Gambits

Contents


Introduction

The Senior American Master Ken Smith, who died last month (February 1999), was an advocate of gambits. He was a noted practitioner of the Morra Gambit against the Sicilian , viz.: 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 ), which some American players still refer to as the Smith-Morra Gambit.

Moreover, Ken also recommended that players, as part of their development, should adopt, at least temporarily, a repertoire of gambits. He thought that gambit play was not only generally good training in the arts and whiles of attack and defence, but also gambits give the whole endeavour a certain urgency. When you are a Pawn down, you must look at every move critically, and play with the greatest energy and incisiveness, or you will surely lose. It's that extra urgency that Ken feels you gain most from later in your development. He actually put the argument a little more strongly on his website where he writes:

 

"STUDY AND MASTERY OF THE OPENINGS COME IN THIS ORDER:.

A.Forcing Opening and Defenses (Minor/Inter players, USCF classes D/C)

B.Basic Opening System (Major/County players, USCF classes C/B)

C.Add Gambits (County Players , Class A & above)

D.Sharp critical lines-the so called "long variations"

E.Evolution to closed lines, if this suits your style "

He goes on to say about Class A players:
"Now is the time the boys will be separated from the men. It is the biggest decision you must be willing to make in your chess career. YOU MUST ADD GAMBITS TO YOUR OPENING SYSTEM (Note: I said ADD-NOT GIVE UP your basic system). You must play them, win with them, and lose with them. There is no substitute. Being a pawn down, you will have to dig into each position on each move. You will learn to use that extra space and tempo. You will develop that "killer instinct" and learn to handle open positions-being ready when that closed position will surely become open. Those than cannot stand to lose games and rating points because they are converting to gambit play ARE HOPELESS in my book. Do not cry with them when they are on "that chess hill they can't climb", and do not feel sorry when they start slipping backward. For with stubbornness and cowardice, they did not play gambits and dug their own chess graves!"

  Tell 'em, Ken! I'm not entirely persuaded of that - there are many roads to Rome - but that players should understand how to of play for and against gambits is not in question.


Timoschenko,G - Karpov,A, Moscow (1), 1967

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qxd4 Nf6 6.Bg5 c6 7.Nc3 d5 8.0-0-0 Be7 9.Rhe1

+-----------------+
|rhb1k+.4|
|0p+.gp0p|
|.+p+.h.+|
|+.+p+.G.|
|.+B!.+.+|
|+.H.+N+.|
|P)P+.)P)|
|+.IR$.+.|
+-----------------+
Totally developed inside 9 moves - what a great gambit! White even won (54 moves) although at the moment Black is safe enough.


Principles of gambit play

There are a variety of principles to get to grips with:

Principle 1. A gambit is a sacrifice of a Pawn to gain some return - quicker development, greater command of the centre, or both.

We can see this perhaps most clearly in the Danish Gambit:

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p+p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+B+P+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|PG.+.)P)|
|$N+QI.HR|
+-----------------+
For an investment of two Pawns White has two pieces developed and a greater command of the centre. White's Bishops are nicely placed to put pressure on the centre and King's-side, and the open lines are avenues along which White hopes to attack using the advantages in development and mobility. Great development, great control of the centre - all for two Pawns. Is it worth it?

It used to be said that three tempi are worth a Pawn. By this valuation White is about four tempi behind (or a Pawn and a tempo). The advantage in development is not to be assessed in the immediate aftermath of a gambit, because the gambiteer may have so much activity that the opponent may have to waste time untangling before developing. So, don't count developing moves made, but moves yet to be made to complete development. This is very clear in the Morra:

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nc3

Now all Black has to do is develop a piece and he is simply a Pawn up - right?

4...Nc6

+-----------------+
|r+b1kgn4|
|0p+p0p0p|
|.+n+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+P+.+|
|+.H.+.+.|
|P).+.)P)|
|$.GQIBHR|
+-----------------+
No, it's not so simple, because Black cannot develop normally. For a start, White can develop both Bishops without further pawn moves, whereas Black must make two Pawn moves to develop the Bishops. Also, straightforward developing moves can lead to White being able to strike immediately:

5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 Nf6? 7.e5! +/-

e.g. 7...Nxe5?? 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9.Bxf7+ or 7...dxe5? 8.Qxd8+ Nxd8 9.Nb5 with a strong attack

and back in the Danish:

