A gambit is an opening in which one player, usually White, offers to give up material, usually a pawn, in the expectation of gaining a positional advantage and space. A gambit is played to get control of the center, take a lead in development, weaken the enemy king position, or to open up lines which can be used for an attack.
The word is derived from the Italian gambetto, a wrestling term for tripping up the heels. It was first used in its chess sense by Ruy Lopez in 1561 in his book Libro del juego del ajedrez, who applied it to the Damiano Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5) in the form gambitto. The Italians later used the native form gambetto, from which the earliest English form “gambit(t),” and later the English “gambit” derived from. Greco introduced the term into England and France in 1623.
The word itself is derived from the Italian word gamba, meaning “leg,” and from gambitare, meaning “to set traps.” Italian wrestlers used the word gambitare, by which they mean “to set traps to catch the legs.” The gambit, a cunning and sharp method of opening a chess game by giving up material, does, indeed, conceal a lot of dangerous traps and pitfalls.
Gambits became popular in the 19th century when the art of defense was little understood. It was a time of enterprising but unsound gambits that was successful for the gambiteer. Nowadays, players have learned how to defend against gambits, and they are not as popular at the top level of chess. However, gambits remain popular in chess clubs, correspondence play, and on the Internet, especially with faster time controls.
If you run into a gambit, don’t panic. If you have not seen it before, a usual rule of thumb is to accept the gambit. If taking the gambit looks too dangerous, you may have to give the material back in order to gain time or development. You may even want to play a countergambit to force an early tactical decision by obtaining opening lines and quick development. In a countergambit, if White offers a gambit, Black also resorts to a sacrifice to achieve the same objective as his opponent. If, however, a sacrifice is turned down, it is known as a declined gambit.
Here is a list of some of the most important gambits.
The Albin Countergambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5) starts out as a Queen’s Gambit, but then Black offers his own pawn with 2…e5. The usual continuation is 3.dxe5 (accepting the gambit) 3…d4. Black has a central wedge at d4 and tries to attack. It was first seen in a game Salvioli-Cavalloti, Milan 1881, then popularized after the game Lasker-Adolf Albin (1848-1920), New York 1893. However, Albin lost in 33 moves.
The Benko Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5). The original name was the Volga Gambit, used in Russian literature. Beginning in the late 1960s, Pal Benko started playing and popularizing this gambit. It soon became named after him, and he published a book called The Benko Gambit in 1974. Black gets good compensation for the pawn as White gets behind in development as Black gets fast development and control of the half-open a- and b- files. Some of the top players in the world have played the Benko Gambit with success. It is a demanding opening that is highly unbalanced strategically and leads to many endgames.
The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3) is usually followed by 3…Nf6 4.f3 exf3 5.Nxf3 (or 5.Qxf3). White aims for rapid development of his pieces and a strong attack at the cost of his pawn. The Blackmar-Diemer Gambit arose out of the Blackmar Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.f3), which was analyzed by Armand Blackmar (1826-1888) in the early 1880s. Emil Diemer (1908-1990) popularized the continuation 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 and wrote a book on it. The gambit is considered an aggressive opening and is popular in correspondence chess.
The Blumenfeld Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nf3 b5) almost looks like a Benko Gambit. Black sacrifices a wing pawn to establish control of the center. The opening is named after Benjamin Blumenfeld (1884-1947) who popularized the gambit in Russia.
The Budapest Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5) was first played in the late 19th century, then later popularized by players in Budapest, Hungary. After 3.dxe5, Black can play 3…Ne4 (the Fajarowicz variation) or 3…Ng4. Black gets a good pawn structure with lots of possibilities of attack on the kingside. Black can also play the Abonyi Gambit of the Budapest Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e4 Nxd5 5.f4 Nec6). It is named after Istvan Abonyi (1886-1942) who published analysis on it in Deutsches Wochenschach in 1922.
The Cochrane Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7) is part of the Petroff Defesne. The gambit is credited to John Cochrane (1798-1878), a Scottish master who spent half his life in India.
The Danish Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3) is an opening in which White sacrifices one or two pawns (3…dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2) for the sake of rapid development and attack. The opening was popularized by the Danish player Martin From after playing it in the Paris 1867 tournament. In Denmark, the opening is called the Nordic Gambit.
The Elephant Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d5), also known as the Queen’s Pawn Countergambit or Englund Counterattack, is an opening in which Black sacrifices a pawn to gain a move and some initiative. If White plays accurately, Black does not get sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn. The name Elephant Gambit seems to come from a monograph on the opening published in 1988, called The Elephant Gambit by Tom Purser.
