4.

What is the idea behind the Urusov Gambit?

White intends to gain an open position by playing the Urusov Gambit and win tempi by attacking or pinning Black’s developed pieces. In many instances, black will have doubled c-pawns which white will look to exploit later in the game.
As with many gambits, white seeks to gain active piece play, open lines, a lead in development, and a space advantage. By accepting the gambit and advancing pieces, black seeks to claim some of these advantages.

This video is from the Chess Principles Reloaded – Development course

Highlighted course

Grandmaster Gambits 1. e4 - Part 2: Aggressive Lines

If you want to learn about other gambits check out:

The Smith-Morra Gambit

The Tennison Gambit

The Evans Gambit

The Marshall Gambit

The Jerome Gambit

The Latvian Gambit

The Halloween Gambit

The Elephant Gambit

The Benko Gambit

The The Icelandic Gambit

The Belgrade Gambit

The Muzio Gambit

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