"Richard Hall, a 51 year old solicitor specialising in licensing law, has won the British CC Championship. Richard receives a prize of £200, the title of British CC Champion until the next championship is decided, and the British Master title for life." -- Reg Gillman, British Chess Magazine


Danish Gambit
1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.Nf3 exd4 4.c3 dxc3 5.Bc4 cxb2 6.Bxb2 d6 7.Nc3 Be7 8.Qb3 Nh6 9.Nd5 f6 10.Nf4

Much stronger than: [10.0-0 Na5 Csom-Barczay, Hungary 1967]

10...Bf8 11.0-0 Ne5 12.Nd4 Nxc4 13.Qxc4 c6 14.Rae1 Nf7 15.Nfe6 Ne5 16.Qb3 Bxe6 17.Nxe6 Qd7 18.f4 Ng6

+-----------------+
|r+.+kg.4|
|0p+q+.0p|
|.+p0N0n+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+P).+|
|+Q+.+.+.|
|PG.+.+P)|
|+.+.$RI.|
+-----------------+
19.e5

This, coupled with White's next, completely breaks up Black's defensive set-up. 19...fxe5 20.Ba3 Be7 21.Nxg7+ Kd8 22.fxe5 d5 23.e6 Qc7 24.Bxe7+ Nxe7 25.Qa3 b5 26.Rf7 b4 27.Qf3 Qd6 28.Qf6 Qc5+ 29.Kh1 h6 30.Qf4 1–0

[Notes by Richard Hall, BCM 117 (8), pp.438-439]  


Principle 2. The best way to refute a gambit is to accept it (Steinitz)

We are told as juniors:

Don't snatch Pawns in the opening, it's not worth falling behind in development

This is probably good advice, in that it concentrates the mind on development

It is probably better to say:

Don't snatch material in the opening, but destroying central pawns is allowed

There are two aims to the opening: development is one, central control is the other - and in those terms, taking central Pawns is quite encouraged.

It surprises me how often I see gambits declined at club level. Sometimes I hear people say they declined "on principle". There is no principle that says, " decline free Pawns ". In fact, there is advice that says always take a central Pawn if it is offered (Lasker).

It's interesting that the GM approach to the Morra Gambit is often " yum yum, a free Pawn " (see, for example, Gallagher's Beating the Anti-Sicilians ). [Karpov has also commented that there is no need to gambit a Pawn against the Sicilian because White gets an attack anyway!]

The thing is, don't try and hang on to it, let your opponent waste time trying to get it back - or give it back yourself with an early ...d5 to get on with your own development (see below).

In fact it's not just central Pawns that should be grabbed, if you know what you are doing. If you know not just about development, but also the initiative and central control, we can start to see how lines like the Sicilian Najdorf Poisoned Pawn can be viable:


Nunn,J - Kasparov,G Brussels (1), 1986
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd3 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3

+-----------------+
|rhb+kg.4|
|+p+.+p0p|
|p+.0ph.+|
|+.+.+.G.|
|.+.HP).+|
|1.HQ+.+.|
|P+P+.+P)|
|+R+.IB+R|
+-----------------+
Here we are, the World Champion breaking every opening rule in the book against one of the world's top theoreticians and most feared tacticians, our very own John Nunn. And yet... 0-1 (27 moves). Black has no weaknesses, central control, and White must attack with the urgency that a long-term material disadvantage obliges.  


Principle 3. Do not hang on to accepted material, but let your opponent tie themselves up trying to get it back, then return it for other advantages in development or co-ordination

At the opening of the twentieth century, gambit play was already in decline, and here's why:


Mieses-Maroczy, Monte Carlo 1902.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2

White's pawn sacrifices have yielded a dangerous attacking position. How should you defend against a gambit like this?

5...d6 6.Ne2 [6.f4] 6...Nc6 7.0-0 Be6

neutralising the glare of the Bishop towards f7 and seeking exchanges

8.Bd5 Nf6 9.Qb3 Qc8 10.Nf4 Bxd5 11.exd5 Ne5 12.Re1

+-----------------+
|r+q+kg.4|
|0p0.+p0p|
|.+.0.h.+|
|+.+Ph.+.|
|.+.+.H.+|
|+Q+.+.+.|
|PG.+.)P)|
|$N+.$.I.|
+-----------------+
How would you play here?