The Englund Gambit (1.d4 e5), also known as the Charlick Gambit, is an opening where Black’s idea is to create an open game with tactical chances. The Swedish player Fritz Carl Anton Englund (1871-1933) sponsored a thematic tournament with this opening. The main line of the Englund Gambit is 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7.
The Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4) is named after Welsh sea captain William Davies Evans (1790-1872), who first thought of the ambit in 1824 and played it in 1827 on leave in London. The first analysis of the gambit was published in 1832. It is an aggressive opening in which White gives up a pawn in order to secure a strong center and bear down on Black’s weak f7 square.
The From Gambit (1.f4 e5) is played by Black to challenge White’s plan to control the e5 and center squares. The gambit is named after the Danish chess player Martin Severin From (1828-1895) who did much analysis in this gambit. White could transpose the opening into a King’s Gambit with 2.e4, but most accept the pawn and play 2.fxe5. Black now usually plays 2…d6 with lots of traps for both sides.
The Goering Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3) looks like a Danish Gambit, but evolved from the Scotch Opening. White sacrifices a pawn or two for quick development. The gambit was first played in the early 1840s. Carl Theodor Goering (1841-1879) introduced it into master play in 1872.
The Jerome Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7) is an offshoot of the Giuoco Piano where White sacrifices a piece or two to expose Black’s king. There are a lot of traps in this opening, and if Black does not know how to defend properly, he will most likely get mated or lose quickly. The opening is named after Alonzo Wheeler Jerome (1834-1902).
The King’s Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4) is the most popular of all gambits and is one of the oldest documented openings. It was first mentioned by Ruy Lopez in his book Libro de la invencion liberal y arte del juego del ajedrez (Book of the Liberal Invention and Art of Playing chess), published in 1561. It has been a popular gambit for over 300 years and has been played by many of the strongest players in the world. White offers a pawn to divert Black’s central e-pawn so as to build up a strong center with d4. Black can either decline the gambit or accept it. One of the most popular ways to decline the pawn is to play 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e5 (the Falkbeer Countergambit). However, Black usually accepts with 2…exf4. The two main continuations of the King’s Gambit Accepted are 3.Nf3 and 3.Bc4 (the Bishop’s Gambit). The moves 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.Ng5 is known as the Allgaier Gambit, named after Johann Allgaier (1763-1823) who published analysis on it in 1819. The moves 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.O-O, sacrificing a knight, is known as the Muzio Gambit. The opening received the name Muzio Gambit from a book by Jacob Sarratt, who blundered in the translation of the observer who first saw the move, when Saratt translated the works of Damiano and Salvio in 1813. The move was observed by Mutio (not Muzio), a third class player in the Naples Academy in the 1600s, who says he saw the move played between Girolamo (Geronimo) Cascio, a priest from Piazza, and another player.
The Latvian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5), also known as the Greco Countergambit, looks like a King’s Gambit but with colors reversed. It is an aggressive gambit for Black which can lead to many traps. It is popular in correspondence play. The main line for White is 3.Nxe5. The opening name was a tribute to the Latvian players (Apscheneek, Behten, et al) who analyzed this gambit in the early 20th century.
The Lisitsin Gambit (1.Nf3 f5 2.e4) is named for Soviet International Master Georgi Lisitsin (1909-1972). It was also analyzed by Vaja Pirc, and the gambit is sometimes known as the Pirc-Lisitsin Gambit. The main line is 1.Nf3 f5 2.e4 fxe4 3.Ng5. Black has few assets other than the extra pawn, and his position is weak.
The Queen’s Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4) is not a true gambit, as White can regain the pawn after 2…dxc4 3.Qa4+ and 4.Qxc4. But 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 is known as the Queen’s Gambit Accepted as Black surrenders the center and White tries to seize space in the center. After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 , the most popular move is 3.Nf3. White delays capturing the pawn, preventing Black from controlling the center with …e5. White usually gets the pawn back with 4.e3 and 5.Bxc4.
The Scotch Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4) can transpose in the Two Knights Defense with 4…Nf6, or continue with 4…Bc5. White can then play 5.c3 dxc3 6.Nxc3 and gain a lead in development.
The Smith-Morra Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.d4) in the Sicilian Defense is usually followed by 2…cxd4 3.c3. It can be a dangerous opening for Black if he is unprepared as White gets fast development. The opening is named after Pierre Morra (1900-1969) and Ken Smith (1930-1999). Morra advocated the opening in the 1940s and Smith devoted over 40 years of research to the opening.
The Staunton Gambit (1.d4 f5 2.e4) is named after Howard Staunton, who played it against Horwitz in a chess match in 1846. White sacrifices a pawn for quick development and an attack on Black’s kingside. After 2…fxe4, the game usually continues 3.Nc3 Nf6, with the main line being 4.Bg5.
A list of gambits can be found at http://studimonetari.org/edg/