12...Be7 !

absolutely the correct and modern idea. Black returns material to complete development, and will emerge with the upper hand

13.Bxe5 dxe5 14.Rxe5 Qd7 ! 15.Qg3

[15.Qxb7 0-0 when White's position is uncoordinated and under-developed]

15...0-0-0 16.Qxg7 Qd6 17.Qg5 Rhe8 18.Nd2 Nd7

Black has exchanged his extra material for a superior position. White's strategy has been a shambles, and must concede the exchange.

19.Rxe7 Qxe7 20.Qg3 Qb4 21.Nf3 Rg8 22.Qh4 Qc3 23.Rb1 Qxf3 resigns

The exact moves have been improved on since, but this strategy of Black was the death-knell for the romantic sacrificial openings. Line


Principle 4. Other best ways to refute gambits include declining them

All right, you don't have to take everything you are offered. If you know the 3...Nf6 system against the Morra backwards, it might make more sense to play that than accept the gambit.

I've given Richard Towers a fair amount of stick in the past for inevitably pushing past gambited Bishop Pawns, e.g.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 d3!?

or

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 e3!?

The attractions are that you "avoid theory" and "don't open a file for attack", but the reasons for the stick are various:

(a) By declining you may just as easily fall into a dangerous or disadvantageous line, if you don't know the theory. For example, Alan Maynard says his opponents often declined the Goring Gambit, but not by pushing past, so he could quickly play c3xd4 with a monster Pawn roller in the centre.

+-----------------+
|r+b1k+n4|
|0p0pgp0p|
|.+n+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.)P+.+|
|+.+.+N+.|
|P).+.)P)|
|$NGQIB+R|
+-----------------+
There are good and bad ways of declining gambits!

Even the 4...d3 line is reckoned to be += by BCO2.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 d3?! 5.Bxd3 d6

In terms of opening goals - smooth active development, a stake in the centre, having space for manoeuvre and so on - Black is scoring zero out of three. [The same thing applies to the line 4...e3 in the Blackmar-Diemer.]

6.Bf4 Be7 7.h5 Nf6 8.Nbd2 Bd7 9.Qc2+=

This passive position for Black may suit Richard but it's not my style.

Perhaps try instead

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 d5!?

Now 5. exd5 Qxd5 6. cxd4 Bg4

...and Black is way ahead in development with a positive plan of campaign against the IQP in the middle- and end-game.

7. Be2 Nf6 8. Nc3 Bb4 9. Bb2 Bxc3 10. Bxc3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 Qc4!

Isn't that better? At least two out of three, I reckon.

(b) If you do know the theory, play the strongest moves, whether they involve acceptance or declining of gambit Pawns. Play the strongest moves you can , regardless of what you think your opponent knows. (After all, they might know how to refute your second-rate choice as well, as above)

(c) Although I did hear of one ex-Soviet GM (Gurevich?) being faced with the Blackmar-Diemer as Black, and playing, you guessed it:

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 e3!?

Was this the recommendation of top-secret Russian research? No, " I hadn't seen this before and taking the Pawn looked complicated  


ILLUSTRATIVE GAMBIT LINES  

1.e4 e5

[1...d5 2.d4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 e3 (4...exf3 5.Nxf3 Bg4)

1...c5 2.d4 (2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6) 2...cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 A) 6...Nf6 7.e5 Nxe5 (7...dxe5 8.Qxd8+ Nxd8 9.Nb5) 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9.Bxf7+;

B) 6...a6 ]

2.d4

[2.Nf3 Nc6

A) 3.Bc4

A1) 3...Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.0-0 Bc5 is the principled line of the Max Lange, genuinely aunclear and a good way to win (5...Nxe4 is a successful way for Black to equalise but is a poor way to play for a win with Black

A2) 3...Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3

A2a) 7...Nxe4 (iv) don't snatch material in the opening, but destroying central pawns is allowed 8.0-0 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Bxc3

a famous gambit position (9...d5 (i) don't be afraid to return material to complete your development 10.Ba3 and now Black's greed for material must be tempered with caution (10.Qb3) 10...Bxa1 yields a fine attacking position for White;

A2b) 7...d5 (iii) don't snatch material in the opening 8.exd5 Nxd5 9.0-0;

B) 3.d4 3...exd4

B1) 4.Bc4 Scotch Gambit 4...Bc5 5.0-0 d6 6.c3 dxc3 7.Nxc3 Be6 (7...Nf6 8.Bg5) 8.Bxe6 fxe6 9.Qb3 Qc8 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.fxe3 Nf6 12.Ng5 Nd8 13.Rac1 a6 14.Na4 Qd7 15.e5 h6 (15...dxe5 16.Nc5;

15...b5 16.exf6 bxa4 17.Qc2 gxf6 18.Ne4 0-0 19.Nxf6+ Rxf6 20.Rxf6) 16.Nf3 b5 (16...Nd5) 17.exf6 bxa4 18.Qc2 gxf6

19.Qg6+ Ke7 ? (19...Qf7 20.Qxf7+ Nxf7 21.Rxc7 0-0 20.Ne5 dxe5 21.Qxf6+ Staunton-von Jaenisch, 1853;

B2) 4.c3 the Goering gambit 4...dxc3 (4...d3 is not quite satisfactory according to modern theory 5.Bc4 Nf6 (5...cxb2 6.Bxb2 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Qc2 d6 9.0-0-0 yields a vigorous initiative for the pawns 6.Nxc3

6...Bb4 7.0-0 Bxc3 8.bxc3 d6 9.e5 dxe5 10.Ng5 Be6 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Qb3 with some initiative and a promise to regain the pawn;

2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 (3...Be7 a more modern approach like the Cunningham Variation is more awkward for White 4.Bc4 g4

the famous Muzio Gambit: White does not shrink from sacrifice of pieces as well as pawns 5.0-0 gxf3 6.Qxf3 Qf6 7.e5 Qxe5

interestingly, the most promising line may be to sacrifice some more

A) 8.Bxf7+ the double Muzio Gambit - outrageous! 8...Kxf7 9.d4 Qxd4+ (9...Qf5 10.g4 Qg6 11.Bxf4 Nf6 12.Be5 d6 13.Bxf6 Bxg4 14.Qg2 Rg8 15.Kh1 Bf5 16.Qd5+) 10.Be3 Qf6 11.Nc3 Ne7 12.Nd5

with an attack for the material - is it enough? 12...Nxd5 13.Qxd5+ Qe6 14.Rxf4+ Kg8 15.Qg5+ Qg6 16.Rxf8+ Kxf8 17.Rf1+;

B) 8.d3 8...Bh6 9.Nc3 Ne7 10.Bd2 Nbc6 11.Rae1

still with some initiative]

2...exd4 3.c3 dxc3

[3...d3 4.Bxd3 declining the gambit in this way is quite common, although probably not the best method in this case]

4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2

White's pawn sacrifices have yielded a dangerous attacking position. How should you defend against a gambit like this? 5...d5 (i) do not be afraid to return some or all of your gains in order to catch up in development

[5...d6 6.Ne2 (6.f4) 6...Nc6 7.0-0 Be6 neutralising the glare of the Bishop towards f7 and seeking exchanges 8.Bd5 Nf6 9.Qb3 Qc8 10.Nf4 Bxd5 11.exd5 Ne5 12.Re1

12...Be7 ! absolutely the correct and modern idea. Black returns material to complete development, and will emerge with the upper hand 13.Bxe5 dxe5 14.Rxe5 Qd7 ! 15.Qg3 (15.Qxb7 0-0 when White's position is uncoordinated and under-developed 15...0-0-0 16.Qxg7 Qd6 17.Qg5 Rhe8 18.Nd2 Nd7

Black has exhanged his extra material for a superior position. White's strategy has been a shambles, and must concede the exchange. 19.Rxe7 Qxe7 20.Qg3 Qb4 21.Nf3 Rg8 22.Qh4 Qc3 23.Rb1 Qxf3 resigns: Mieses-Maroczy, Monte Carlo 1902. The exact moves have been improved on since, but this strategy of Black was the death-knell for the romantic sacrificial openings.]

6.Bxd5 Bb4+

[6...Nf6 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2 Bxd2+ 10.Nxd2 Re8

the rival majorities look exciting, but the opposite-coloured bishops dampen it a little. Chances in any event are even]

7.Nc3 Bxc3+ 8.Bxc3 Nf6 (ii) seek to reduce the attacking potential of your opponent through exchanges 9.Qf3 Nxd5 10.exd5 0-0

white still has some attacking chances but Black looks secure (no weaknesses and has an extra pawn: =+ Keres

Chess Quotes

"I hate anyone who beats me."
— -- LISA LANE